Sales Enablement, The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

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Again, I have to start this post with an apology. I’m a huge fan of sales enablement and some of the outstanding sales enablement practitioners who I count as friends. I think, however, one of the biggest problems with sales enablement is not what they do, or the quality of the programs they develop.

I think one of the biggest problems with sales enablement comes from outside the organization, with sales executive leadership and front line management.

Recently I had a fascinating conversation with a sales enablement team. It’s a team that I think of as modeling some of the most forward thinking programs in developing the capabilities within the organization. They were, however, struggling. While there programs were leading edge, the participants in the programs rated them very highly. But somehow, they were failing. Overall, while the sales people were scraping through, barely hitting their goals, the feeling of executives leading the sales organization, top field managers, and the sales enablement management team was they should be doing far better.

As we reviewed the sales enablement programs, their programs were among the best I’ve seen. They had spent a lot of time understanding the key competencies and capabilities for success. They programs they were delivering were both comprehensive and well designed, but somehow there was a gap.

The more we discussed things, the more concerned I became about what I wasn’t hearing. I wasn’t hearing anything about sales management–both top sales executives in setting the overall goals and priorities of the organization, and front line sales managers. The words “sales management” were not uttered in the conversation. The focus was exclusively on what sales enablement was doing and how they were building measurable increase in competencies.

When I asked, “How is sales management involved? What are they doing to both help set your direction and priorities, and support the day to day execution of the skills sales enablement trying to put in place?”

Silence…..

Finally, one of the leaders spoke out, “As we put together sales enablement programs, we sit down with executive management to understand their strategies, priorities, and goals for the future. At the same time, we are the experts in what high performing sales people should be doing. As a result, our programs are designed to merge both, creating a “best of breed” approach.

“Cool,” I replied, “what is front line sales management doing?”

“Well…. we listen to them when they ask us for new programs, but we don’t have the resources to address all the individual needs of each manager….”

“What responsibilities to front line managers have in coaching and reinforcing the capabilities you are trying to build?”

Silence….

I waited, I could see the squirming even over Zoom.

“What are the sales managers doing to reinforce and further develop the capabilities you are developing in your programs? What are sales managers doing to understand, for each sales person, areas of performance improvement for each sales person? What are managers doing to address those?”

Just because we are training and developing the best competencies in our enablement programs, don’t mean our sales people can actually leverage them with high impact in their work.

As we discussed this, the team started asking, “How do we do that? We don’t have the resources to do this with each individual!”

“That’s not your job! Your job is to maximize the capability and capacity of the organization to perform. It’s sales management’s job to maximize the ability of each individual on their team to execute what you are teaching them.”

This is a mistake too many organizations make, each part of the organization optimizes their performance for what they do, but when taken as a whole, there are huge gaps, we haven’t optimized the whole organization and each individual’s abilities to contribute to the organizational goals.

Stated differently, each part of the organization is doing their job, but optimizing the pieces parts, can fail to maximize performance (for some of you nerds, this a fundamental to systems thinking, we can’t optimize the subsystems, we have to optimize the overall system.)

Enablement and sales management must work hand in hand to optimize performance. Enablement can only focus on overall organizational competencies and capabilities. Managers have the responsibility to maximize the capabilities of each person in implementing and executing those things. Managers are the only people that have visibility, day by day, week by week, on how well each person in their team is executing on what they have been trained to do. They have the responsibility to work with each individual addressing the specific issues and challenges they face.

However well we develop and implement sales enablement programs to drive capability in the organization, if we don’t have the clear buy in from front line management on their responsibility to coach, reinforce, and address individual performance and execution issues, we will fail to achieve our full performance potential.

Having said that, sales enablement has a role in helping managers do this–they can train managers in how to identify individual performance challenges, key indicators managers should be watching, how to coach and reinforce, what resources managers have to help them do this.

Without the whole organization working hand in hand, in a coordinated fashion, with each understanding their roles and responsibilities in maximizing performance, we will not perform to our potential.

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