Breaking Down Barriers with Sales Communication
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Get salespeople the information they need when they need it. This sounds simple, but without a solid strategy in place to guide sales communication, it can be complex.
When reps feel like they are in the dark and do not have the information they need, they will often rely on their own devices. This can lead to problems such as off-brand messaging or design elements in content, quality and version control issues, and an overall distrust between marketing and sales.
Arming salespeople with the right content at the right time relies on more than just organization and structure; it also requires effective communication with sales. Here are four elements of a successful sales communication strategy to break down the barriers between sales, marketing, and other departments across the company.
1. Talk to your salespeople about their day-to-day challenges
The first step to effective communication with sales is understanding what their challenges are, learning about the obstacles they face every day at work.
“I like to ask people what sucks; what sucks about their job, what sucks about their work, what’s impacting them,” said Christopher Kingman, director of international enablement at TransUnion. “It’s a great way to get a laugh out of somebody. It’s very disarming.”
Create an environment where people can feel comfortable speaking candidly about things they like, but more importantly, what could be improved. It can help relieve some of the pressure salespeople might be feeling just by giving them an avenue to voice frustrations. Over time, it encourages people to seek out those honest and transparent conversations when a problem does arise.
Taking all of this anecdotal, subjective, or qualitative information, sales enablement professionals can then quantify it and prioritize it to identify key problems impacting the business and hindering the salespeople from doing their jobs.
“You realize that there are some major challenges here, some major issues going on, or there’s a systemic challenge or process or problem that now we have to go prioritize and tackle,” said Kingman. “We’ve got to bring in resources. And it’s easier to get to that by just sitting and talking, person-to-person, than filling out a questionnaire or anything else.”
2. Ask for feedback: what’s working, what’s not?
Establishing a process for receiving consistent feedback from the sales team on programs that work well and those that do not also help sales enablement professionals refine approaches to work as intended. Often, practitioners may think they have solved a problem by implementing a program or tool, but it might not actually be utilized by the sales team or working in the way they hoped.
“If you have a great idea, try it,” said Margot Epstein, director of sales operations at KONE Corporation. “If it doesn’t work, figure out why and sit with your salespeople to make it even better.”
In sales enablement, practitioners are constantly working to find solutions. But a lot of the time, answers to the exact issues in question can be found just by talking to the salespeople that are dealing with that issue every day.
“The reality is that your people always have the answers to your challenges,” said Kingman. “You just have to get it out of them, you have to make an environment where they’re empowered to share that with you or feel capable of even sharing it with you or willing to or motivated to. I found that this overly simplistic approach has gotten me to unearth a lot of the challenges that really impact everything.”
3. Listen and observe
Endless valuable insight can be gained by sitting with the sales team, watching them do their jobs, and actively listening as they go about their day-to-day activities.
“It’s so important to work with your salespeople, ask your salespeople what they need, and not only ask them but go watch them do their job,” said Epstein. “Because people may tell you something, but if you’re sitting in the room with them with a customer, you may see so much more.”
Meet the salespeople where they are at. Shadow calls, sit in on meetings, watch their process for prospecting. While gathering observations and feedback from managers is important, going directly to the sales reps as well allows practitioners to uncover problems that never would have been discussed or evident otherwise.
“You need listening mechanisms for what the managers are giving back to you and also one that doesn’t stop someone like yourself from coming to them,” said Cameron Tanner, sales effectiveness manager at Amazon Web Services. “I may have a secret under my belt that unless you ask me, I’m not going to share it with you. So, you also need a listening mechanism to ask the reps: are you working on something awesome, have you got a secret you should be sharing with everyone?”
4. Communicate content so that it’s easy to use
A major qualm among sales reps is that they do not know what content is available to them or how to find it at the moment they need it. A key strategy for sales communications is to put mechanisms in place that naturally guide the sales team toward the content they are looking for. Organization and structure are part of this, but it’s also in helping them understand the purpose of available materials.
At the same time, it’s also essential to align on customer objectives and what content is needed to meet those. Then, communicate new content in terms of how it helps address that objective.
“We’ve stopped communicating content to the sales team based on the actual title of the content,” said Greg Stephenson, director of product marketing at LinkedIn. “So, we don’t say, ‘here’s the latest battle card’ or ‘here’s the latest data sheet’. We communicate it in business objectives, so your customer will have a certain objective.”
This will help ensure the content is used the way it is intended and also help sales reps understand when to use the content, what its purpose is, and how to find it.
Effective sales communication is intertwined with all of sales enablement’s many responsibilities. Talk, listen, observe, and ask questions to help improve communications with sales, build rapport with the sales team, and refine methods to provide timely, relevant content on an ongoing basis to the sales team.