Donna Horrigan

With leaner sales organizations, your sales enablement strategy has to step up and be a valuable contributor to the organization. But it will take more than tools and technology to do that.

As sales leaders navigate our current situation—a global pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on the economy while social distancing measures keep workforces remote and isolated—the role of sales enablement is coming under increased scrutiny. In many organizations, revenue has “fallen off a cliff,” as one sales leader put it, and companies are looking at where they can make cuts and recapture lost momentum.

For salespeople, that means the pressure is on to make up for lost time and bridge the revenue gap. But the obstacles are substantial. After all, potential buyers are dealing with those same economic challenges, uncertainties and shifting priorities.

As we continue to progress through this disruptive new reality, we’re entering into a new phase, one that I call “compassionate urgency.” Our world has changed, but our customers are still looking for solutions to their problems. They need us to help them change their perspective, come up with ideas that they may not have considered on their own, and get past where they are now to where they want to be. And with more than one third of the year already behind us, the urgency is real.  

Here’s where sales enablement has the opportunity to shine. We’ve talked in the past about the critical conversations salespeople must focus on to be successful. Now that the world’s gone virtual, the bar has been raised. By focusing on helping salespeople have more productive, client-focused conversations and get better outcomes from their conversations, the sales enablement function can play a pivotal role in driving revenue this year.

Start With Defining Sales Enablement

When we say ‘sales enablement’, many people immediately think of tools: technology, data, research, marketing content, product information and other elements that help sales get closer to the client. Those tools, along with things like managing activities, processes and training, are all part of it. But none of those matter if they don’t translate into helping sales people have better conversations with customers, especially now that those conversations are mainly virtual. So then what should the sales enablement strategy be, particularly now, and how can it help your sales team deal with the specific challenges of this current selling environment?

Sales Enablement Strategy: New vs. Old

Coming out of 2019, most organizations were predicting continued growth, and they budgeted and forecasted with that assumption of growth in mind.

What a difference a few months makes.

Today, sales enablement has to support bridging a widening revenue gap in a shortened amount of time. But some have questioned whether the function is even worth the expense right now. This makes it clear that sales enablement needs to be more strategically relevant to the organization so that it’s recognized for driving business value, not just being a cost center.

This means your strategy needs to be tied to closing the revenue gap quickly. And sales enablement needs to be speaking in the language that CROs, VPs of Sales and C-suite executives care about. That includes focusing on metrics like number of deals, size of deals, trends in deal size, velocity of opportunities, where deals are starting to fail in the pipeline and others.

With leaner sales organizations, sales enablement has an opportunity to step up and be a valuable contributor to the organization. But it takes more than tools and technology to do that. Here are two areas in particular where your sales enablement strategy can help salespeople have those better conversations so they can get better outcomes:

Selling to a Reluctant Buyer

There have always been some customers who struggle to make the decision to move forward, but it’s possible that now, your entire customer base is falling into that group.

Our webinar participants identified a number of reasons why buyers are reluctant today, ranging from budget freezes to uncertainty about the future to fear of the unknown. How can we help clients move through this very real risk and fear? It gets back to the conversations salespeople have with their customers.

Most salespeople are skilled at asking current state/desired state questions, which get at the logical issues the buyer is dealing with. But if you want to move the reluctant buyer, you have to go deeper to the emotional level. This means being able to connect with clients empathetically and appropriately through your questioning.

For example, a good question might be, “What’s most concerning about things continuing the way they are?” But a better question is, “What might be the ripple effect of revenue under-performance this year in your division?” That question does more than uncover needs; it creates needs. It’s a way to illuminate the situation for the buyer and help them see the possibility for change.

When helping salespeople formulate questions, think of them from the customer’s perspective. Everyone’s world has been turned upside down, both professionally and personally. Empathetic value-based questions build the “why,” showing them the benefit of change and the risk of status quo. These kinds of questions are as much for the buyer’s benefit as they are for the salesperson. And the buyer will recognize that immediately.

The Sales Manager as Coach

According to a study we did with The Sales Management Association, organizations that reported they were effective in coaching outperformed all others in revenue terms by 15%. That’s just one of many that show, if you embed sales coaching as part of the culture, it will have a positive impact on both revenue and human metrics.

Equipping managers to coach is another important way we enable salespeople to perform at higher levels in a high-pressure environment. Again, it comes down to conversations:

Managers need to be able to coach salespeople to get better outcomes in the conversations they’re having with their customers (questioning skills, getting commitment, etc.). But they also need to coach them on the conversations they’re having with themselves.

Managers need to be able to help their salespeople recognize the inner conversations that may be distracting or holding them back. The first steps are simply to ask and to listen. Focus on enhancing trust, building up self-confidence and appropriately challenging them to rise up to the opportunity before them.

You’ve got a revenue shortfall to make up and a limited time to do so. Sales enablement has many effective tools, but on their own, they aren’t going to bridge the gap. How do you translate those tools into a conversation that customers actually care about? That’s the real value of a well-defined sales enablement strategy.

About the Author
Donna Horrigan
Donna Horrigan

Vice President of Client Development

For the past five years Donna Horrigan has been partnering with our clients to drive business outcomes through performance improvement...
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