Our AMA (Ask Me Anything) series sees us put top sales enablement professionals on the spot to ask questions posed by YOU.

In this edition, Leon Weerts, commercial executive, consultant and coach and former Commercial Excellence Consultant with AIRFRANCE-KLM, answered Qs on how to set up a sales enablement environment to achieve commercial excellence...

Q. What constitutes ‘commercial excellence’ in this context? How do you benchmark that?

A. I think the core of commercial excellence is enabling sales/commercial teams to get the most out of their contacts with existing customers and how commercial teams can get new qualified leads which are turned into new customers successfully.

In my answer to the other questions, I'll elucidate on this more in-depth. With regard to the benchmark, at AIRFRANCE-KLM [Leon's previous workplace] we conducted customer research where we asked our customers’ opinions on the quality of our sales/commercial teams’ activities. We asked this in relation to our main competitors.

Q. How important is it for sales enablement (whether a team or individual, depending on the stage of growth) to have direct contact with reps, as opposed to going through sales managers?

A. I think that if your core objective is to improve the way of working of sales reps, to make them more efficient and effective, it’s important for the sales enablement individual/team to check at ‘the beginning’ their current way of working (with zero measurement). Then you could determine (in cross-functional project groups for example) what the desired way of working should be and determine the gaps.

Next, start designing a program to bridge the gaps.

For sales reps to really change their behavior/way of working, the sales manager is the critical success factor in my experience (next to all other higher sales and top management).

In order to improve the quality of the sales activities of their teams, they need to be able to coach and develop their teams. So both.

Q. And how regular should this be?

A. After the zero measurement, you determine how commercial excellence should look like, you put a program in place (in which sales managers fully participate) to improve your sales teams, then you actually can check right afterwards the progress made. Nowadays, you can ask sales reps to record customer meetings via Zoom or Teams, which makes it much easier for sales enablement (and sales managers) to monitor progress on key concepts/behavior.

Sales managers are the ones who are responsible for the improvement of their sales teams in the end, and I would join their team meetings or 1:1s to see progress made on coaching and developing their teams (on the content and methodology of commercial excellence and on their coaching skills). This can now be done also via online recordings, which makes it actually much easier now to monitor progress made.

Q. What do you find is the best route to getting endorsement from senior management for a SE programme?

A. Ideally, it will be senior management that initiates the introduction of a sales enablement manager/team in order to achieve commercial excellence. If that's not the case, then it is very necessary they endorse and determine the objectives of sales enablement and get agreement on their leading role in the (ongoing) program.

Do this by establishing a governance structure like an SE steering committee which approves, adjusts and compliments proposed objectives, monitors and approves the set-up, objectives and outcome of project groups on processes-tools-people.

It's important to put top management in the lead, in kick-off workshops, in meetings, in newsletters, in videos in order to show the SE programs objectives have their top priority. This is key, because otherwise all the layers ‘below’ in the organization will not give top priority to sales enablement goals and objectives.

Q. What kinds of challenges (and opportunities) are you expecting for sales enablement over the next 12 months?

A. Some of the challenges I see:

- Changes to the role of reps due to digitalization.

- Budget: for certain industries hard hit by the Covid crisis, SE budgets are cut.

- First 3-6 months: lack of/reduced amounts of physical meetings. A lot can be done virtually, but sometimes f2f meetings really are an advantage to get everybody aligned and focused again.

- Focus on crisis management instead of structurally improving processes, tools and people.

Opportunities I see:

- It’s easier to monitor progress of sales teams and sales leaders on ‘what is expected’ in commercial excellence (recording of customer meetings, team meetings and 1:1 meetings).

- Increase in economic activity will most probably create many new sales opportunities. The challenge here will be for sales reps and sales leaders to prioritize them most effectively.

- Companies who still have budget available are maybe more eager to invest in digitalization and more effective sales teams and leaders.

Q. What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen being made when starting and growing an enablement function? And how did you overcome them?

A. Lack of (top) management buy-in/involvement.

How to overcome:    

-     Establishment of a commercial excellence governance board which endorses the objectives of sales enablement, the objectives and outcome of project groups.

-     Put management in the lead in kick-off meetings.

-     Have them share best practices.

Buy-in/resistance from sales teams and sales leaders ("Why should we change?" "We don't have time to change". "We don't have the right intelligence/tools - first fix that". "Other departments should first fix their issues before we can improve, like operations")

How to overcome:

- Build the program bottom up in cross-functional project teams in order to avoid ‘not invented here syndrome’ and get buy-in

-       Discuss resistance in kickoff meetings.

-       Train managers to deal with resistance.

-       Motivate staff, organize best practice sessions, celebrate successes.

Make changes stick and embed the improved way of working in the organization.

-       Ensure that in management meetings progress of the objectives of sales enablement are monitored.

-       Introduction of (implementation) coaches also helps to embed the changes in the organization.

Q. What would you say should be the main focus points of sales enablement?

A. This is the approach we followed with AF-KLM:

1. Health check: investigate the current situation – how people currently work, how they are managed/coached, what tools they currently use. Determine the objectives of SE with (top) sales management (and even the CEO), ensure buy-in and put them in the lead.

2.     Build the framework: determine the needs with regard to content, customer and revenue intelligence. Establish the right commercial and sales processes and tools. Identify what capabilities are needed for the sales teams and sales leaders. Determine and clearly describe the roles of different functions/tasks.

3.     The academy: build the L&D program based on what is expected from sales teams and sales leaders.

4.     Embed: embed the improved way of working in the organization to make it stick. This often means to change certain aspects of how meetings are organized, for example. From top to bottom it means that progress made by sales teams and sales leaders is monitored. Best practice sessions by sales teams and sales leaders are organized regularly, successes are celebrated, customer researches are executed.

Q. What advice would you give on how to prioritize those points if sales enablement is currently one person?

A. If you then need to prioritize, I would tackle the change in behavior of sales teams and sales leaders first and be very clear about when to tackle the other items (otherwise they will be used as an ‘excuse’ - and rightfully! - for not being able to really improve). What to tackle after that really depends on what already is in place and what isn’t.

For example: -      

-       Customer intelligence: is the workflow in Salesforce matching the sales process, the ‘what is expected’  of sales teams (preparing meetings and follow up on meetings)? Are new concepts like stakeholder/buying center analysis integrated in SF?

-       Revenue intelligence: is the relevant sales data on customer level quickly and easily available for sales reps?

-       Content intelligence: is relevant content (product, service, competitor, customer) easily available and linked to customer specific needs/situations? For this you can make a plan which could be endorsed by a commercial excellence steering committee, and then be communicated to the entire organization. You could establish ‘implementation teams’ (led by you) to build all this (with marketing, BI, IMO, sales, after-sales.

Wanna pose a question to a top sales enablement professional? Keep an eye on the SEC's LinkedIn page to see who's coming up in our AMA (Ask Me Anything) series and ask away...

... or are you keen to share your own experience and expertise? Get in touch!