Here’s a hard truth: sales and sales enablement leaders can be their own worst enemy. Our research shows that ill-conceived sales enablement efforts can even derail sales performance. Frankly, it’s a message we’ve delivered for some time. Sales enablement done poorly can be a massive distraction. And in some cases, it can actually hurt sales outcomes.
So, the crucial question becomes, How can sales leaders avoid self-inflicted wounds as they work to transform their teams?
We’ve seen and helped build world-class sales enablement strategies. One fundamental truth strikes us across these experiences. The most effective sales teams balance the what with the how.
In other words, great sales leaders tackle positioning and process issues alongside specific program elements. High-performing sales enablement and operations leads view themselves as integrators and change agents. They devote quality time to building their roadmap. They align to the broader organizational priorities. They have a strategic, consultant-like mindset.
Less effective sales enablement has a different look and feel. Here’s our take on four far too common sales enablement missteps during sales transformations. Any one of these can be a mortal wound to the best-intentioned plans:
1. No coalition of support – Creating consensus across diverse buyer decision influencers is a new selling reality. Likewise, bad sales transformation is frequently linked to poor internal alignment or consensus. Sales leaders must identify and develop a coalition of champions. These stakeholders should include individuals beyond sales – including finance, marketing, HR, product. Engage the corporate team, but don’t forget field or decentralized influencers. As a change agent, sales leaders will face resistance. A lack of alignment and too few advocates across the organization is a death sentence.
2. No line-of-sight between programs and company strategy – Too many sales enablement activities come across as “nice-to-haves.” We’ve seen CSOs and enablement leaders fall in love too easily with the idea du jour. We’re all for innovation, but always have a clear mapping to the company’s strategic agenda. Connect enablement activity to your company’s highest-level strategy – not just the sales strategy. Ask yourself: Could you confidently advocate your plans to the board of directors? Would they quickly grasp the business rationale for the investment? Is there a defined ROI that the CFO would care about?
3. No externally driven case for change – Status quo is the number one hurdle in modern selling. And so too for sales transformation. Corporate sales operations and enablement should be pushing the envelope, discarding the old for something new. But, don’t fall into the trap of selling your programs on their benefits alone. Repeatedly message how your enablement efforts are responding to an external trigger. The external driver might be a change in market structure, new competitors, or different buyer demands. Too many leaders can’t see the forest for the trees. They fail to articulate how an external change is motivating their plans. It’s the difference between sales enablement being viewed as “interesting” vs. “mission-critical”.
4. No strategic sales enablement roadmap – This seems like such a basic requirement. But far too many sales leaders operate without a meaningful roadmap. A good roadmap is different than a list of this year’s planned activities. It’s also different than the request forms you provided to justify your budget. A roadmap is the Rosetta stone that translates the corporate strategy into a series of logical actions across organization, process, training, compensation, and sales management. These actions will include new programs and tools. But more importantly, the roadmap communicates how these activities are a key lever to drive overall corporate strategy. Good roadmaps also include the ROI metrics for each stage of the journey.
World-class sales transformation strategies are complex and built logically over time. Positioning, sequencing, and aligning the activities correctly differentiates success and failure. We urge all sales leaders to devote the right strategic thinking to these elements. The investment spent on the how of sales transformation will ensure the best results from the what.
Don’t be your own worst enemy when it comes to sales enablement. We’d love to share more about our experiences building lasting sales effectiveness strategies. Contact us to learn more and review example roadmaps.
About The Author
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.