Become a strategic business partner for sales leadership by taking a consultative approach to enablement.
The consulting industry is revered for the value it brings to clients. Consulting firms have proved their approaches over time and feel confident attaching their results to payment agreements. Some of these firms have even created models to ensure that they don't just paratroop in but create sustainable change management plans to drive adoption at scale.
To successfully implement sales enablement initiatives, companies need consultative capabilities such as project management, stakeholder engagement, and change management. Creating a multiplier effect is crucial, and a consultative approach can have a one-to-many impact. In a world inundated with shiny new approaches and technology, one trusted framework proves to stand the test of time—the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) model—and can bring structure to sales enablement. The model has evolved from acting as a linear instructional design approach to ensuring a comprehensive framework of repeatable milestones that can be ideal for rolling out sales enablement programs.
When sales enablement leaders begin a new role at any organization, it's important that they conduct a listening tour to understand current-state challenges before attempting to implement solutions. The same is true when addressing targeted business challenges. The analysis phase helps enablement leaders get to the root of the issue and identify the business metrics on which the team is seeking to impact.
Sales leaders often preach to their sellers to conduct a thorough discovery so they can scope the appropriate solution for customers. Likewise, if sales enablement thinks of the sales organization as its internal customer, the analysis step becomes one of the most important ones. Leaders often gravitate toward training as the answer; however, a consultative approach allows for a data-driven response that will determine whether training, a process change, or behavioral reinforcement (coaching) is the appropriate solution. Enablement, as a collaborative function, is in a unique position to also bring to light upstream and downstream operational impact of any changes.
Depending on a company's business culture, the analysis phase can be as informal (a quick conversation with sales leaders) or formal (requiring sales leaders to complete an intake form) as needed. When sales enablement regularly facilitates those types of intake conversations, positive stakeholder behaviors develop as sales leaders come prepared with answers to streamline the process. Questions the sales enablement function should consider include:
- What is the program goal?
- What are the key objectives?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is the desired timeline?
- What are the available resources for project support (human and existing content)?
- What is the current state? What are the challenges that exist because of it? What is the impact these challenges have on cost, risk, and revenue for the business?
- What constraints exist?
- How will success be measured?
When taking a consultative approach to the design phase, sales enablement leaders must recognize that sales teams typically want to feel like they have had a hand in the process so that initiatives do not feel forced upon them. When it comes to determining modality, I've found it helpful to create a learning preference survey to understand the landscape to inform design approach. With a baseline understanding, the sales enablement function can create repeatable rules so that not everything becomes a training event. (Is the solution something leadership owns—such as process documentation, coaching, or an announcement in a huddle or team meeting—or simply a resource the subject matter expert creates, such as a one-pager of best practices?)
Creating a milestone to present the design proposal and gain consensus from stakeholders will ensure alignment before the heavy lift in the development phase. That way, enablement leaders share the responsibility and do not act as a single point of failure.
Depending on the project's complexity, the process could entail an email or meeting or go so far as to have a chain of approval at key stages. Whichever approach it is, use a consistent design template so stakeholders begin to form expectations of a repeatable process. To smooth the change management curve, consider using a shared project management tool with which the team is already familiar. Here are some design topics to consider for the template:
- modules to include (proposed agenda)
- delivery method (modality)
- activity recommendations
- evaluation plan (who is involved in the measurement process and reporting progress)
- reinforcement and ongoing support
- development plan (deliverable, responsible party, timeframe)
- estimated project completion.
The development phase often either involves creating content or wearing a project management hat and chasing contributors to ensure they are properly crafting and socializing all deliverables. It's important to note that, especially for those one-person enablement teams, enablement leaders do not have to be in this process alone. Results are strongest when individuals are not working in silos, so consider strategies that involve SMEs or crowdsourcing. Or assemble a sales council for rep-level feedback (see sidebar). In my organization, the council has evolved over time to foster more strategic SME programs.
A tactical example of where enablement partners with rep-experts is in onboarding. I also involve large cross-functional groups in solving complex challenges. I run crowdsourcing workshops to establish best practices and understand the team's current-state behaviors. The information from these sessions often becomes the content for playbooks created by the team, for the team. With that level of buy-in, adoption rates soar.
Just as when implementing technology, enablement leaders shouldn't turn an initiative on and let it go. Establish a programmatic approach to create milestones for cascading communications, clear expectation setting, and an aligned and informed working relationship with key stakeholders. Like any change management effort, this will take time to become a norm, but stick with it, because the benefits will be worth it in the long run.
In addition, don't skip the sales manager enablement step. More often than not, managers are lumped in to receive training at the same time as their teams. Create a manager or coach milestone to ensure managers are content experts and can voice their concerns and frustrations in a safe place. The alternative risk is for managers to be combative in front of their teams and for the initiative to lose credibility.
Because sellers are creatures of habit, work within the sales team's natural operating rhythm and think strategically when planning a rollout. Sellers often have a repeatable cadence as they work toward monthly or quarterly quotas. Other activities—such as weekly team meetings, quarterly business reviews, and morning huddles—are standard at most organizations, so use those existing meetings as communication mechanisms versus reinventing the wheel and creating something new.
As with any project, start with the end in mind. Sales enablement's ultimate goal is to grow sales. The only way to prove enablement success is to tie it to tangible results. Typically for enablement leaders who started in sales, the challenge is that they skip from "Did the sellers enjoy the training?" to "Did it have an impact on the business?" That jump makes it difficult to judge what's working and what's not and to directly correlate enablement's impact.
There's another classic learning evaluation framework, the Kirkpatrick model, that helps ensure that the sales enablement function is measuring knowledge retention and the initiative's adoption. The model outlines four levels of evaluation and notes that not all levels are needed for every project, so it allows flexibility and strategic tiering.
Level 1 outlines the seller's reaction. This usually comes in the form of a survey to ensure the information was comprehensive and resonated with the team. Consistency is key in comparing results of one initiative to another; don't reinvent the wheel every time.
Level 2 describes the knowledge retention. In sales, it's crucial that learners practice the skills and not just absorb the information. Incorporate practice using a variety of formats such as role plays, quizzes and knowledge checks, or more formal certifications.
Level 3 is around behavioral adoption. Many people avoid this stage from a measurement perspective because it's challenging to track and often reliant on frontline manager support. However, this is the most important stage to ensuring that the enablement initiative was worth the effort and not just a point-in-time event. During this step, the sales enablement function can support reinforcement communication, develop manager enablement content such as coaching guides or activities for team meetings, and identify ways to optimize the tech stack to drive the right behaviors.
Level 4 focuses on business impact. In the
analysis phase, sales enablement leaders should have determined areas of intended impact (leading, lagging, and lacking indicators). Watch the results over time, because it often takes more than one quarter to move the needle. Use those results to capture impact stories and share those upward in the organization.
The sales enablement function often can feel like the unsung hero, and I've made it my mission as an enablement leader to ensure my team feels recognized. I craft impact stories that briefly outline the initiative's purpose, process, and payoff. Executives are storytellers, so providing them the material for their next company-wide presentation goes a long way.
Because sales leaders are our internal customers in our consulting model, my team has established a quarterly business review for enablement stakeholders to give updates on results and progress. These occur midquarter as to not compete with the existing sales operating rhythm. Using the Kirkpatrick model as a programmatic framework to measure success and creating the space to share these stories will help drive alignment and strengthen partnerships.
A consistent operational framework
ADDIE provides a great framework for the sales enablement function to act as a strategic consultant for the sales leaders, but ultimately an enablement leader's consultative capabilities will drive the function to transition from reactive to proactive and empower teams at large to operate as a learning culture. Creating a consistent operational framework will enable the sales enablement function to achieve maximum impact that the organization will capture, share, and recognize.
How to Start an Effective Sales Council
A council comprising sales team members will help sales enablement leaders collect feedback directly from stakeholders.
Create a charter. Document the council's goal and provide clear expectations of the time commitment and types of activities. This exercise will ensure that cross-functional partners work with the council in the most effective way. Be sure to highlight the personal motivators to attract participants. The roles should be a rotational honor that's re-
evaluated on an annual basis—bonus points for aligning to career ladders.
Identify an executive sponsor to ensure structure. It's crucial, especially while working through change management with this newly formed group, to have a single point of contact who ensures the meetings are a productive use of time and keeps the team focused on solution-oriented ideas. The last thing you want is to have this time turn into a venting session. Sponsors can help prioritize the agenda and provide guidance on how to operationalize ideas. Sponsors should make a conscious effort not to filter or influence the team's feedback, which defeats the council's purpose.
Use a nomination process to elicit participants. This team is meant to represent the seller's voice, so it's important the salesforce feels it had input in the process. Use a crowdsourcing method to receive nominations. Have the leadership team strategically review the nominations to ensure diversity in race, gender, role, segment, and tenure. Varied perspectives are helpful in crafting a comprehensive initiative that the sales team will widely adopt.
Socialize cross-functionally. After the council's formation, have the executive sponsor conduct a roadshow with cross-functional partners to review the charter and answer any questions regarding scope of support and process for engaging the group. Understand potential use cases to expect with each department. If it makes sense based on the purpose of your council, consider aligning the group in a committee style where representatives are matched with key partners in the business. Someone owns the demand generation relationship, someone else owns product marketing, and someone different owns collaboration with product marketing.
Include council members in strategic initiatives and large-scale presentations. Because peers nominated the council members, they are likely cultural pillars of the sales team. I've found that when you leverage staff to be the champions of important initiatives, adoption becomes significantly easier. Including stories from the field in rollouts and project updates and recaps creates authentic credibility and builds the sales team's confidence.
Recognize participants' efforts. For sellers, any time off the floor can have an impact on their financial drivers. Providing recognition for their extra effort and tying their contributions to a larger impact on the company will help them stay motivated to continue providing their valuable perspective. While this group is formed with productivity in mind, it doesn't hurt to have a little fun. Consider treating the council as a sub-team of its own that can benefit from team building and social bonding. This will also make the role more enticing for the next round of participants.