If you are in sales enablement, creating a sales advisory council is a critical piece of the alignment puzzle. Why? Because everyone knows that understanding the wants and needs of the sales executive team is important. However, getting in touch with the daily life of individual sellers—their pain, their vision of the world, and how decisions affect them—is also a huge part of knowing what needs to be in your enablement plan and how it should be executed. Plus, it can help you credential yourself and grow buy-in from the teams you support.
I have run many councils over the years, and I have found several tips that can mean the difference between successful outcomes and frustration.
Sales Advisory Council DON’TS1. DON’T Include Management
While it may seem like a good idea to include sales management in these sessions to garner their input, don’t. It will stifle the open sharing of information and keep you from getting the true picture of what is going on at the street level. Of course, there are exceptions—some team leads seem to be less threatening and less likely to cause any friction. The key is to think carefully about the effect each person will have on the others.
- TIP: Make the invitation to join the sales advisory council a great honor for quota-carrying reps. You can even ask regional leadership for nominations across their teams, to publish the roster in a company update, or to give fanfare at a quarterly business review. The point is to make this a team that sales reps want to join while making clear it is only for reps.
2. DON’T Limit Yourself to High Performers
It is tempting only to include the “best of the best” in your councils, but don’t. But who better to give you direction on the effectiveness of sales tools then the best in sales? Well, there’s the trick. Many of the top sales professionals have either a natural gift for persuasion or so many years of experience that they don’t remember what it’s like starting out. You will miss the majority of your target audience by not including greener reps into the mix.
- TIP: Include representation from all regions, segments, tenures, and skill levels. It is even better when you can meet with them all together. Most of the time, you find more similarities than differences and come up with more creative solutions when you open the discussion to a diversified group.
3. DON’T Allow Project Owners to Be Participants
While it seems to make perfect sense to fully include the project owner or manager on the topic you are reviewing with the sales advisory council, don’t. No one wants to give negative feedback to the person who just spent 100 hours creating something. But more importantly, it can create defensive dialogue from the project owner and shut down the conversation. If you need to have their input, have questions and answers go through a neutral moderator. Remember, the goal is to get the real story, not confirm preconceived ideas.
- TIP: The earlier that you can bring a project into review, the better. If you are only getting feedback on projects that are already baked, the sales advisory council will feel like they are wasting their time.
4. DON’T Ask Questions the Way the Project Owners or SMEs Give Them to You
Asking questions is an art form. Take it from the sales reps we often train in questioning skills. It seems easy enough to get a list of questions from a project owner or SME to ask sales, but don’t. That often won’t get you an actionable answer. Instead, either modify the questions, add layers of deeper discovery into the questions, or build your own repeatable questioning strategy that you can use across sessions.
- TIP: Instead of asking the sales advisory council if they “like” a project or even doing an add/keep/kill exercise, ask when they would use or have used it with a customer. Make sure to ask for an example of what the customer goal would be. Remember, all contacts should have a goal to get a customer from point A to point B, so what was it for this project? If you don’t get a clear answer, that should tell you what you need to know.
A sales advisory council can be a valuable source of field and customer information for groups around the company. If you organize it correctly you can improve your project success, and the success of company-wide initiatives while building greater organizational alignment.
In part 2 of this post, we will discuss the top best practices for running a sales advisory council.
Editor's note: This post originally published on the author's blog.