Three Sales Enablement Musts from Senior Leadership

Mike Riksheim

In my previous post, we discussed the impact of the front-line manager on sales effectiveness initiatives. A sales manager’s role is to model, coach and communicate the process. Field activation, along with reinforcement of new skills and behaviors, is the name of the game. But getting your initiative to truly stick requires the involvement of Executive Sales Leadership. This group includes the Chief Sales or Revenue Officer, Sales VPs, and other senior operational executives.

Senior Sales Leaders should be the cultural ambassadors for any new sales enablement initiative. They must clearly communicate alignment of the initiative to the broader strategy. These executives are the communication conduit to the field. Their narrative should include why the initiative is necessary for success. But this message should also explicitly show the initiative’s importance to each member of the sale team. No matter the amount of training, tools, and technology, active engagement of Senior Leadership is critical.

For adoption to take hold, Executive Sales Leadership must be equipped to do three things:

1. Walk the Talk – and create the time and cadence to do so. This means relaying initiative wins and speaking the language early and often. Leaders should leverage multiple touchpoints, including standard meetings, conference calls, and email communications. But equally important, walking the talk means getting into the field on a regular basis. Take the time to observe and ask questions – What’s working?, What’s not? Don’t be distracted from these important activities by the pressures of the day. Walking the talk only happens through good planning and calendaring. Senior Sales Leaders need to be intentional in using their time and voice.

2. Coach their managers: VPs, Directors and front-line managers need consistent coaching, just like field reps. The focus for leaders goes beyond mastery of the initiative to how to coach the process. Sales leaders may have higher-developed skills than most reps, but any new process requires specialized coaching. Being an individual contributor and getting results through others are very different competencies. Too often missed is the specific coaching enablement needed at all levels of the sales hierarchy. Only Senior Sales Executives have the influence and position to mandate this manager coaching.

3. Measure initiative-based KPIs – in the right mix: What gets measured, gets paid attention to. Any new initiative should have KPIs developed and tracked around productivity and progress. It’s easy to measure lagging indicators, but these are after-the-fact results and hard to coach. Leading indicators lend themselves more to coaching, but too often, they lack a quality component. For example, we can measure “leads created” as a metric, but how good are these leads? There need to be commensurate metrics to ensure quantity and resulting quality are linked. Given this, the rubber meets the road with behavioral indicators. These competencies are carefully selected to reflect what reps must do to be successful around the initiative. An example could be sales aid utilization (tracked through CRM and spot checked during coaching sessions).

Just as important, behavioral indicators should cover the necessary activities of field sales management. Update your Senior Leadership dashboards to include management behaviors related to the initiative. Define, track and evaluate the behaviors you expect from all levels of leadership. And don’t forget to discuss their status as a part of each leadership meeting. Set aside defined agenda time for this topic. 

A majority of sales initiatives lose momentum and become the last flavor of the month. Too often this is due to a lack of Senior Leadership involvement. Fast adoption and long-term success starts at the top. Are Senior Sales Leaders visibly involved from the beginning? Does the enablement initiative feel like a top leadership priority? This ideal model doesn't just happen.  It's the job of Sales Enablement to communicate these requirements to leadership. A successful implementation plan for any enablement initiative starts with a tactical plan for leadership. Their involvement must include both symbolic and practical actions to make the new initiative stick.

We’ve seen both successful and not-so-successful enablement program rollouts. Let us help you navigate the complexities of sales organizational change. Contact us to learn more about how to drive lasting change in your sales team.

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.