Sales enablement is a hot topic in sales. Professionals in the field have lots to do and many choices when it comes to seeking help from solution providers. But, before reaching out for assistance, sales leaders should first step back and define their sales enablement goals.
Bottom line, sales enablement equips salespeople to make sales. We think it’s as simple as that. At Vantage Point, we adhere to the following definition: Sales Enablement should get sales people to sell the right solutions, to the right customers, using the right strategy and tools, based on the buyer situations they encounter.
On the surface this is a very basic definition. But as any sales enablement professional will attest, it is far harder than it appears. Get one of these elements wrong and it can dismantle your sales enablement efforts. We will examine the biggest barrier that keeps your sales enablement efforts from generating the return you want, buyer situations.
Providing the Wrong Sales Training
Sales training is frequently used to improve sales performance, and yet, it rarely provides the kind of lift organizations desire. Why? Because current training models do not address the true realities of the buyer/seller environment reps face. Of all the sales enablement possibilities, rep training receives the most investment dollar-wise, yet it is the thing most likely to throw all other efforts out of alignment.
Leaders long for consistency in the sales force and go to great lengths to accomplish it. Unfortunately, most of these endeavors don’t work because there is no one sales approach that wins in every buying situation. Vantage Point’s Dr. Leff Bonney and the Florida State Sales (FSU) Institute recently completed thorough research into sales methodologies and found that there are roughly four sales approaches that emerge repeatedly. Let’s say that another way to make it clear: There is more than one sales approach in the complex world in which sales reps operate. And each one works only if it’s used in the right buying situation.
To successfully tackle sales enablement, leaders and managers must know the answers to the following three questions:
- How many unique buying situations do our salespeople encounter?
- Does the data we’ve gathered support our thinking? In other words, are you guessing, or do you have data to support your hypotheses?
- How does our current sales methodology address the different buying situations we’ve identified?
Dr. Bonney’s research discovered that any given sale methodology – whether it is consultative selling (like SPIN® or Solutions Selling®) or a disruptive approach like the Challenger Sale® – only works in about 25% of buying situations. That’s a shocking statistic.
Training Salespeople to be Average
Dr. Bonney’s study of the behavior of low, average, and high-performing sellers, revealed some interesting findings.:
- Lowest Performers did not have a consistent approach and were somewhat random in their approach to different buying situations.
- Average Performers were much more likely to use a single sales approach (the one they had been trained) in every buying situation and did not vary their approach.
- High Performers adapted their approach to the different buying situations they faced.
What does this mean? It means that your one-size-fits-all sales training is equipping your salespeople to be average. Bad news indeed.
Einstein’s Definition of Insanity Applied to Sales
Albert Einstein famously said that ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Unfortunately, this has been the behavior of many well-meaning sales and enablement leaders. When presented with the next great thing in sales, the newest and shiniest sales methodology, they jump on the bandwagon. And such has been the case with the Challenger Sale® over the past six years. Challenger®, like every other sales methodology currently on the market, teaches that there is only one best way to sell. Our research now shows this to be nonsense.
In a research study with the Sales Management Association, we found that sales methodology training was one of the least effective in driving revenue growth. In fact, it ranked 14th out of the 17 training topics measured. The FSU study also found 65% of sales leaders are dissatisfied with the adoption of trained sales methodologies. So, it should come as no surprise that 57% of customers surveyed by FSU, said that salespeople did not adapt their selling approach to their unique buying situation.
Three things are at work here. First, salespeople are receiving training on a single methodology, and as a result are unable to function in a complex selling environment. Second, customers are dissatisfied with salespeople’s in-the-box thinking that fails to solve their problems. And finally, sales leaders are dissatisfied with sales methodology adoption. Yet we keep doing the same thing year after year after year – insane!
A New Way Forward
Clearly there are some fundamental issues sales enablement professionals will have to address. Top salespeople know inherently that one-size selling will never fit all buying situations, and they behave accordingly. They are remarkably consistent in their ability to adapt to buyers, and they adapt in very predictable ways. Sales leaders should use this insight to design their enablement efforts. The key is to analyze buying situations and selling approaches to get the right fit between the two. Agile sales training leads to satisfied customers and a tremendous impact on the bottom line. A win-win situation!