Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Is Sales Enablement Really Just a Programming Challenge?

A common theme in sales enablement circles revolves around the challenge of displaying specific targeted content to sales people at discrete points in the sales cycle.

The belief is that if we just get the right content in front of the sales person at exactly the right time, it will help him or her to move an opportunity to the next stage.

Do we really think that enterprise selling has become nothing more than a Pavlovian parlor trick? That we can get a rep to literally ring  the bell when he or she consumes the “right” content?

At the risk of upsetting the SE vendors in the room, I’d ask this question — have we actually proven that reps will understand, retain and leverage all that content pushed at them? Do they really consume it, internalize it, make good use of it, retain any knowledge or show ability to reuse? Does it result in higher close rates, increased deal profitability, higher customer satisfaction and retention scores? Or are we simply measuring activity - number of reps “trained”, videos downloaded, micro-courses consumed, evaluations passed?

We know that customers don’t always follow a linear path in their buying process. And the development of their evaluation and selection criteria certainly isn’t linear. Things come up when they come up. While an experienced sales person can help guide some of this, in my experience, the best sales people pivot quickly and competently (and certainly don’t have time to go back to the office, update CRM and consume some more content.)

I want my reps to live in a culture of curiosity — what can they learn from a customer, what can they *find* in our sales enablement library (and elsewhere), what new ways of doing business can they co-create with their customers?

I’m deep into reading Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter Brown. In it, Brown makes the point that curiosity and intellectual inquiry are at the heart of successful learning. Sitting and passively reading content is not an effective learning strategy.

Look, if we are building sales bots, then perhaps the programming paradigm fits just fine. If we are doing this, though, why bother with the intermediate step of involving people…lets just program the bots and point them directly at customers.

The problem with the content strategy is that it aligns with a popular (but ineffective) market paradigm, that if we just tell customers enough, if we just keep talking at them, eventually they will see the error of their ways, understand that our widget is better than all the other vendors’ widgets, and will put pen to paper.

Customers don't buy this way, even enterprise customers dealing with complex product or service acquisitions or adoptions. They simply aren't competent at objectively evaluating the detailed feature sets of each vendor's offering. Instead, customers buy with their gut, when they believe that one vendor’s team, product and services hold less personal and institutional risk than the other offers, and they justify their decision with a selection of facts, product details and price quotes.

If we are intent on building a sustainable business, one that customers *want* to engage with, then we need to shift our paradigm to creating interesting, and interested selling individuals. We need to focus on helping sales people to develop their social cognition, so that they have greater situational and organizational awareness, as opposed to feeding them yet another script that starts off with “oh yea, our stuff can do that too…and we’re cheaper.”


Monday, February 3, 2020

Be Impeccable With Your Word

If you’ve read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (available here), you recognize “Be Impeccable With Your Word” as the first agreement. We can learn a lot by applying Ruiz’s teachings to the art of selling.

Ruiz says, in part, that to be impeccable with your word, “you must speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.” And, paraphrasing, do what you say you are going to do.

So…how do we apply this to the art of selling?

It’s simple…do your account planning and pre-call prep so that you are prepared to bring value to the conversation.
  • Be clear on your understanding of the organization’s challenges and opportunities, and on what your contact does each day in support of the organization’s strategic goals 
  • Develop and practice your initial conversation before you pick up the phone to call your prospect. Write it out and tweak it until the customer-centric messaging is clear and your business value proposition is straightforward. Review it with a peer to ensure that you’re delivering it in a conversational style, one that is yours, and is appropriate for your prospect (region, language of value, etc.)
  • Use language that is business-centric, that makes sense for a senior business (non-technical) person. Use language that helps the prospect to feel comfortable with your expertise in the process of diagnosing issues and coming up with recommendations.

And…if you make a commitment, be specific – I’ll call you at 3 pm on Thursday (versus I’ll call later this week). When you make that commitment, put it in your calendar, with a reminder, and make good on the commitment. 

Call promptly at 3 pm!

By being impeccable with your word – being easy to understand, focusing on the prospect’s key issues, using their language of value, and following through on your commitments, you will set yourself apart from most of the other vendors’ salespeople calling on the same accounts.

And, by following through on your commitments, you will lower the prospect’s perceived risk in going with you. Perceived risk is a huge factor in complex business to business sales, and while it’s not objectively measurable, it is one of the most important elements in the decision-making process. Buyers frequently will select a vendor that they believe can be trusted to deliver a solution that works, even if another vendor’s offer may be lower priced.

It’s a relationship-based decision, and we build that relationship by clarity with our words and demonstrating our trustworthiness by crisply following through on our commitments.

So…be clear in what you say, and do what you say you are going to do. While this is not difficult to do, our crazy-busy, interrupt-driven environment can sometimes make it challenging, both in finding the time to prepare and in crisply meeting our commitments.

Awareness is the first step to success.



Saturday, January 25, 2020

Practice, Practice, Practice!

I’m in the middle of rereading Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success (link) and I was surprised at the common themes that help runners, artists, surgeons and sales people all excel at their craft.

If you’re interested in excelling at sales, follow these guidelines:

#1 Context is everything

If your intent is to get through 10 calls so you can check that box and go to lunch, the calls won’t be useful to you or the prospects. On the other hand, if your intent is to solve problems, make sense of the world, talk to interesting people, improve your craft…your calls will be much productive and fun. Your prospects will enjoy talking with you; they’ll share more, they will help you to help them.

Remember, your context (or intent) is obvious to your prospect, like it’s written across your forehead or broadcast in your caller id. You will always broadcast some context, either consciously or not, so ensure that it is a powerful, positive one. (Hmm, perhaps a topic for another posting…)

#2 Practice makes perfect

Athletes and musicians practice to ensure success. And they don’t just practice, they focus on specific skills, one at a time. A pro golfer will spend a week working solely on his putting game (but not from the same spot each time). An ultra-marathoner will focus on building leg speed. A top sales person will focus on practicing the pivot or bridge from one topic to another.

We practice to build “muscle memory.” When a prospect asks us a question out of the blue, because we’ve practiced, because we’ve built that muscle memory, we can pivot to addressing the question in a useful and meaningful way. Or maybe that question doesn’t catch us off guard…because we saw something on the contact’s LinkedIn profile and gave some thought to how that might be relevant…

#3 Learn from doing

Top performers always evaluate their performance. What went well? What could he or she have done differently? What’s the learning? What new muscle memory must be created?

After you talk with a prospect or customer, think about the flow of the conversation. Were you properly prepared? Did the conversation follow the path you expected? (Hint, it never does!) Did you accomplish what you intended? Were you open to solving different problems, uncovering and exploring different issues? Did you position yourself as a resource? Did you make a deposit in the relationship bank account? Did you reach agreement on a specific follow up?

This introspection is the single most powerful thing you can do each day to identify areas for improvement, to build your selling skills. For a deep dive into learning theory, spend some time with Make It Stick by Peter Brown (link). Peter also cites some pretty interesting research on new techniques for skill development (a topic for another post.)

Leverage your resources. Use the industry and persona information provided by your organization or public resources, the treasure trove of prospect information on LinkedIn, the call and conversation planning tools needed for thoughtful preparation. Corporate Visions cites industry knowledge as being critical to successful conversations, more important than company knowledge, and far more important than product knowledge. Prepare for success!

Practice, practice, practice. It might take you 30 minutes to fill out your first call planning template. It will take you 5-10 minutes to complete your 10th. Role play with your peers or your manager. Fine tune your conversational skills in a “safe” environment, make the mistakes in a coaching space where you will get immediate feedback. Practice your opening conversation in front of a mirror until it feels and sounds natural.
And pick up the phone often. You will have far greater success in holding an enrolling conversation with someone if you reach them by phone, versus trying to engage them by email.