We’ll come back to this theme at various times during 2015 and probably beyond.
A logical starting point is “What is different about the 21st Century in this respect?” or perhaps “Is there anything different?”
People typically respond quickly with; social media, networking, or savvy well-informed buyers. Taking a quick look at these three utterances we would say that social media is of course new since the turn of the century and networking while not new is now done on an almost industrial scale never seen before. As to savvy well-informed buyers; I think this has always been true and I would even argue that this statement is, in some cases, less true today that it was in the past.
We will explore all of these topics at a later date, but today we are going to focus on another aspect of selling, Sales Enablement, and how it has established a presence in the 21st Century.
What is Sales Enablement?
The term emerged, from research undertaken by Forrester, in 2008 and ever since has been used to describe a wide variety of things no matter how loosely they may be connected with either sales or enablement. Following the principle that simple is always best we use the term, in its most direct form, to talk about anything that enables sales.
The question is – enables it/them to do what? We would humbly suggest that unless it enables sales to be more effective then it may well be a waste of time. Simply making sales more efficient is not good enough and in any event that option has been done to death through the recession – for most companies there is no more juice to squeeze out of the fruit of efficiency.
So what options are there to make sales and the people that work in this area more effective? The key performance indicators that we always focus on with our customers are:
- Early engagement before the prospect has formed too many ideas and prejudices
- The ability to understand the prospects’ real needs and then the capability to respond accordingly
- Early bid/no bid decision and if it is “bid”; make an early decision on how to bid to win
- Continuously improving conversion ratios at all major milestone interfaces in the prospects’ buying cycle
- Selling techniques that maximise the success rate for deals done while protecting margin
- Sales managers who understand that their primary role is to coach and support their sales people
There will be other things that matter to individual companies but the above summarises all those things that matter to at least 90% of the companies we engage with. In our experience even improving any one of the above is going to make a positive contribution to increasing effectiveness. Improve two or three and the difference in revenue and margin will be significant and all five – might even double the revenue and margin per sales person!
So, what can be done to improve these things, and is this sales enablement?
A recent piece of research established that some 75% of new business orders go to companies who engage during the first 25% of the prospects’ buying journey. Another piece of research established that many companies now “wait to be contacted” by which time the prospect is some 60% of the way through the buying journey leaving the suppliers just reacting.
So, put simply, “the earlier the better”. In which case there must be a; marketing, PR, promotion, and selling focus on engaging early. So a proactive commitment to generating good qualified early stage leads will contribute to enabling more sales.
Understanding the prospect’s real needs
There is no point trying to sell an estate car to someone who wants a sports car. It is important that the company processes, at every touch point, are focused on understanding what the customer needs and wants. We see too many cases where sales people present what they have in the hope that the prospect will spot something they like and make a purchase. This has never really worked as a selling technique but absolutely will not work today.
When someone walks into the car show room the intelligent sales person starts by asking questions that focus on; situation, needs, wants and budget. Only when they understand the complete picture should they begin to offer a solution and even then the offering must be done in an interactive and consultative style. The same applies to all business types and all industries. Find out what your prospects want and need before making any form of offer.
The sales enablement factor here is ensuring the sales people have the right skills and processes and are correctly incentivised to go through the discovery questioning process.
Assume you are standing in your car showroom where you have four door saloons, two door hatch backs and three and five door estates. You have started to ask your prospect questions and it is quickly established they want a two seat sports car. You can spend a little bit of time talking about the hot hatch that you have and whether that could be an interesting alternative – perhaps homing in on something they said such as “not sure how my mother might react when I take her out in it!”
Whether you decide to try this second pass or not, you need to decide quickly whether or not they are likely to buy what you have and if not; cut your losses and move to the next prospect. Time spent with someone who has effectively established they don’t want what you have is dead time that can never be won back.
Sales enablement is again about ensuring the sales people have the right skills and your “permission” to make bid/no bid decisions.
Better conversion ratio
Quite simply if you do the previous three things the conversion ratio, throughout the whole engagement process, will be improved.
In addition if the sales people are equipped with a standard company approach to qualifying potential customers and quantifying potential opportunities this will apply a degree of consistency to the whole process. By consistency we mean across different sales people, different product lines and different individual opportunities.
So, sales enablement at this level is about a consistent and standard approach, based on what has been proven to work, embodied in your qualification and quantification criteria; give them the tools!
Selling techniques to maximise success
You will benefit from the introduction of a company standard approach to sales and selling in the form of a methodology that matches your market(s) and your chosen routes to those markets. Ensure everyone (sales people, account managers, sales support, technical support, helpdesk, etc.) understand and work to the methodology. In support of this you need a set of sales and selling processes that make it intuitive for everyone to follow the methodology.
A word of caution here; without the right attitude and mindset no amount of process will force your sales people to perform as you wish. For example; if your people think the only way to sell is to offer discount and other special deals they will struggle to understand and sell a value proposition. Getting the right attitude goes all the way back to recruitment and selection which is where the process of getting the right people starts. Turning sows ears into silk purses is never easy!
So, it is clear, the sales enablement need is for a methodology that matches your business underpinned by useful and usable processes.
Of all the factors this is the one that will really make the difference. There is clear evidence, supported by research, that sales people who receive as little as four hours regular structured coaching per month outperform those who do not by 17% on their sales targets.
So, the sales enablement message is quite simple; ensure that your sales managers deliver regular structured one-on-one coaching to all reports.
Sales Enablement Case Study
In a recent project where we have been designing and implementing a complete sales academy for a customer we have helped to deliver a number of sales enablement initiatives.
Following a merger, the customer was going through a major change including a move away from a go-to-market model predominantly focused on new business to one mainly focused on account growth through cross-selling the wider product range.
Our primary role
Our primary role in the project was to source, recruit, induct, train and develop the team of new account managers and the newly appointed director of account management. In delivering this we touched all of the sales enablement hot buttons outlined in the article above.
Additional sales enablement activity
It was recognised that for the account managers to be successful they would need a good understanding of the full range of products & services that the company now had to sell. We therefore worked with the customer in the development of manuals that would become the font of knowledge for the account managers. Although the manuals were product oriented having been produced by the product experts we took the opportunity to ensure they truly supported the sales enablement requirement with the key additions being:
- Ensuring the manuals were focused on the customer needs and pertinent value, delivered through the introduction of the concept of FBI (feature, benefit, incentive)
- The creation of a glossary enabling consistency of use by the recruits whilst also recognising the variations in jargon
- Answers to the question “Why?” Why would someone buy a particular product or service and more importantly why would they buy it from our customer rather than a competitor
- The manuals also provide an understanding of the competitive landscape and in particular, rebuttals to specific competitive threats
The new account managers are now fully equipped with the tools, skills and techniques they need to be successful at selling in the 21st Century. The icing on the cake is that they work for a company that sees itself as being “sales driven”. They are fully supported through a management regime that is committed to on-going learning and development through follow-up training and regular structured coaching from a dedicated manager.