Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
In my 25 years in sales enablement I’ve been involved in countless programs – all with different approaches but all with the ultimate end goal of improving efficiency and ultimately the profitability of the sales team. Some have become award-winning rollouts that set the benchmark for L&D within global organizations. Others have been less well received! Arguably, it’s the sales enablement projects I’ve been involved in or witnessed first-hand that haven’t fully worked, or flat-out failed, that have taught me the most.
If you’re in a sales enablement role, or about to embark on a program centred around a sales enablement platform or people development, read on. In the interests of saving you time, workplace embarrassment or worse, career damage, here’s a list of traps to avoid and alarm bells to heed, based on my own long and varied career.
Anything or anyone that promises to ‘solve’ something as complex as human behavior or the psychology of sales without a deep understanding of your business is a charlatan.
Don’t automate bad practice
There is a wealth of sales automation and enablement tools on the market that promise to improve sales outcomes more or less out-of-the-box. Don’t be fooled. Anything or anyone that promises to ‘solve’ something as complex as human behavior or the psychology of sales without a deep understanding of your business is a charlatan. First, look at the cause of your performance issues, not just the symptoms. Solve that issue and then add automation to enhance best practice, and not just paper over bad form.
Start with the end in mind
Sales leaders come and go, but the vision and focus of the business should be a lot more consistent. Check that what your sales leader is asking ties back to and supports the overall business strategy, not just their own short-term agenda. If you start with the end in mind you won’t be left justifying an expensive or abortive project long after the CSO has left the building.
If you can connect the objectives of the sales leader with the overall business objectives and plot a path to achieving consistent and incremental sales improvements along the way, you’re doing your job. If you can’t connect the dots, question the value and motivators for the project. Perhaps your CSO is looking at the symptoms and not the source of the problem? Adding your perspective can help steer them towards a better outcome for their team and the business.
Measuring what you already know is pointless
If your sales team aren’t performing you will have no end of sources telling you about it! You don’t need expensive software or six months of data analysis to tell you what you already know. Instead, consider investing a fraction of that budget and time in sales enablement consultancy. Experienced consultants will be able to identify patterns and trends which will help you get to the heart of your sales enablement issues (see point one above). Their experience of working with companies like yours, coupled with their ability to ask the right questions to the right people in your organization can deliver a number of positives:
– Help you get to the heart of your sales performance issues quickly
– Support you to effectively build and implement an improvement plan
– Help engage key stakeholders in the project
Like all busy humans salespeople avoid moving from the status-quo unless there is a compelling enough reason to do so.
Make technology easy
Any technology you introduce should be intuitive, and the benefit for the end user should be immediately clear. Sales teams are made up of busy humans, often under the pressure of a quarterly deadline, so something as basic as difficulty in accessing the system first go can be immensely off-putting. Show all levels of your sales team how intuitive the technology is and the personal benefit it offers them; e.g. show sales managers how they can quickly access a heatmap of each deal in their team’s pipeline for a quick overview of how they are progressing. Or, show sales reps how software can help them qualify deals, so they don’t waste time on fruitless opportunities. Actively engage your various sales audiences. Show them what’s in it for them and make their usage compulsory. Benefits the software can deliver to the business are of secondary concern to most salespeople, and like all busy humans they’ll avoid moving from the status-quo unless there is a compelling enough reason (like obligation) to do so.
Don’t forget the petrol
Almost any solution a modern sales enablement professional deploys will inevitably, and rightly, have a technology component, not least because of the focus sales teams have on their CRM solution. But, even after you’ve identified the root cause of your sales improvement issues (point one) and the technology solution that will help you address it, don’t stop there. While sales remains a human interaction, your sales team will always need the right knowledge and skills to work with the tools and applications you’ve put in place. Forgetting this step is like forgetting to put petrol in your high-end sports car – it ultimately causes everything to work less effectively.
When sales enablement works it’s a dream to be a part of. This comes down to a few key factors:
– Commitment/collaboration from different departments – HR, sales enablement, sales (specifically sales leadership), marketing, L&D, etc.
– Clear goals
– Long term commitment
– Regular measurement/fine-tuning
It’s a big task to take on, but a reward when you get it right.
Jason Watson is the Head of Sales Enablement Practice & Applications at Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning Sales Enablement consultancy.