January 21, 2018

Should sales enablement be owned by sales rather than marketing?

I’m wondering if it’s time to take sales enablement away from marketing.

What do I mean by sales enablement? I heard a great definition from my former ITSMA colleague Jeff Sands the other day: Sales enablement is helping salespeople be more credible with customers.

We all know how sales enablement got started in B2B. Marketers helped salespeople put words to the insanely complex products and services they were trying to sell.

Sales enablement used to mean brochures
These words, mostly in the form of brochures, specification sheets, and boilerplate PowerPoint slides, helped salespeople—especially those new to the company—get a conversation going with prospects.

But then the internet came along.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to say, “and then everything changed,” because it didn’t. From what I can tell, the internet didn’t disrupt the basic model for the sales enablement process; it just moved much of it online. Salespeople remained dependent on marketers for information. The internet didn’t make it easy for them to enable each other. Knowledge management systems, for example, were difficult to use and difficult to keep up to date. Salespeople mostly ignored them.

Social media changes sales enablement
But then social media came along and it really did change everything. Salespeople are becoming heavy users of social media, and it takes less than a minute to set up an internal-only micro blogging network, wiki, or online community for them to share their own words with each other.

I know what you’re thinking: when it comes to anything besides selling, salespeople have the attention spans of gnats. They’ll never set up one of these things themselves much less contribute to it.

The link between sharing and fatter bonuses
If they don’t it’s because they don’t see the link between sharing information and fatter bonus checks. Yet as more salespeople start using social media, the link will become more obvious. Sharing information in a way that doesn’t overly sap productivity (hard to do before social media came along) raises all boats. Aberdeen Research has found that salespeople that share information with each other make more money than those that don’t. That same report also found that salespeople that coached one another also made more money.

Who should own the process?
So my question is, now that the center of gravity is shifting from content (brochures, specification sheets, etc.) to conversation (tips on handling an account, coaching videos from sales peers and external experts, etc.) should responsibility for all this stuff remain with marketing? If so, why?

I’d really like to know what you think.

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The information gap between marketing and sales—and how to fill it

I’m hearing a lot from clients and researchers about how vast swaths of salespeople need to be eliminated as companies transition from selling products to services and solutions. The estimates range from one third of the sales force, according to these academics, to as much as two thirds.

It’s portrayed as a DNA thing—some are born to do consultative selling and to have “executive-level conversations” and some are not.


Now don’t get me wrong. I do think there is a gene for sales. Great salespeople truly are born, not made. They have genetic tendencies towards extroversion, confidence, hope (some would say denial), relationship building, and the real differentiator: emotional perception—usually expressed as the ability to “read people” (and one’s self). (For more on this, read about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.)

Why salespeople can’t make the cut
But I think we start slicing the genetic material a little too thinly when we separate the product salespeople from the services salespeople. If you assume that we haven’t hired the wrong people from the start—i.e., the order takers who never really had any true sales skills, or people who are so inflexible or fearful that they simply refuse to try to make the transition—I think we need something else to explain why so few salespeople seem able to make the cut.

I see two big reasons:

  1. Incentives. Salespeople are about the money. It’s the yardstick of success and self-worth. Companies need to make it worth salespeople’s while to endure the longer sales cycle and lower margins that come with services. Of course, devising those incentives, putting them in place, and driving the cultural change necessary to make them stick is a maddeningly complex process that helps keep consultants and academics in business.
  2. Information. This is the one that’s actually within marketers’ control. Information, not DNA, is the most important piece of the consultative sale and the executive-level relationship. With customers able to do so much research online, the way to get in the door these days is to have information that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

Executives live under constant fear of myopia—that by focusing so much of their time on internal operations, they are missing something important out there in the market. Salespeople who can ameliorate those real or perceived fears with information—and keep doing it over time—will outsell the mere backslappers every time. The essence of this skill is always being able to answer the question: “What are you hearing from others?”

Information is marketing’s responsibility
It’s not salespeople’ responsibility to come up with the answer to this question on their own. Executives are looking for reliable, objective, and insightful answers that go beyond an anecdotal summation of what’s going on with the other accounts in a salesperson’s territory.

If marketers aren’t supplying salespeople with the answers they need, then we need to think of ourselves as partly responsible for all those salespeople going out the door in the transition from products to services. We need to supply salespeople with the information that will create the impression among customers that they are missing something if they don’t stay in touch—an information dependency.

How to supply the information salespeople need
We need to set up a reliable pipeline of information that salespeople can access when and where they need it. Here’s how:

  • Get permission. Sales leaders need to agree that information is necessary for their people to succeed. If they don’t, then the pipeline will feed into a black hole. You may need a third party, such as a sales consultant, to convince sales leaders that they need more than intuition to make the sale.
  • Create incentives for sharing. The information pipeline will be stronger if salespeople have a reason to share information about their own accounts with other salespeople and with marketing. Salespeople need to be active contributors to the information pipeline.
  • Monitor the chatter. Few salespeople have the time or the interest in giving marketers updates on what they’re hearing out in the field. Marketers need to be able to capture that information by monitoring the channels that salespeople use to communicate with each other, whether it is through e-mail or CRM systems. Marketing automation and CRM vendors are beginning to offer ways to capture that kind of information.
  • Do the research. Marketers need to do the primary and secondary research on markets and customers to lend the depth and objectivity necessary to create information dependency among customers. Surveys work particularly well for assuring customers that the information they’re getting is more than a veiled sales pitch.
  • Bring in the experts. Marketers need to identify and make alliances with internal subject matter experts, external academics, and analysts and filter and feed that information into the pipeline.
  • Make it a joint pipeline. The channel for monitoring the chatter needs to be integrated with the channel marketing uses to pump information to sales—salespeople need a reason to access it as part of their normal routine.
  • Make it self-service. Salespeople need easy access to the information that marketing gathers if they are to use it. If they can’t find the information they need, they will quickly lose interest.
  • Make it social. Take advantage of social media platforms to create information sharing groups for salespeople. There are ways to create private groups so that the public can’t see your groups or the information you’re sharing. Yammer is one great example of this.

What have I left out? How are you providing the information salespeople need to make the consultative sale?

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Four reasons to stop measuring marketing

It’s time to declare marketing metrics a failure once and for all. ITSMA research has long showed that when we do it at all, we do it poorly. It’s difficult to parse out the contribution that marketing makes to a sale and it’s even more difficult to get salespeople to spend the time figuring out/checking the box/giving credit in the quest to determine whether marketing played a role in making the sale.

So we should just stop. Now.

I’ve had some good conversations this week with ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz and with lead management guru Brian Carroll and we all agree that in the broadest sense, measuring marketing misses the point. We should be measuring revenue and what Julie calls the Cost per Order Dollar (CPOD). Both marketing and sales should work together to reduce CPOD because that’s what really matters in terms of marketing’s contribution to the business. In this report (free with guest registration), Julie points out that marketing’s primary role is to make sales more efficient. Period.

Stop apportioning blame
So why do we continue to measure marketing separately from sales? If we started measuring CPOD and tracked it year over year, we would know that marketing was doing its job without forcing the annual showdown between marketing and the business in which marketing stands before the firing squad to justify its mere existence.

As Brian pointed out to me this week, this is all about growing revenue. It’s time to measure sales and marketing together in that process.

So here are some simple rules to think about:

  1. Stop measuring marketing in isolation. Marketing and sales are both part of the same process: raising revenue. Measure CPOD instead.
  2. Create a unified lead process. You need a closed-loop lead process that tracks prospect activity from beginning to end (and back again, in the case of lead nurturing) that is supported by a system (see this post for more on that).
  3. Get adult supervision. In working with companies to develop lead management programs, Brian has found that the most successful companies have a CEO who does not try to parse marketing from sales and assign credit/blame to each. He or she emphasizes one revenue generating process that both groups contribute to.
  4. Create content that is tied to (and signals) the different stages of the buying process. As we in B2B focus more and more on trying to pull in prospects through thought leadership, we need to understand that our life’s blood is the Epiphany Stage of the buying process. We need marketing content specifically targeted at that stage, as well as the more traditional stages like awareness and interest. When we create content targeted to specific buying stages—and get sales to agree to that categorization—we no longer need to get salespeople to check off the box for marketing’s contribution; that contribution will become implicit.

What would you add to this list?

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Want to get along better with sales? Find a way to work together.

Right now, it seems that the gap between sales and marketing is mostly papered over with technology. For example, the trend towards creating a closed-loop lead generation and nurturing process between marketing and sales is a positive step, but it seems like a bridge across the chasm rather than a true route to collaboration. Sales and marketing create a shared definition of a sales-ready lead, implement software to track leads from marketing to sales and back to marketing, and then go back to doing their respective jobs in isolation.

In typical functional fashion, sales and marketing have gravitated toward things that the other can’t or won’t do. To greatly oversimplify it, sales sells and marketing does that mysterious “creative” thing it does. Few salespeople or marketers feel qualified—or interested—in crossing over to the other side.

Many organizations we talk to are baffled about how to bridge the gap. They try to do it with golf games or off-site team-building exercises. That can help, but salespeople and marketers need more concrete reasons to work together.

It’s all about that basic mammalian instinct: empathy. It’s much easier to see the value of someone else’s work when you’ve tried to do the same thing yourself. You need to find tasks that both sales and marketing have a need for and interest in, but that make sense to share.

Our research on Account-Based Marketing has revealed a few such tasks:

  • Customer understanding. In B2B, both marketers and salespeople know the value of learning about customers’ business issues and needs. And both know how to gain that understanding. But it makes sense to collaborate. Salespeople are best equipped and most motivated to understand the “now” of the account: what has already been sold to customers and what they are most likely to buy next. Marketers can use those contacts to start building a larger context—the business issues that cross functional, corporate, and vertical boundaries. Marketing needs this information to create thought leadership and marketing materials designed to reach many different clients at once.
    Salespeople may have this kind of broader perspective, but more than likely they don’t have time to gather it. However, they know (or can be convinced) that having this deeper level of information will enable them to have more intelligent conversations with executives at prospect companies, spot additional opportunities to add value, and build more trusted relationships. Why? Because it is a deeper, more thorough version of what they already are doing to make the sale.
  • Sharing what works. Salespeople love to get clear, simple tips on what’s working for others. Marketing can help. By doing research within multiple accounts, marketers gain invaluable perspective on broad customer trends and best practices for reaching customers. Marketing develops an institutional memory that can help salespeople create shortcuts by identifying what has worked in the past and what has not, what resources may be appropriate, and what company assets exist that can help.

What do you think?

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