Sales enablement is growing rapidly as a discipline, and so is the number of solution providers. How is a sales enablement professional supposed to make informed choices? Where does one look to find answers? Those are important questions – and, yet, there is a question that must be answered before any meaningful improvement effort can take hold: “What is sales enablement?”
In the end, isn’t sales enablement all about equipping sales forces to make more sales? Is it really as simple and basic as that?
We think it is. Here’s our definition to help sharply focus our discussion on sales enablement.
Sales Enablement: getting the right sellers to sell the right solutions to the right customers using the right sales strategy, the right sales message, and the right tools based on the buyer situations they face.
This may seem basic, but – as any sales enablement professional will attest – it’s hard to accomplish. All elements must be aligned to get the best performance and the biggest gains. Get one wrong and the entire effort is hobbled. Let’s unpack the biggest barriers that keep your sales enablement efforts from hitting pay dirt.
A sales force is made up of individual salespeople with varying attributes and experiences. A manager not only has to hire the right people for the job; she also has to make sure the people already on the job are the right fit for the company and sales role. If data is not used to determine the variety of selling situations salespeople face and the sales approach that works in each situation, it is virtually impossible to assess salespeople accurately. This is true for new hires as well as seasoned sellers. To determine fit, salespeople should be assessed against their natural aptitude using different sales approaches as well as their knowledge of the tactics necessary to win in different buying situations. There is no one-size-fits-all, perfect seller.
Companies have a plethora of sales tools. The tech stack is 10 deep. Organizations spend millions of dollars building marketing messages, buying a CRM system, and building fancy dashboards to keep everyone informed – yet salespeople are not selling the right solution, to the right customer, at the right time, using the right message. Sales managers and sales leaders regularly overengineer the “sales recipe.”
Again, the answer lies in understanding the variety of buying situations sellers face and then using data to determine which sales approaches work best in those situations. The sales enablement tools should directly link to the buying situations and the sales approach used in those situations. When this approach is taken, the tech stack becomes smaller, tighter, and a lot more useful.
Sales managers wield the biggest influence over the behavior and performance of their salespeople, yet few companies have dedicated sales manager training. Sales managers are equipped in much the same way as salespeople: They are taught how to sell and how to use sales tools. Then they receive general leadership training on how to coach and are expected to figure out the rest. But they don’t. In our most recent study of sales management coaching practices, 75 percent of the sales managers had less than 49 percent of their salespeople at quota. That’s a sales enablement fail.
What managers need is a way to sort through the noise, focus their salespeople’s effort, focus their coaching effort to those activities most closely related to quota, and establish consistent coaching practices. Doing this is not rocket science, but it is science – and there are identifiable, effective sales coaching practices that accomplish this.
Of all the sales enablement efforts that could (and do) go wrong, this is the perennial miss. Organizations long for consistency in the sales force and go to great lengths to accomplish it through training on single sales methodologies. This is doomed to fail, because there is no one sales approach that works in every buying situation. In fact, studies completed by Dr. Leff Bonny of the Florida State University Sales Institute found there are roughly four sales approaches that reoccur time and time again – not one. And each works only if used in the right buying situation.
Any given sales methodology – whether consultative selling (like SPIN® or Solution Selling®) or a disruptive approach like the Challenger Sale® – works in only about 25 percent of buying situations.
When Dr. Bonny studied the behavior of low, average, and high-performing sellers, some interesting findings emerged. The lowest performers did not have a consistent approach and were random in their approach to different buying situations. Average performers were much more likely to adopt a single sales approach (the one they had been trained on) to every buying situation, and they did not vary their approach. High-performing sellers adapted their approach to the different buying situations. The one-size-fits-all sales training approach equips salespeople to be merely average.
The biggest sales enablement barrier of all is not knowing which of these problems your company has. If sales enablement professionals are honest, they often don’t know. Sales enablement leaders must use data, not educated guesses, to equip their salespeople to sell the right solutions, to the right customers, and using the right sales approach, tools, and message based on the buying situations they face. Period. Do that and you will get far more of your salespeople to quota.
This article originally appeared here in the Selling Power blog.