This blog is focused on startegic sales and sales enablement approaches, designed backwards from the customer journey, covering the entire sales system to make sure that strategies can be executed successfully.
Sales enablement is on the rise, no doubt. At CSO Insights, we have seen a very fast growing discipline over the last six years. In 2013, only 19.3% of organizations reported having sales enablement established in their organization. This “enablement rate” increased to 32.7% in 2016 and to 59.2% in 2017. Now, in 2018, the data of our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study (requires membership) shows a leveling off in growth, with 61.0% of organizations having a sales enablement team.
This 2018 number, 61.0%, is less than we expected because in 2017, 8.4% of organizations said that they planned to implement sales enablement within the next twelve months. That was apparently not the case. Instead, sales enablement seems to have arrived at a certain plateau. It is now maturing and thriving in particular niches.
Sales enablement is more relevant in larger organizations; it is found in up to 89.3% of organizations > $1B in annual revenues
The nature of sales enablement is to design, orchestrate, implement, and measure enablement services (content, training, tools, and coaching) across various functions to keep them consistent and effective for the sales force. That is one of the reasons why sales enablement is more established in larger organizations.
In organizations with annual revenues between $50M-$250M, over two-thirds (71.6%) of our study participants had sales enablement. This number increased up to 89.3% for organizations larger than $1B.
Organizations with sales enablement reported two-digit improvements for quota attainment and win rates compared to those organizations without enablement.
Yes, there is a business case for sales enablement. We compared key sales performance metrics, such as the percentage of salespeople achieving quota and win rates for forecasted deals, with the presence and absence of sales enablement:
The percentage of salespeople achieving quota improved by 10.6 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 22.7%.
The win rates for forecast deals improved by 6.6 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 14.5%.
Are all enablement teams equally successful? No. Only 34.4% of those with sales enablement met all or the majority of their expectations and achieved significantly better results.
The problem is the big group of enablement teams (61.2%) that met some of their expectations but ended up with only average performance results. That’s a difficult situation.
Almost two-thirds (61.2%) of organizations invest in sales enablement without seeing significantly better results. This could lead senior leadership to question the need for a dedicated enablement function.
Follow a formal approach with a charter: This is the most critical practice, but too often ignored. It makes a huge difference if you run sales enablement as just another program, or if you have a strategic sales enablement approach that’s aligned to the business and the sales strategy, and connected to the strategic initiatives and goals of your senior executive sponsors. Only 9.2% do that, but this small group of organizations achieved 19.2% better win rates compared to all study respondents. To put that into perspective, the group with a formal approach but no charter could improve their win rates only by 3.4%. And those with informal and ad hoc approaches couldn’t even achieve average performance. So, a charter really matters. Check out my blog post series over at csoinsights.com/blog for details.
Make the customers and their customer’s path your primary design point for sales enablement: Sales enablement services cannot exist in a vacuum. A solid process framework, powered by technology, is essential. In the age of the customer, your internal selling process must reflect all steps and gates your buyers go through to make decisions. That’s what we call aligning your internal selling processes to the customer’s path, ideally in a dynamic way that allows you to make necessary adjustments as fast as possible. Only 20.7% of organizations do that, but this one-fifth improved quota attainment by 8.9%.
Align your enablement services to the different phases of the customer’s path: Some skills and methodologies are relevant throughout the customer’s path, such as value messaging. Others are more relevant in specific areas, such as prospecting or negotiation skills. It’s even more important with content. Content that helps to co-create a shared vision of success with a prospect is very different from content that supports detailed conversations with different buyer roles at the end of the buying phase. Interestingly, 42.0% of organizations reported that they do that, and they saw much better win rates: 53.5% vs. 42.0% for those that reported not applying this practice.
Build your enablement backbone: Implement a production process and mechanisms to measure enablement success:
Only 25.0% have an enablement production process in place, but this one-quarter saw 5% better win rates. Only with a process can you provide scalable, consistent and effective enablement services. Less than 20% know how to measure sales enablement success, but those that follow a dashboard approach with leading and lagging indicators and ROI models achieved 5 percentage points better win rates compared to all. Measurement provides evidence of what works.
Sales enablement grows up; that’s good news. But not fast enough. Enablement leaders should take the time and focus on HOW they approach their enablement efforts before simply adding new “stuff” for the sales force.
Modern buyers are changing faster and to a greater degree than sales organizations. Buyers are also consumers, and their experiences as consumers influence their B2B buying behavior. They’ve rapidly come to expect personalization, transparency and immediate fulfillment. They take their B2C shopping experiences, consciously or unconsciously, with them when they go to work, and their expectations change as rapidly as their consumer options change.
A recent CSO Insights study found that more than 70% of buyers usually engage with salespeople only after their needs are already clarified.
And 44 % of these buyers also identify their solutions on their own before they engage salespeople. One-fifth only want to lock down the details with salespeople just before making a buying decision.
However, 90% of the buyers said that they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier along their customer’s path in specific buying situations.
There was more interest in early engagement when a business challenge was new for the buyers (34.1%), perceived as risky for the organization (21.1%), or as risky for the buyers themselves (19.1%) or complex in nature and likely to impact several departments (16.2%). At least one of these criteria will apply to many opportunities. If buyers are, in general, willing to engage sellers earlier, why are they not doing it more often? But the majority of buyers prefers other resources when it comes to solving a business problem.
The study participants were approximately 500 executive buyers from around the world. Only 23% of them selected salespeople as a top three resource when it comes to solving business problems.
What does that mean? It means that buyers turn to other resources first; resources they perceive to be more relevant and valuable to them. These resources are SMEs, third parties, vendor websites, industry events, peers, colleagues, social networks, industry publications, or web searches. Buyers ranked salespeople ninth as a resource they turn to for help with a business problem. If salespeople are perceived as vendors rather than problem solvers, today’s sales organizations have a serious challenge to overcome.
Buyers shared their preferences: They prefer salespeople who understand their business and their role, who demonstrate excellent communication skills, who focus on post-sale and who provide insights and perspective.
That’s the set of requirements for any effective customer engagement approach. What is customer engagement? What does it mean to you? Is it a marketing issue, a sales issue, a service issue? Buyer data shows that customer engagement should seamlessly cover the entire customer’s path.
Customer engagement covers the way organizations and their customer-facing professionals get in touch with their prospects and customers (buyers) along their entire customer’s path. Customer engagement’s main goal is that prospects and customers perceive every interaction, regardless of with or without human interaction, as relevant, valuable and differentiating.
As regular readers of our CSO Insights sales enablement research know, we always recommend making the customers and specifically the customer’s path the primary design point of sales enablement.
Yes, it’s more than being valuable. What valuable is does not only depend on the buyers’ perspective but also on the buyer’s current stage along their customer’s path. And that’s what we mean by relevant. And differentiating means that the messaging, the engagement approach, and the provided expertise and perspective should always be differentiating, and not perceived as a competitor’s copy.
Effective customer engagement is the result of aligning all enablement services to the customer’s path, not only creating the required content and messaging but also ensuring that the related training and coaching takes place to drive reinforcement and adoption of the desired behaviors.
Let’s look at some data. We asked the more than 500 global participants of our brand new 2018 Sales Enablement Optimization Study some questions about the prerequisites for driving customer engagement. The first question was about effectively aligning their enablement services to the customer’s path to improve customer engagement and customer experience: 42.0% agreed, and 58.0% answered neutral or disagreed. Does customer engagement matter? Yes, it pays off.
The 42% that align their enablement services effectively to the customer’s path experienced 8.1% better win rates compared to the study’s average. Not doing it at all led to win rates way below average.
Then, we looked at how enablement teams do this. It requires providing content and messaging that is tailored to buyer roles, content that speaks in the target industry’s language, and a dynamic value messaging approach that tailors different value messaging types to the different phases of the customer’s path. It requires social selling skills to take advantage of sharing relevant and valuable content and drive engagement this way, too. And looking at these detailed practices, we saw a difference.
While 42.0% of organizations reported having their enablement services effectively aligned to the customer’s path, only one-quarter is actually applying all the necessary steps to get there.
Having all the prerequisites in place is important, but it’s only half the battle. Providing content and messaging is not enough; salespeople have to learn and practice how to use and apply these things successfully. So, training is key to success and sales coaching is even more important.
Implementing effective customer engagement means making changes. It requires an integrated set of enablement services, a compelling change story that explains the WHY, and lots of change leadership across the organization to make the changes the new standard.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October edition.
Photograph: Unsplash, donna-410624
JF: Your book Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower A World-Class Sales Force seems to be the first strategic, holistic, and research-based book on sales enablement in the market. What was your motivation for writing this book now?
BM: In a nutshell, it’s because buyers are getting better at buying than sellers are getting better at selling. That gap has increased so much now that it’s an inflection point and caused sales enablement to be born. Our selling models have to change fundamentally, from information to inspiration. And that’s why sales enablement exists, to engage, equip and empower our sales force to engage differently with the modern buyers. We work with a few thousands of clients a year all over the world. We see a tremendous amount of investments in sales organizations of all shapes and sizes. The one thing that is just so pervasive right now is this sales enablement function. As we are researching sales enablement at CSO Insights for many years, we had to go out in the market to show what successful looks like in enablement because there was no blueprint, no playbook out there.
TS: Sales enablement is all over the place, it’s the fastest growing movement in sales, from 19% of organizations with sales enablement in 2013 up to 59% in 2017. In parallel, the confusion about sales enablement was growing at the same speed because so many people got into new enablement roles, influenced by the functional bias of their executives but without a clear concept how to approach it successfully. In the age of the customer, traditional how-to-sell approaches, centered around what a product IS and what it DOES, are no longer valuable, relevant and differentiating for modern buyers. Instead, buyers want to learn how a product or service can help them to solve a business problem and to achieve their goals, and that’s all about what a product or service MEANS in THEIR context. And that requires a very different way to engage buyers, an inspirational approach, as Byron said. And that requires different skills, different conversations, different content, different value messages, and different coaching. Building an enablement function to provide all these services in a consistent and effective way to transform sales forces in the age of the customer, that’s what our book is all about.
JF: Whilst, as you suggest, Tamara, enablement seems to be a fast-growing movement, my understanding is that only one-third of organizations are successful with enablement implementation according to your research. Can we talk about the challenges organizations are running into at the implementation stage?
TS: The main challenge we see in our research and with our clients is how enablement is set up in an organization. Running enablement as a tactical program, in an ad-hoc or project manner without senior executive sponsorship and with no clear vision of what it should help to achieve is a recipe for failure.
The successful one-third run sales enablement based on a formal vision of success and a formal enablement charter. Such a charter defines how sales enablement helps to support the strategy, how selling challenges are addressed with different enablement services, for what roles and how success is measured. Organizations that run sales enablement this way see up to 27.6% better quota attainment rates. That’s a lot!
Another key challenge is that enablement services are created around products instead of aligning them to the different phases of the customer’s path, relevant buyer roles, and business challenges. We spend an entire chapter on the role of value messaging as the glue that holds, for instance, product training and value messaging guidelines and customer-facing content and internal playbooks together. If all these assets are inconsistent to each other they are neither used nor are they effective in any way. And the third key challenge is not to enable sales managers to become excellent coaches to drive adoption and reinforcement. Sales coaching is actually the most impactful enablement service, improving win rates and quota attainment up to 28%.
JF: All of that makes perfect sense. Byron, may I ask you what’s the role of technology, especially CRM, when it comes to effective sales enablement?
BM: Technology plays a huge role. In general, sales and sales enablement technologies are promising to reduce the tedium, which means all the non-selling activities salespeople do (65%) and increase ingenuity (creating value in buyer interactions, 35%). The problem is that there are more than 500 technology companies out there that are dedicated to improving sales performance. Just a few years ago, there were a hundred. Let me focus on CRM because it’s the foundation for all other sales technologies. This explosion of vendors won’t continue like this. Let me share with you our perspective on this.
Initially, the idea of CRM was based on salespeople’s personal Rolodex, let’s call it CRM 1.0. In the nineties, Tom Siebel built a packaged CRM solution, an on-premise service that provided visibility into pipeline and opportunities. CRM 2.0. Then, Salesforce wiped out Siebel almost overnight, put the CRM in the cloud and made it much cheaper. And hundreds of companies started to provide various cloud-based point solutions for sales challenges. Technology drove this evolution, not salespeople. CRM still is very often about manager benefits, not about seller benefits. Guess what? Tedium increased, it didn’t decrease. Now, there is CRM 4.0 on the horizon to fix what’s broken by focusing on what drives sales results. And that’s seller behavior. CRM 4.0 will be AI-based, insight led, and it will be powered by methodology, an ally in helping sellers to improve sales performance.
JF: I fully appreciate that the book is structured by the sales enablement clarity model, in fact, a diamond with different facets that has to be cut and polished based on an organization’s context and challenges: Byron, what advice would you give sales leaders looking to create and sustain an enablement function?
BM: First and foremost, sales leaders have to understand why sales enablement was born, that it’s not another word for training, content, technology or sales excellence, etc. In fact, sales enablement takes all this to a new level. And therefore, sales leaders have to fully understand the transformation needs of their sales forces. They have to understand that sales organizations have to speed up very quickly, have to become a lot more agile to transform their selling models so that the sales force can be valuable, relevant and differentiating for today’s modern buyers. And a transformation requires their senior executive sponsorship, their priority, and commitment, to work with the enablement leader to develop a clear vision of success and a strategic set-up of the enablement function. Only then, as Tamara said, a solid approach based on a charter can be successfully implemented.
JF: Tamara, what advice would you give sales enablement leaders looking to evolve their function to even greater levels?
TS: If we want to get better at something, we should first assess where we are at right now. Even if an organization does not have any formal enablement initiative or function right now, enablement happens, usually in many different functions and in an inconsistent way. That’s what you can call a rough diamond that needs to be cut and polished to be valuable and effective. Wherever you are in your organization, maybe having a rough diamond or a partially cut and polished one, our enablement maturity assessment model and the related tool on our book expert page would be the first step. Based on knowing their maturity level, enablement leaders should discuss the current state with their sponsors, map against the current business strategy and the state of sales strategy implementation to adjust and hone their enablement strategy.
General recommendations are implementing an enablement charter if that’s not already done (we have a process and a template in the book!), ensuring a solid foundation of a sales process that is well aligned to the customer’s path (together with sales operations), aligning the enablement services to each other along the customer’s path to ensure consistency and effectiveness. And then, addressing sales managers, enabling them to become frontline coaches is key to success and should always be an element of a mature and scalable sales enablement approach.
JF: What are the main ideas and principles sales leaders should take from the book?
BM: The key message for sales leaders is to understand sales enablement as its core, as the engine to transform your sales force to engage in a different way, inspiring instead of informing, to meet the needs of the modern buyer. Sales enablement is all about sophisticating a salesperson to meet the needs of professional selling today, which is being valuable, relevant and differentiating in every interaction. Sales transformation was always a scary word for many sales leaders, now it’s about time to change. Sales enablement is the engine to drive this transformation. As this is a massive undertaking, sales leaders have to understand the bigger picture, so that they can provide the resources and the budget needed for sales enablement leaders to actually implement enablement successfully.
JF: Tamara, may I ask you the same question, specifically, regarding how sales enablement leaders should leverage the clarity model?
TS: The main idea for sales enablement leaders is to get from sales enablement confusion to clarity and strategy, leveraging real-world enablement expertise, experience, and research. We support this idea in our book with a research-based sales enablement framework, the clarity model that allows enablement leaders to achieve different things: One is to assess their current enablement maturity stage to understand where they are at. Two is to leverage the framework to evolve and sharpen their enablement strategy, using the data we provide so that enablement leaders can get an idea what their outcomes could look like and why. Three is to use the related checklists, processes and practical templates in the book to actually implement enablement successfully. And four is to get inspired by the case studies, quotes, and examples we have featured in the book.
JF: Finally, Byron, what can we expect from Miller Heiman Group next?
BM: We are working on a couple of exciting things. We are proud to launch Scout! Scout is our new sales analytics platform that helps drive seller actions, change deal outcomes and replicate winning. With Scout, you will always “see the move that moves the deal.” Additionally, we are proud to launch Strategic Selling with Perspective which is our contribution to evolve our services to the ever-changing buyers in the digital age.
JF: And Tamara, what’s next in the world of research?
TS: We just launched our first ever Buyer Preferences Study. We are working on our Sales Effectiveness Study and, most important for me, we are already recruiting participants for our 2018 Sales Enablement Optimization Study.