The Big Sales Enablement Blind Spot

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An epiphany at a sales enablement conference

“I had a mind blowing epiphany at the sales enablement conference I attended last week,” an EVP of Sales Enablement for a Global Financial Services Firm told me on a recent phone call. “It had to do with the most interesting speaker at the conference and a simple series of questions he asked the audience,” she continued.

She explained to me that there were about a dozen different speakers, mostly notable authors and sales technology experts that presented on pretty typical sales enablement topics like leveraging technology, CRM potential, sales tools, better pipeline management and data analysis. “The speaker that floored us, though,” she said, “was a college basketball coach. He started his workshop, that had about 30 other sales enablement executives including myself, with 3 questions and broke us into groups to discuss:”

3 critically important questions for sales enablement leaders

  • How many minutes each week do you believe the average salesperson spends actually practicing their selling skills with their sales manager or sales coach? Not discussing or strategizing, but practicing and improving their sales communication skills?
  • Do you have a practice system at your company that sellers and their managers use regularly that develops sales strength and speed on actual sales interactions? If so, describe how it works?
  • What are the correlations in selling skills to athletic core abilities like speed, strength, quickness, endurance and flexibility that have the most impact on sales interactions? He asked that we identify and force rank the 5 core abilities.

She explained to me that the 40 sales enablement executives in the workshop worked for organizations that collectively employed over 15,000 salespeople. Together, they estimated that less than 10% of all salespeople practice more than 5-10 minutes a week, when practice was defined the way the speaker had phrased it.

Secondly, she told me that none of the sales enablement executives could describe an actual practice system that was in place in their company that sales managers and their team members used in the way sports coaches, for example, use a practice system with their teams. Most of them did, however, have sales training curriculum and online learning tools in place.

Finally, on the third question, they determined the absolute essential sales skills that seem to apply to all the companies in the room were:

  • Ability to schedule high potential new sales opportunities with high level decision makers.
  • Asking effective questions
  • Communicating a tailored and relevant set of competitive advantages and differentiating factors about their product/service/company
  • Ability to listen and understand the deeper problems and issues decision makers have that go well beyond features and price that lead to larger solutions opportunities.
  • Ability to end sales interactions with clear and effective next steps that accelerate the sales cycle.
  • “So what was the epiphany?” I asked her

“The big aha went off when the speaker showed us how technology has changed for basketball coaches and how they have immediate access to data, game videos, schedules, playbooks, and stats that saves a lot of time over what they had even 15 years ago,” he explained.
What this basketball coach then described is how much more sophisticated the practice drills and training exercises have become as a result of all this technology and the amount of effort coaches put into preparing for practice to make every practice minute count. “Then”, she continued, “the basketball coach asked all of us in the workshop to describe the practice drills and exercises front-line sales managers are running with their ‘players’ to increase their sales speed and strength on a weekly basis?”

What happened next, she told me, is what she’s seen many times over the years which is a discussion about all the stuff that gets in the way and eats up selling and coaching time. “All the typical excuses about how the company bogs down sales managers with lots of administrative crap that they constantly complain about. I’ve literally heard these same excuses for 20 years and they just seem to get worse. The reality is that the IT projects to ‘help’ the sales team and all the work that’s created to insure data integrity creates more administration and distraction from selling and coaching,”

(this needs to be a quote like graphic that really jumps out of the page) The blind spot is the reality that very little actual practice between sales managers and salespeople happens in most sales organizations and there is no easy technology solution that will fix this.

The 2% Solution (possibly a graphic for this?)

She shared the key question the basketball coach asked them near the end of the workshop. “What if, your front-line sales managers, in order to get paid, had to practice a minimum of 1-hour a week with each person he or she manages? And what if that sales manager had 20 different practice drills and exercises he or she could skillfully perform in about 30-minutes that had real impact on selling skills? And what if they had to track and report the effectiveness of their practice sessions the same way salespeople report their sales meetings in your CRM system?” She then told me the speaker called this the “2% solution.”

She explained to me that “the 2% solution” referred to the reality that 1 hour of practice a week for a salesperson represents about 2% of their time, which is a small investment that can produce enormous improvement.

She emphasized that this was the moment of the epiphany for her and most of the other executives in the room. “I realized at that moment that sports coaches are doing what we should be doing more of with our sales teams. Instead, we are so fixated on sales technology, that when technology actually frees up some time, that time gets filled with more technology demands instead of more practice and improvement of the results determining sales and influence skills.”

“We have thousands of people around the world selling our banking and investment services that do zero practice on their sales communication skills on a weekly basis. Practice and training is primarily event driven through quarterly events and interactions with managers are nearly 100% about goals, metrics, pipeline and projections. That’s why so many salespeople flatten out in terms of growing and improving. And it’s probably why so many of them, even our more senior people, talk so much and don’t really listen to their prospects and customers. And that’s a huge mistake we need to change.”

What exactly is a sales communication drill?

At SalesGym, what we’ve found is that very few sales, enablement or training leaders have actually seen a high intensity sales communication drill in action. We’re talking about the kind of high intensity verbal drills similar to a speed or quickness drill an athlete might experience. Most corporate education is slow paced, analytic and discussion driven. Practice drills are far more dynamic than that. If you’d like to see a practice drill in action, skip to, in this webinar, about the 13:42 point in the video. It’s focused around one of the most important practice frameworks of all which is how to respond to the most fundamental question nearly all decision makers have.

When sales trainers and front line sales managers learn how to skillfully coach these types of drills around the essential frameworks that build the strength and speed selling skills that determine the odds of success in every selling interaction. Frameworks built around:

  • Starting a sales interaction the right way with an ask/listen first agenda
  • Teeing up questions with better insights, research and observations to help break through status quo thinking
  • Responding to questions decision makers have in a more effective and engaging way
  • Using summaries in a way that lowers resistance and increases receptivity
  • Communicating compelling value proposition elements and differentiating factors that lead to engaging questions
  • Bringing out the concerns that cause decision makers to hesitate in a more natural, less awkward way
  • Presenting platform style demos in a way that has much more impact
  • Using customer success stories to segue into more effective closing approaches.

There are certainly more frameworks, but these are the essential ones salespeople must practice in the same way an athlete goes through strength, speed, agility and flexibility drills. When sales managers and trainers become skillful and confident at running these drills and then lock in on a consistent weekly schedule will all members of the sales team, then rapid improvement takes off.

If you’d like to see a highly effective practice drill run on salespeople in your company to see how they react and how quickly they improve, respond to the QR below and we’ll schedule one for you, at no cost.

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