“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” – Steve Jobs
If you are responsible for sales enablement, these words of wisdom could do you well. In the absence of a single accepted definition, sales enablement is often thought of as a container for all of the factors that influence a valuable sales conversation. For example, according to analyst firm Sirius Decisions, “sales enablement’s goal is to ensure that every seller has the required knowledge, skills, processes and behaviors to optimize every interaction with buyers.”
Skills, knowledge, assets, and process….that’s a lot of territory. Working on any one of these could be a full-time job for your enablement team. And your sales enablement stakeholders aren’t shy about filling the suggestion box with dozens or hundreds of good ideas. But, you have limited resources and face unlimited suggestions for things to make, fix or improve. How do you set priorities? Where do you start? And how can you tell what’s working?
Steve Jobs was facing hundreds of great ideas when he returned to Apple in 1997. He said no to most of them, ruffled more than a few feathers, and ultimately built the most valuable company on the planet. He did it by sharpening the company’s focus and by narrowing down the company’s efforts into a limited set of projects that fit into what he described as a “cohesive larger vision that is going to allow you to sell eight billion dollars, ten billion dollars of product a year.”
As a sales enabler, the cohesive vision guiding your efforts is the need to improve sales conversations. And just like Apple, which was floundering before the return of Steve Jobs, you’re at risk of implementing a disjointed set of initiatives that will cause you to fall short of that vision. The best way to figure out what to focus on is to identify outcomes that you are trying to drive and tie them to a limited set of activities that can affect them.
Focusing on Outcomes
Ultimately, your executive team cares about increasing the number, size, and profitability of deals that your sales team closes. To be successful in the near term, you need to identify a limited set of outcomes that impact that goal and pick one to concentrate on. And then, and only then, should you identify the skills, knowledge, assets, and processes that need improvement.
Here are three measurable outcomes that you can monitor and execute against. They aren’t comprehensive, but they cover the critical areas that most executives care about.
- Pipe: It all starts with qualified opportunities. That comes from prospects seeing the need to explore new ways of operating and becoming interested in your company’s approach. Poor lead conversion rates and an overall lack of qualified opportunities are a good indicator of problems with pipe.
- Proposals: Your prospects need a meaningful business case and value story to make sure your proposals justify an executive decision. If you are seeing qualified opportunities stall out, it’s a good indicator that your reps lack the business expertise and financial acumen needed to translate your solutions’ capabilities into outcomes that your customers care about.
- Profits: Your reps need to advance opportunities without giving away the value they’ve created. In other words, they need to close deals while protecting margins and maximizing the profitability of each deal. Elongated sales cycles and thin margins are usually indicators of a problem in this area.
Executing Against the Most Critical Outcomes
These three outcomes don’t describe everything that happens in a typical buying journey, but they are critical enough that improving any one of them can significantly impact the profitable business that your team can deliver. Strategies for three outcomes are presented greater detail in The Three Value Conversations, a book authored by several Corporate Visions subject matter experts. Here is a quick overview of strategies outlined there:
Pipeline: Here the problem is that, without realizing it, your marketers and salespeople are starting customer conversations with traditional approaches that are actually commoditizing your offering, creating indecision for your buyers, and even causing skepticism about your claims. If your team is struggling to create qualified opportunities, then you need to focus on getting reps to lead with a story about how prospects should change from the status quo. It’s only after that commitment to change has been made that they should have a conversation that leads to your unique differentiators.
Proposals: Once your reps have created an opportunities, they’ll have to go toe-to-toe with the financially savvy executive decision makers who will be looking to justify the business impact of investing in your solution. If this creates fear and reluctance on the part of your salespeople, you’ll need to focus on developing their ability to tell a differentiated story based on business value, engaging executives with confidence, and motivating them with a compelling executive value proposition.
Profits: Here, declining margins are an indicator that reps are giving away too much value across the entire buying journey. Too often, they rely on instincts and a natural desire to please that actually trains prospects to expect more, to expect freebies, and to make you expend a lot of valuable effort before the deal closes. Here the focus should be on developing strategies to maximize the profits that come out of the opportunity.
Want to learn more about these essential skills areas, and what kind of training program you need to ensure your reps are fluent in them, no matter what selling situation they face?