What The Sales World Can Be Thankful for This Year

In the sales world, Thanksgiving usually means one thing: there is just one month left to close Q4 deals! With the pressure to generate year-end business, the functions surrounding sales generally get little time to give thanks and celebrate a year’s worth of accomplishments.

Sales Leadership, Sales Enablement, and Marketing all face the same pressure over the next 30 days: fight to drive toward this year’s goal. Each member of the team has something to be thankful for – a great buyer or a successful new tool – but rarely do we reflect more broadly on how the organization works together to drive to the goal.

Just because Thanksgiving has passed does not mean that time to give thanks is over. Before you dig back into Q4, take some time to look outside of the function and give thanks for what Sales, Marketing, and Sales Enablement are doing to work toward a common goal.

Sales Enablement

Sales Enablement might be most thankful for the positive environment this year – the “perfect storm” of buyer needs, seller stresses, and economic pressures has allowed the function to take on a leadership role in the 2010s. In return, an extremely talented group of learning and development, sales, and training experts have been able to rise into a role designed to directly impact rep efficacy.

Sales Enablement, of course, could not exist without sales. Enablement teams can thank sales for learning and applying the skills and behaviors necessary for closing deals. Sales also provides valuable feedback and progress that can be used to tailor an effective and competitive learning program.

With Marketing, Sales Enablement becomes even more effective. A well-crafted message or set of skills forms the backbone of training and learning, giving Sales Enablement the fuel needed to create extremely talented sellers. Marketing can also take the lessons from a learning program and apply them to future content, evolving the entire organization.

Marketing

Marketing only works when the right message is in use at the right time. The task does not just stop after a message or piece of content is created – reps actually need to be able to carry it into the marketplace.

For that reason, sales might be the biggest asset that marketing has. Reps are able to talk with prospects and use the newly created messaging, giving marketing a direct connection to buyers.

The relationship between sales and marketing is obvious, but giving thanks can help reaffirm a synergetic connection. Marketing gets to use their message and help prospects become buyers, while sales gains a valuable set of resources to go close business.

The agent of change for marketing comes in the form of a strong enablement team, which comes in to help marketing take the newest story and bring it directly into sales conversations. When this relationship works, marketing benefits from reps training on the right message. Enablement also provides marketing direct feedback on how to tailor the next set of messages to be more effective or more widely adopted, strengthening the impact of marketing on the business.

Sales

Sales has a lot to be thankful for. The economy is finally returning to normal, while quota attainment rates are staying steady. Across most metrics, things are looking up for a function that many have suggested is becoming less important.

So what should sales be most thankful for? Great messaging and the chance to practice and learn it.

On the marketing side, sales can appreciate that the function is generating high-quality content, both to drive leads and help convert prospects through the funnel. Marketing also helps to create the messaging that converts buyers that are becoming harder to sell to each year.

Enablement should be sales’ best friend in the driving the year-end close. Traditionally seen as just a resource for sales learning, a recent “perfect storm” of circumstances has…enabled the role to take a new prominence in many organizations. The result? A function able to bridge sales and marketing, leading learning and practice initiatives and helping reps ensure that they can take the right skills, messages, and behaviors into the field.

What enablement does in the background cannot be overlooked either. As part of a progressive learning plan, your enablement team is constantly exploring new strategies and technologies, all to help you hit the number more often.

Sensing a theme? The close, deep connections between Sales Leadership, Marketing, and Sales Enablement teams exist for a reason: all three functions help the others achieve more and succeed more often. All three roles are working toward a common goal – hitting the number – and thus all benefit from strong selling, training, and messaging. Even if we pick fun at marketing for never carrying a bag, or at sales for butchering the newest message, the story each year is the same: each function is an essential part of the puzzle.

What part of the Sales Leadership, Marketing, and Sales Enablement relationship are you most thankful for?

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The Perfect Storm Gives Rise to Sales Enablement Leadership

A storm is brewing in sales organizations across the world. In its wake are changes that affect how sellers sell, how buyers buy, and the success of the business. At the eye of the storm is a relatively new role rising to prominence: Sales Enablement.

While the storm that produced the enablement function is nothing new, three recent factors have sparked a renewed focus on enablement’s differences from other roles and the need to invest more heavily in the function: new buyers, pressured sellers, and a changing economic environment.

Buyers

On one side is your buyer. The stories about how much the buying landscape has changed over the the last 10 years are well known. The average buyer is now doing their own research, entering a sales cycle with a wealth of notions and ideas. They are more knowledgeable about the landscape, tools, and features that they want to buy and are generally further along in the sales process than a traditional new lead. Buyers are also more consensus driven than ever, often requiring 7 or more team members to reach a decision. For each large deal in play, sellers will have to convince more buyers, each with their own research and idea of “good.”

Today’s buyer can be called risk adverse, and for good reason. With increasing pressures to make investments work this fiscal year, rather than years in the future, fast ROI is now a main requirement. Buyers are looking for returns in much shorter window: in 6, 12, or 18 months, as opposed to 12, 24, or 36 months from now. The pressure is on the seller to be able to deliver the right solution, but do so in a window of time traditionally thought to be reserved for adoption and installation.

In practice, this means much longer sales cycle lengths, more team and consensus building exercises, and a harder time of breaking the status quo, articulating the right value, and giving buyers the right information. This burden on sellers increases the chances that our current selling activities end up ineffective or simply wrong. Buyers are demanding more and finding less concrete information to guide their journey.

Sellers

On the other side, you find the rep. Despite the need for reps to be able to articulate value and win more business, they are burdened with constantly rising quota goals, an increase in the amount that they need to learn in order to sell, and less time than ever dedicated to training. This situation is not new, but is evolving – as products and services become more complex, and the buying landscape changes to require consultative sellers, reps find themselves needing more and more rich skillsets. Similarly, the time and money we invest in them to actually successfully master these skills, messages, or behaviors is remaining the same.

Reps demand access to the information that they actually need to do their job, and resources to help them reach specific or non-critical information at will. Armed with the right toolkit of skills, messages, and behaviors, they can be effective, but time limitations and unclear paths to resources prevent growth. Framing this problem is a need to improve the cost of sales, either reducing spend per rep or increasing return on sales investment.

Yet, above the seller is a constantly increasing pipeline of demand. Demand to sell more products. Demand to push more services to buyers. Demand to enter new buying centers and industries. This demand continually presses down on sellers, a burden that expects more and better performance out of a role already squeezed to deliver to current goal. This extraordinarily intense pressure clearly has its impacts – quota attainment rates continue to stagnate or slip, rep attrition is on the rise, and average tenure across sales roles is decreasing.

As the status quo continues, the realities for buyers and sellers will continue to compound. Pressures will rise on sellers, while buyers learn and demand more. Outside of this relationship is an external pressure that threatens to impact both sellers and buyers: the “storm” of the economic environment and the drive for efficiency increases in the sales function.

The Changing Environment

The storm that sparked a change in how we should approach the needs of buyers and sellers started in earnest in 2008, with the financial crisis. Industries across the board lost jobs, and for the most part, those jobs did not come back. To combat the loss of productivity and profit, businesses had to invest more heavily in efficiency, and in particular tools to automate processes.

For sellers, this meant large investments in CRM, email automation, marketing automation, and other SaaS platforms. At the same time, quota were raised, with the expectation that the efficiency improvements created by the new tools would continue indefinitely. As it turned out, reps were put under incredible strain to hit higher numbers than ever. Meanwhile, in a world now populated by easily accessible information, buyers become more savvy than ever, requiring a more consultative and educational sell.

The natural response was to boost the efficiency of what reps do. Despite these investments, diminishing returns over time make the impact of efficiency-based investments erode, as goals continue to rise above means. Without significant investments in efficacy – the actual ability of reps to perform assigned duties – little will catch the organization up to goal.

Sales Enablement Leadership

Today, this perfect storm is in full effect – efficiency boosts promised by new tools are becoming commonplace, and goals are still rising. Buyers, meanwhile, have more information than ever to independently access and use to influence their purchasing. Out of the wake, a role has emerged to bridge these gaps between what buyers need and what sellers say: Sales Enablement.

Your definition of the function may vary, but the overall goal is the same: enable sellers to effectively deliver value on each and every sales interaction. In some organizations, this may mean the role is firmly in the training world, leading onboarding and upskilling efforts. For others, enablement is an executive role, ensuring that everything that sales needs to meet the need is both accessible and in use. Regardless of function, the rise of the role over the past decade is a natural progression toward solving for what buyers want and what sellers need.

Why did Enablement rebound after the storm? Enablement is perhaps the only role that can both grow the efficacy of the seller and increase their ability to meet the demand placed over them, while also helping create buying situations that benefit the needs of the evolved buyer. This unique ability – to train toward the buyer – is what lifts Enablement into an executive, deeply impactful role. While the means rely on a blended solution of techniques likely already present in your organization – learning and development, performance tracking, messaging – having a central role leading the charge and driving toward sales KPIs will help organizations get ahead of this storm.

As the role continues to mature and take strides toward producing more effective sellers, expect a fundamental shift toward new patterns that make the enablement function crucial to hitting the number. Considering where enablement fits into your organizational landscape through the next decade can be the key to clearing the path toward your goals.

We’ll continue to look deeper at the function – including interviews with leading Sales Enablement experts. How does the role work at your organization? Share your experiences and thoughts below.

Cutting Through the Noise: An Interview with Jim Moliski

Jim Moliski is the SVP Product Marketing and Sales Enablement at Corporate Visions, where he spearheads efforts to enable a diverse, global sales team to apply the right messages, content, and skills to be effective in the marketplace. The experience Jim brings to Corporate Visions helps to inform its own solutions that help salespeople communicate value across the three conversations that are required for a business-to-business selling engagement. Jim previously worked at Launch International, later acquired by Corporate Visions, and served as VP of Sales Enablement Consulting at The SAVO Group. We spoke with Jim about his experience in Sales Enablement, and the tools, strategies, and philosophies needed to help reps break the status quo and tell a differentiated story across the entire customer buying cycle.

CommercialTribe:

You’ve transitioned from SAVO, a company pioneering a new approach to sales enablement, to a role as an enablement leader yourself. How has this perspective on the approach to enablement changed over this time period?

Jim Moliski:

There’s always a struggle to manage the amount of communication that salespeople get. Trying to separate the signal from the noise, making sure that they get the right information without being overwhelmed with too much stuff is critical. It’s continuing to be a challenge, because now, salespeople have many, many more tools than they had even 5 years ago, and they have a lot more ways to sell. When I was at SAVO (I left in 2010), social media was just starting to come into prominence and was really in the realm of someone in your marketing department. Now, especially with the great work that LinkedIn has done, most salespeople have been seeing social selling as a critical tool. A lot more salespeople have social in their toolkit, and that’s because it’s getting harder and harder to get people on the phone or email.

It’s a trend of increasing complexity that’s continuing. It makes it even more critical for someone with an enablement role to really try and narrow the focus and try to do an 80/20 on what’s really important for salespeople. When I talk to my CEO about the enablement work we’re doing, a question he often asks is: ‘you’re adding stuff – what are you taking out? How are you making sure that you’re communicating the most critical stuff?’

Overall, I would characterize the last few years less about a change; it’s more of a trajectory that we saw four years ago that has continued.”

CT: When you then look at tools and processes within enablement, how do you look at ROI? Is it a number to you, a result, or just the idea that reps are doing something?

JM: “For us, it all comes down to closed business. Sometimes enablement can take some credit for it, and sometimes not.

At Corporate Visions, we recognize that it’s so important that we have an outside firm BeyondROI, that helps our customers quantify the value they get from working with us.

Within enablement at Corporate Visions, there are some activities that are table stakes – you have to do them regardless of any ROI that you can measure. For example, our salespeople have to be certified on a set of conversations that are designed to tell customers a story about why they should change from the status quo and why they should consider our solutions. We’ve conducted several rounds of research that has shown consistently that those two conversations – a “why change” story about moving away from the status quo and “why you” story about how your offerings address customer challenges – are critical to selling success. We teach our clients how to tell those stories and we expect our own salespeople to master the Corporate Visions stories themselves.

That’s where CommercialTribe comes in. Our in-person meeting and training time is at a premium. So we need to get reps to do as much practice and training as possible in virtual environments. Reps can practice their stories using CommercialTribe, and managers can offer feedback at a time that works for both. That gives us the ability to do more advanced training activities when we meet in person. For example, at our last kickoff, we had everyone practice and record their stories in CommercialTribe ahead of time. When we met in person, we were able to do more advanced role-play scenarios because everyone already had the basic story down.”

CT: You mentioned that salespeople have a lot of noise heading into their department. What do you see as noise, and what is critical?

JM: “I would say that, across our organization and with some visibility into what our clients are doing, one of the key parts of noise is too much product or solution information that gets directed at the salesperson. This is especially the case when there is a complex, diverse portfolio. What a lot of companies do is assume that the salesperson has to be a PhD in product knowledge, when in reality what they need to do is have a more general understanding of each product or solution and then the ability to bring in a specialist when necessary. I think of it as of general practitioners and specialists in the medical field: you have a general practice doctor that will see you and diagnose something, then send you to a specialist. Unfortunately, a lot of enablement is designed to give the generalist the sum total of all product and solution information. It would be similar to expecting a family practice doctor to know everything about every specialty, form neurology to oncology.”

CT: When you look at the “sales tool stack,” which is the set of tools and investments that organizations have, what do find is most often missing from the average approach? What aren’t average companies investing in?

JM: “There are so many sales tools on the market, that I can’t even hope to keep up. We tend to focus more on overall spending priorities, especially when it comes to training. We actually just published a study that covers this. Companies are continuing to invest in the sales process piece, but where they find the biggest missing link is actually in the message piece – in other words, what happens when the salesperson actually has to say something.

What we found was that more than 61% of companies believe that a sales rep’s ability to deliver a distinct point of view is the most important factor in driving deals to close. And it outscored the next fact by a factor of over 3 to 1.

Companies realize they need great conversations, but when you look at what they’re investing in, it’s still sales processes. There’s a dissonance there – companies say that messaging is the most important thing, but it’s ranked number three in terms of spending priority.”

CT: Do you find it to be more important for companies to develop that message, or to develop the alignment behind any message? Is it more of a combination of tools needed?

JM: “You have to have alignment and a great message. You can’t have one without the other. What happens in a lot of companies is that they spend a lot of time creating the message, and the marketing team might create content from it, but companies rarely do a good enough job of getting their salespeople to use that message. You then end up with a something we call a conversion gap. Companies spend a lot time cultivating leads, and those people read your content and download your infographics, executive briefs, and white papers, and at some point, they raise their hand and want to talk to a salesperson. The salesperson comes in and tells a completely different story, and boom – all of that effort has gone to waste because the salesperson cannot continue the conversation. We call that a conversion gap, because leads are not getting converted.

So some companies are investing, into that ‘why change’ message, but there is often not a lot of alignment on the sales organization side, so overall story is not coming across.”

CT: If you look at enablement as a function, where do you see the best investment of time? Is it in the product marketing side, developing that messaging and matching it to the marketplace, or actually on the sales side, making sure that the message is being executed correctly?

JM: “Enablement is a challenge, because there is still not a completely clear definition of what it is. The way I think enablement is most effective is when it’s the organization that can be an advocate for sales, and use a salesperson as a design point for all skills and knowledge development activities. In other words, in larger companies, you have all of these groups that are creating information and throwing it over the fence to salespeople. That’s what I saw with most companies when I started at SAVO in 2004 – companies said that their sales portals were becoming dumping grounds of all of the information from all over the place, and salespeople basically accessed the portal a few times, downloaded a few things, and ultimately hit the off switch. They then started to create their own stories and go out into the market effectively as a solo marketing team. It’s clearly not an optimal way to run a sales organization.

In the past, there was a sales training person, but the training person was really only coordinating an onboarding events and a few skills and knowledge development sessions. Onboarding was little more than what I call product manager parade. The salesperson sits down, and hour after hour, a different product manager would present his or her product. It’s a lot of information pushed on salespeople. A couple months later, they might go through a methodology training, where they review sales process – how to qualify opportunities or create a proposal – and that was it. That methodology training is often completely disconnected from the other training.

At some point, people said that what we really need is to use the salesperson as the design point for all of these activities, and have someone create a function that says, “how do we make sure that we’re prioritizing what salespeople really need to know and get them the information in context of what they need to do?” It makes it more of an activity-based approach.”

CT: How have you used video in crafting or deploying your enablement content? What are the use cases you see for it as you look across the landscape?

JM: “The biggest thing is the work we’re doing with CommercialTribe, which is critical. There’s something that happens when a salesperson knows that they’re going to be on video. It’s almost as if they go to a different level of attention. They spend a lot more time practicing, and it becomes a lot more like a live customer event. It’s asynchronous so that they can do it anytime, and fits into the chaotic schedules that salespeople and managers have. Being able to use video fits into people’s schedules and gives salespeople the opportunity to practice, rerecord, practice again, and rerecord.

On top of that, we’re making a lot more very short instructional videos. As an example, we just created a package on helping our salespeople create organizational maps. We just created a bunch of 1-2 minute videos showing them how to do some key things. The key is to make it short, very direct, and work into a model that people want to watch.

We also have an international team, so it’s even harder to get them on the phone at the same time. That can be a big problem. If you have an international organization, you have the “haves” and the “have nots,” and it’s very frustrating for someone in Singapore to either get up at 3am to get on a call or not get the information. Video is a great way to counteract that, and make that person feel like part of the team and have them not miss out.”