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This post originally appeared in Forbes on May 1, 2018.
Imagine being a sales leader and waking up to a bevy of Google Alerts declaring that your company is the target of a hostile takeover attempt. The media is all over the story, your team has multiple deals waiting to close and your competition will certainly use this news to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about your company. Your inbox is already filling with questions from your team: “What does this mean?” “Are we being taken out?” “Is this real?” “What do I say to my customers?” Your reps (and the 200 others across the company) need to be ready to give approved answers and speaking points within hours -- but you have no idea how to respond.
The clock is ticking as customer and prospect emails go unanswered, FUD campaigns ramp up and misinformation spreads. Your company has no process in place for quickly disseminating messaging to reps (not to mention to you), let alone tracking consumption and verifying their readiness to deliver those messages. So your team resorts to stall tactics or “best-guess” responses -- all with deals and your brand’s reputation on the line.
Unfortunately, this type of disjointed response is all-too-common in sales organizations when unexpected news hits. What they need is the equivalent of an emergency response system (ERS) -- similar to what municipalities use when preparing the public for emergencies. While you can’t predict every piece of breaking news (for example, most hostile takeover attempts are surprises), you can put a reliable response framework in place through a sales readiness strategy called “reactive readiness.”
Implementing A Reactive Readiness Strategy
What is reactive sales readiness? Quite simply, it is equipping the field force to effectively manage events that have an immediate impact on your business -- such as good or bad news about the company or its competitors, geopolitical events and so on. News today spreads instantaneously thanks to social media and mobile computing, so reps need to be prepared within hours if they are to seize opportunities and stave off competitive incursions.
Developing a sales ERS is key. Important components include:
- A template for building content: Content development is almost always the biggest hindrance in reacting to the unexpected. The mistake most organizations make is to “reinvent the wheel” each time news breaks. Instead, there should be a standard template in place that expedites content development. While the news may be unpredictable, you can predict that these situations will require background information, potential business impact analyses and key messages for customers, prospects and other core audiences. The template could also call for a short video from the CEO or another senior executive to provide added context to the sales team. There should also be a standard chain of review to expedite approvals.
- A system for rapid dissemination: Once content is approved, there needs to be a system to deliver it to the sales organization and track consumption. This system should support any end-user device across multiple channels (email, customer resource management system, etc.). The key is to push information to reps, wherever they may be.
- A strategy for assessing readiness: It’s not enough to simply push content at sellers, or even to ensure they’ve consumed it. You also need to conduct assessments quickly to ensure every rep is ready to deliver the right messages. This can be done live by sales managers, but video can dramatically expedite the process. For example, once reps have absorbed the content, they can record themselves responding to tough questions on video -- giving managers an easy way to review and certify each rep’s readiness.
- A separate strategy for managers: Sales managers make the ERS tick. They are the key to ensuring that every rep is ready to deliver the right messages. Sales leadership should plan to provide managers with information on what to tell their reps and how to evaluate their message delivery -- and hold managers accountable for certifying reps within a designated timeframe.
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With this type of system in place, companies can dramatically reduce the potential damage of unexpected bad news. Likewise, they can also be ready to use the system as a competitive weapon when big news impacts competitors. For example, if your competitor is the hostile takeover target, you’ll want to use the ERS to ensure your field force is 100% ready to capitalize on market uncertainty and win deals. In short, reactive readiness can be used both as a defensive and offensive tool.
The third way that reactive readiness can benefit the business is by enabling the sales organization to be “proactively reactive.” In many situations, companies know when major news is coming well in advance of the press release or first media story, giving the small number of people “in-the-know” a limited window to prepare. In addition to top executives, legal counsel and perhaps a public relations (PR) person, sales enablement leadership should be part of this inner circle so the ERS is ready to activate as soon as the news goes live. This enables organizations to take a proactive approach to material news without increasing the risk of improper disclosure -- and equips them to prepare the field force to take advantage of good news and manage bad news.
A Holistic Approach To Sales Readiness
A big part of sales readiness is making sure sales reps are prepared for the expected -- the likely scenarios they will encounter every day on the job. Achieving this is often accomplished through onboarding programs and continuous learning initiatives.
However, a sales readiness strategy that focuses only on “the expected” is incomplete. This is where being agile and reactive comes into play. Creating an effective sales ERS is the best way to manage the high-stakes threats and opportunities brought about by unexpected events. When you wake up to that next gasp-inducing Google Alert, you can breathe a little easier knowing the sales organization is primed to turn even the worst-tasting lemon into lemonade.
Reactive readiness is only one piece of the puzzle. Learn more about how to prepare your sales reps for any situation in our exclusive eBook,"The 4 Pillars of Sales Readiness."