Maximizing Stakeholder Alignment to Kick-Start Collaboration

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In sales enablement, establishing successful collaborative relationships with core stakeholders means more than just aligning with leadership on the results you want to create for the organization. It also means syncing up on the activities or initiatives you will implement to create those results.

Many sales enablement leaders focus on breaking down silos in order to enhance cross-functional collaboration, but may struggle with scaling their efforts and integrating their initiatives into an organization’s norms. Sales enablement must also focus on developing a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ responsibilities and the nuances of how to work with each unique group, in order to elevate cross-functional team productivity.

Organizations with dynamic team alignment in all phases of strategic initiatives allow reps to provide customers with more high-quality interactions and value-rich conversations at every touchpoint – increasing quota attainment and win rates.

To solve alignment challenges, manage stakeholder expectations, and effectively land corporate initiatives in the field, sales enablement can begin to lay the cultural foundation for productive and valuable collaboration with a mindset shift that focuses on deeply understanding the perspectives of cross-functional partners.

Cross-Functional Partners as Enablement Customers

Sales enablement should think of stakeholders across the revenue organization as their internal customers, as enablement initiatives cannot be designed and prioritized without cross-collaboration across multiple teams.

Practitioners can overcome challenges to effective collaboration by ensuring enablement efforts are as inclusive as possible, bringing collaborators into the fold early to discuss processes and outcomes. As recommended in change management leader Andrei Anca’s “Lead From Any Seat,” consider asking yourself the following questions to evaluate how you can improve your impact with stakeholders:

  • What have you done to make an impact on your “customer” (your stakeholders)?
  • How did you serve your “customer” (your peers) better than the competition (other employees or teams)?

In evaluating these questions, do so through the lens of key stakeholders that enablement commonly partners with, such as:

  • Marketing: Marketing crafts the company’s value proposition, overall brand and product messages, and generates demand. Sales enablement should strive for a symbiotic relationship with marketing, so that they can provide better and more relevant content that will be needed to implement successful programs.
  • Revenue Operations: Revenue operations is instrumental in capturing and analyzing performance data, looking for opportunities to improve the sales process, and pointing out future revenue streams. It’s always important to tie sales enablement to sales ops by streamlining the data and insights they share, and creating enablement programs that utilize the data to drive tangible business results.
  • Sales: Sales is on the front lines for the organization, responsible for driving revenue. Enablement can provide insights on how their efforts will make selling easier and push for clear guidance on the activities that sales leaders want to produce. Without gaining trust from sales, it is nearly impossible to get reps to participate in enablement programs in a meaningful way.
  • CEO and C-Suite: Enablement must demonstrate their program’s potential business impact grounded in the company’s goals and objectives in order to garner cooperation and confidence from leadership, building the relationship to put the funding, headcount, and strategic support behind the collaboration. Alignment and visibility with the C-suite can help make sales enablement more effective and efficient in driving business impact for the organization.

When enablement shifts the focus to perceiving stakeholders as internal customers, practitioners not only will start effectively working with stakeholders and making an impact sooner, but they will also be more appreciated and rewarded.

Understanding Multiple Points of View

The best way to establish effective stakeholder patterns of collaboration is to gain an understanding of the current state of the organization, by speaking to all stakeholders to get every possible point of view. Revenue leaders and revenue-facing reps all have their particular perspectives based on the criteria by which their performance is judged.

Practitioners must have the curiosity to learn as much as possible in numerous meetings with various stakeholders in order to anticipate their needs and integrate into the culture of the company overall. Clear and open conversations will provide enablement visibility into the goals and objectives that different stakeholders are working toward, which helps diagnose gaps preventing the organization from maximizing productivity.

Understanding what stakeholders want to impact and how they want to influence the impact across sales reps will help enablement craft their future vision, build a data-driven plan of action, and target messaging to stakeholders’ specific interests. The sources and skillsets that serve one stakeholder’s needs best might not work the same way for another.

For example, sales leaders will prioritize sales reps’ ability to increase revenue, while marketing managers will care most about a return on demand and content investments. Anca suggests understanding the priorities of stakeholders as it relates to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. To do so, consider the following questions for each of enablement’s core cross-functional partners:

  • Physiological Needs: How well is this partner able to balance their work and personal life given their professional commitments? Is there anything enablement can do to support their physical and mental well-being?
  • Safety Needs: What does this partner need to accomplish to maintain job and income security? Is their job security at risk in any way?
  • Belongingness Needs: Do you have a strong relationship with this partner? Does the partner have healthy relationships with other peers in the workplace?
  • Esteem Needs: What has this partner done lately that warrants recognition?
  • Self-Actualization: What is this partner’s long-term objective or career aspiration? What can enablement do to help support these goals?

Tying stakeholders’ interests to the success of cross-functional efforts for the business will also urge stakeholders to take ownership of their individual responsibilities as it relates to overarching business goals, thus ensuring they remain motivated and engaged in the collaborative relationship.

“A big part of alignment is understanding both what does that person or that team need to get accomplished,” said Caroline Holt, EVP of revenue enablement at EVERFI. “What is it that they need to get out of the revenue organization? Then that starts to trickle into what we actually need to accomplish together. I think if you understand the needs of your internal stakeholders, and they understand what’s in it for them to work together, it’s a lot easier to build something in a collaborative zone.”

Anticipate Cross-Functional Priorities

It is impossible to know exactly everything stakeholders think, feel, or really want, but there are tools that can help enablement make more informed and fairly accurate guesses. Consider using a perspective mapping exercise, as outlined by Anca, to better understand stakeholders’ minds and learn what particular enablement solutions they need. The exercise outlines perspectives in four quadrants:

  • Say: What do your stakeholders say about their problems?
  • Do: What do your stakeholders do about their problems?
  • Feel: How do your stakeholders feel about their problems?
  • Think: What do your stakeholders think about their problems?

This is a powerful tool that can help enablement start shifting the focus from themselves to the needs of cross-functional stakeholders.

Collaborative relationships will underachieve if stakeholders only participate in one-time, or even periodic conversations. Make sure stakeholders understand that sharing their problems is essential for continuously converging on shared goals, minimizing redundancy, and creating insights and initiatives that are valuable to everyone in the partnership.

“If you work with them to understand what their challenges are, and you make it clear that their success drives your success and your partnership and your programs, you can stay aligned with those goals better,” said Stacey Justice, vice president of sales strategy and enablement at Workfront. “And you’ll be on your way to building a solid partnership.”

To maintain two-way communication that helps build and strengthen enablement’s readings of stakeholder needs, create spaces that encourage them to articulate their problems or ask questions. These can be virtual spaces for teams, or regular meetings, with a rotating cast of collaborators that can help improve cross-functional initiative relevance, planning, and uptake.

Aligning With Stakeholder Voices

After understanding what motivates the stakeholders and what is critical to their satisfaction, enablement must translate their needs into more specific requirements and align with the stakeholder’s voice. Often, stakeholders in different teams or departments have their own focuses and speak different “languages”. It’s imperative to use the right terminology that will resonate with the particular partner to explain the key objectives in order to set enablement’s goals and desired results in the context stakeholders need to help achieve them.

When attempting to provide ROI information and data-based projections that demonstrate to stakeholders why the project is worth the investment of time, resources, or budget, enablement should first expand on stakeholder criteria by focusing on at least two main buckets:

  • Critical to quality: What is most critical to stakeholder satisfaction in terms of quality?
  • Critical to delivery: What are the key timelines or milestones that stakeholders are most concerned with?

Understanding and defining what quality means for stakeholders enables practitioners to drill down deeper and translate into specific requirements.

Anca recommends using a Critical to Quality Tree to specifically identify what enablement can do to satisfy stakeholders’ needs in cross-functional efforts. To build a CTQ Tree that will then help deepen the impact of collaborative efforts, follow these steps:

  • Identify the needs: What is absolutely critical for this partner to achieve their objectives?
  • Identify the drivers: What are the quality drivers and sources of motivation for this particular partner?
  • Identify the requirements: What are the metrics that will indicate whether or not this effort was successful from the perspective of this partner?

“I’ve got to listen to my customer,” said Cameron Tanner, head of field enablement at Amazon Web Services. “My customer wants more of that one thing and you have to start expanding on what that means.”

Enablement can leverage stakeholder collaboration to implement solutions and solve challenges that may have seemed insurmountable to achieve on its own. However, the degree of alignment between sales enablement and the stakeholders plays a critical role in collective success. Demystifying stakeholder priorities and ensuring that cross-functional efforts reflect shared goals can eliminate guesswork and strengthen collaboration.

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