“Is sales enablement making salespeople stupid?”
That’s the topic of a recent two-part blog series from sales enablement thought leader Tamara Schenk, research director at Miller Heiman. Of course, that’s just the headline. The real questions dig a bit deeper.
In part two, she asks, “Has sales enablement led to an inability [for reps] to communicate value messages?” Studies have consistently shown that, for salespeople, the ability to communicate value effectively is a major indicator of sales success. It’s also a continuous challenge. But – isn’t the whole point of sales enablement to help solve this problem? Where’s the gap?
Tamara takes a closer look in her post, Sales Enablement’s Role in Value Messaging. It’s a great read and an interesting topic that I thought raised some great points about how some organizations view sales enablement. She was also kind enough to expand on those thoughts in this short Q&A.
My biggest takeaway from your article is how much responsibility still needs to be placed on the reps themselves. You write that value messages still require “strategic and critical thinking” by salespeople. Do you think this part has become overlooked in the way some organizations view sales enablement?
TS: Absolutely, the part of critical and strategic thinking has become overlooked in the way a variety of organizations view sales enablement. Additionally, there is a significant difference between transactional sales and complex sales. I will focus on complex sales here.
Early on, the term sales enablement was closely connected to content and to technology. The idea was that we only need to provide the right piece of content at the right time to the right person to guarantee valuable conversations. This idea is combined with the idea of “we can automate sales” which is still in many people’s heads. What we can do is to automate a number of processes by leveraging technology. But we cannot automate salespeople and we can definitely not automate customers.
This is where the value of a customer core sales methodology and customer core engagement principles comes into play. The content and the messaging might be world-class, but there is no way that the salesperson has to analyze and understand the customer’s specific context, the involved stakeholders’ different approaches to tackle the challenge and the specific decision dynamic regarding how this customer community is going to make a decision this time. Based on that, a specific perspective, a specific approach, can be provided that enables customers to achieve their desired results and wins.
So, long story short: sales enablement can provide a lot of capability knowledge, vertical knowledge, competitive knowledge etc., tailored to the customer’s journey and to different buyer roles, but the situational knowledge, a customer’s specific situation, what’s valuable for them, what they want to achieve, that’s what a salesperson has to analyze and to deeply understand before proposing a solution. Mapping content and messaging to the real buying situations and to the real buyers, the individuals – that makes the difference. That requires adaptive competencies, and that is always a sales professional’s responsibility. That’s living a customer core approach.
This feeds into your concept of “dynamic value messaging.” What does that mean and why is it a challenge for organizations?
TS: There is no “one-size-fits-all” value message or value proposition. To be effective, value messages have to be focused on what a product, solution or service means for the customer’s specific situation and their desired results and wins, rather than what a product is and what it does. As the customer’s focal points change along the customer’s journey, the value messages must also change. Additionally, they have to be tailored to different buyer roles, and often per industry. That requires a dynamic messaging approach that helps salespeople to quickly access and customize value messages for specific selling situations.
Let’s assume all that is designed properly and provided to the salespeople. There is always an urgent requirement that people can learn and practice a different kind of messaging, that’s no longer pushing products.
Sales enablement has always been to make sure that salespeople can learn how to use content and messaging. Different conversations at different levels in the organization have to be practiced beforehand to develop salespeople out of certain comfort zones. And this is where the intersection between enablement and the frontline sales manager’s coaching is so important. Value messaging is one of the reasons why enablement and coaching services have to be connected, based on the same framework. Set up properly, they reinforce each other successfully.
Finally, you wrote that the process for creating value messages needs to change. How does this affect the way sales content should be created?
Changing the design point in content creation and value messaging from a product to a customer core approach is the logical consequence of a customer core approach. Doing so is a serious change process that shouldn’t be underestimated.
People created content for decades in silos and from the inside to the outside, which means from a product perspective to the outer world. Now, we ask them to work backwards form customer challenges and problems. Such a transformation should be orchestrated by a strategic sales enablement function that understands both the customer and the salespeople and can bridge between different internal stakeholders. Working in cross-functional teams with advanced salespeople is often the key to success, because they can mirror directly what works and what doesn’t.