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.”


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