Felix Dumitrica, Head of Sales Enablement & Productivity in Europe at FreshWorks, gave this presentation in October 2020 at the Sales Enablement Festival.
In this article, I’ll share with you my thoughts on the emerging role of sales enablement and a different perspective on how to look at and use sales metrics.
I’ll highlight three hurdles commonly faced in sales enablement and discuss how taking a data-led approach in 2021, a new way of working, can show you whether your buyers’ expectations have been met.
My name's Felix and I'm a sales professional with 15 plus years of experience and with a passion for enabling salespeople and shaping better ways of working within and around a B2B sales organization.
In this article, I’ll share with you my thoughts on two things:
- The emerging role of sales enablement, and
- A different perspective on how to look at and how to use the sales metrics.
We are not different from coaches...
You will definitely wonder: why this quote?
This is a quote from a legendary coach from a famous Netflix series called The Playbook - some of you reading may have watched it. The Playbook profiles legendary coaches, as they share the rules they live by to achieve success in sports and in life.
As sales enablement leaders it isn't really very different. It's like that soccer coach - not celebrated enough but a core part of the business.
One team, many roles
Enablement as a function, as a team, has many roles.
- We need to coach sales teams, like soccer players,
- We need to coach star players together with average players,
- We need to offer tactical guidance.
At the same time:
- We need to be a strategic partner for the sales leadership,
- We need to support the sales strategy,
- We need to manage the management as usually sales leaders are looking for quick wins or quick fixes to achieve quotas.
But at the same time, salespeople need time to develop and to change.
We also need to offer support to our colleagues from product and segment marketing for their efforts to be efficiently delivered to the sales team.
In any organization, there are functions that enable the field forces such as human resources, sales operations, marketing operations, product management - all of them are building enablement elements.
While many teams contribute to enablement efforts, enablement professionals can ensure consistency and effectiveness by orchestrating the efforts of multiple collaborators, aligning all those enablement elements, and orchestrating their delivery to the field so the sales reps can easily digest them.
Rising expectations - sales enablement in 2021
To be effective in 2021, sales enablement must be seen as a strategic discipline that is set apart from other functions, regardless of their contribution to enablement.
It must evolve to be a cross-functional role and to offer a cohesive experience inside the company.
Top three hurdles for sales enablement leaders
I've included in the below image, in my opinion, the top three hurdles for sales enablement leaders.
Balance strategic and tactical projects at the same time
First, the perspective of enablement determines the value the function can create for the company. As we typically deal with two types of projects;
- Strategical projects, meaning we design integrated programs based on the sales enablement charter to create measurable outcomes, and
- Tactical projects, meaning we fix what's broken by focusing on certain productivity drivers by developing the answer and prescribing what sellers need to do.
Attribute enablement efforts in supporting sales strategy and growth
Secondly, it's quite difficult to associate a business win directly with the impact of sales enablement. It's just like it is difficult to measure the impact of a good coach in the soccer team's latest win - it will always be a challenge.
Clarity in enablement areas and audience
- Enabling who?
- Enabling to do what?
- Which roles?
- Which channels?
- Which regions will be served by the sales enablement function?
- So, what should guide sales enablement leaders?
In my opinion, buyer expectations should be the North Star.
According to a recent study done by CSO Insights called the buyer preference study, the buyer said they expect:
- Excellent communication skills across all channels,
- Sellers to be well prepared,
- To learn something new from them, and
- To be provided with insights and perspectives that help them solve their challenges in the best possible way.
Those expectations require sellers to evolve their selling skills and to better leverage defined selling methodologies and processes. But first, let's see how sellers are perceived by executive buyers.
How sellers are perceived by buyers
- 62% of the executive buyers think sellers are very knowledgeable about their company and products.
- 24% of them think sellers are knowledgeable about their specific business.
- Only 23% think they can relate to their role and responsibility in the organization.
- 22% think the sellers understand their issues, and they see where they can help.
- Only 21% think sellers have relevant examples or case studies to share with them.
Enablement needs to take a strategic and holistic approach to help our salespeople be seen as trusted partners by enhancing their ability to be valuable.
We talk about perspective selling, of course, to be relevant and differentiating for prospects and customers at all stages of the customer path and in every interaction. That's our job.
Some metrics that can determine whether we are meeting our buyer’s expectations
I have picked some metrics, the classics:
- Close rates
- Cycle time
- Deal size
We can use those to determine whether we are meeting our buyer expectations, as I mentioned earlier, the buyer’s expectations should be the North Star. If we relate all the metrics to this North Star, we can improve and we can make our salespeople successful.
But same metrics, different perspective. Typically, we use metrics and KPIs for clarity, focus, improvement, engagement, communication, and learning.
On one side sales leaders are using them for performance management, for taking action based on the results of the evaluation to ensure targets are achieved.
But if we consider the results pyramid, the one that has four layers, the first layer being the experiences, the second one being the beliefs, the third one being the actions, and the fourth one being the results, then the sales leaders are working on the third one - on the actions - but even the newly agreed actions will be based also on the same beliefs.
In my opinion, I think enablement should offer different experiences to the salespeople in order to change their beliefs that will lead to improved actions.
Also, sales leaders are usually focusing on typical lagging indicators, the ones that look back at past performance, but sales enablement should pay more attention to the leading indicators, the ones that are forward-looking, as those being predictive will allow us for better decisions to address future events.
The only challenge is being difficult to identify and capture results. But I can recommend what I use to tackle this:
- Running a value flow analysis for each sales role,
- Defining the inputs, outputs, and outcomes.
What got us here won’t get us there
But as Marshall Goldsmith said, what got us here, I don't think will get us there.
We have two ways to hit this matrix, the current way of working and the new way of working. While the current way of working is valuable and should be continued the true enablement in 2021 I think implies taking on a wider perspective.
It should be informed by buyer insights and scale. In the next part of the article, I will talk about each of the three metrics presented earlier and two approaches to look at them and solve them.
Metrics that show you whether your buyer’s expectations have been met
Poor closing rate means for some buyers, the expectations weren't met. The goal is to improve the close rate to achieve expectations.
Let's take a look at some probable causes which usually arise after the diagnostics phase ran by sales enablement.
- Poor conversations with wrong stakeholders.
- The buyer doesn't see how the product meets their needs.
- Inability to justify the economic investment.
These will be around:
- Offering content, training, and coaching for salespeople to have better conversations with the right stakeholders,
- To help them clearly connect how our product matches the buyer’s goals,
- To help them better understand and articulate our differentiators.
Of course, improving specific metrics with more or better training is one of the most efficient ways to measure the training effectiveness to prove the ROI of the training when training is the solution or part of the solution.
But what do you think, is this enough? Is this the long-term solution?
The new approach
I think in addition to the typical actions, we can take advantage of today's smart CRM capabilities which can reduce the cognitive load of our sales teams by guiding them with the right actions.
For example, which leads to prioritize and what actions to take to crack a deal. This has shown to significantly improve sales productivity and empower them to do well.
Keeping the buyer at the center implies talking to them as they would want us to do - what is the right message to send and what time?
The longer it takes, it means the expectations weren't met and we had to go back to the customer again and again. This increases the cycle time.
- Misunderstanding of the buyer decision-making process.
- Poorly framing the success criteria for your buyer,
- Failure to create a compelling future end state and to create a sense of urgency.
Content, training, and coaching for salespeople to help them model the customer decision-making process, to develop their ability to navigate clients’ agreement network, and to help them create a compelling vision and sense of urgency.
The new approach
But again, let's take a quick look at the data-led possible actions.
Enablement by all - sales enablement should be a part of all roles in a business just like customer experiences. Let's start with sales and marketing. Sales enablement should lead that alignment however, an easy starting point is when both sales and marketing teams have the same buyer information.
Today, we have different sources of truth and hence a huge variance in outcomes. It should not be a hit or miss approach, at least that's what I think. What if we all operate from one source of truth that captures all information and provides valuable insights?
Buyer expectations at the center - how many times have we seen broken buyer experiences leading to failed deals? Lack of buyer insights, different teams armed with different buyer's data, wrong message during a certain buying stage. There are so many reasons.
Again, the right technology and data are available today so let's make use of them to make our job easier.
Field insights - how often do we blame marketing for not being in touch with our buyers? A part of this problem is a lack of a common understanding of the buyer. What if the buyer themselves could tell both sales and marketing what they like or dislike based on their past engagement?
- Poor negotiation with the customer.
- Agony-driven quarter-end discounting.
- Full economic value not clearly established during the sales process.
Offering more or better content training and coaching services for salespeople to improve their negotiation skills and reduce desperation to close deals each quarter, to help them elevate relationship to executives with larger wallets.
The new approach
But again, today, we can use 360 buyer engagement data to get insights. For example, a sales rep before getting into a call with a prospect use buyer engagement data from emails and from chatbot to better understand the topics of interest, whether they consumed any marketing asset, and which one.
We can capture prospects’ activity on our website, identify signals, and right offer to sell.
We can also predict current customers with a high probability to consume upsell offers.
What does the future look like for sales enablement leaders?
I think sales enablement must re-connect with your company's customers and understand how their needs have changed.
What is working now and what is not.
Successful enablement efforts begin with an assessment of customer needs and those needs just changed because, of course, the pandemic.