2017 October 10 - The Case for Sales Enablement​

A sales organization is, outside of executives, the most expensive resource at a company. Why do organizations think that by just hiring someone with the title “salesperson” it automatically means they will be able to sell the solution? Why wouldn’t time and resources be invested in training them on how to be effective in their role?

The interesting, and somewhat disturbing reality is even today a large percentage of organizations do not invest in serious enablement curriculums for their sales reps. Companies think enablement is essentially this: learn the product by studying the available collateral and call through a database of potential leads until you get one that is interested.

It makes about as much sense as a dog reading Atlas Shrugged. Not to say that a dog can’t read about a dystopian society that struggles with the morality of self-interest; it just doesn’t make much sense that it would. Dogs generally don’t struggle with self-interest, particularly when tennis balls are lying about. Self-interest is typically a cat’s purr-view (see what I did there?).

To make matters worse, two-thirds of all salespeople miss their quotas. Now, in my experience, it’s not uncommon for sales targets to be so unrealistically set that there is no real chance for more than a couple of sales folks to hit them anyway. It’s a hamster wheel scenario: companies and their board members are constantly pushing their sales forces to sell more, sell faster, and set targets higher each quarter to bring in more revenue, often unsuccessfully. The result is, on average, only a third of salespeople hit their number. In any other role in an organization, that level of performance would be unacceptable! Can you imagine only 30% of a company’s engineers meeting specification on a project? It would result in a lot of partially built cars, collapsing bridges and software that doesn’t do anything.

The key difference in this example is that engineers are trained in university on how to do their job effectively and safely; but there aren’t many university programs out there on how to be a successful salesperson. No one graduates from university with a degree in sales(wo)manship. I certainly didn’t get my degree and say, “Whoohoo, I’m going to be a salesperson now!” Like many people, I fell into sales because of the right combination of sparkling personality and needing a job.

Which means it’s up to organizations to train their salespeople on how to sell their solution effectively and competitively, to give them the best chance possible to achieve the targets set for them. And it needs to be done in a way that is easy for salespeople to absorb quickly, because, to use the adage: time is money.

Who should be responsible for training a salesforce? Human Resources gets a new employee settled in their new job; but those folks aren’t salespeople. Marketing creates the brand messaging and all the pretty collateral out there for people to browse and consume; but those folks aren’t salespeople. When you take a university course in Calculus, you expect the professor to be a mathematician. When you take a job as a salesperson responsible for a substantial quota, you should expect to gain the knowledge you need from someone who understands what it takes for the role to be successful.

And a lot of companies do just that: They have new salespeople shadow current salespeople to understand what makes them successful. Job shadowing can be highly effective in providing context for the new hire. What isn’t effective is if job shadowing is the only thing a company provides to get salespeople up to speed. What works for one salesperson will not always work for everyone; and the person being shadowed may not necessarily know why something is successful. The new salesperson could pick up bad habits by strictly copying what the experienced salesperson does; which results in a salesperson clone. And if Star Wars taught us anything, it’s that clones are bad.

From a new salesperson’s perspective, when you are put into a situation where there are no training materials, no guidelines, and only a few people who have the knowledge you potentially need to be successful, you have a few options.

  • Run away screaming.
  • Sit around twiddling your thumbs until someone explains what you are supposed to be doing to you so you can do it.
  • Complain that this wasn’t what you were expecting and that you’re better than this situation.
  • Ask around to see what you should be doing, then try and copy those around you so you blend in and no one notices you actually don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Say “screw it” and do what you believe is the right thing to do, while learning from those around you to validate whether you’re on the right track, and adjust accordingly.

Salespeople aren’t given the luxury of testing these options because they are given a very short period of time to ramp (typically 2-3 months) and a very large quota to hit at the end of that ramp. Your good salespeople will flutter between options 2 and 4; based on their luck, they may be marginally successful. Your great salespeople will go all in on option 5 and will either be reasonably successful or they’ll get frustrated and leave. The problem is most salespeople out there aren’t “great”. There are a lot of good salespeople out there, and if you don’t give them every opportunity to be successful, they’ll execute option 1.

Which means organizations need to set an adjustable program in place that will not only train the salesperson on what they need to be successful, but when they need it, and who they can look to for guidance on whether or not they’re on the right track. This is the essence of Sales Enablement.

Sales Enablement is the process of arming an organization’s sales force with access to the insight, tools, and information they need that will ultimately increase revenue.

Now there are a couple of assumptions I’m making for the case for Sales Enablement:

  • You have a product/solution/service to sell.
  • You have someone/a team in your organization that is responsible for selling said product/solution/service.

Even if you have an established sales training program, market conditions can change rapidly. Your program needs to be able to adapt to those changes, or you’ll get caught with an ineffective sales force. It’s not just about training sellers… it’s about enabling them.

Enablement is more than training. It’s about empowering your salesforce to be successful. If you remember nothing else after reading this book: Enablement to a sales team is like Alfred Pennyworth is to Batman.