Here Are Your Top Six Priorities for Sales Enablement in 2018

By George Brontén

In 2017, we saw massive growth in the sales enablement industry. An explosion of new sales enablement technologies fueled an increasingly heated and detailed conversation about the very definition of sales enablement and what its role is. Meanwhile, several new organizations sprang up to address the issue and begin building a body of work around the discipline, while research organizations scrambled to collect data to begin defining and analyzing it.

Yet all the conversation and growth has not yet translated into massive gains in performance for most organizations. In fact, we seem to have forgotten that the fundamental role of sales enablement is to enable better sales performance.

Organizations that want to excel in sales performance by improving sales enablement in 2018 will do well to focus on these top six priorities.

1. Avoid “point solution” chaos

The marketplace is full of so many cool “enablement” tools that it’s easy to get pulled into “investments” that provide no return. Instead of focusing on cool new technologies, organizations should be focusing on developing better sales strategies and then choosing tools that help them execute on those strategies.

2. Provide a better buying experience

Our industry gives a lot of lip service to putting customers first, but we rarely put our investments (or our attention) where our mouths are. In 2018, look for enablement technologies that help you understand your buyer better and align your sales process with their preferred buying experience. This simple approach will help to dramatically improve sales results.

3. Support salesperson success

It goes without saying that more successful salespeople translate to more successful sales overall. Yet many “enablement” technologies in the past have focused more on making salespeople accountable and providing them with neat tricks (like knowing when people open their emails) than with actually providing them support for the things that matter. In 2018, take the time to understand deeply which salesperson behaviors and activities actually move the needle – and then choose technologies, training, and leadership that support them to engage in those things.

4. Empower better coaching

Excellent coaching can be a critical multiplier for sales results. In 2018, take a good look at your coaching system and make sure you’ve enabled your coaches to help your salespeople execute on your sales strategy and provide the excellent buyer experience you envision. If you invest in coaching technologies like call monitoring, make sure they are integrated into the coach’s workflow and are provided with the training and support to coach effectively. Otherwise, they just become more point solutions in the chaos of point solutions.

5. Better insights for leadership

The “accountability” provided by traditional CRMs is no longer adequate for enabling high performance on a sales team. Leaders need to know more than just how many calls a salesperson made this week. They need to know where opportunities are in the sales process, which activities and behaviors are moving the needle, and where bottlenecks in the process occur. Armed with detailed, proactive insights and metrics, sales leaders can make smarter decisions and provide better support to their sales teams.

6. Consistent execution of strategy

Good sales strategy is useless if it is not consistently executed across the organization. Historically, sales enablement and CRM have not done a good job of orchestrating execution of strategy. That is changing and, in 2018, organizations implementing technologies and processes that make it easy for salespeople and coaches to execute on strategy will pull ahead of their peers.

I believe sales enablement is going to continue to be a hot topic for years to come – in part because we still have a long way to go toward realizing its promises. Organizations that get started this coming year with a strategic approach to sales enablement will quickly get ahead of the game. Focusing on these six priorities will help your organization be among them.

For more insights about sales enablement, subscribe to the Membrain blog or schedule a demo.

George Brontén is a life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto “Don’t settle for mainstream,” he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. Inspired by the work of surgeons, sales best practices, and behavioral modeling, George has invented the SAAS platform Membrain.com to tech-enable sales process, sales methodology, training, and coaching.

What Did Sales Organizations Do BSE (Before Sales Enablement)?

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By Jim Ninivaggi

Prior to joining Brainshark, I had the good fortune to launch and run the sales enablement practice at research/advisory firm SiriusDecisions. Unlike other functions (such as marketing and finance) that have been around for decades, the sales enablement function is relatively new and still evolving. One of the most common questions I received as an analyst was, “What exactly is sales enablement?”

About six months ago, I was rummaging around an antiques store in Lee, Massachusetts (nerd alert – I collect vintage lunch boxes from the 1970s – anyone remember The Partridge Family?), when I came across a Coca-Cola sales training guide from 1940. I had to have it.

The guide actually had been designed to help sales managers enable their reps. The thick, three-ring binder contains 18 sections, with each section focusing on a particular topic (planned call, safe driving, etc.). There are also step-by-step instructions on how the manager should run the training workshop for each topic. The manager was expected to conduct one workshop per week over an 18-week period. Each class had its own “multimedia” content – managers were instructed to show specific reel-to-reel films and/or play specific vinyl albums as part of the workshop.

For a sales enablement analyst, this was an amazing find! And it dawned on me as I perused its pages – this was how companies did “sales enablement” 76 years ago. The era: BSE (Before Sales Enablement).

Of course, they didn’t call it “sales enablement” back then, but the desired outcome was the same: that a Coca-Cola salesperson would show up at a grocery or general store with the skills, knowledge, and assets to make the most of that interaction and have the kind of sales conversations Coca-Cola wanted them to have.

That mission – ensuring reps are equipped to maximize every client interaction – has not changed, but a lot of other things have. These changes have necessitated the creation of the sales enablement function. For example:

  • The pace of change in both sales and business, and the level of complexity, keep accelerating. In 1940, Coca-Cola salespeople had to be experts in only one product. Today, they need to know dozens – with new products being launched every month.

    Across the B2B marketplace, salespeople are selling in a world where new competitors can quickly grab market share, product portfolios are constantly innovating, and buyers are much more informed and savvy.

  • In 1940, the sales conversation was likely face-to-face. Today’s sales enablement leaders must ensure their reps are capable of having the right type of conversations across a number of communication vehicles, including social, phone, Web conference, and email (I’m always shocked by how few companies do any sales enablement focused on email selling).
  • The amount of data, information, and analytics available to reps today is staggering.  Reps need help leveraging analytics to better target buyers who may be in – or just ready to enter – a decision process.

    In preparing for their calls, reps have vast amounts of information (via the Web, social, and third-party data aggregators). Sales enablement must help reps by working with marketing and sales operations to deliver data and analytics that reps can easily digest and leverage. Enablement must also work with reps to conduct research – and, more importantly, use that insight to create and articulate value.

  • Back in the ’40s, all the content and assets (product brochures, signage, etc.) a Coca-Cola seller needed could fit in the trunk of their car. Today, they’d need a VERY big trunk!

    Today’s salesperson is inundated with content from various groups in marketing and sales – often with thousands of pieces of content to choose from. It’s simply overwhelming reps who like content that is tried and true. Sales enablement must work with marketing to help tag and organize content so reps can easily get to the best content and tools.

Looking back, where the folks at Coca-Cola were ahead of most companies today is in their efforts around sales-manager enablement. Unlike what we see today, where managers are often overlooked when it comes to enablement efforts, Coca-Cola used them as “agents of enablement.” They realized, by empowering their managers to play the critical roles of trainer and coach, they would benefit from not only economies of scale (it’s easier to enable 50 managers than 250 reps) but also from the “stickiness” of the enablement – as managers were able to be better coaches and hold their reps accountable to execute at the level expected.

While I’m obviously not advocating we go back to the days of BSE (with three-ring binders, vinyl albums, and reel-to-reel films), there are certainly lessons we can take from the past to move the sales enablement function to the future.

JimNinivaggiJim Ninivaggi has more than 30 years of B2B sales productivity expertise. He is senior vice president of strategic partnerships at Brainshark, a leading sales enablement company, helping shape and execute Brainshark’s partner strategy. Jim previously headed the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions, where he provided clients with data, insight, and thought leadership to maximize sales effectiveness and accelerate revenues. He has also held various positions in sales, ranging from individual contributor to sales management and sales leadership. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNinivaggi.

How to Land a Meeting with Your Prospect

Many sales professionals believe that sales are made based on the strength of relationships with prospects and customers. In other words, it’s all about who you know.

In the current selling environment, however, some might argue that success in sales is actually more about what you know. According to research conducted by Forum, for example, two of the top three reasons prospects decide to buy from a sales rep include these factors.

  1. The rep knows my company.
  2. The rep knows my industry.

Notice that the word “relationship” does not enter into the picture. What does this imply? As Forum General Manager (Americas) Alyson Brandt points out in the video interview below with Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner, this research indicates that prospects are looking more for value and insight from salespeople rather than a simple connection.

“There are some misnomers about what customers expect,” Brandt says. “It’s a mythbuster to believe that you have to know somebody in order to be effective in a sales role and get a meeting.”

At Forum, we’re working with experienced salespeople to help them become more effective in prospect meetings by leveraging Point of View Selling. Point of View Selling creates new selling opportunities with existing and new customers– whether you have an existing relationship with them or not.

Although Point of View Selling is suitable for all organizations, not all companies are ready for it.Consider the five big questions below to see if your organization is ready to take its sales to the next level.

  1. Business Fit: Do you offer a mix of products, services and/or complex solutions that can significantly impact your customers’ business value drivers? Point of View Selling hinges on the ability to make that impact clear to the customer.
  2. Compelling Points of View: Do your salespeople have the ability to deliver unique values that can be potential differentiators in commoditized markets? For example, when a biotech company introduced a revolutionary technology that drastically reduced the time it took to identify an infectious disease, their sales initially underwhelmed. They quickly realized that, rather than focus on the technology itself, they should focus their selling efforts on the unique value the technology created: time. By doing this, they were able to call on senior people and appeal to their need to manage risk and deliver value to their constituents and themselves. For example, they called on heads of state and other dignitaries (e.g., the head of the Summer Games) and asked them whether they could afford to have a pathogen running rampant in an urban area while testing took days.
  3. Foundational Skills: Do your salespeople have the business acumen, industry knowledge and consultative selling skills needed to succeed?
  4. Advanced Selling Skills: Can your salespeople then combine that business acumen and industry knowledge to develop high-value and unique points of view, provoke and engage senior-level decision makers, and guide customers in framing complex decisions?
  5. Sales Support and Infrastructure: Do you have the resources — time, budget and staff — to help craft points of view and support jumping to the next level?

Every sales organization that is implementing or considering implementing a Point-of-View-Selling strategy falls somewhere along the maturity curve suggested by these five questions. Organizations that take realistic views of where they are today and invest in building capabilities across all five of these areas are the most likely to gain competitive selling advantage when adopting higher-level selling approaches.

When was the last time you landed a meeting with a high-level prospect? How were you able to convey insight that grabbed the prospect’s attention? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Jeffrey Baker
Jeffrey Baker is vice president, salesforce effectiveness at The Forum Corp., a Boston-based premiere learning organization.

Timeless Sales Messaging Tips to Win Today’s Customers

What is the number one problem that stands between your sales reps and prospects? Chances are that their sales messages fizzle in the marketplace. Prospects don’t know you, your company or your product; they don’t understand your message; and they don’t care about your story or your unique selling propositions.

Back in 1888, very few people had heard of George Eastman and his little black box that he called the detective camera. Only a few people understood photography, and even fewer knew his company. He started a sales revolution with the simple and compelling message: “You press the button, we do the rest.” Eastman’s sales message was as innovative as his camera.

Since 1888, advances in technology have created a landslide of products and an avalanche of information. Today customers are bombarded with sales messages that they have learned to tune out faster than ever.

Ask marketers and they’ll tell you that every year response rates decline. Today, more than 99 percent of all promotional emails are ignored or deleted. Why? The subject lines are boring, boilerplate messages. Ask sales managers and they’ll tell you that 90 percent of all prospects ignore a salesperson’s attempt to close the sale. Why? Because most salespeople talk about how great the product is, but they have little understanding of how their product can enhance their prospect’s business.

Why do most sales messages fizzle? When companies think of innovation, they think of innovative products, processes and technologies, but not messaging. What makes effective customer messages sizzle? The first author to write about selling with sizzle was Elmer Wheeler.

Wheeler’s bestselling book Tested Sentences That Sell was published in 1937, it revealed his experiments with sales messages and their impact on prospects. Wheeler spoke about meaty words that prospects could sink their teeth into and watery words that had little impact.

The world has changed since 1937, the advances in technology have been remarkable and business has become a lot more complex, yet human nature stays the same. For example, Wheeler found that if a waiter asked, “Would you care to order a red or white wine with your dinner?” it would double the sales of wine. Compare that with the unproductive questions that most waiters ask today: “What would you like to drink with your dinner?” Wheeler taught his students: “Don’t ask if, ask which!”

Today, winning customers has less to do with the right choice of products than with the right choice of words. Every market has its own jargon, acronyms and buzzwords that salespeople need to know. Each prospect lives in a different world that is governed by different preoccupations, perceptions and preferences. While a CEO’s perception focuses on the future, strategy and efficiency, the CFO’s preoccupations revolve around cash flow and ROI. For a sales message to gain access to the prospect’s mind it must reflect the language of the market, the preoccupations of the prospect and the challenges of the company. If salespeople want to get a seat at the table, they need to initiate the right conversation and speak the customer’s language.

Today’s successful companies take a more strategic approach to creating and distributing effective sales messages. The new process is called sales enablement which is designed to give each salesperson direct access to the collective intelligence that already exists in a sales organization. Why should salespeople reinvent the wheel every time they need to create a proposal or prepare for a call? Why should salespeople quiz each other for customer testimonials or to find the best practice for negotiating a deal? Why should salespeople create their own laboratory for tested selling sentences?

As regular host of Sales 2.0 Events, I am continually amazed by the sophistication of sales enablement solutions that can help teams collect their best “message assets” (such as talking points, white papers, conversation maps, persuasive stories, presentation videos, proposal templates, market overviews, research data, ROI analysis, customer testimonials and more) and make them instantly available to the entire sales team.

I am sure that Elmer Wheeler would come up with a clever way to describe such innovation in one sentence: “Sales Enablement is the crunch in the cracker, the whiff in the coffee, the pucker in the pickle and the commission in the close.”

Gerhard Gschwandtner is the Founder & CEO of Selling Power. This post appeared originally on his blog. Gschwandtner will host the Sales Management 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia on March 5, 2o12 and the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on April 2-3, 2012