Sales enablement is an exciting place to be.
It’s the glue that holds together many lines of business as your company treks forward on the path to sales success. This is where you can really develop your skills in the art and science of communicating. As a consultant for companies that are struggling to bring their different lines of business together on a shared path to success, I know sales enablement to be the perfect team to create and implement a strategic communications plan.
“The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
I’m honored to share that my book, Sales Enablement 3.0 has been named an Amazon #1 new release & bestseller. This article is an adapted excerpt of the book—to fully dig into the topic, pick up a copy!
The Sales Enablement “Holy Trinity”
There are three key components that are the foundation upon which all successful sales enablement organizations, processes, programs, tools and platforms are built. I call these the Sales Enablement Holy Trinity:
Communication is defined as the process of passing information and understanding from one person to another. In other words, it is the process of transmitting and sharing ideas, opinions, facts, and values from one person to another or from one organization to another.
It is important to communicate your goals across all of the lines of business in a clear, concise manner that aligns directly with your company’s corporate goals and initiatives. The ability to communicate clearly across multiple departments is what sets sales enablement apart, and it is therefore a skill that must be emphasized and nurtured.
Unfortunately, the problem with business relationships is that people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
This is the biggest mistake that a sales enablement practitioner can make, because it leads us (okay, let’s be honest, it’s usually our ego) to believe that we know what our customers need better than they do. The key to ongoing success is to ask questions confirming that you heard what they said, and understand what they meant.
Rule #1: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus
Here is a simple three-step formula that ensures you communicate effectively:
- Ask your internal customers a question
- Repeat their answer back to them in their words
- Confirm that what you repeated is exactly what they said to you
It takes many ideas to create one great strategy.
My most memorable career successes always came from sharing my ideas and allowing others, regardless of level or title, to add their thoughts and life experiences to the strategy. The role of the sales enablement professional is to ensure that there is a balance between allowing others to be heard and not allowing any individual or line of business to dominate the overall process.
Client story: financial services company wants to expand globally
Here’s a client story of ours:
The company’s biggest competition was not external; it was actually between their internal lines of business. The meeting began with the product marketing leader outlining how the messaging and positioning was changing.
I noticed that the other leaders showed a complete disinterest in this approach. Many began checking emails on their phone. This was followed by the sales leader announcing how frustrated he was at not being asked for real world customer examples and pain points that could be used to drive the direction and components of this product release.
At this point, I could feel the animosity and frustration in the room. Then it was time for the product management leader to outline the components of the release cycle. Again, some of the other meeting participants were checking their emails. I walked up to the whiteboard in the front of the room and wrote a single statement over and over: CUSTOMER FIRST!
It was a simple reminder that no business unit was more important than the other in this process, and that winning is truly a team sport. Your role as a sales enablement practitioner is to balance out feedback, input, ideas, and sometimes political agendas.
With this in mind, develop the skill of speaking in such a way that others love to listen to you, and listen in a way that others love to speak with you.
The sales enablement organization must be the hub that spokes out to every part of the organization. This means partnering closely with the sales, marketing, product marketing, product management, sales operations, and human resources organizations to ensure that they’re collaborating like a well-oiled machine.
While your goals, deliverables, and metrics are often determined by the sales leader, you must never forget that the other lines of business are counting on you to be a partner as well.
Oftentimes, we as sales enablement practitioners are not the owners of revenue metrics, but we are expected to assist the sales professionals to meet and exceed these goals. This is where the ability to influence and sometimes persuade is the best tool in your sales enablement toolbox.
I always recommend my clients create a sales enablement council:
- Purpose: build relationships and trust with monthly cross-functional collaboration
- Goal: bring together all of the key contributors in creating a successful sales environment
- Participants: marketing, product marketing, product management, sales, HR and sales enablement
- Agenda: discuss hiring cycles, upcoming events, product releases, competitive updates and any changes since the last meeting
This style of meeting ensures that all lines of business are in sync around goals, deliverables, and metrics in regards to the annual enablement calendar. It also gives each line the chance to share wins, updates and changes.
When preparing for your upcoming meeting, here are some questions you should ask yourself as a sales enablement professional:
- How will you maintain balance across the lines of business without alienating or creating friction?
- How will you work to ensure that there is cohesion across the lines of business?
- Who should be integrated into the process of building your sales enablement programs and processes?
- How often should you be coordinating with each of your lines of business?
- How do you show the value of your sales enablement organization to each of these partners in their language, not in sales enablement speak?
- How do you integrate these partners, not only in the design and deployment stage, but in the reinforcement and iteration stages of your programs?
Never confuse activity with productivity.
Just because you and your sales enablement organization are constantly busy – or even overwhelmed for that matter – doesn’t mean that the company sees, acknowledges, or validates all of your activity. You will need to create a natural means of showing and sharing productivity, value, and success.
“You can’t play a symphony alone. It takes an orchestra to play it.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu
Sales enablement is the conductor that ensures the various instruments are played in sync to create beautiful, productive, scalable, and repeatable pieces of music. Orchestration is defined as “the planning or coordination of the elements of a situation to produce a desired effect or outcome.”
Let’s think about the lines of business within your company. You have brass (sales), woodwinds (marketing), percussion (human resources), and strings (product marketing). They’re all playing notes – albeit some are out of tune – while others are playing on top of each other. This will continue until sales enablement steps up to the podium, taps the stand, and organizes all of the noise into a beautiful piece of music.
We collaborate with marketing and product marketing to provide direct feedback from prospects and customers around how the company’s messaging and positioning statements are resonating in the real world. We interact with product management to provide relevant feedback around specific product feature requests from prospects and customers. We interact with sales and human resources to provide updates regarding the success or lack of success with hiring practices.
In essence, we’re collaborating with every group that has a touchpoint across the customer journey to ensure that the company is on the same page and focused on creating a beautiful piece of music.
Sales Enablement: The Ambassador
Marketing is responsible for driving the assets that will provide sales with qualified leads, while sales is focused on validating and driving those leads to increase closed deals.
For leads to move toward closed sales and additional revenue, these lines of business must be reading from the same sheet of music. When sales and marketing work in the same direction, with a well-defined handoff and tracking process, this removes friction, removes selling obstacles, reduces frustration, and accelerates speed-to-revenue.
What does it look like when the instruments (lines of business) are out of sync? The most common scenario is when your marketing team brings in leads but your sales team can’t close them. KPIs are generally not the root of the problem. It usually comes down to a lack of clear communication around roles, responsibilities, goals, deliverables, and metrics.
This all creates a vicious circle of unproductive complaining. If not addressed, it will erode the relationship between sales and marketing. But there’s a simple fix, and it requires a non-partisan organization – sales enablement – to bring everyone together with the goal of creating and agreeing upon a clear definition of what will be considered a qualified lead.
The focus should be on things like how you’re building your pipeline, defining the right target, pipeline growth guidelines that include a handoff process between roles, pipeline tracking, and how sales collaborates with account management to ensure that customers are implementing what they have purchased.
Translators and Travelers
We speak to sales, marketing, product marketing, product management, customer success and support, and human resources in their own language – not in sales enablement jargon. As translators and travelers, it is important to gain enough credibility with sales professionals to be invited to participate in prospect and customer meetings without fear that you might do or say something that derails the sale.
Working as the orchestrator between departments often involves getting out of your office and spending time in the field in order to get an intimate understanding of what your prospects and customers are experiencing. You then take the feedback to marketing and let them know how the content, corporate pitch, and competitive information is being received by prospects and customers.
The last thing you want is to discover a problem that’s not being addressed only to find that your competitors are now winning deals over your company simply because they heard, listened, and took immediate action while your company was still strategizing around how and when to release this feature.
A closed sale is never the end of the customer’s journey.
Following the “holy trinity” of communication, collaboration and orchestration is how I work with my clients to ensure they put the customer first and remind them that infighting will only disadvantage them in the market. Sales enablement is primed to orchestrate the success of their revenue organization by communicating in a way that ensures your teams feel heard.
Communication, collaboration, and orchestration truly lay the groundwork for implementing world-class sales enablement programs. While these may seem like small things or “soft skills,” what they actually do is establish a foundation of rapport and trust that becomes important for each and every sales enablement activity.