4 Keys to a Successful Enablement Program Rollout

Brian Williams, PhD

Personal confession: I hate running. The heat, humidity, and hills here in Atlanta are brutal. But I continue to subject myself to the misery. It’s my only form of exercise. During runs, I spend the entire time calculating the distance until the suffering ends.

Too many sales leaders think the same way about the rollout of their sales effectiveness programs: painful, agony, lots of hills. No matter what you hear, driving change across the sales force is hard. You will experience resistance and lots of pain. And most reps and managers are like me during a run: calculating the time until yet another initiative is abandoned.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked with a lot of frustrated CSOs. They’ve shared their stress over bad program launches. New enablement tools, technology, methodology, or messaging – it’s never goes as easy as it should. These leaders started out enthusiastic about the plan, but quickly hit implementation hurdles. The pressure is growing on sales ops and enablement teams to get these rollouts right. Smoother adoption, minimal disruption, and faster ROI are key.

Our experience points to a few ways to minimize the pain of a new enablement program implementation. Here are four things to think about as you craft your plan:

1. Go Slow to Go Fast

No one takes up running and immediately hits a 7-minute/mile pace. Experienced leaders understand sales enablement programs require the long view – they’re a preverbal marathon vs. sprint. But at the same time, leaders should have a plan to create early victories. Build up the ‘change muscles’ of your team by taking small steps first. Try a pilot approach where the program or process is implemented in a smaller territory. Systematically address one aspect of the sales model at a time vs. trying to change too many things at once.

Take-away: Move away from the concept of initiative to a mindset of continuous improvement. Make sure reps understand they can’t just wait-out the latest thing from corporate; they must embrace the new reality of ongoing change.

2. Listen to Your Body

In the case of sales organizations, this means paying attention to what the field is saying. Are you pushing too fast or too hard? To be clear, you’ll always have naysayers and resistance. But build in ways to solicit feedback from your top performers. This should include formal and informal mechanisms. Encourage your teams to be honest with their feedback. Most importantly, be nimble. Don’t be afraid to modify your plans based on what you’re seeing and hearing.

Take-away: Create a field advisory council of high-performers – reps and front-line managers. Bring them into the early planning stages of any new effort. Deputize them as change agents, which includes giving them with the right messaging and training so they can champion any new program.

3. Plan Your Route

While it seems obvious, you’d be surprised how many flavor-of-the-day enablement launches we see. Soon, they blur together for the field. Worse case, they become nothing more than background noise. Leaders need to clearly communicate the big picture to their sales teams. Reps and managers down the line should understand how things fit together. Start by clarifying the ‘why’ as well as the end goal – what does ‘great’ selling look like? How will you measure success – the behaviors, leading, and lagging indicators? If you’re not asking these questions of yourself early in the process, someone else more senior will.

Take-away: Always maintain a rolling 3-year road map of your sales effectiveness strategy. Make sure you’re continuously tracking wins – both qualitative and quantitative. As a new idea emerges, pause to consider how it fits into your larger roadmap.

4. Don’t Forget to Stretch

Exhausted after a run, it’s easy to forget the importance of stretching. In the same way, it’s easy to declare victory too early after a program launch. In the context of sales force change, the idea of stretching means planning for appropriate program reinforcement. How are you equipping front-line managers with the tools and skills to support the new behaviors? The nitty-gritty of reinforcement is less glamorous than the initial launch, but these actions make the difference between success and failure.

Take-away: No implementation plan is complete without a solid thinking around reinforcement. The plan should span at least 6 months and cover both reps and managers. Also, don’t forget your incentive plan. There are many possible ways to reinforce longer-term behavior change through incentive design.

Keep Moving

One of the best things about running is that activity breeds success. Legs get stronger and endurance builds with every outing. The same is true for well-designed sales enablement programs. The most effective sales teams are constantly changing to stay ahead. With each effort, they become stronger and smarter. A thoughtful implementation strategy makes all the difference.

Running is always easier with someone to talk to (and commiserate with). Implementing sales enablement programs is no different. Honest advice can be a rarity during times of organizational change. Those around you can become distracted or mired in personal political agendas. Contact us if you’re looking for an objective partner to help you refine your enablement roadmap and successfully support your next program launch.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.