If the Purpose of Sales Enablement is to Improve Seller Behavior…

Posted on Posted in consultative selling, sales effectiveness, sales enablement, sales management, sales process, sales productivity, sales transformation

If the goal of sales enablement is to improve the behavior of sales people (and drive increased sales productivity), how should we observe or measure rep skills and success? How do we improve behavior?

Some managers accompany their reps on calls to observe the rep in action. However, these “ride-alongs” fail for two reasons:

  • Most managers cannot avoid “rescuing” their rep when they get into trouble
  • More importantly, the presence of the manager causes the rep to behave differently and the observation yields inaccurate or misleading feedback
Kitchen Stories
Image by Erik Aavatsmark via New York Magazine

To avoid manager interference, perhaps we should try the approach of putting the manager on a tall chair in the corner (watch the cult movie Kitchen Stories to judge for yourself how well this observation approach might work!)

More importantly, how…and when…should we focus on improving behavior?

Current approaches to both measuring and improving behavior are inadequate

Typical measurements provide a “look-back” at what happened, with no direct connection between measurement and improvement techniques. Even with good performance and success metrics that accurately measure sales effectiveness, efficiency, pipeline coverage and velocity, close rates, customer satisfaction and retention, we are largely collecting trailing indicators.

Today we act on those trailing indicators. We build hypotheses of why things happened the way they did, modify the environment in some way (different content, better coaching, etc.) and wait for new trailing metrics to reflect changes in performance.

Unfortunately, this process spans multiple sales quarters and opportunities. There’s no immediate feedback loop between action, result, correction, new action, new result…and without that immediate feedback, the repeated behavior is reinforced rather than corrected.

The best time to make a course correction is before you’re seriously off course

When sailing a boat or riding a bike, the best time to make a correction is before you run ashore or fall over. Sailors and cyclists make dozens of tiny, imperceptible corrections —  small movement of the tiller or angle of the front wheel — all the time, without conscious thought.

For sales enablement to be effective, we need to be able to measure the success (or performance) of the rep as he or she is engaging with a prospect or client and act on that information in realtime, with corresponding small, timely course corrections.

What we need is “in situ” measurement and sales enablement — delivered in place, at time of action. Perhaps a “sales Fitbit” that provides realtime feedback and guidance. Measurement, feedback and course correction as the rep is doing his or her job.

Garmin Running Watch
Image by DC Rainmaker (Link)

When I’m training for an upcoming race, I don’t wait to see my elapsed time for the race before I choose to modify my training activities. I periodically check my running watch as I’m running in training, in realtime. How’s my pace? Am I in heart-rate zone 2 or 3? During recovery between Yasso 800 sprints, does my heart-rate return to a reasonable level?  With these realtime metrics, I can choose to make an immediate modification to my next training sprint rather than wait to see how I eventually perform in the race and choose to run faster sprints before the next race.

Similarly, we need to be able to measure the effectiveness of a rep as he or she is engaging with a customer. The following are some of the “realtime” measurements we need to monitor:

  • Is the rep following a thought-out path of engagement?
  • Is the communication in line with the customer’s business needs, language of value, results expected?
  • Is the rep connecting at the right level in the organization?
  • How responsive is the customer?
  • How timely is the rep in following up?
  • Is the engagement moving along an expected path, at an appropriate pace?

And given this in-process measurement, we need to provide a learning environment that doesn’t require the rep to step out of their existing work flow (day-to-day selling processes). The rep needs constant, ongoing feedback and course correction that guides the improvement of their messaging, timeliness, targeting, listening, etc., while they are undertaking the activities of connecting with prospects and customers.

Some Good News

Companies that implement a “sales Fitbit” approach of monitoring & improving sales activity see immediate, substantial and persistent improvement in customer engagement, revenue and other results. Conversation conversions double or triple. Outbound contacts double. One company saw margins increase by 25% in four months.

This in situ approach doesn’t work for all companies. It requires sales organizations to revisit their messaging and to trust their sellers to learn as they go. For companies that are interested, a proof of concept will give quick feedback on whether the approach has broad applicability.

If you’d like to explore this innovative approach to sales enablement, please contact us to schedule an initial conversation.


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14 thoughts on “If the Purpose of Sales Enablement is to Improve Seller Behavior…

  1. Hi Lee! Love what you are doing. And..as a salesperson, I’d say great conclusions on the mgmt “ride-alongs” and even better observations and recommendations about proactive and realtime sales enablement.

  2. Great concept Lee – clearly, when this approach is integrated, embraced and executed, tremendous results occur. The key, which you implied but didn’t detail, is the sales manager’s ability to effectively debrief, provide the right feedback and role play.

    1. Dave, there’s far more here for us to talk about…for “agile” sales enablement to be effective, the rep has to be curious about his or her environment and committed to improving their skills. I wonder if we can find correlation between your profile data and teams/organizations that would benefit the most from in situ (or agile) sales enablement.

  3. Right on, and for many companies with a small TAM reps can do more damage than good to key prospects. Post managing their behavior is bad, good to be proactive

  4. Really clear thinking here Lee, and it is well proven that real-time feedback loops are the optimal approach to drive sustainable future performance growth. Working with predictor metrics requires an agile workforce, and full benefit would require the organisation to ensure that the right people are in the right sales roles; all with the capability and desire to learn, and the will to constantly evolve.

    1. Thanks Andrew, great to hear from you. Interesting that you use the word “agile.” As a descriptor it’s appropriate; as a strategy, even more so!

  5. A good read, Lee. To paraphrase a line used by the Italian driver in the Gumball Rally – What’s behind you is not important. Many lagging indicators in the selling process don’t tell you what you really need to know: How can I accelerate this sales opportunity? For this you need real-time feedback and solid insight into where the customer is in their purchase cycle. Keep it up – don’t slow down!

  6. Well done! Not surprisingly from you, Lee, you have outlined a proactive and collaborative approach to sales enablement. It’s perspectives like this that make you the best at what you do; empowering and improving sales and the customer relationship.

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