What is sales enablement, and how does it happen? The meaning of this term has been evolving for 10 years—and it's a moving target.
Over several posts, I am going to tell the story of our sales enablement journey at CareCredit, a division of Synchrony. I will talk about sales training content creation, coaching to mastery, competency assessment technology, sales onboarding reimagined, sales coaching, and customer-facing sales tools. (I won't be talking about recruiting, hiring, or compensation.)
I'll tell you what we did and what we learned over the past two to three years, with a focus on people, processes, and technology. My hope is that others can benefit from our experience. I will also be facilitating a boot camp on the topic on October 9 at ATD SELL, a sales enablement leadership conference happening in Las Vegas. This won't be a presentation, but rather a conversation where practitioners will have the opportunity to compare notes and prepare action plans.
To be clear, ours was not a top-down, C-suite-sponsored, strategic initiative. It was organic, incremental, and iterative. We learned as we went, and we are still learning. If you are on a similar journey—or thinking about starting one--I hope you find benefit in this tale.
On to the story...
A sales training consultant for 15 years, I joined my long-time client in 2017 as a full-time employee. I crossed over to the inside, and became vice president of instructional design, sales process, and training delivery for CareCredit. As a training team, we have two audiences: inside and outside. On the inside are 300+ phone and field sales reps; on the outside are 230,000 customers (healthcare providers) who need to be certified upon enrollment and periodically recertified. Aside from a small enrollment sales team, most of the salespeople function as customer success managers to drive engagement and usage of our products. Their goal is not to complete a sales transaction, but to gain mindshare and create behavior change over time.
Chapter 1: Sales Training ContentWhen I started in 2017, there was general agreement on a high-level consultative sales model, but little in the way of a documented sales methodology or training. Fortunately, we had a huge demand for content, thanks to a cadence of quarterly sales meetings, each with eight to 12 hours of instructor-led sales training. Working with the sales leaders, we developed content for each event and talked a lot about the knowledge and skills a complete salesperson should have. At the time, we called it the “sales training strategy,” and it had five buckets: company knowledge, market knowledge, strategy and tools (software), sales skills, and sales scenarios.
The sales leaders were our heroes on the journey to sales enablement, and still are. Without their ongoing commitment to training and coaching, there wouldn't be a story to tell. Traditionally, most sales enablement professionals report to either sales or marketing, but we don't. We are a training organization under the Provider (Customer) Experience Group. Therefore, true collaboration is a must in order to get anything done.
Content development started with an instructor-led sales training course for new hires. We identified one generic sales conversation, broken into the typical five parts of a consultative conversation. The core of the training focused on each step, with process flows, scripted examples, and opportunities for personal customization. In addition to the sales conversation skills, it also included business acumen and customer personas.
Once we had the basic sales model in place for new hire training, we began porting it over to the cadence of training events for the legacy sales force. In addition to basic sales skills, it included more specific customer scenarios, with conversation job aids developed for distinct phases of the customer relationship. Each course came from one of the five buckets mentioned above.
We worked with compliance to ensure all customer-facing verbiage and examples were accurate and appropriate. At that time, we didn't work with marketing at all, other than harvesting some of their customer-facing content for scripting examples. Like all effective training, it was highly interactive, leveraged local knowledge and social learning, and included a lot of practice activities.
There are positives and negatives to developing 30 to 40 hours of unique sales training content per year. On the downside, it's a lot of work, it requires a lot of collaboration, some salespeople are resistant, and it risks becoming redundant. On the upside, the biggest win was that over a two-year period, we covered the entire waterfront in terms of sales skills and (most scenarios). We had quality content documented on every important topic. We also had developed a more comprehensive understanding of the knowledge and skills needed by a top salesperson, which came in handy later when building the sales competency model.
What is subversive about developing sales standards and training? Not everyone wants to be trained, and not everyone wants to be held accountable for meeting certain standards. In my experience, however, this usually represents a very natural fear of change. With steady support from the sales management team, we stayed the course.
And, while we got a lot of accolades for improved sales training, the sales leaders were still seeing inconsistent performance in the field. We had great content and classes, but not always great implementation.
Up next is chapter 2 on sales coaching.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn.