Three Keys to Keep Your Initiative from Getting Knocked Out After SKO

Mike Riksheim

As a sales enablement professional, now is the time when the rubber meets the road. You've spent months developing business-critical programs for the sales team. You successfully rolled out your new initiatives at SKO. Energy and focus is at its peak. Expectations are high, and momentum is on your side. Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” How do you keep your plans on track once the real world hits back in the field?

Sales is a profession that inherently comes with pressure. Pressure for monthly, quarterly and year-end results. Pressure that can shift reps to execution mode where strategy falls to the wayside. This is where new initiatives lose the energy and focus from kickoff. Reps and managers alike go back to “business as usual”. Despite all your planning, you just got punched in the mouth. How can sales enablement pros ensure this pressure doesn't derail their plans? 

1. Start at the top. One of the biggest reasons an initiative fails is lack of visible leadership support. In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein discusses how employee’s attention is drawn to what leaders focus on. The converse is true as well. You can develop the best program, have the best launch, and solid reinforcement tools. But if senior leadership doesn't provide visible support, importance and legitimacy is questioned. Sales people are creatures of habit with a tendency to reject change. How do you avoid this for your new enablement plans? Gain early buy-in and commitment from executive leadership for your initiative. Provide them with copy and cadence they can easily use to show visible support. If you're able, tie your program to existing strategic initiatives to increase stickiness. 

2. What gets measured, gets paid attention to. Behavioral measurement is emerging as a best practice for world-class sales teams. All organizations track lagging indicators and most track leading. But are you tracking the actions that will be the impetus for true adoption and change? These might be a broad range of metrics depending on the initiative. The key is to identify and measure the ones which will move the needle and influence early adoption. Whether it's tool utilization, process adherence or resource utilization, you must identify a measure. And gamify, if possible. The carrot is always preferable to the stick. Create the opportunity to catch people doing something right. And reward them for it. Also continously communicate progress, including stack ranks. No one wants to be seen at the bottom of their peers – or even worse, at the bottom of the stack on a leadership-supported program. 

3. Build an effective communication cadence to keep an initiative alive. As managers of change, we have to appeal to the way people learn. You can practically see the energy, participation, and engagement at your launch. But this begins to dissipate with time and the pressures of a rep's daily routine. An effective approach will include learning reinforcement, celebrating quick wins, and reinforcing individual benefits. In sales, our favorite radio station is WiiFM -- what's-in-it-for-me?. You’ve likely shared the adoption benefit at your launch. Now make sure you reinforce this on an ongoing basis. Don't forget to communicate the benefits to front-line managers who will be critical to implementation success.

Being a successful sales enablement professional is one of the most challenging jobs in a sales organization. Like field sales management, success is all about getting results through others. But too often your role lacks formal position power. The single largest enemy of programmatic adoption is distraction. Even the best designed programs lose understanding and commitment the first time a rep gets punched back. Capitalize on the pillars that will drive continued success and even more importantly – cultural adoption. Even if these items aren't part of the initial change plan, it's never too late to incorporate them. Look for opportunities to course correct where necessary. You can try to control the wind or control the sail. Your success is in the latter.

We'd love to share other ideas for driving last sales behavior change through sales enablement. Contact us to access best practices and research insight to help you drive performance.

Mike Riksheim

Mike Riksheim

Senior consultant with significant expertise in strategic alignment, talent management, sales enablement and sales training. Mike combines his consulting experience with a practical background as a salesperson and sales leader to help his clients drive performance.