What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence,
intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
–Paul E. Meyer

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s what we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. Investments in improving process, skills or competency training (81%) and investments to improve product knowledge, market and competitive intelligence (82%) are the leading investments for 2014 and 2015.

We will focus today on the enablement topics. The other productivity investments in sales operations, sales technology and sales managers will be discussed in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

No training without content, no content without training

These investment areas cover both, knowledge transfer and behavioral change. The former is primarily addressed with content services, the latter with training services. But two one-way roads in parallel don’t lead to more productivity. These services have to be connected to create value instead of noise. Connecting the dots is important to make sure that content and messaging for the salespeople are customer-focused and consistent at any time, without redundancies and gaps. Providing content alone is not enabling the salesforce. Enablement has to make sure that people learn how to use different content resources effectively. For sales training, it is essential that the supporting content is available, on-demand. Product training has to be well aligned with enablement content and client-facing content. Connecting the dots sounds simple, but it is a huge challenge, especially in larger organizations where different functions contribute to these services. If so, enablement is ideally positioned to take on the orchestrating role across different functions with the bigger picture in mind and knowing what salespeople need.

Connecting the dots between content and training

Regarding knowledge, content is the leading enablement service (portfolio, industries, competitors, customers, internal, etc.). Training comes into play in two ways: First, product training should build on the internal and client-facing content that salespeople will use later on, regardless which function is responsible to provide product training, as mentioned above. Orchestrating that is enablement’s responsibility. Second, some pieces of content, such as newly designed playbooks, content packages or new ROI or other sales tools, require a “how to use” training service, to make sure that people understand how to use these resources effectively. Short video clips are the first step to making a big difference in terms of value and adoption.

Training on skills, competency and processes is more focused on behavioral change. Content has a supporting function. Nevertheless, salespeople should have access to this supporting content at any time, but in a valuable way. Providing supporting content in small chunks when needed (depending on the stages of the opportunities salespeople work on) creates add-on value. The next step would be to create small, on-demand training modules to refresh what has been learned, depending on the sales person’s selling context.

Stay tuned: Part 2 will cover investments in sales operations and technology.

 

Please have a look at the related blog posts:

Sales Enablement: Auto-Pilot versus Strategic Thinking

Enablement in transactional and complex sales environments

Sales Enablement’s Role in Value Messaging

3 Comments

  1. Thank you Tamara,

    as always, a well thought through article.

    Yet, lately I have increasing troubles about the effectiveness of training on skills and processes. When I think of engineers, they rarely need refreshing trainings on exiting skills or processes. I believe, the reason for this is that they regularly use in their daily job what they have learned. They might have to look up things that are infrequently used. You could also take the example of someone speaking a foreign language. If the foreign language is used frequently, no refresher is needed. From time to time a glimpse in a dictionary or grammar book might be necessary.
    So why do we need so much refreshers for sales people. The only answer I can come up with is that they do not use frequently enough what they have been taught. Which then leads to question why they do not use it. Maybe they consider what they were taught is not very relevant for their daily job or it was taught to them in a wrong way (e.g. skill training is not knowledge transfer). A third option is that what was taught takes them out of their comfort zone and so they try to ignore it. Also here refreshers are not the answer. Here coaching by their managers is the right answer. For this however managers must be willing and enabled to do so.

    • Thanks, Christian; very well observed!

      People often don’t use things that are perceived as an add-on, which is often the case when there are no big picture and no answers to the question why are we doing that? What is it we want to achieve with this training? What is it that will make us better?
      Then, reinforcement and adoption is indeed the most critical issue when it comes to the value of training services. In m experience and based on our research, reinforcement is ideally a frontline sales manager’s issue, embedded in the regular coaching practice. But if we look at the priority, sales manager development programs have, we have touched at least one part of the problem – it’s not a top priority.

      Frontline sales manager development is the topic I will address in part three of this series.

  2. Tamara,

    I’d like to hear more of your assessment of the implications, risks, etc.

    If you conduct this survey next year, will it be 60%? I expect so. That suggests two things: 1) some respondents would be changing these models annually, 2) all respondents change every 2 years (?). Coverage and compensation models go to the sales persons emotional core.

    Quota strategy isn’t clear to me, but it suggests more than just raising the number.

    60% change for each category seems high to me in terms of ideal, and in line with what I often hear, “here we go again.”

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