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Proving Sales Enablement’s Strategic Value in Times of Crisis – Sales Enablement Soirée, Summer 2020

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SS: Welcome to the Sales Enablement Soirée session on Proving Sales Enablement’s Strategic Value. During times of crisis sales enablement can be an invaluable business partner and helping to navigate and drive change management, particularly during uncertain times. During a crisis, sales enablement still needs to remember how to demonstrate their value back into the business though.

And that can be through data or through alignment to strategic corporate initiatives. Either way that will help sales enablement practitioners get a seat at the table, not only during times of crises, but beyond. Today, I’m excited to have Daniel Weinfurter, the director of Mentor Group, join us today.

Daniel I’ll hand it off to you.

DW: Well, good day all, and Shawna, thank you for that introduction. And I really do appreciate the opportunity to speak to all of you today and thanks for coming to this virtual conference. You’ve all heard the term, ‘these are interesting times’, which in my way of thinking is really a nice euphemism for what has really morphed into a bit of an existential crisis.

It started as a health crisis, but now it’s morphed into something that is way beyond that. If you only understand one statistic, if you think about the number of unemployed Americans being between 20 and 30 million. It’s the highest number of unemployed that we haven’t seen since 1939. So certainly, that would meet the definition of a crisis.

So, both here and around the world it’s challenging. So, here’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to spend some time on how an enablement function can provide value in times of a crisis. And in my way of thinking, it’s really in two broad buckets. What you can do from a management perspective to support the sales organization? But then, more fundamentally, what can you do from a leadership perspective?

So, with that, we’ll go from here. So, I looked it up the dictionary, what’s the definition of a crisis, which is a little bit different than how I started this, but it says as follows: the turning point of an event, when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. I know it’s a bit of a stark definition, but I actually didn’t make that up.

In a similar fashion, in the Japanese language, the character for crisis has two meanings. It means both danger as well as opportunity. So, it’s pretty obvious how there’s danger in current times. Understanding the opportunity takes a bit more of a stretch. So, if you look back on history, you’ll find, in my view, plenty of examples that highlight the notion of crisis being a catalyst for either good or bad outcomes.

I’ve always liked to look at history to inform the present. And so, there’s a few examples that I think are worth pointing out to frame this conversation. One, that we’re all aware of is in the height of the Great Depression where Franklin Roosevelt instituted the fireside chats, trying to deal with what was the biggest issue, which was fear. He had famously said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” And that statement, plus the ongoing fireside chats, did a great deal to restore hope and to mitigate fear.

One of my favorite individuals in history is none other than Winston Churchill. Churchill is an amazing individual. He was an elected member of the UK government for 40 years. He fought in three wars. He wrote 7 million words. Which is an absolutely astounding amount of published text. And, arguably saved England and really Western civilization from the spread of the Nazi menace. One quote, I think that sort of characterizes his ability to sort of talk about reality, but still instill hope, was in the midst of the Battle of Britain. When he said famously, “I have nothing to offer, but blood, soil, sweat, and tears.”

Jumping ahead 40 years, a brilliant South African by the name of Nelson Mandela emerged, leading an effort to lift the yoke of apartheid from South Africa. He faced torture and danger, even when he was released from prison. When he got out, he said, “I’ve learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” So those are sort of political examples. If you think about business examples, there’s many to choose from. If Lee Iacocca leading Chrysler back from the brink. And in more recent times, it seems kind of crazy to think and understand that just after the last financial crisis, which was in 2008 and 2009, we have yet another one.

But in the last crisis you had a trio of leaders, Timothy Geithner, Ben Bernanke, and Henry Paulson. Who’s sort of unwavering nerve and bold action, I think, kept the world, the whole financial system, from melting down. I’ve talked to many people who were close to it at that point in time and they will certainly reiterate that we were really close to going right off the cliff.

So, amongst these, I think really great positive scenarios, we all know of situations where less than enlightened leadership, less than crisis management, produced outcomes that I think rightfully so impaired their career and cause great harm to the individuals who really didn’t rise to the level of competency necessary, given the circumstances that they faced. We all have our favorite examples and chosen scapegoats, so rather than engage in any sort of partisan debate, I’ll just set that aside and people can come up with their own examples.

In any case, we’re not really here today to talk about global leadership examples. But instead, we’re here to talk about how the sales enablement function can really provide the value in these times, which are clearly times of crisis. As a way of framing the discussion, I think it’s worth talking about the makeup of a typical sales manager. My view, and the research certainly supports this, is that the vast majority of sales managers that are in place today are not natural fits for the role that they find themselves in. A 2014 article in Harvard Business Review pointed out that (it was written by Gallup) big organizations select individuals for first-line management positions incorrectly 84% of the time. I think we all understand, if you think about it, that the overwhelming number of sales managers were promoted into their position by exceptional performance as an individual contributor selling.

So, as a result, they have a very strong orientation for achievement and this competency to a large extent framed why they were successful as a salesperson. It’s a combination of skill, determination, constant effort despite roadblocks. And in some cases, the ability to overcome really bad behavior on the part of buyers.

On the other hand, if you think about effective sales leaders, they have a really strong competency and orientation toward influence, which is a very different competency than achievement. In some those two competencies go together. But even when they do, typically, in a great leader, the influence competency is much stronger than the achievement competency.

So, the job of a sales leader is not to close deals on his or her own. It’s really to lead and motivate a great team. So, the point I’m trying to make here is that neither great leadership nor great management are the norm in today’s sales management ranks. I know that it’s not going to be such a popular position for me to take, but I do think that it’s largely true.

So, this is a concern I think, in normal times. In these times of crisis, I think it is potentially a much more vexing issue. So, if you think about times of crisis, you’ll often hear about crisis management. And that’s really about productivity, performance, processes, systems. It’s all of the management things that we’re all aware of. Leadership is more about direction, and vision, and values, and action. True sales leaders try to help their team achieve success. And they understand that the definition of success is contextual. It changes based on the times that we’re in. They really need to motivate the entire team to take action and engage teams today, it’s hard to do, with a compelling mission and vision.

And, it’s not in my view about the rigid enforcement of rules and metrics and policy, even though that sort of thing is important. So, my view is that, in these unprecedented times, effective enablement functions can provide huge value if they help drive a balance that it’s not just management, that it’s also leadership. They figure out how to make sure that there’s emphasis on both, versus what I think is the normal resting state, of typically focusing more on management and leaving leadership to be dealt with individually by the sales leaders.

So, first, let’s talk a little bit about the management functions that I think a great enablement function should focus on in times of crisis. This is the partial list, and I really can’t go through this list in the level of detail that would make sense. However, my guess is that many, or most of you, or all of you, are doing most of these things already. All of these activities are not created equal, so I’ll spend a little bit more time on some that I think are more important and then we’ll switch gears to leadership functions.

So, first is planning or updating a plan. From my experience, I don’t think many sales organizations are all that great at planning. They’re pretty good at opportunity planning and at account planning, but less so on understanding territory planning and given the circumstances that exist today, it’s absolutely essential to rethink the plan. What’s possible given circumstances today? What of the clients that are out there are going to be appropriate for calling on and which ones are so impaired that there’s no way and no hope they’ll buy anything? And really thinking through what makes sense. Getting feedback from actual customers on how their behavior will change, i.e. what buying options they’ll have given how the business conditions change is also a useful.

There’s a bullet on here on listen and communicate. I mean, you can’t do enough of either, so I’ll just leave that. And I know that all of you are focused on the need to continuously listen and continuously communicate that effectively you can over-communicate in times like this.

Another one here is thinking about and preparing a team for the coming change. So, some of the change is upon us now. None of us have any idea what the new normal ultimately will look like, when it will come back, if it will come back, and how it will come back. But I think one thing is pretty clear that the circumstances that we all exist in are going to be different for the foreseeable future.

Next, I think it’s worth spending a bit of time on messaging. Effective messaging in my view is always an issue, but even more so in times of crisis. I think there’s a need for enablement to help, to ensure that the messaging that’s going out to customers is appropriate for the times that we’re in and it is not tone deaf. And more so than even that it needs to highlight, I think, a unique and compelling value or firms aren’t going to act on it. If your product or service doesn’t provide unique value, I think it’s going to be tough, really tough, to get any sort of traction in the world that we have for balance of this year. I think getting messaging great is challenging in great times and getting consistency is super difficult.

I always think of this world of messaging as sort of answering four fundamental questions. What does your product or service do for its customer, for your customers? How is it different than alternatives? How is it better than alternatives? And then the ability to prove that through a success story or a case study.

And that has to be done for each sort of product or service. And it has to be done for each buying persona. It sounds like it’s not difficult, but I think it’s extraordinarily difficult. Typically, when I asked five different sellers, those four questions in any sort of enterprise sales organization, I get 20 different answers.

I can’t emphasize enough the benefit that comes from driving consistency and really thinking through, at a granular level, how you can enhance messaging, given the current challenges that we face. Also, I think what’s going on right now is that messaging has been made even more challenging given the circumstances that exist in the world and it is important to remain sensitive to what might be going on with your customers.

I have one example which I think it sort of illustrates this. One of my clients is a senior executive in a global healthcare business. So, give me a list of partially what she is dealing with. The company that she worked for was just acquired, the primary drivers of demand for their solution have been severely impaired. So, they have no hope of coming close to making their numbers. She has been forced to work from home since March. She has three grade school age children in a global job. And then finally, she’s going through an extraordinarily challenging set of personal circumstances. And so that’s happening a lot in the world today. And so, it’s important to be extraordinarily sensitive to what the people that we’re talking to might be dealing with. So just a word to the wise.

A couple of others here that are worth touching on briefly, this whole thing of aligning sales to marketing is critically important. Marketing is part of the revenue function today and in nearly every organization, sales and marketing need to be in lock step. And the whole notion of messaging is in part a marketing function. And so, marketing and sales have to be working closely to fine tune and hone the value proposition message to make sure that ‘face-to-face’ virtual selling is working well. But also, that the demand gen function, is appropriate and aligned and tweaked for the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. In the same way, not all customers are equally viable today. So, the account-based marketing that is done on should be focused on the clients where there’s the most potential and most opportunity.

The last here is this whole notion of compensation. So, there’s lots of differing opinions on this, and this is a controversial topic, but there are very few salespeople and very few sales organizations that are going to come close to making their numbers in the current year.

There certainly are exceptions. There are businesses that are doing extraordinarily well, but, they’re in the minority, not the majority. And so, it’s worth, in my view, taking a look at compensation plans to ensure that your best people are engaged and are, maybe not thrilled with the level of pay that they’re receiving, but at least it’s at a level, a threshold level that’s likely to keep them engaged and to keep them with your firm so that you can come out of this situation with terrific performance. The organizations that can take advantage of the woes of others and build strength in their team, I think are those that are going to come out of this crisis, in much, much better shape. Certainly, that was what happened in 2008 and 2009. Those that took advantage of the circumstances of some other firms to really build depth and strengthen their team came out really doing well.

This is by no means a complete list. And by no means, did I cover all of these on here, but it’s worth thinking through, as an enablement function, how can you support the sales organization overall with this sort of subset of what I call management issues.

I think though the best enabling functions will understand also the need to support the sales organization from a true leadership perspective. These are really extraordinarily difficult times. I don’t know how to emphasize that enough. There was an HBR article that came out in March that talked about the discomfort that many of us feel, including those in sales roles, it’s really actually grief.

So, in addition to all the changes that we’ve all through, there’s all this uncertainty, when will things get better? Will they get better? What does all this mean for me, my life, and my future? Many people are really afraid for themselves, for their other family members, for their loved ones. And every tried and true method that many have come to find work for them have been up ended and you have a new set of circumstances. And so, understanding that and offering leadership to help people conquer the circumstances they face is important.

One of my college roommates is in the furniture business and he had his two top clients effectively go out of business. They both filed chapter seven, so in his $25 million revenue stream, $18 million is now blown up. So, there’s a lot of that sort of thing that’s going on. So, managing the metrics, while it isn’t, without its benefit, there are unique circumstances that make some of the metrics just not even worth considering.

So, if you think about the best sales leaders, they will have assertiveness to really drive outcomes, to overcome, and help the team overcome this adversity and resistance. They understand, I think also that, in many cases, a big source of the adversity is coming from internal sources. So, I think the best sales leaders, this isn’t really politically correct to say, but they help their team understand which of the corporate directives are correct and which one should be sort of selectively engaged with or implemented creatively. So, sort through and don’t do everything that one is told. So, modify is maybe a better way to say it, is modify the advice for local conditions. Exercise good judgment. Certainly, don’t be a renegade and don’t be an anarchist, but don’t necessarily do exactly everything that you’ve been told without exercising good judgment.

And, by doing that within a culture of accountability and not blaming others when things go sideways. I think really critically important. There’s lots of other leadership examples and directives, but it’s understanding that the job of a sales leader and helping the sales leaders understand that their role is to keep the team engaged, make sure that people understand the reality of the situation, yet at the same time offer hope that this will eventually pass. And while management’s important, living through these times and producing the best outcomes as humanly possible, but doing that while remaining fully human is critically important and will ultimately result in the best outcome.

And here’s a quote by Thomas Friedman, who was in the New York Times, I think in March or April, I can’t remember the exact day, but he said, “the strongest leaders will be the one who collaborate with others and at the same time are exceptional about their plans. Brutally honest about the risks, specific about the behaviors they are asking of us, constantly searching for best practices, and totally transparent about the technologies and data they want to collect to track our movements and contacts.” Now, Friedman is not a business writer, he’s a political writer. Yet, this advice, when I read it, seems to me to be very appropriate for what needs to be done in a sales organization, to drive the best outcomes and to help us live through these times of crisis.

And so, to the extent that the sales enablement function can collaborate with the rest of the sales organization to provide the necessary balance between management, which is certainly part of what he’s saying here, and leadership, which is another part of this, and produce the balance outcome will be the enablement organizations that elevate their own organization and at the same time, really significantly impact the performance of the individuals and the teams that they support. It’s really a true win-win if you can actually balance the two and produce that type of outcome.

So, I’m happy now at this point to take any questions that you might have, then once again, I absolutely am thrilled. And thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.