Playing Sales Enablement “Catch-Up”

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This week, I had meetings with a number of sales enablement professionals.  Each came from very large companies with strong commitments to sales enablement.  Each had long experience and sales enablement programs that would be considered “best in class.”

In each conversation, they were struggling with similar issues, “How to keep up with the demand for help/support.”  They had long list of things they needed to put in place.  Different training, new content, new tools.  They faced issues of which to prioritize, how to get the work done, how to implement without overwhelming the sales teams, how to manage the change, how to assure results were being produced.

As they struggled with these issues, the demand for “more” kept increasing.  In some ways, it’s a mixed blessing–really great sales enablement organizations always face this demand for more.

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In a conversation with John and Josh, John made expressed his frustration with a striking statement, “How do I get ahead of this?”

We realized the challenge with many mature sales enablement organizations, is they are always behind, they are always playing a game of catch up.  As things change–both with customers, markets, and within our own companies, sales enablement is faced with responding to those changes.

But just the nature of being in response mode means you are in a game of catch up where you can never catch up, let alone get ahead of things.

The cycle is amazingly consistent:

  1.  Sales people start facing a a new issue.  At first it’s limited to a few, then it starts manifesting itself on a wider organizational level.
  2. It takes time for management and sales enablement to identify and recognize the issue.
  3. Then we have to decide what we are going to do about it.
  4. Then we have to implement the new programs.  In large organizations, this sometimes can take a very long time.
  5. Then we have to watch to see what results are produced, making sure we have addressed the issues we were trying to solve.
  6. Then we have to monitor progress, refine and improve.
  7. Then we have to keep the programs updated and current, assuring they still are relevant and truly “enable.” the sales organization.

Quickly, you can see there is a tremendous lag time between understanding there is an issue to be addressed, actually addressing it, and seeing the results of the changes.  All that time represents lost opportunity and performance challenges.

In the mean time, the world isn’t standing still, new problems/challenges/opportunities are arising faster than those we are currently addressing.

Too often, well intended sales enablement professionals are on a track of continually trying to catch up–while wanting to get ahead.

The issue is, at least for high performing organizations, is that we will never be able to catch up, we will always be behind in what we are trying to do and achieve.

But how do we break this conundrum?

I think a large part of it is changing the problem we are trying to solve.

Instead of continually trying to supply all the things our sales people need to be successful–training, content, tools, scripts, etc.; perhaps we are better off equipping our sales people with the capability to figure things out for themselves.

There will always be a gap between what we can provide and what our sales people face.  Overlay this with the fact that every situation is different, so we can never address everything people need.

Equipping our people with the capability to figure things out for themselves enables us to do several things.  It helps us “get ahead” of the issues–rather than responding, we can be proactive/anticipatory in enabling sales people to address the situations they face.  It also reduces the number of “reactive” programs we have to develop in response to sales needs.  If they’ve already figured out how to address situations, we may not have to develop programs that are intended to enable them to do this.

This requires a new strategy for sales enablement–and sales management.  Critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, problem solving become critical skills/capabilities.

The more we help our people to learn how to think, how to figure things out, the less we have to do in giving them the answers and having them execute blindly.

We have to recruit people that have those capabilities.

But we can’t stop there, we have to train people in these skills–growing and extending their capability to figure things out.

A handful of organizations are teaching things like critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, problem solving (Yes, I do believe these things can be taught/developed).

Equipping our sales people with these skills enables us to get ahead of things, they have the capability of coming up with their own solutions/answers to deal with issues they are facing.

But sales management has a role in this as well–beyond just recruiting people with these skills.  We enhance our people’s capabilities in how we coach them.

Too often, we are in “in tell mode,” in our coaching.  Our people learn nothing when we are in tell mode.  Instead, we need to ask the questions, help them analyze situations, help them figure things out, help them diagnose, understand, and take action on the things they face in doing there jobs.

Yes, we still have to develop sales enablement programs to develop the skills of people, to enhance their productivity, but now it becomes simpler and we can focus on the few most critical areas, rather than trying to play an impossible catch up game.

Developing the critical thinking/problem solving skills of our people not only simplifies our jobs as sales enablement professionals, but it has another huge benefit.

It completely changes how we engage and create value with our customers.  Our customers are facing exactly the same issues–they are trying to figure things out and solve their own problems.  Sales people that have these skills, bring greater value in engaging customers.

Every sales enablement organizations/professional would do themselves and their organizations a huge favor by stepping back from playing the catch up game they are currently playing, and thinking of, “what can we do to develop sales’ capabilities to figure things out?”

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