2016 marked a steadfast improvement for B2B organizations looking to beef up their sales results. The 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study conducted by CSO Insights shows that 32.7% of B2B organizations had sales enablement functions in 2016, a significant jump from 19.3% in 2013. It also shows 63.1% of respondents focusing sales enablement efforts on frontline sales managers and 34.4% focusing on channel personnel.
So, what’s in store for 2017? Here’s a look at seven sales enablement and readiness experts on what trends to expect:
Prediction: Partner enablement will no longer be an afterthought
Todd Berkowitz, Research VP, Gartner
“Many of our clients rely heavily on channel and other types of partners. The buying dynamics that I described in 10 Fearless Predictions for B2B Tech Sales and Marketing in 2017 apply equally to partners, except they are typically less well equipped to deal with them than direct sellers.
Not only is this topic coming up more in inquiry (especially around pre-sales and proof of concept presentations), but the vendors that sell solutions for sales enablement (especially those with digital content management for sales solutions) report that it’s coming up more often and that their customers are expanding the solutions to indirect sellers. Engaging with the partner more often and doing a better job with content for them is a start. But expect that some of your competitors will embrace it and see it as a competitive advantage.”
Related Infographic: Ideas to Create a Successful Partner Strategy
Prediction: 2017 will be the year the frontline sales manager becomes more integrated into the delivery of sales training programs
Ray Makela, Chief Customer Officer, Sales Readiness Group
“We’ve seen significant interest and evidence from our prospects and clients that they are taking the training of front-line sales managers more seriously, especially when it comes to their involvement in ongoing training and coaching of their team members.
‘Leaders as trainers’ and ‘Coaching the coach’ programs are getting much more interest, suggesting that organizations will begin to leverage front-line managers to deliver micro-learning segments during team meetings, one-on-ones and virtual training sessions. To maximize effectiveness, managers will need to have the tools and resources available to reinforce and coach the programs that are being rolled out to their team members.”
Prediction: Sales leaders will realize more isn’t always better
Greg Flynn, CEO, Brainshark
Many sales leaders feel the only way to close more deals is by having more conversations, more prospects and a larger pipeline. But these tactics don’t guarantee a bigger pipeline will be filled with good leads. In fact, it’s often just the opposite – bigger pipeline gets jammed up with poor leads and makes it more difficult for reps to advance even the best opportunities. The key to increasing sales productivity isn’t just about having more conversations or a larger pipeline; it’s about having more personalized and helpful interactions.
It’s been shown that top-producing sales reps spend more time planning prior to calls. Instead of just purchasing tools to increase rep efficiency and give salespeople more time, companies should focus on helping salespeople hone their product, industry and customer knowledge. Only then will they be able to better engage with buyers and have valuable business conversations. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Prediction: More organizations will focus on enabling sales managers
Tamara Schenk, Analyst, CSO Insights
“Sales managers, especially frontline sales managers, are the most important role in any sales organization when it comes to the implementation of the sales strategy including change and transformation programs. Execution happens at the frontline, where the rubber meets the road, or it doesn’t happen at all. But, the role of the sales manager is still often underestimated, poorly defined and not at all equipped adequately.
Tons of data in our research at CSO Insights prove that. Developing sales managers in a holistic way that covers all relevant areas of customers, business, and people (which means more than developing their coaching skills), is one of the most critical success factors to ensure sales execution and to drive adoption and reinforcement of the enablement efforts that have already been implemented for salespeople.”
Related reading: Why You Should Invest In Frontline Sales Managers First.
Prediction: Sales onboarding, training and coaching will finally be recognized as revenue drivers
Jim Ninivaggi, SVP Strategic Partnerships, Brainshark
“Analytics are increasingly showing that sales onboarding, training and coaching are shortening new reps’ time-to-first-sale, empowering reps to have more effective sales conversations and closing more deals. Because organizations can determine which onboarding, training and coaching activities help reps have more productive interactions with customers and impact sales, we will see more companies focus on these important initiatives.”
Prediction: The use case for predictive analytics in sales enablement will gain clarity, become realistic and more accurate, but maybe not to the point of true artificial intelligence
Heather Cole, Service Director, SiriusDecisions
“For years the promise of going beyond ‘reporting the news’ with sales analytics has been top of mind for sales platform providers and industry pundits — and perhaps less so — sales enablement leaders. To effectively leverage data to form a complete picture of behavior patterns there must be a reliable source of activity data that captures online and offline interactions. While, of course, that would be a properly leveraged sales automation platform, it only serves as the spine. The innovations in sales asset management systems and specialized learning platforms are the integrations that give the beast a brain — often one that records activities even when the rep does not take the time to enter them. But how do you learn from what you are seeing to drive more effective and efficient behavior? Better yet, how can your technology stack dynamically facilitate better behavior through continually improving guided selling?
When you consider sales readiness in the context of preparing for customer interactions, it is now possible and practical to look at a 360-degree view of not only how and when reps interact with customers but also how they prepare for these interactions with learning and reference tools. As organizations accelerate online, trackable digitization of both externally and internally facing content and drive it to the places where reps do their work, we get a more accurate picture of what winning reps do differently — not just what they choose to record or divulge. It is no longer a total leap of faith to allow the machine to associate this winning behavior to predict success and dynamically present knowledge resources, external assets and suggested customer interactions and assets based on what is working — and allow it to shift over time.”
Prediction: Sales manager enablement will continue to take root
Mike Kunkle, Senior Director of Sales Readiness Consulting, Brainshark
“Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of sales manager enablement. Considering how important frontline sales managers are – for guiding behavior change, reinforcing training, helping reps apply training to their job and coaching to mastery – this is a smart focus. Manager enablement programs tend to focus on helping managers be effective coaches, an area that is critical. Still, there’s a lot more to the sales manager role that, unfortunately, often doesn’t get taught. Organizations need to ensure managers are able to hire effectively, use analytical/diagnostic skills, lead great pipeline meetings (both in group and one-on-one settings), guide their team on deal qualification and forecast accurately, as well as get into an effective cadence or management operating rhythm.
For these reasons – along with the growing acknowledgment of the importance and difficulty of the manger role, and the upsides for getting it right – I predict that sales manager enablement will continue to take root. We’ll see a focus on hiring, training, coaching and developing the competencies, activities, methodologies and practices that help frontline sales managers succeed. We’ll also continue to see growth with technology-enabled virtual coaching and other enablement tools that support sales managers across their activities, beyond just the coaching parts of their role.”
Related reading: 11 Keys to Effective Coaching.
It goes without saying that 2017 will be an interesting year for sales enablement and readiness. Perhaps 2017 will be the year of sales manager enablement, smarter customer interactions or enhanced partner enablement. Only time will tell. What do you predict will be a sales enablement and readiness trend in 2017?