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 to tech-enable sales process, sales methodology, training, and coaching.

What Does 2018 Have in Store for Sales?

By Mark Magnacca

The past few years have taught us the future is unsure and evolving pressures can create an unpredictable market. However, emerging trends and technologies can help sales teams prepare for these unexpected changes and help them craft adaptable strategies to effectively and quickly respond to whatever is thrown their way.  

As we settle into 2018, here are the top four trends that will affect sales performance in the year ahead.

Trend #1: Selling as a team sport will replace “lone wolf” activity.

Sales reps have long been known for their go-it-alone personality type. Competitive by nature, sales reps thrive on setting their quota – and surpassing it.

In 2018, however, sales organizations will begin a cultural shift from this “lone wolf” mentality toward seeing selling as a collaborative endeavor. This change will be driven largely by new technologies, which are enabling more peer-to-peer collaboration and resource sharing – even for remote teams. Additionally, a natural next step will be the strategic shift in monetary reward structures, where sales organizations will begin to base compensation not only on individual performance, but also on an individual’s contributions to the advancement of team goals.

For the company as a whole, the business does well when the team performs well. By implementing a more strategic rewards system, compensation structures will not only drive improved performance for individuals, but will also promote peer collaboration, knowledge and information sharing, and more friendly competition to reach shared goals.

Trend #2: Process automation and AI will continue to change the role of the sales rep.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was all the rage in 2017, but, in many cases, with little actual ROI. In the coming year, automation, predictive analytics, and AI will continue to mature – bringing with them notable changes to sales reps’ roles.

For example, AI will allow certain repetitive tasks to be off-loaded to automated tools, freeing up reps so they can spend more time delivering value to prospects and customers. Savvy sales teams will learn how to leverage the power of AI and predictive analytics to provide the most relevant and timely content to their sales reps – content that is not only tailored to the prospect’s specific industry and position in the sales funnel, but that, eventually, is specific to the rep’s individual learning style and knowledge gaps as well.

Taking this one step further, Aragon Research CEO and lead analyst Jim Lundy predicts chatbots will become quite prevalent by 2021, and anticipates that internal teams will begin building their own custom chatbots to quickly serve up and deliver customized info to prospects.

Trend #3: Microlearning will become mainstream.

No one really wants to devour lengthy PowerPoint® decks or dense training materials. In 2018, traditional learning methods such as these will continue to fade, being replaced by microlearning – allowing reps to more easily consume new information while on the go.

Bite-sized pieces of information, delivered through a dedicated sales training platform, will be used to extend and expand upon the skills and knowledge taught during onboarding and sales kickoffs – allowing reps to brush up on information on a daily basis. Microlearning enables sales pros to fit learning into their busy schedules when – and where – it works best for them, and has been proven to be a more effective way for reps to learn and retain information.

When delivered in a quiz-based format (like mobile flash cards) microlearning can also provide sales managers with insight into reps’ knowledge gaps and overall understanding of key topics – helping them further refine their sales training techniques.

Trend #4: Sales learning will become distinct from corporate training.

One of the most profound changes we expect to see in the coming year – and a trend that has long been growing – is the division between sales training and general corporate training.

Sales organizations are realizing that a Learning Management System (LMS) can’t meet their unique needs and are seeking out their own learning solutions – and using their own budget to pay for them. The fact is that corporate-focused LMSs simply can’t deliver the type of training sales teams require, such as just-in-time knowledge delivery, peer-generated video insights, and practice and coaching opportunities. 2018 will be the year of the sales training platform, where more and more teams adopt modern training tools as a way to share peer-generated content, video-based mentoring and training, and on-the-go access to deal-specific messaging and materials.

Simply put, sales teams are recognizing the benefit of tailored solutions and the value and ROI they bring to the company’s bottom line.  

Mark Magnacca is the president and co-founder of Allego. Prior to joining founding Allego, Mark spent 15 years helping sales leaders to develop strategies to shorten sales cycles and distribute their best ideas faster. He has also worked as a presentation coach with a wide range of financial service companies by delivering innovative, practice-development and business-building strategies.

Why It Doesn’t Really Matter Which Sales Process You Use

background-2492010_640By Anthony Iannarino

Recently, I wrote about the non-linear nature of what we traditionally call “the sales process” or “the buying process.”

Over the past few years, the conversation has been around the need for salespeople to align these two concepts and make sure these two processes are neatly tied together. The intention is to make it easier and more effective for us to facilitate change.

The assumption here is that both salespeople and customers are following some sort of process – that they both know and understand their process, that they can and will share theirs, and that they can be aligned.

In some cases, I believe two parties can sit down and work out an alignment of interests and the necessary activities to work together. But, if you are being honest (and I know you would never lie to me – much less yourself), when was the last time you or someone on your team asked to share your process, asked for the client to share their process, and gained agreement on how to proceed with the conversations and commitments necessary to change? How many deals follow your process without interruption or deviation?

Player, Play Caller, and Coach

You already know what non-linearity looks like in the sales process. It tends to manifest in the following ways:  

  • We progress through some conversations with customers – only to go backwards two steps when a stakeholder leaves the company
  • A new executive enters the picture
  • The company’s priorities change
  • The prospect decides to acquire another company
  • The initiative is greeted with resistance from key stakeholders
  • Purchasing decides your deal is interesting enough to require an RFP
  • Someone has low blood sugar in the meeting where you are presenting your solution
  • The CFO decides there is no longer a budget

The reason I am agnostic about which sales process you use – whether it is off the shelf or custom built for you and your company – is that they all have merit. They all start with the intention of playing the game in a way that provides the best chance of winning.

I am also agnostic about methodologies (I’ve even developed my own). These are the ways we execute a play – like a football play. Selling well now requires you to be player, play caller, and coach.

  • Player: Because all the negative events in the list above are things that happen in the normal course of selling, you have to be an excellent player to sell well. You have to know how to execute your play – be it something your process dictates or some methodology that has been bolted on.

  • Play Caller: What is also true is that you must also be the person calling the play. You have to be able to look at the situation and your goals and make a good decision from the choices available to you – even when there is nothing in your process or methodologies to direct you.

  • Coach: A coach has a different view of the game. Coaches see the larger strategy and – because of what I would call their “situational awareness” – they have greater context from which to derive their choices, improvise and create novelties, create a mismatch or an asymmetrical advantage, and determine what might be done to succeed in different situations.

The fundamental principle here is this: Right and wrong are moral decisions. In problem solving, you are looking for choices, which means effective or ineffective. When we believe there is one right answer – one way to produce some result – we are cutting ourselves off from choices, the very choices we need to play a game that is more non-linear than ever.

You want to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. You want to be someone for whom the game looks like it is being played at half speed.

To get these kinds of insights from me every Sunday, sign up for my newsletter at

anthonyiannarinoAnthony Iannarino is an entrepreneur, speaker, and author. He is the managing director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, an adjunct faculty member at Capital University School of Management and Leadership, and a certified Peak Performance Mindset trainer. Anthony writes for SUCCESS magazine and Think Sales magazine. He also writes daily about sales, leadership, management, and success at


Seven Daily Habits to Quickly Crush Your Negative Thoughts

By Christine Harrington

The late, great Jim Rohn said: “Motivation alone is not enough. If you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot.”

Jim was right. Motivation can sometimes be just  a bandage – a temporary solution. .

Just like you, I’ve been to the seminars where you leave feeling on top of the world, vowing to change. Then you arrive home – and reality hits you smack in the face. All that motivation to change is now shelved for another day.


Motivation doesn’t teach people one essential tool needed for lasting change. It’s just a quick sugar high that needs constant feeding to keep the high going. Positive thinking isn’t enough, either. It takes the right mindset and understanding of why thoughts go negative..automatically.

This is a very broad subject, and this article’s focus is solely on the initial steps you can take to make motivation and positive thinking stick in a permanent way.

Preparing Your Mind for Success

The first thing to do is address your daily habits. What daily habits do you practice to set your mind up for success?

First, notice I didn’t say set you up for success.Why the distinction? Because most people do not intentionally pay attention to their thoughts. The 60,000 thoughts competing for attention every day? They mostly run in the background of your mind. Usually what gets your attention are thoughts of fear, anxiety, and condemnation. As you’ve been taught, when these thoughts enter your consciousness, you either dismiss the thoughts immediately or launch into your positive affirmations – repeating the chant over and over in a rote process. Sound familiar?

Neither dismissing nor positive rote chanting works. Maybe they will – for a few minutes – but, within less than an hour, the negative thoughts, fear, and anxiety slowly return.

For most people, negative thoughts are automatic. I tell my clients they have ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) crawling around in their mind. (I wish I knew who coined the term “ANTs” to give them credit for such a wonderful visual of negative thinking habits.) You know this kind of person…you’re excited about something positive that occurred in your life, so you tell Negative Ned all about it. But you walk away wishing you’d kept your good news to yourself – because Negative Ned’s negative viewpoint poked holes through your good news.

Don’t waste your time trying to fix Negative Ned. Instead work on not letting Negative Ned, anybody else, or any other circumstance or situation bring you down.

That’s why it’s important to set up daily habits and to understand your Mindset Operating System.

Think of daily habits as your daily mental gym. Journaling is the gym. Each time you record your thoughts and reflect on your day, your mental muscle will begin to grow and strengthen.

WARNING: This daily habit is to raise your awareness; it isn’t an exercise in judging yourself.

Seven Essential Daily Habits

#1 – Goals: How can you benefit from a daily goal? Research shows when you state a goal and put it into writing, you have a far better chance of reaching your goal. If you have a yearly goal, (which can seem daunting) break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. In your journal describe the progress you’re making and the obstacles that need a better solution.

#2 – Gratitude: Gratitude boosts happiness. There’s all kind of research that supports this. When you write about the gratitude you feel, you’ll be more joyous about life.

#3 – Victories: Do you recognize your victories? What about the small ones? Recording even the smallest victories is evidence of your wins. A year later, review your victories. It’s a clear vision of progress. So, no matter the size, record each victory.

#4 – Lessons Learned: Every day is an opportunity to recognize lessons. What lessons have you learned? Are there any that repeat? The new lessons learned are proof you’re improving your mindset. Track your learned experiences.

#5 – Happy Moments: Record what makes you happy. The more you’re aware of what makes you happy, the greater the chance of creating a happier life.

#6 – Learning Goals: Gerhard Gschwandtner says, “The road to learning runs parallel to the road to earning.” Become curious. Increase your passion for reading books. If you want to make more money, then begin self-education. Sign up for workshops, seminars, webinars. Don’t wait for your boss to send you; you take control of your career and life.

#7 – Action Idea: Productivity’s road is paved with ideas and creativity. Capture your new ideas every day in your journal. This will help you transform and grow your mindset.

Your goal this week is to look into your mind and record the Seven Essential Daily Habits. Notice how your awareness increases as the week progresses.

christineharringtonChristine Harrington is The Savvy Sales Lady. She is a facilitator for Peak Performance Mindset workshops and a personal sales coach who helps sales professionals develop and improve their sales performance.

Planning Your Sales Conversations with CIOs for 2018

By Sharon Gillenwater

Earlier this month, Gartner unveiled its 2018 CIO Survey, which summarizes what is top of mind with CIOs moving into 2018. The respondents were 3,160 CIOs from 98 countries and all major industries, representing approximately $13 trillion in revenue/public sector budgets and $277 billion in IT spending.

So what did they have to say?

The first thing that sticks out is that CIOs are routinely driving business outcomes in partnership with business leaders. In years past, CIOs have spoken about their struggles to gain a seat at the table with business owners and their challenges in trying to align with the business. Today, at least 84 percent of the CIOs surveyed say they now have responsibility for areas outside traditional IT and many reported they are close to an “ideal balance” with more focus on business outcomes rather than IT delivery. Their roles are transitioning from controlling costs and engineering processes to driving revenue and exploiting data.

For 2018, 26 percent of CIOs surveyed say their No. 1 priority is growth – to use digitized products and services to drive new forms of revenue, business value, and customer engagement.

Yes, CIOs have come a long way from the data center. And their jobs have become more challenging than ever. They have to manage more change and complexity than ever before, evaluate a steady stream of new technologies and vendors, and navigate an ever-shifting landscape of skills and talent. Plus, they have to make sure all the basic infrastructure is up and running – and that everything is safe and secure.

What does this all mean for those of us who are in the business of helping CIOs?

Well, for one thing, it means the percentage of CIOs exclusively focused on “keeping the lights on” is falling. The pivot to growth as a main focus of top CIOs opens the door to more sophisticated business conversations and solutions – ones that some CIOs may not have been ready for just a few years ago.

That’s not to say everyone is there yet. Gartner noted that some are “trailing” when it comes to digitalization, so there are CIOs out there who are still mainly “keeping the lights on.” It could be challenging to engage this type of CIO around a broader business transformation vision when they are still operating in survival mode.

So how do you know who’s a leader and who’s “trailing” – or at the very beginning of their digitalization journey? You can usually tell by doing some homework on the company and the CIO you are targeting. Look at what the company’s executives are saying on earnings calls. Does the CEO call out technology, innovation, and digital as investment priorities? Or is the focus mainly on cost cutting? These things can give you a clue as to how you should focus your conversation for maximum relevance.

Finally, if you are targeting CIOs, prepare to live in a state of near-constant change. Why? Because that is their reality; 95 percent of CIOs surveyed by Gartner expect their jobs to change, thanks to digitalization. For those of us who want to help them, it means we need to keep up – and keep on coming up with ideas and solutions for helping them meet their business goals.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent nonprofits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

How to Unlock the Value of Inside Sales

By Ben Taylor

People often say that any successful product design must be at least two of the following: fast, cheap, and reliable. An MIT scientist later upended this idea, suggesting that space exploration would be more successful if it were “fast, cheap, and out of control.” He argued that, instead of sending one large robot into space, sending 100 tiny, “out of control” robots would be better.

Why? Sending more robots offers a greater chance of success. If one failed, there would be another that didn’t. NASA could afford to lose a few.

This strategy presents an unsettling similarity to how some approach inside sales.   

Advances in sales and marketing automation allow sellers to reach more customers in less time. However, inside selling cannot succeed on volume alone. Unlike those tiny robots, sellers can’t afford to lose a few customers. Each one counts. Therefore, inside sellers need a framework to yield value from every interaction. That framework is Consultative Telephone Selling.

The Rise of Inside Sales

Traditionally, many businesses relied on face-to-face meetings to win the sale. However, “Cost pressures resulting from the economic downturn have forced many B2B vendors to reevaluate that stance, with surprising results,” writes McKinsey. By emboldening their inside sales team, one global brand “reduced travel costs for sales specialists by 50 percent globally, saving millions of dollars a year.”

Meanwhile, today’s customers are also getting accustomed to inside selling for two reasons. First, they are more comfortable making a buying decision without meeting the seller because they want immediate solutions. Second, the average number of decision makers is rising as the logistics of managing different schedules has become prohibitive. For customers, working with sellers over the phone and video is becoming a necessity.

However, in the race to reach more customers, sellers cannot afford to sacrifice quality. The customer must still be part of the inside sales equation. However, according to Gallup, less than half of customers believe that sellers adequately address their problems. A consultative approach is helping more sellers overcome this challenge.

Unlocking the Value of Inside Sales

The core of Consultative Telephone Selling is the ability to understand customer needs. It’s also the skill most lacking in sales today. Effective questioning starts by providing the rationale for the inquiry. This preface encourages customers to share information.

Remember, questioning shouldn’t be an interrogation. Sellers need to earn the right by balancing their questions with insights. By offering relevant ideas, the seller establishes credibility. As the seller moves through these questions, they must acknowledge what the customer said as they lead to the next question because it’s too easy for the customer to disengage over the phone.

Ultimately, customers will be receptive because the information is relatable. However, keeping information relevant means avoiding the tendency to show the volume of one’s findings. Sellers must share only the most relevant information. Otherwise, they risk losing the customer. Volume doesn’t necessarily equal value.

As this exchange builds, rapport develops – allowing the seller to float ideas. Doing so starts with a carefully crafted value statement linking the seller’s capabilities to the customer’s challenges. The value statement must address:

  1. What’s important to the customer
  2. How the seller can help
  3. What outcomes can be expected

A strong value statement fits the inside selling model because it’s brief. Brevity matters because inside sellers leverage technology to reach more customers in less time. With a concise articulation of value, a seller can form a connection faster over several calls.

After sharing insights and a value statement, consultative sellers need to get feedback. Customer feedback offers clues to closing. Take time to check with the customer that the solutions discussed meet their challenges. This information is needed “in the moment” when the seller can react. Getting the customer’s reactions is critical in keeping ideas malleable. Additionally, asking for the customer’s perspective demonstrates a commitment to a collaborative, consultative process.

Excellence in Consultative Telephone Selling is the driver of inside sales. Sellers equipping themselves with these skills are learning how they can approach each call with dialogue that’s relevant, persuasive, and “in control.”

Ben Taylor is content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for brands such as Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

Let Us Say R.I.P to the RFP Process

By Dr. Roy Whitten and Scott Roy, Whitten & Roy Partnership

The process variously called RFP, RFQ, RFI, etc., was developed in the late 18th century to create a cost-effective methodology for businesses to acquire manufacturing components. Today, when applied to purchases of complex goods and services, it drives a process of buying and selling that is fundamentally flawed.

Anyone involved knows that the playing field is not really level (both businesses and suppliers “game” the system) and the process consumes valuable resources and generates significant frustration. The greatest issue, however, is that it prevents the analysis of the problems to be solved that is required for effective selling and wise buying.

If you want to start pushing back on this crazy system, here are some steps we and our clients have found helpful.

Step 1: Count what it costs you to participate in RFPs.

Perform an honest cost/benefit analysis of participating in RFPs. One of our clients found that, on average, each salesperson responded to two RFP processes per month – through which they landed four contracts per year.

  • The annual value to the business: $250K per sale x 4 contracts x 9 percent net margin = $90,000
  • The annual cost (staff salaries and benefits for everyone who worked on the RFPs) was $12,500 x 24 RFPs = $300,000, plus opportunity costs!

Yes, there’s pressure to participate: from your own business (we have no choice) and from your customers (if you don’t play, you can’t get to the next round). However, if the cost to participate is great enough, you can convince your business to let you explore options.

Step 2: Repurpose your selling process.

The best selling process is one that leads your customer to make the best possible decisions for their businesses. This requires getting them to do four things, in this order:

  1. Identify the full extent of the problems they are trying to solve
  2. Estimate the financial cost of leaving these problems unsolved
  3. Understand your solution to these problems
  4. Calculate the value of your solution for their business

Step 3: If you can, offer an analysis instead of an RFP. .

If you can refuse to participate (even as an experiment with a few lesser accounts), take these steps with a prospective customer:

  • Share the grave limitation of the RFP process: its prevention of discovering the full extent of the problems to be solved
  • Have them estimate the cost of proceeding with an incomplete problem analysis
  • Ask with whom you can engage to help them with that analysis
  • If they won’t do these things, walk away

Step 4: If you must participate, stand out from the crowd.

Go into an RFP process fully aware of its limitations and the cost to your business.

  • Raise questions about the problems to be solved – questions that illustrate the incompleteness of their analysis and the insight you bring
  • Suggest they calculate the cost of proceeding with the RFP without a full analysis of the issues to be addressed
  • Offer a range of solutions and prices that will be dependent on your eventual problem analysis
  • Do only the minimum to get to the next level – don’t run up your costs

Step 5: Either way, get ahead of the game.

Use your contacts within your company and theirs to start exploring the next set of problems to be solved before they develop an RFP. Let your analysis be the foundation of how the next RFP is written, and smile when you see your own words contained in the language of the RFP! Yes, “game” the system.

Step 6: Introduce an alternative process: the RFPI.  

With our own clients, we strongly suggest an alternative that might be called an RFPI: a request for problem identification. After taking the steps outlined above, we usually see prospective clients pull the RFP in order to more fully understand the issues they must address before shopping for suppliers. And, nearly always, we win these deals because of the trust our honesty and insight engenders.

We wish you the best. May your boldness and creativity finally help the RFP process rest in peace.

Whitten & Roy Partnership is an international sales consultancy that helps leading businesses and organizations transform their sales results. Founded in 2009 by sales experts Dr. Roy Whitten and Scott Roy, Whitten & Roy Partnership today comprises a network of consultants operating in 34 countries around the world. For more information visit:

How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Sales Reps

By Tim Rockwell

Difficult conversations are part of any sales leader’s job. In fact, your ability to successfully execute them can either make or break your effectiveness as a leader.

As a sales manager, you need to have confidence that you are actually doing your team a great service by having tough conversations with them. Can it be awkward and maybe uncomfortable at times? Yes. On the other hand, you’re also showing them that you care enough to invest the effort to help them grow and learn.

Accountability is a gift to your salespeople. We are often blind to our own shortcomings, but most of us have the desire to grow. Whenever you tactfully and thoughtfully communicate opportunities for your salespeople to improve and grow, you can actually change their lives.

Of course, one clear risk when giving constructive criticism is that your efforts could fall on deaf ears. To help your team truly receive and grow from your constructive criticism, you need to build trust. Employees need to know that you are for them, you fight for them, and you genuinely believe the best in them.

Personally, I sit down every one of my employees on day one and tell them that I am on their team and that I will be fiercely loyal to them. Words are cheap but, over time, I do my best to prove it to them. When the time comes to have a difficult conversation, it is always received much better because they know I have their best interest at heart.

Knowing the importance of having difficult conversations and keeping the challenges in mind, here are a few tangible steps to consider.


Before you initiate a hard conversation with someone, you should write down exactly what you want to communicate. Opener, meat, and conclusion. Write it all down. In the heat of an awkward or difficult situation, our mental capacity is often monopolized by our emotions instead of the substance of the issue. When you have notes, you won’t forget anything or regret something you communicated poorly.

Additionally, it can be therapeutic for you to write down how you feel about a certain topic. You may even omit or add something after seeing it on paper that you would have otherwise forgotten. Besides helping you remember what you want to say in the moment, the practice of writing things down will force you to give meaningful thought to an issue instead of just saying what comes to mind in the moment.

Of course, a difficult conversation will evolve outside of your planned words – but you can plan for that as well. Anticipate three different reactions from the person with whom you are having the conversation. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and begin to imagine how he or she might react. It will allow you to prepare for any rebuttal and it will also give you a perspective outside of your own.


Before you begin a tough conversation, ask the other person for permission to speak to an issue. Then, if given the green light, ask for permission to be direct. Although you may not “need” permission to speak to a subordinate, it is a strategy that makes them feel involved in the process and can help bring their walls down. Also, if you receive their blessing to be direct, it allows you to not have to dance around the issue and get right to the point.

Stephen Covey famously says: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I’m convinced that the most successful and effective leaders in this world are the best questions askers. That theory carries over into having hard conversations. Don’t assume anything – especially the worst in a person. At all costs, try to avoid speaking to character deficiencies as that will initiate the fiercest of defense mechanisms. It’s amazing what you can learn and how much better you are received when you approach a hard conversation by asking questions first.   

Follow Up

There is a good chance that, at the end of a hard conversation, one or both parties will feel frustrated or hurt. That is okay. If the relationship is meaningful, whether professional or personal, it was worth it. End the conversation with a pleasantry like, “I really respect you and I appreciate the opportunity to work this out,” then schedule a time to follow up.

A follow-up conversation will allow the two parties to take some time to gather their thoughts and bring back anything they forgot to say or wish they would have said differently. This ultimate step may seem like overkill, but it is the final healing agent to prevent a feeling from festering into a grudge. The healthiest business relationships keep “short accounts” and move forward after successfully executing a hard conversation.

Tim Rockwell is national sales manager at Imperial Blades. A version of this post was published originally on LinkedIn.

Three Ways B2B Sales Leaders Can Enable Channel Partner Success

By Jason Angelos

In the search for growth, companies have undertaken significant steps to rapidly extend their indirect sales networks and engage new types of channel partners. But many firms have failed to underpin them with the capabilities and policies necessary to enable insight, influence, and collaboration across these extended networks.

Just 21 percent of B2B leaders today say they have total control over their sales networks and overall customer experience, and another 84 percent have no visibility into sales partner opportunity pipelines, according to a new study on B2B customer experience from Accenture Strategy.

The report highlighted that 90 percent of B2B leaders around the world believe customer experience is central to the growth agenda of their companies, but very few are getting it right. Those with little control or oversight of their partners’ sales, marketing, and customer engagement channels are at a significant disadvantage.

Without the right CX capabilities, B2B companies can’t build relationships with loyal customers who spend more, they miss out on growth opportunities that reside outside the traditional sales cycle, and they incur huge opportunity costs by failing to capture renewals.

If B2B firms are to tap the potential of their extended channel networks, they should trade in the traditional “light-touch” partner management strategies of the past in favor of “ecosystem orchestration” – an approach that enables the flow of information, resources, processes, and services across a partner network to deliver compelling customer experiences and drive selling opportunities.

There are already signs that B2B companies are ready to pick up the baton. According to the study:

  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of B2B leaders acknowledge they want to get better at leveraging ecosystems to deliver superior CX.
  • They are embracing data-driven approaches and endeavor to understand their partners’ performance and priorities as well as their own.
  • Companies with effective partner lead generation and coaching are 63 percent more likely to beat their indirect channel revenue goals.

In short, what’s needed today is a sales ecosystem that works as an extension of the core business and enables trusted relationships with select partners. These key partners don’t just pass along a product or service to customers; they share resources and insights to deliver better CX and create value. As B2B leaders ponder front-office investments, better customer data management and insightful analytics have the potential to be the currency that drives ecosystem growth in the future.

To enable sales success, B2B leaders must:

  1. Regain visibility and control – Take control of B2B CX by replacing traditional partner management with an ecosystem approach that treats all partners as an extension of internal operations. Ecosystem orchestrators view partners as more than service providers: They are enablers of new business models and customer strategies. The focus should not be on ensuring territory coverage or sales volume, but on co-creating value by delivering exceptional customer experiences.
  1. Build true partnerships – Businesses can deliver truly compelling experiences only if they are armed with deep insight of their customers’ preferences and habits. To enable connected insights and build trust across the ecosystem, companies should establish feedback mechanisms and data sharing processes that clarify key roles and responsibilities for improving CX and sales. Partners need to be engaged and encouraged to share customer insights through value-adding activities such as customer events and sales lead generation, building true partnerships that deliver clear value.
  2. Leverage data to foster connected growth – B2B companies are behind their B2C counterparts in using technology to understand customers and devise CX strategies. By rolling out better customer data management technologies and embedding advanced analytics into CX processes, B2B companies can quickly bridge this gap.

B2B leaders recognize the imperative to reinvest in customer experience, but they are struggling with a loss of control. As they grow their indirect channels, this issue will only get worse.

With their future growth prospects at stake, B2B executives must determine how to improve CX while ceding more of the experience to their partners. The answer lies in adopting an ecosystem mindset and focusing on building a connected and trusting environment with value-adding partners who can co-create new experiences that delight customers and help deliver connected growth.

Jason Angelos is a senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, where he helps global organizations plan, architect, and deploy innovative and highly agile sales solutions that drive more profitable growth. With nearly two decades of experience, he specializes in sales spend optimization, price and profit optimization, execution and operations excellence, sales talent enablement, and digital selling and dynamic channels.

Five Mistakes That Can Sink Your Sales Kickoff

By Jim Ninivaggi

Register now to hear Jim Ninivaggi speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference December 4 in Philadelphia, where he will present “Perpetual Sales Readiness: The New World of ‘Always On’ Learning for Sales.”

Many companies are in planning mode for their sales kickoff meetings – hoping to set the strategy, motivation, and momentum for a successful FY18. I’ve been at kickoffs where the excitement and electricity in the room were palpable. They had that spine-tingling moment we all know: where the hair on the back of your neck stands up because you’re so energized and inspired. Pity the competition, we thought – they have no idea what they’re in for!

On the flip side, I’ve also attended kickoffs where ostensibly well-laid plans went awry, giving way to lackluster, boring, and unsuccessful events. In cases like these, a domino effect often kicks in. After all, a kickoff isn’t just a single event in isolation – it sets the tone for the rest of the year. If reps leave confused or uninspired, that can impact morale, retention, and results.

Here are five common mistakes that can derail kickoffs – and ways you can avoid these errors.

#1 – Giving Bad News First

Imagine your sales team is seated in an auditorium. You’ve had a good year. Then the head of sales proclaims: “To capitalize on this momentum, we’re going to ask even more of you – splitting your territories in half and doubling your quotas.” (not an atypical scenario!)

How are reps going to feel? Chances are, this news will dominate their minds during the event, crowding out opportunities to absorb other information.

You’re better served getting out any “bad” news before the kickoff – such as at town-hall meetings, where reps and managers can process the details. Then, you can use the kickoff to inspire reps to achieve the new goals you’re setting – showing them how they can make the money they’re looking to make.

#2 – Using Kickoffs for Training

All too often, companies use kickoffs to introduce and train reps on new sales methodologies and skills. That makes sense at a superficial level – after all, the whole company is together, right?  

But you’re competing with a lot of noise in the form of new territory assignments, new compensation plans, late-night social events, etc. – which often doesn’t leave attendees in the best shape for learning. I can’t tell you how many training sessions I’ve delivered where I’ve looked at the audience and wondered, “Am I speaking out loud?”

Instead, conduct upfront knowledge and skills transfer prior to your kickoff, so reps come ready to apply what they’ve learned. Then, the kickoff can focus on practice, application, and certification.

For example, I once worked with a software company that took a great approach. They had traditionally sold to CIOs and were launching a product geared toward CMOs. Prior to the kickoff, we got reps in the mindset to pivot – providing manager-led training, e-learning and video coaching on how to sell to this role. Then, at the event, reps could put their newly acquired skills to the test, engaging in role-play with former CMOs we’d brought in. These interactions drove high interest and engagement, and helped advance the company’s sales transformation.

#3 – Delivering Inconsistent Presentations

How’s this for mixed messages? The CEO takes the stage at your kickoff, discussing how your organization needs to move from selling products to selling solutions that solve business problems. Two presentations later, it’s the head of marketing’s turn – who immediately touts a new product and enumerates all the whiz-bang features, with no regard for how they address challenges.

This lack of alignment can give way to a disjointed, incongruous event – with the field force confused and inclined to dismiss any need for change. After all, if their bosses are still presenting “the old way,” why should reps do anything different?

To avoid mixed messages, designate a presentation “editor-in-chief” prior to kickoff. This person should be responsible for reviewing everything for consistency: the presentations’ style, template, strategic messaging, etc. The person should also ensure quality in the presenters and in any product demonstrations – since unveiling a new product that doesn’t work on stage is a surefire way to squash reps’ confidence to sell it.

#4 – Choosing the “Wrong” Motivational Speaker

I don’t have anything against celebrities and sports figures. However, I’ve often noticed an inverse relationship between a speaker’s level of star power and the amount of effort they’ll put into researching your company. And, if your company isn’t important enough for your speaker to understand it, how can that person say anything of value to your reps?

To avoid losing credibility, find a speaker who will take time to understand your business and theme, and bring in relevant stories. Not everyone relates to athletes – so seek someone with a broad appeal, who can connect to the audience as a whole. Often, this may be a speaker you’ve never heard of before, but who has a compelling story to tell.

One of the most powerful speakers I remember keynoted a kickoff dedicated to personal accountability. With a spotlight on him, he paced back and forth on the dimly lit stage. We all wondered what he was doing – until he explained that the steps represented his living space during his six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His story about taking control of his life in the face of harrowing conditions set a powerful foundation for the theme.  

#5 – Neglecting Team-building Activities

Bringing the company together does little good if everyone retreats to their cliques. It’s important to incorporate mechanisms that encourage cross-pollination, so people from different geographies get to know each other through collaborative projects, contests, and social activities.

An internal social platform (not an external forum or hashtag) can complement face-to-face interactions and help attendees provide feedback in real time. Team-building activities – especially ones with a positive social impact – can also engage and invigorate the company, and are often particularly attractive to millennials. At our 2017 Brainshark kickoff, for example, we put attendees into teams and, with the proper instruction, had them build bikes together. The bikes were then donated to a children’s charity.

Good Luck!

As you prepare for your kickoff, it’s important to avoid these mistakes and think about ways to extend your kickoff’s theme throughout the year. Best wishes for a successful event and prosperous FY18!

Jim Ninivaggi is chief readiness officer at Brainshark, Inc., a leading sales enablement solutions company. In his role, he helps prepare the Brainshark sales force with the knowledge and skills to optimize every buyer interaction. Jim has more than 30 years of experience driving B2B sales productivity and, prior to Brainshark, led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions – providing 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. Register to hear him speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference December 4 in Philadelphia, where he will present “Perpetual Sales Readiness: The New World of ‘Always On’ Learning for Sales.”