How Sales Enablement Can Improve Sales Proficiency

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With the recent signals of a burgeoning economic recession, many businesses have responded by reducing budgets and resources. As a result, many teams are having to adjust workloads and priorities to navigate a new, harsh reality illustrated by the popular turn of phrase: do more with less.

For sales teams, this holds all the more true. An economic downturn places greater strain on an already changing buyer landscape, and sellers have to deal with longer and more unpredictable buying cycles. To take these changes in stride, reps need to polish and increase their existing skills to become more effective and agile.

It is critical now that sales enablement professionals use their unique positioning at the intersection of all sales teams across a company to empower reps through onboarding, training, and coaching–three pivotal elements for increasing sales proficiency. Below, learn how sales enablement can help sellers build critical competencies to improve productivity and achieve long-term success.

Informed Onboarding for Maximum Productivity

The first step in the ramp process of a seller is that of onboarding. Because it is the foundation of acclimating the seller to the company’s goals, it also serves as an opportunity to provide reps with the strongest foundation for sales proficiency. A poorly designed onboarding program can cause excessive ramp times, leaving sales teams with suboptimal productivity. In an economic downturn, this scenario is less than ideal.

Here, the role of the sales enablement professional can be a critical one. In the past year, the efforts of enablement teams have resulted in a significant improvement in time to ramp for their organizations, as the Sales Enablement Analytics Report 2022 found that those who reported a decrease in time to ramp have steadily grown by 80% year over year. By examining existing onboarding programs from a more objective eye, sales enablement professionals can create cohesion within sales teams and ensure onboarding programs are being mapped to company goals from the start.

Successful and productive onboarding requires not only alignment with the overarching goals and fundamentals of the company but internal alignment with the needs and satisfaction of the sales reps. Rep satisfaction and confidence are integrally tied with performance–when they feel equipped to do the job, they can and will do it productively and successfully. This year, rep satisfaction was tracked by 15% more sales teams than in previous years, and organizations that tracked that satisfaction during the onboarding process reported a 3% increase in average win rates.

Ensuring rep satisfaction may mean evaluating and re-examining onboarding programs to see if it is developing sellers in a way they feel is supportive and advantageous to their own growth as sellers and individuals. Onboarding may often feel safe as a static program, but it is far more beneficial for sellers if the rigors of the program reflect the skills they need to succeed in the changing world of sales.

“Onboarding is ever evolving. Our economy is a little bit different, which means that prospects buy a little bit differently,” said Jessica Hoffman, sales enablement manager at Alert Media. “We have to make sure to continuously have those things, skills, and behaviors and our onboarding to make sure they’re successful.”

Creating Trackable and Impactful Training

After onboarding, training is the next fundamental area with the potential to enhance sales proficiency. Training can be thought of as two stages: consumption and evaluation. The first, consumption, is the most immediate concept that businesses tend to think of in training. It refers to the first load of content and the initial courses sellers take to learn their workplace skills and competencies. The second stage, evaluation, involves looking at just how well they have absorbed that information and knowledge. Tracking both of these stages is essential to maintaining the effectiveness of a training program and enabling sales proficiency.

“Understanding what to measure is directly related to the objectives of the training, which are ultimately going to inform the design of the training program,” said Aisha Wallace-Wyche, global head of GTM enablement at BigID.

Changing the learner’s behavior requires clear goals. A trackable training plan that examines how closely the actual results are lining up with the ideal outcomes can target rep learning to eliminate unproductive or inadequate training that leaves reps ill-prepared to perform successfully.

At BigID, Wallace-Wyche tracks improvement in knowledge gained with a pretest and a post-test to demonstrate the skills they have learned. She said the sales enablement team also looks at metrics, both the tangible, such as higher average deal size, and the intangible, such as reps employing more empathy during calls or demonstrating better listening skills. The latter metric is an example of behavior change, an indicator of success that has been tracked by 24% more enablement practitioners this year, according to the Sales Enablement Analytics Report 2022.

Throughout training, Wallace-Wyche’s team observes the level of behavior change that has occurred through peer and manager feedback, a type of feedback that has the potential to boost the rep’s performance because managers can provide additional support in the necessary areas. In fact, the same study found that when companies tracked competency improvement through manager feedback, they reported a 3-percentage-point improvement in average rep quota attainment.

“I think probably the most important is ensuring commercial leadership is equipped to coach these new skills,” said Wallace-Wyche. “When you’re deploying a training program, you definitely want to work closely with your frontline sales managers and make sure that they’re equipped to coach those new skills.”

Analyzing Coaching for Continual Success

As sales teams are having to navigate anew what it means to achieve high attainment with less than before, developing sellers on a more individual level can strengthen them to more successfully weather the uncertainties of the economic climate. Coaching functions on a personal and individual level to generate sales productivity on a larger scale.

“Coaching can impact not just productivity but actually can impact the end results and revenue,” said Dianne Kleber, vice president of sales enablement at Paradox. “If you have those new sellers or reps who are going along in their career and get a little stagnant, coaching can take them to the next level where they learn some new tricks. You can teach old-selling dogs new tricks and become more productive…the best thing you can do for your sales team would be to work in a coaching program if you don’t already have one.”

While the importance of coaching has perhaps, on a general level, been fairly well-established for sales teams and reps, measuring its success and levels of impact is less common. Currently, 25% of sales teams do not measure coaching success, and many are just beginning to formalize their coaching process.

Tracking the effectiveness of coaching is just as crucial to sales proficiency as coaching itself, to ensure that the approaches that coaches are taking are indeed making a quantifiable impact on the performance of the rep that is being coached. Consider the following three indicators for analyzing successful coaching.

  1. Quota attainment. Make sure that those in the coaching program are meeting the appropriate quarterly number. Motivating team members to reach a solid milestone can be an excellent way to track their progress, as frontline managers work with them to establish a rhythm of attainment and progress.
  2. Decreased ramp time. Team members who are still on the ramp to maximum productivity may not yet have a quota, but measuring their progress against those who are not on a ramp provides the data to inform how ramp time might be reduced.
  3. Visible company and market presence. While this is on the more micro side of KPIs, the appearance of sales methodology and messaging in corporate conversations and marketplaces can be an indication of how well coaching has influenced a company’s employees.

Just as with training, sales manager feedback in the coaching process is the most commonly tracked metric to assess coaching success, and teams that regularly collect manager feedback on their coaching programs report a 10-percentage-point increase in average rep quota attainment. By encouraging a coaching program built on iterative feedback, enablement can help foster sales environments that support reps in growing their competencies perennially.

“Learning never stops; there are always ways to improve,” said Hoffman. “It’s our job in enablement to identify that work with leadership and work with our reps, new and seasoned, to deliver the most effective programs.”

Every organization wants to increase productivity and accelerate the success of its sellers. Particularly during a period of market instability and downturn, focusing on the growth of an individual can overcome the gaps left behind by unexpected labor deficits. Success begins with people, and when people are well-supported in their efforts to become more proficient at their work, company success will inevitably follow.

Sales enablement can help pinpoint how to do that in onboarding, training, and coaching programs and both quantitatively and qualitatively help sales teams measure and enhance their selling proficiency. Together, they can emerge from this economic slump more resilient than ever before.

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