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Mar 03 2023
Patch the Holes in Your Sales Enablement


I’ve been involved with sales performance and sales enablement for nearly 50 years. Three of my four companies have focused almost exclusively on sales performance, spanning multiple industry segments across the globe.  Frankly, not much has changed over the years, other than the high-tech tools, and the continued flow of new sales experts, books, and training programs. Two things I’ve noticed have definitely not changed, and I’d like to bring them to your attention.

First, very few sales organizations document their successful sales process in detail. This is, I believe, partly because people tend to focus on behavior or activity, and not on the milestones or accomplishments that successful activities produce.  Yes, there are sales pipelines and funnels, lists of sales objectives, and sometimes even milestones to mark off phases in the sales process, such as qualified leads, meetings with decision-makers, requests for proposals, and closed deals. Those are good, big objectives. In most business-to-business sales, however, the milestones or possible call objectives are more fine-grained. In the field of performance improvement, we call them accomplishments or work outputs. They include relationships, decisions, documents, agreements, appointments, and sometimes many other small achievements in the process from qualification to closing.  

The most successful sales people know about these progress indicators, at least unconsciously, and identify them when prioritizing activities and setting goals for sales calls.  Things like a good relationships with the receptionist, good decisions about who to meet next, the right sales collateral to the right person at the right time, and so on, are what keep the attention of sales stars. These are the kinds of small accomplishments that can make a difference, are often discussed in passing, but seldom codified or documented. If you have successful sales people of your product in your market, then you can study exactly what they accomplish at each step, when they decide to pursue optional milestones, and how they sequence and juggle their work to achieve them.

By documenting these small outcomes in the sales process, you capture and define a roadmap that less experienced people can follow, and that can guide all of your sales training, coaching and enablement efforts. You will also set the context for identifying the individual and teams of sales people who accomplish each of these milestones most effectively, efficiently, etc.  In other words, you create a framework for identifying exemplary behavior, those small tricks and tactics that the best people discover to move things forward, and that often account for their exceptional results.

Second, few organizations have an optimal framework for designing, configuring, and aligning all the factors that influence sales performance. Sales enablement is often described as systems (the “sales stack”) and content, combined with training. There are many other factors that influence performance, including expectations at many levels, feedback, many types of tools and resources, formal and informal consequences and incentives for doing the right thing, skills, knowledge, optimal selection and assignment, and an alignment of each sales professional's values and motives with that of the company.

The Six Boxes® Model provides a comprehensive framework for sorting and aligning all the factors that influence sales performance, based on principles derived from behavior science. You need to identify how the various things you provide for the sales force function in relation to the behavior of sales people, how they influence behavior.  The Six Boxes, based on what’s called contingency analysis by behavior scientists, gives us a way to be sure we have not missed anything, and that all the things we offer to support sales function together.

I’ve been in so many sales meetings and sales enablement gatherings where the factors that influence behavior are working at cross-purposes, or are simply missing. I recall the VP of a strategic product group at a major software company telling his people how important a specific product was for the company, while senior sales people next to me pointed out that there was nothing special in their compensation plans for this product and that it would be easier to make their numbers with the old products that they already knew.  I’ve seen marketing groups come to sales teams excited about programs they had developed, without any prior input from sales people, only to be told that the programs would be useless, and that sales people would not likely use them.  I’ve observed sales skills training focusing on identifying customer needs and addressing them with solutions, while product knowledge was taught based on features and benefits (“How cool our stuff is”).

These elements of what should be a system of behavior influences do not align, and often there are conflicts and gaps. The groups that provide elements of sales enablement are too often in silos,  doing their usual things rather than aligning with the performance needs of sales reps who need to achieve specific milestones. We  need to patch the holes, and be sure that all parts of the system line up with one another!

My recommendation, after having worked with sales organizations and reviewed a lot of sales enablement literature, is that to be successful, organizations must avoid these mistakes and approach their sales enablement efforts in a more integrated way. They need to view sales performance as a system, in which everything needs to work together to support a path from prospect to close. 

Interview and observe successful sales people and learn from them all the small “next things” they’re trying to accomplish at each step, in each call, in each contact with their prospects and clients. Find out what milestones they target and achieve, and use to estimate how far they are from closing.  Capture and refine a list of milestones – some standard and some optional, depending on circumstances – that experienced people can agree are indicators of progress. Once you have that, and what it really means to achieve each one of them (“when you know you’ve got it”), then build your sales enablement system around these milestones.

Use the Six Boxes® Model to list and sort ALL the factors in each cell of the model needed to ensure that your sales people do what it takes to achieve each milestone efficiently and effectively.  Find the gaps and disconnects, and fix them. Be sure they are all positive and easy to use, rather than punitive. Use this framework to create a continuous learning environment and culture in which sales people learn with and from one another, and sales leaders coach and support their people to achieve each milestone, large or small. Build hiring, training, sales tools and collateral, support staff work outputs, compensation, informal recognition, software, knowledge and skill development, selection and everything else to complete the Six Boxes, and be sure the pieces all fit and work together.

This is easier said than done. But until companies make the investment to accomplish these things with completeness and attention to detail, and use them as a foundation for continuous improvement, they are going to be re-inventing a wheel that is less than optimal. If you begin down the path of systemic, accomplishment-based sales enablement, the ROI will be significant, and over time you will accelerate results.

For assistance, check out our Performance Thinking® for Sales Enablement package of programs and services. And learn more at our short YouTube playlist on sales performance , or from our longer webinar.

- Carl Binder, CEO


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