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What is a Chief Readiness Officer? (And Why Your Sales Organization Needs One)

Sep 07th, 2017


The sales enablement function is growing steadily, achieving 14% growth over the last three years and 32% of companies now reporting a sales enablement department. As sales enablement continues to grow and evolve, it’s only natural that leadership positions will begin to develop. For the function to become more influential within organizations, it needs a leader who can get that “seat at the table” and help the department develop a vision, strategy and goals that will impact the entire company.

Jim Ninivaggi recently took on the role of Brainshark’s Chief Readiness Officer. Since this a new role at Brainshark and one we believe will play an important role in the world of sales enablement, Jim provided some answers around what the role means and what it’s responsible for.

Why was the position of Chief Readiness Officer created? Who does it report into?

JN: I am responsible – along with my sales enablement team members – to ensure that our salespeople have the necessary knowledge and skills to optimize every buyer interaction. Since readiness is what our technology here at Brainshark is all about, we felt it made sense for us to have the first Chief Readiness Officer. We wanted to showcase our commitment to sales readiness and why it should be top of mind for every sales organization. The title gives me a platform to evangelize the importance of readiness.

I report directly to our CEO, but the reality is my team and I work for the sales organization.

How do you define sales readiness?

JN: Let’s say you are the Chief Sales Officer for a fairly large company and you have 500 hundred salespeople in the field. The question I would have for that CSO is, how confident are you that all 500 salespeople are ready for their next buyer interaction – whether that interaction is over the phone, email, web conferencing or face-to-face? Will the buyer leave that interaction thinking “that was time well spent” or “that was a waste of my time”?

Sales readiness is all about ensuring that salespeople have the knowledge (of your products, your competitors, the market, the company they are calling on, etc.) and the skills (listening, presenting, writing and so on) to bring value to every buyer interaction.

Why should companies consider appointing a Chief Readiness Officer?

JN: According to Forrester Research, B2B buyers say that only 20% of sales calls focus on their specific needs. Clearly, we have a long way to go to ensure that reps are really ready to bring the value that today’s buyers are looking for. That’s reason number one.

Another reason is to improve rep productivity – and we define productivity as the amount of revenue a rep produces over a given period of time. There are two ways to improve rep productivity. One is to give reps more time to sell by improving their efficiency, and frankly, this is where sales organizations typically spend most of their time and effort. They have established sales operations teams and invested in software like CRM, price and quote systems, content management systems, expense management systems, compensation management systems and so on. But this simply gives reps more time to sell, meaning if you have a bad salesperson, you’ve now given them the opportunity to make more bad sales calls.

That’s why there needs to be an equal focus on ensuring reps are truly ready to maximize their productivity. It’s time for sales organizations to invest in software and resources that improve reps’ effectiveness, and not just efficiency. When we initially look at the sales tech stack of companies we work with, there is often little to no investment in “readiness” technology.

The third reason is all about that buyer interaction. Every interaction a rep has with a buyer has basically four outcomes: establish the relationship, deepen an existing relationship, damage an existing relationship, or destroy a relationship (sometimes before a relationship has been established). It’s too risky to send out a rep who is not truly ready.

“Organizations spend millions building their brand, developing products and generating demand – but success and growth still comes down to that interaction between reps and buyers. If you’ve underinvested in the readiness of your salespeople, those millions will be wasted.”

What’s it like leading sales readiness at a readiness software company? What types of things is Brainshark doing to ready their salespeople?

JN: We are always doing lots of things here at Brainshark. I’ll share a couple of examples that I think are somewhat unique.

The first are what we call Sales Mastery sessions. I got the idea for these based on something I used to do as a sales manager many years ago. Every month I would receive a box from headquarters and in that box was everything I needed to run a 15-to-20-minute training session for my sales team at one of our sales meetings. There was a video (this was VHS back then) with my co-host who helped lead the session. There were exercises for me to run with my team. There was a leader’s guide for me and I would run a session on closing skills, presentation skills and more. It was a great way to make sure that as the manager, I was really ready to coach my people because, as we all know, the best way to learn is to teach. We do the exact same thing here at Brainshark, but instead of a box, everything is delivered to our sales managers via Brainshark software. We recently did one of these mastery sessions on pre-call planning and are soon launching another on handling objections.

We also place a focus on peer-to-peer learning. Like many sales organizations, we found that it was sometimes tough to get our salespeople to share their success stories and customer wins. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they are very busy. So again, using Brainshark software, we’re able to virtually interview our salespeople talking about recent sales success. We then take those videos and turn them into on-demand learning content using Brainshark for other reps to review. We call them Sales SpotLights and reps absolutely love being able to learn from one another.

How does sales readiness differ from sales enablement? Does it?

JN: We look at readiness as part of the overarching sales enablement function. So where readiness is focused on skills and knowledge, enablement also needs to ensure reps have the right content to support their selling activities, manage all the communications coming from corporate, and act as a conduit between marketing, product, finance and the sales organization.

How should a Chief Readiness Officer be measured?

JN: Like anybody in sales, a Chief Readiness Officer needs to be measured on productivity, which in sales means revenue. But there are a lot of things that contribute to whether reps produce revenue that goes beyond readiness, such as market conditions, competition and product evolution. Hence the name, Chief Readiness Officers should also be measured on the “readiness” of the sales organization because at the end of the day, their job is to ensure that the team on the field has the skills and knowledge to have effective sales conversations. They should be measured on things like rep certification and assessments as well.

For more information on how to run a successful sales enablement program, check out our eBook, The Path to Sales Mastery.