Many client-facing, revenue-generating employees in sales and service organizations are continuing to struggle to communicate the value of their products and services to their customers. In many instances, sales leaders and their managers face an ongoing struggle to help their salespeople increase their impact and achieve their sales quotas.
Without belaboring the point, there are a lot of contributing factors to this challenge. For example, products are getting more complex, and buyers are becoming more sophisticated.
Since the challenge of communicating value to customers is a very real one, many executives continue to invest in developing the skills of their sales team. They have to respond (in other words, they have to do something), or they risk eroding market share or competitive losses. For example, many sales VPs are investing in negotiation and questioning skills or looking to develop programs to connect with and educate executive-level clients on industry trends and insights.
On the one hand, there are increased business challenges. While on the other hand, there are increased investments in skills training. Against this backdrop, you would think sales enablement leaders within an organization are expanding their influence and taking more direct control over expenditures.
Indeed, the influence of the sales enablement function will continue to evolve if the problem is in the “wheel-house” of the sales enablement team. This function would be considered a great need. Right? No, that’s not happening in most organizations.
The reality is, many sales enablement professionals are struggling to reach out to the sales leadership team and create a truly effective partnership that drives lasting business results. It is perplexing because the sales leadership team runs a specific functional area. That function a) needs the help of “skill developers,” and also b) falls within the potential scope of a “performance challenges that need to be addressed.”
In the view of one VP of Sales:
I hate to say it, but I think I need too much help. The challenge is actually figuring out where to start.
So, what’s up?
Why are sales leaders not engaging their enablement and training function more collaboratively?
Why aren’t training leaders able to earn the trust of the sales leadership team in order to take a more proactive stance truly?
Tough Questions: Tough Answers
When it comes to addressing this reality, it’s a two-sided coin.
The sales function and the learning function should and could become partners.
However, closing the gap means meeting in the middle.
Concerning sales enablement leaders, it’s likely a sales problem. Very often, the challenge has to do with helping sales leaders understand the help they can receive. More importantly, the value they can create with the sales teams they support.
Concerning sales leaders, it’s likely a creativity problem. Very often, the challenge with Sales VPs has to do with deciding to create “white-space” around a specific team or group. And boldly experiment to find out what will truly work to communicate value differently within the sales team.
Creating that white space requires bringing the right cross-functional team of training, marketing, technology, and content providers, together with the sales team to work together.
More importantly, it means allowing the cross-functional team to test, learn, and deploy in an iterative and adaptive manner that is equivalent to “failing forward.”
In both cases, business-as-usual is the equivalent of putting one's head in the sand
Closing the Sales Enablement Disconnect
To get to the best possible solution and close the gap, both Sales Leadership and the Enablement Leadership need to be able to answer a fundamental question:
"What is the business purpose of your sales enablement/training function?"
The answers provide a heavy does reality -- especially when the answers are entirely different.
For example, some current perspectives that Sales Leaders have about the training function include;
"Isn't Sales Enablement the group that does HR training."
"That's the group that does training and manages the course catalog."
"That's the group that runs our kickoff events."
"I'm not sure what they do. They do their stuff, and we do ours."
"They help me shift the behavior in our sales team to sell to executives more consistently" (this is very infrequent.. 1 out of 50)
As a sales enablement leader, to close the gap and become more relevant, you have to ask :
What is our Sales Enablement function "selling" to Sales VPs?
Hello VP of Sales:
“We need to make sure every salesperson attends information security training.”
“We would like to talk to you about the courses you would like us to offer next year."
“We are hosting several lunch and learns on the technical aspect of product X.”
“We would like to conduct needs analysis.”
All of these = ”not good” from the VP of Sales perspective
In professional selling, HOW sellers engage their customers often dictates the expectations they create. In working with sales leaders, it’s crucial to take stock of their expectations and confront reality.
This is equivalent to more design thinking or thinking more like an architect.
Steve Jobs summarized the challenge the best when he said:
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” — Steve Jobs
This begs the question. What experiences have Sales Enablement leaders had? How are they at connecting the dots for and with sales leadership?
Are your answers linear (are you always recommending the same solution to a problem?)
To help, let’s take a step back and take a look at the questions that sales leaders are likely asking about their sales enablement teams.
What do we get? Translation: What are you selling me? A course? A needs analysis? An approach?
Why should I work with you? Translation: How are you going to work with me? Are you going to put the burden on me to figure out things, or are you going to offer me your thoughtful point of view, so we can co-problem solve? What are you bringing to the table?
Why should I care? Translation: What problems do you really solve? What are you going to take ownership of? What are you willing to get fired over (because that’s my reality – it’s likely I won’t be in this job more than 2 years)
These would seem like fairly reasonable questions to ask. Especially if you’re responsible for a multi-million dollar sales quota, and you are getting inquiries from executives, board members, and customers daily.
An Inspirational Charter for Sales Enablement Leaders
So, as we enter into a new calendar year, perhaps it’s time to take a moment and step back. It’s an excellent time to take stock of what you are doing well and what you might need to work on going into a new year. And it’s probably a good time to think deeply about how you’ll evolve as a Sales Enablement leader responsible for partnering with the sales executive team.
Here are some things to think about:
How will you increase the productivity of workers across sales, marketing, and service organizations to increase your company’s return on human capital assets?
What small initiative can you start that tries to move the needle?
How will you help the executive team bridge the gap between strategy and execution by assisting workers to align work accomplishments to the forward-leaning business strategy and changing human capital strategy?
What are the likely initiatives coming down from the executive team?
How can you get in front of them?
How will you decrease the friction between groups within the organization who need to work together on critical business initiatives and produce new outputs that are valuable to customers?
Where do teams need to learn, and how can you help them? By learning new skills and acquiring the expertise they need, how will you help workers increase their value contribution to drive our company’s business strategy forward?
Do you know the future-state definition of the roles you support? What are they moving away from, and towards what are they moving?
A word of caution: Make sure you can deliver on the expectation you’re setting. Take the time to ask yourself the three questions from above. You have to be able to explain what you’re selling, how you work with sales leaders and the problems you solve for them.
About Growth Matters
Growth Matters is an international business founded in 2011. This consulting and services organization focusses on the development and practice of sales management and sales enablement. Our team of world-renowned experts spans the globe enabling businesses to improve sales conversations through services and solutions aligned to sales strategy. Charlotte, NC (USA) is the headquarter of our Americas operation. With dedicated offices in South Africa (EMEA), and Sydney (APAC), we regularly facilitate senior-level workshops in 17+ cities in countries. For more information on equipping sales managers, and aligning to sales leadership, contact the Growth Matters team at http://www.growthmatters.today
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