The Art and Science of Sales Enablement

Ralph Grimse

I recently talked with John Krumheuer, VP of North American Sales at SmartDrive Systems. We discussed the relationship between sales leaders and sales enablement. While sales teams may have a few spectacular reps, no organization can succeed without the rigor and accountability of sales enablement.

In his view, true sales productivity requires both the art of sales and the science of sales enablement.

The art

It’s not far off to call what great sales people do art. Krumheuer says it's “that special, unique power that sales individuals bring to the table. You never want to change the art.” Some reps are the type you invite over for the holidays because you like them that much. Other reps just grind it out and work nonstop. They’re many varieties of the art of sales.

But no art form alone can give sales leaders the lasting results they need. Talented sellers can be invaluable to an organization. Individual heroics can’t scale to the level required for sustainable sales performance.

Which brings us to …

The science

Sales enablement provides the science of sales. When done right, sales enablement owns the elements for long-term, consistent success: the structure, the processes, the right swim lanes and scaffolding to help sales drive repeatable wins, not just one-offs.

“Sales enablement gives you the ability to put a structured process in place,” says Krumheuer. “Enablement delivers the content and the tools and the process to scale.” Leveraging insight collected over the years, the best sales enablement teams assess what the best sellers do. They organize these insights into the repeatable process that helps new hires ramp faster and average performers excel. This is at the heart of the adaptive sales methodology we often discuss.

 “I'd put sales enablement in my top three initiatives,” says Krumheuer. “In the high growth technology world that I'm in, change is constant and rapid. Technologies are advancing, competitors are becoming more vicious, and margins are compressing.”  

Sales leaders need a framework to help their people be successful: “Your best sellers can be emotional human beings. That's one reason they’re great sellers,” Krumheuer says. “If you don't provide a framework, and you try ad hoc coaching, many can interpret it as a personal attack. This can obviously negatively impact the rep relationship and performance.”

With a framework, sales leaders can take the emotion out of coaching. They can point to a documented process and content. It takes the ambiguity out of the situation and offers a path to consistency. Sales enablement must own this framework for field sales and coaching success.  

Sales Management’s role in straddling the art and science of sales

Sales managers are mission critical to the successful balance between the art and science of sales. Chances are they probably understand – and may have talent for – the art side. Many of them grew up on the art side. But they have to buy-into the science side. If sales enablement doesn’t have managers buy-in to the framework and process, they wont get results. Gaining that buy-in is probably the single greatest resistance point that we hear from our clients.

They key, says Krumheuer, “is bringing folks in early. Whatever transformation you're planning, ask the managers for their input. A lot of them will resist right away. It's their natural tendency.” However, including field sales in the planning conversation drives ultimate adoption. This is a classic ‘go slow to go fast’ situation. Resist the temptation to move too fast, even in the face of tough sales results.

Sales talent has to span art and science, too

As sales teams work toward transformational improvements, rep talent can’t be overlooked. Sales and sales enablement leaders need talent that can adapt and execute on new approaches. If the transformation is big enough, it might require an evaluation of your talent profiles. While good sales people can thrive with the art of sales, they also need solid enablement. Sales leaders should ask: can my sellers make this transition? Are these really the right people to invest in?

A lot of reps have never had a definitive process. Even in the most sophisticated sales teams, many still don't understand the buyer's journey. They might have natural confidence, but execute with random sales actions. They can be very good artists but lack the science. Until sales enablement puts the structure in front of them, sales leaders really don't know who is going to adapt and who isn't. They don’t know who will engage with that science component of sales success.

When Krumheuer hires sales talent, he looks for people that are coachable. “Some people are life-long learners, others aren't. I'm looking for people that are naturally curious, and you can't teach someone to be curious. Sometimes you have to make that difficult decision to part ways and bring in the talent with the right attributes.”

In the end, field sales and sales enablement are partners. Working together, they create the environment where superstars can still be superstars, and the rest of the team has the tools they need to succeed.

Part art, part science.

To learn more, listen to my podcast interview with John Krumheuer on Sales Enablement Radio. Or, to learn more about how sales enablement can merge the art and science of sales and drive sustainable growth contact us today.

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.