Sales Enablement 2011: What’s Hot and What’s Not


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If you enjoy the thrill of bungee jumping, you probably found 2010 an exhilarating sales year. From SpaceX, to the iPad selling three million devices in less than three months, to the introduction of the Chevy Volt, we saw great selling strategies propel some fabulous innovation.

On the other hand, some executives just forgot to attach the bungee cord before making the go-to-market leap. The new Microsoft Kin was yanked after Microsoft patiently waited three weeks watching sales numbers go nowhere. Other products, like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner keeps Boeing’s sales force in continuous-innovation mode, thinking of new ways to say “We’ll deliver yours in another few months.”

Successes and flops remind us that, despite current technology, insight, knowledge, and know-how, sales enablement is subject to uncertain events and forces, and suffers from flaws in our assumptions. For many organizations, improved sales capabilities are accompanied by growing complexities. And laws, from Moore’s to Murphy’s, exert pressure to refresh strategies and tactics, because we know they might not work next year, if not next month.

Going into 2011, we need effective sales enablement more than ever. According to Execunet’s 2010 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, recruiters forecast the most hiring growth in business development (18%) and sales (17%). That’s encouraging! But will these executives be able to hit the ground running?

To uncover the answer, I compiled a short list of Hot and Not for sales enablement:

Hot: Buying Cycles. Buyer-centricity has enabled the revelation that the buying decision flywheel begins turning well before our established traditional sales cycle, and that customer engagement and relationship building must be re-defined.

Not: Sales Cycles. Looking at selling in terms of internal timelines, absent steps for customer collaboration, helped create our battle cry, “Close! Close! CLOSE!!” We achieved short-term revenue, but were left wondering why we weren’t getting enough leads, and grappling with high customer churn.

Hot: Opening relationships. Social media enables many new ways to open relationships, and sales forces are just beginning to reap the benefits for sharing the love. But that means abandoning “get your foot in the door” thinking, and old-school cold calling and prospecting.

Not: Closing business. “After we received our order, we never heard from our salesman, and his company was no help at implementing!” If we think about desired sales outcomes differently, our customers will have better experiences.

Hot: Engaging in conversations: That people spend more time using social media than using email reveals that people want dialogs, and there are many new ways they prefer to have them. When there’s a place, a topic, and kindred people, there’s an opportunity to engage in spirited dialogue, and a new opportunity for salespeople to grow awareness and trust.

Not: Listening to conversations. Today’s sales force won’t achieve its objectives by emulating a spy network. Save that for the CIA, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Hot: Referrals. Conversations about how to solve problems often begin long before Dire Need. Go to any search engine and enter “who has experience with . . .”

Not: Triggers. Keyword alerts have leveled the trigger-monitoring playing field. Anyway, by the time the press release is issued about a plant opening next year in Tianjin, China, requests for vendor referrals have long since been Tweeted.

Hot: Individuals. Axel Schultze of Social Media Academy said that social media’s value is in creating individual conversations, not in automating them. Our ability to get granular detail about what moves individuals, who they influence, and who influences them is unprecedented and it holds profound opportunity for selling.

Not: Target audiences. Nothing gets in the way of personal selling faster than tossing people around in sacks called groups, targets, or average prospect—especially when we have the means to see people as individuals.

Hot: Return on Effort. Work smarter, not harder. Intelligence as a strategic differentiator! Now we have tools for insight into which activities are valuable and when they’re valuable.

Not: More Effort. We’ve searched endlessly for techniques to “get salespeople to make more prospecting calls.” . . . And how’s that flogging thing workin’ for ya?

Hot: Business Knowledge. Tomorrow’s sales achiever will possess the operational insight of a COO, the financial understanding of a CFO, the strategic knowledge of a CEO, along with the passion needed for discovering what’s unknown.

Not: Bullet Knowledge. Recitation of features and benefits doesn’t bring sufficient value to sales conversations. But consider leaving them in the PowerPoint.

Hot: Information Flow. Companies that identify, capture, present, and disperse information quickly will offer customers great value. This has already been exploited by companies that have embraced Twitter for resolving customer problems and Websites for sharing product reviews.

Not: Information Stockpiles. Would FaceBook be valuable if you only received updates monthly?

Hot: Sales force development. Staffing a sales force in the past meant recruiting, hiring, and retaining great salespeople. That’s no longer enough. A top-producing sales organization must also excel at developing salespeople, and that means ongoing leadership, mentoring, training, and sharing knowledge.

Not: sales force training. When training is scatter shot, and not part of an employee development program, it quickly devolves into shelfware.

Hot: IT-Sales Alignment. “Digital touchpoints, whether on a smartphone, Website, social network, or kiosk, are increasingly important to customer experience,” according to an article in InformationWeek (IT and Marketing: Can’t They Ever Get Along?, October 11, 2010). The article cites a survey from the CMO Council indicating that 69% of CMO’s believe they drive digital marketing strategy, and only 19% believe the CIO is important to setting that strategy.

Not: Marketing-Sales Alignment. Sit down, sit down! I didn’t say that containing the friction isn’t important, just that we’ve already identified the problem, and we’re workin’ on it!


  1. Andrew- I officially almost had a heart attack reading the last point…but liked your disclaimer. Very good post. Thought provoking. It is my belief that in SaaS, as we move towards automating more processes, the companies that succeed are those whoc an consistently, and in a meaningful way, engage with their prospects and clients in one/one dialog.

  2. And greater emphasis on just-in-time sales enablement and sales support aligned to specific stages in each sales cycle will also be big on the radar of those companies serious about growing their business in 2011.

  3. The fact that people are engaged in social media (in my opinion) does not mean they want a conversation. A conversation happens when people speak, not when a bunch of sellers get online and start clicking and typing away. Social media is in many cases, a diversion or screening process, rarely a conversation agent, unless one has nothing else to do but social media.
    There is also a presupposition here, that buyer are engaged in social media, in the same places as sellers…we all know that is not the case. If buyers know they need a conversation to help find out how to fix a problem that someone in the internet ether can help solve…then it could work sometimes maybe.
    But potential buyers often only feel symptoms, which might have them looking in all the wrong places seeking the pound of cure (if they seek at all). media (because it is the easy way)
    cold..interpersonal communications, sales people who care and really try to help…and I fear it is just going to get colder.

    Again, just my opinion.

    Otherwise..nice post.

  4. @Kevin, @Michael: thanks for your comments. One-one conversations are even more within our grasp, and are of increasing importance as companies have depersonalized the buying experience in the name of cost-cutting. One-one conversations will become a critical differentiator. And of course, much friction occurs when sales resources and communications don’t match up with how buyers buy.

    @David: well, you’ve pointed out some assumptions that I didn’t know I was making! I assume that when people express an opinion, verbally or in writing, they’re seeking a reciprocal communication or opinion. I still think that’s a good assumption, but as you point out, it’s not a given. The second assumption you’ve pointed out, that buyers and sellers are engaged in the same social media spots, is a more tenuous one, and companies should investigate that question in detail before jumping into social media initiatives, only to find that the people they want to reach aren’t there, or that they aren’t listening. Happily, there are online tools to uncover where conversations are happening, who is conversing, and who is influential, and who is influenced.


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