B2B sales has never been more complex or more challenging. From buyers who decide they prefer a salesperson-free buying experience, to companies who pursue consensus only to abandon what was a strategic initiative, it is clear things are different now. Many, if not most, sales organizations are unaware of the tectonic shifts that have occurred over the last two decades; they only know that selling seems more difficult.
Larger sales organizations have been trying to adjust to the new sales environment, while few SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) have made any significant changes. Larger companies with financial resources may have invested in sales operations and sales enablement teams to help the sales force succeed.
When I started in sales, I was provided with four index cards. The first card was a cold calling script. The three cards that followed contained rebuttals to the common objections I could expect. I was also provided with a telephone book and a business card. I had no training and no sales manager, and I wished I had a B2B sales strategy roadmap. My experience helps to explain why the sales conversation is the largest variable for winning or losing deals. I had the same tools as my colleagues, but performance across our team varied wildly. This is why I believe the sales conversation is the only vehicle for creating value for your prospective clients.
For those who wish to improve sales, what follows are key elements of sales enablement—and all of them are client focused. The best way to approach sales enablement is to start by identifying what your prospective clients need from the salesperson you are providing to them. You may not ever have stopped to think about who you are sending to your prospective clients and what makes that person seem necessary and helpful. The hard truth is that part of your prospect's buying decision is the determination of whether the salesperson is valuable or helpful enough to move forward with them. A sales enablement strategy must start with the end in mind. The strategy you find here is client focused and each element is designed to improve the conversations your sales team has with prospective buyers.
Element 1: A Modern, Client-Oriented, Value-Creating Sales Approach
The first element of sales enablement is a modern, client-oriented, value-creating sales approach. A modern approach starts with a value creation model, meaning it focuses on how you can create value for your client through the sales conversation. Consider for a moment the legacy approaches that have the salesperson spending 20 minutes building rapport and talking up their company and their products. This does not create value for the client. When your client agrees to a meeting, it's not because they need new friends or someone to recite information from the company's website.
Your sales enablement strategy needs to enable your buyers to acquire the information that would allow them to improve their results. In order for the sales force to use a client-oriented approach, the conversation must start with a theory of what kind of challenges the client is experiencing and how it harms their results. By recognizing the client’s challenges and their root causes, you can enable your sales force to start a conversation that creates value for the prospective client.
Element 2: A Team and Individual Development Plan
The sales approach in the first element of our sales enablement strategy needs its own enablement, which needs to include the entire sales force. But there may be other skills and competencies you need to develop in your sales force, like negotiating or building consensus. There are some skills and competencies you may want to develop across your sales force through team training. For this to succeed, you need to have a concrete team development plan in place that identifies what your team needs most, how to teach it, and how to ensure your salespeople actually use it.
One challenge of sales enablement is the variability of competencies across the sales force. Each salesperson may have different individual needs. To provide your prospective clients with the salespeople they need, each person on your team must have an individual development plan, and sales managers must be committed to coaching the individuals on their team, improving their competencies and sales skills. This makes the salesperson more valuable to your clients and your company.
Element 3: Insights and Perspective
There is no end of shiny objects that might captivate and capture the sales leader's attention, but no marvels of technology create value for the contacts trying to decide who to choose as their partner. Most sales organizations, including some of the largest companies, have done little to provide the sales force with the insights and perspectives that could offer their contacts a deeper understanding of their environment, the root causes of their difficulties, and what they need to understand to improve their results.
Your sales enablement strategy needs to address the only area where there is still information disparity. In Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative, you will find that creating value for your clients means creating information parity. Your contacts can read your website to learn about what you do, so what they need from the sales conversation is different. The sales conversation is an opportunity for a salesperson to communicate their insights and experience to the client, so they share a level of understanding.
Marketing does an excellent job communicating one-to-many, even if most marketing groups are still using material that answers “Why us?” I am beginning to believe that communicating insights and your company's perspective must move to sales enablement. Effective selling now requires new conversations. It is easier to collect, organize, and enable this approach by keeping it in the sales function. An engaged sales enablement function will have a greater ability to run workshops to capture the insights that salespeople use to create value inside the sales conversation. This is now the art of sales.
A Sales Enablement Strategy for the Sales Conversation
You can start this sales enablement strategy for the sales conversation by working to recognize what your prospective clients need from the sales conversation and your sales process. Once you know what you are enabling, you need to build a development plan for the sales force and each individual on your team. Finally, you must enable the insight-based approach that works in this uncertain and difficult sales environment.
By enabling the sales conversation, you give your sales force a sustainable competitive advantage, something that Warren Buffett describes as an economic moat. There may be no better moat than the ability to beat your competition for deals.