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Sales Enablement is in the Eye of the Buyer

Dec 03rd, 2018

This article originally appeared in Forbes on Oct. 31, 2018.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In other words, the person observing something gets to decide its worth – and what I think is beautiful and what you find beautiful may differ wildly!

The same principle holds true with sales enablement. When we prepare sales reps with content, training, coaching and technology, we often judge their effectiveness by whether they hit their quotas and revenue targets. Make no mistake – those metrics are indeed important in sales. But in my experience, the ultimate measurement for sales enablement leaders is how buyers feel about their interactions with the company’s reps. That is, sales enablement is in the eye of the buyer.

Good impressions are critical because in business-to-business (B2B) selling, your sales force really is your brand. That brand comes to life every time a business development rep (BDR) knocks on a door or sends an email or an account rep delivers a pitch.

I believe it’s sales enablement’s job to ensure each interaction leaves a positive impression on each individual buyer by addressing that buyer’s unique needs, challenges, role, industry and more. Even if, for whatever reason, a deal doesn’t move forward, you want buyers to feel their time was well-spent, that your company is worth doing business with and that the rep is someone they’d want on their own team.

Measuring Buyer Perception

Sales leaders may believe that their sellers are doing a good job due to their revenue productivity, but it could be that they are closing sales despite their buyer interactions and not because of them. This is a dangerous situation, as poor impressions tend to linger and can eventually catch up with reps. Meanwhile, positive impressions can lead to even more business.

Case in point: back in my consulting days, I was brought in to work with a fast-growing tech company. This company was very aggressive in fixating on and trying to beat the competition, and this was a focal point of rep training and buyer conversations.

When we surveyed customers, though, we saw this strategy had its downfalls. Customers frequently described the reps as overaggressive, lacking in professionalism and badmouthing their competitors. While the company had posted good numbers in the short term, over time this approach became a problem and inhibited deals. As a result, the company not only needed to recalibrate how reps engaged customers and prospects but also had to change the market’s impressions of its reps.

For this reason and others, I believe it’s important that you don’t let buyer perception be an elusive metric. But how do you actually get and leverage buyer feedback? Here are three suggestions:

  • Ask the buyer. Get right to the source to find out how people perceive your reps. During win-loss analyses, for example, in addition to your standard questions (about product, price and so on), also ask buyers questions that speak to reps’ preparation and ability to communicate effectively, and inquire about buyers’ overall experiences with your team.
  • Observe your reps. When managers and coaches are able to attend sales calls, they can assess how effectively reps engage buyers and adapt to changing circumstances. They can also gauge buyers’ receptiveness and responses. Post-meeting, coaches can debrief with their reps by asking reps how they think the discussion went, providing feedback and suggesting next steps — both for the buyer at hand and future ones. I find it’s also critical that both managers and reps understand what “good” looks like and that they have broken down key stages of the call (such as opening, discovery and closing).
  • Implement surveys. For example, at the end of the sales cycle, consider sending a brief survey to buyers asking how comfortable they’d be recommending their specific salesperson to a colleague or friend. Then put the results to good use. As a result of our surveying effort at the aforementioned tech firm, for instance, we implemented an approach that served the sales team better. While they still kept an eye on the competition, it was through their peripheral vision – which let reps maintain a laser focus on their customers.

Making Good Impressions

With sales enablement in the eye of buyers, how well do reps do at wowing them? Sales research firm CSO Insights noted in their recently published 2018 Buyer Preferences Study that only 31.8% of buyers surveyed said that sellers exceeded their expectations. (However, 61.8% say reps met expectations.) That means there’s work to be done from a customer experience perspective.

Beyond having product knowledge and sales acumen, reps should be prepared to master other areas that leave buyers impressed. These include:

  • Understanding buyers’ expectations. Buyers typically expect sellers to have a decent grounding of the prospect’s business and be able to answer product-, competitor- and corporate-related questions. The CSO Insights report notes other important areas, including the ability to provide insights and expertise, and a focus on post-sale engagement.
  • Communicating well. A great sales call is a great conversation. So how competent and confident are your reps at engaging in real conversations – or do they use PowerPoint as a crutch? Do reps ask intelligent questions and follow up astutely? When reps can share information and even pinpoint needs buyers aren’t aware of, they’re showing their value.
  • Demonstrating professional courtesy. Of course, reps need to show up on time, be prepared and look professional.
  • Running meetings efficiently and professionally. In my opinion, well-prepared reps set agendas (and deviate when needed) and can “read” their buyers and guide conversations according to buyer preferences and style. Reps should also end their calls with useful action plans and set times to follow up, as appropriate.

The Ultimate Compliment: When Your Sellers Are Being Recruited

If sales enablement leaders are doing their jobs well, buyers may rate their rep interactions better, and sales productivity can improve over the long term. The ultimate sign that this is working, though, may be when the competition begins recruiting your salespeople. This may seem like an unwelcome consequence of a job well done – but if your salespeople are “feeling the love,” then chances are good your buyers are too!