Friday, March 31, 2017

If the Purpose of Sales Enablement is to Improve Seller Behavior...

If the goal of sales enablement is to improve the behavior of sales people (and drive increased sales productivity), how should we observe or measure rep skills and success? How do we improve behavior?

Some managers accompany their reps on calls to observe the rep in action. However, these "ride-alongs" fail for two reasons:
  • Most managers cannot avoid "rescuing" their rep when they get into trouble
  • More importantly, the presence of the manager causes the rep to behave differently and the observation yields inaccurate or misleading feedback
Kitchen Stories
Image by Erik Aavatsmark via New York Magazine
To avoid manager interference, perhaps we should try the approach of putting the manager on a tall chair in the corner (watch the cult movie Kitchen Stories to judge for yourself how well this observation approach might work!)

More importantly, how...and when...should we focus on improving behavior?

Current approaches to both measuring and improving behavior are inadequate

Typical measurements provide a "look-back" at what happened, with no direct connection between measurement and improvement techniques. Even with good performance and success metrics that accurately measure sales effectiveness, efficiency, pipeline coverage and velocity, close rates, customer satisfaction and retention, we are largely collecting trailing indicators.

Today we act on those trailing indicators. We build hypotheses of why things happened the way they did, modify the environment in some way (different content, better coaching, etc.) and wait for new trailing metrics to reflect changes in performance.

Unfortunately, this process spans multiple sales quarters and opportunities. There's no immediate feedback loop between action, result, correction, new action, new result...and without that immediate feedback, the repeated behavior is reinforced rather than corrected.

The best time to make a course correction is before you're seriously off course

When sailing a boat or riding a bike, the best time to make a correction is before you run ashore or fall over. Sailors and cyclists make dozens of tiny, imperceptible corrections --  small movement of the tiller or angle of the front wheel -- all the time, without conscious thought.

For sales enablement to be effective, we need to be able to measure the success (or performance) of the rep as he or she is engaging with a prospect or client and act on that information in realtime, with corresponding small, timely course corrections.

What we need is "in situ" measurement and sales enablement -- delivered in place, at time of action. Perhaps a "sales Fitbit" that provides realtime feedback and guidance. Measurement, feedback and course correction as the rep is doing his or her job.

Garmin Running Watch
Image by DC Rainmaker (Link)
When I'm training for an upcoming race, I don't wait to see my elapsed time for the race before I choose to modify my training activities. I periodically check my running watch as I'm running in training, in realtime. How's my pace? Am I in heart-rate zone 2 or 3? During recovery between Yasso 800 sprints, does my heart-rate return to a reasonable level?  With these realtime metrics, I can choose to make an immediate modification to my next training sprint rather than wait to see how I eventually perform in the race and choose to run faster sprints before the next race.

Similarly, we need to be able to measure the effectiveness of a rep as he or she is engaging with a customer. The following are some of the "realtime" measurements we need to monitor:
  • Is the rep following a thought-out path of engagement?
  • Is the communication in line with the customer's business needs, language of value, results expected?
  • Is the rep connecting at the right level in the organization?
  • How responsive is the customer?
  • How timely is the rep in following up?
  • Is the engagement moving along an expected path, at an appropriate pace?
And given this in-process measurement, we need to provide a learning environment that doesn't require the rep to step out of their existing work flow (day-to-day selling processes). The rep needs constant, ongoing feedback and course correction that guides the improvement of their messaging, timeliness, targeting, listening, etc., while they are undertaking the activities of connecting with prospects and customers.

Some Good News

Companies that implement a "sales Fitbit" approach of monitoring & improving sales activity see immediate, substantial and persistent improvement in customer engagement, revenue and other results. Conversation conversions double or triple. Outbound contacts double. One company saw margins increase by 25% in four months.

This in situ approach doesn't work for all companies. It requires sales organizations to revisit their messaging and to trust their sellers to learn as they go. For companies that are interested, a proof of concept will give quick feedback on whether the approach has broad applicability.



Monday, March 6, 2017

What Do Buyers Really Want?

In most early and even in mid-stage discussions, solutions are the opposite of what enterprise buyers value.
When I talk with senior level technology buyers, many react quite negatively to the word “solution’, with several stating that the word, suggesting preconfigured package of software and services, conjures up the image of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, with bundled burger, fries and a toy.

Most sales teams believe that buyers want solutions to their technical, or in some cases, business problems.

In an HBR article entitled The End of Solution Selling (August 2012) , the authors describe solution selling as searching for a “hook” on which the rep can “attach her company’s solution to that problem.” An off-the-shelf solution in search of an off-the-shelf problem. That’s not solution selling, that’s fishing.

In early and mid-stage discussions customers want something very different. They want to be heard. They want to be listened to. They want to be understood.  They want their prospective vendor to understand the risks faced in taking action, both personal and organizational. They need insights based on their specific business environment.

The help buyers want is elusive. Most sellers are too busy, or too solution-focused, to be helpful. They’re too busy talking to listen. If they’re not talking, they’re still not listening…they’re merely waiting to talk.

While sales people are presenting qualifications, citing case studies, doing product demos, the buyer across the table is calculating risk. What are the risks in going with this vendor? Can they make good on their promises? Do they really understand what we are trying to accomplish? Do they have the resources to fix things when something goes south? Who will be doing the implementation? If it’s a different team than the one in front of me, will they understand our problem? Do they really understand what I need to accomplish?

Study after study from IDC, Forrester and others find that 24% or fewer sales people understand the customers’ business issues (as judged by the buyers surveyed). Is it any wonder that a third or more of all buying teams end their process with a BAU or No Action decision? The risk in BAU/No Action is relatively well understood; choosing to invest millions of dollars with a third party who doesn’t show much interest or understanding of the business challenges holds significant risk!

And so, buyers make smart choices. They avoid sellers’ calls at all costs.

Sales teams must break away from the “show up/throw up” approach of presentation. They must come prepared with a solid understanding of the customer’s business strategy, challenges, biases, internal politics and more. They must understand the market and context in which the customer manages their business, who they sell to, the channels used, competitive pressures and more. They must come well prepared and ready to listen.

Reading the last 4 earnings calls transcripts on is a start. Developing a series of business hypotheses — business problem, financial impact, stakeholder, and more — is a good first step. The next step is to prepare to listen, to actively seek out the input and concerns of the members of the buying team, with the goal of understanding their perceived risk and concerns.

And continue to listen. And begin to share results from similar companies — not the how (the mechanics), but the what (the business results or KPIs). Eventually, the sales team and the customer find themselves on the same side of the table, co-creating new ways of addressing the business challenges.

Making this pivot in approach is hard. Most tech companies thrive on technical superiority — our bits are better than your bits — so to speak. Conversely, most customers will gladly select a mediocre product, well positioned and implemented, over a technically superior product with a poor fit or implementation.

Being genuinely helpful to buyers is often easier said than done. But it’s lucrative.  One large company that successfully made this shift achieved a 24.8% lift in margins. In four months. With no turnover on the team. And no changes to its offerings.