A Conversation with Pete McChrystal, President and CEO, Accent Technologies and Amy Franko, Founder and President, Impact Instruction Group
Sales enablement has been around in some shape or form for decades, and is sometimes challenging to define.
Is it… sales process? Sales strategy? Toolsets? Technologies? Skills? Content? Responsibility of sales or marketing? All of the above?
Sales enablement should be on the radar of anyone who has responsibility for revenue growth and long-term sales success – whether you’re a sales leader, sales professional, marketer, or C-level leader.
As a sales enablement expert and entrepreneur who has experienced the tremendous shift in the sales industry, Pete McChrystal has established himself as a respected thought leader. Amy Franko is the founder and president of Impact Instruction Group. She helps organizations improve sales growth and develop their future leaders.
In this conversation, Pete and Amy share insights on sales enablement, including some practical advice for how you can improve it within your organization.
AF: Let’s start with how you define sales enablement.
PM: We define it a little more broadly than the industry does, and we see it as any investment that’s made to improve the organization’s ability to sell. That extends to other functions, like HR, hiring, and marketing.
Sales enablement has historically been defined by content. From our viewpoint, the idea that content is the centerpiece of sales enablement is very myopic. We see it as about 20 percent of the overall equation to successful selling. It’s your ability to present yourself and your products, your ability to understand and ask the right questions. All those things really dwarf the content piece. I know a lot of great salespeople that minimize the use of brochures and the content because they say it gets in the way.
Our sales enablement approach is much more about helping managers and companies get activity-level visibility. We’re helping sales teams do a better job of knowing what’s going on, and then empowering them to take the next steps.
AF: Where are the common places you see sellers or sales organizations get stuck?
PM: It can differ based on the company, but a lot of it is the value messaging. Are you able to convey the value properly, in such a way that makes it urgent enough for the buying team to want to move? And in the course, how do you differentiate?
AF: It’s been my experience that this ties to the business value you bring to the organization. When you demonstrate the business value, then you earn the right to talk more about solutions and which solutions might fit. A lot of us get that backwards. We drive towards solutions first, and sometimes we forget the business value. We don’t articulate it well enough, or we don’t address it at all, and then it ends up as a race to the bottom on price.
PM: Yes, exactly. People get that backwards. It’s got to be about the customer’s situation, the cost of not solving the challenge, and the value of solving it. That’s got to be first.
AF: Why should organizations care about sales enablement? Why does it matter so much today?
PM: I like telling my sales team that it’s good to get up every day and solve what is one of the biggest business challenges facing CEOs and management teams. And that’s increasing revenue growth. Sales enablement directly addresses those challenges.
There are many ways to grow – through acquisitions, new products, new markets. But sales productivity is always near or at the top of the list. It’s a no-brainer. Our solution and sales enablement are tied directly to sales productivity. That’s a nice place to be, because it’s such a painful challenge for just about every customer we talk to. When your company’s growth is based on hitting quota numbers, and you fall short… that’s the stuff that gets the CEO fired.
AF: Can sales enablement create consistency across the board when it comes to sales team performance?
PM: Of course I’m a little biased, but I believe it does. We like to say it’s like having a good sales assistant who is constantly feeding you the information you need to get the buyer to take the next step. Having access to the content, coaching, and guidance are just not only time savers; they’re effectiveness builders. It’s all about making the sales team better every day.
AF: How do you think that customers have changed over the past few years?
PM: More sophistication, more asserting. And, obviously, it’s because more information is available. They can get information off your website, on social media, from analysts. We’re also seeing the rise of procurement in terms of power and influence. They make sure no stone is left unturned in the buying process. Sales teams have to work a lot harder for the same result. If you’re not prepared for that, and you don’t navigate those more difficult waters carefully and skillfully, you can reduce your productivity.
AF: Every time I’ve asked that question, the answer has been more access to information than ever before. Customers are well-researched. Maybe they need to be re-educated once you’ve gotten to build a relationship with them, but they’re coming to the table a lot savvier.
PM: It makes for an interesting dynamic. Because of all that information, you have a compressed amount of time to build rapport, build that relationship and show value. You’ve got to be doubly skilled in doing it quickly and efficiently. And still connect with the buyer and build trust.
AF: I’m passionate and maybe a little biased about the need for sales methodology, selling skills, the coaching elements. If you’re a sales leader, all those things have to be a part of the sales enablement equation.
PM: You’ve got to be practicing all the time and sharpening the saw constantly to stay up to speed. To be optimal.
AF: The first business you started helped companies build better presentations. I don’t know about you, but I run into so many sales reps, whether they’re selling a product or professional services, who are terrified to present because they never do it anymore.
PM: That’s strange, isn’t it? It’s a fundamental skill. You would think presenting would be one of those things that doesn’t go away. But, you’re right. You do see that happening.
AF: Every interaction is an opportunity to create rapport, and I think we get fewer chances to create that rapport.
PM: That’s exactly right. And because we get fewer chances, we’ve got to knock it out of the park. We practice all the time. It takes a lot of vigilance to be good. Buyers today really appreciate the fact that our team goes the extra mile, makes sure that we understand their situation, and tailors a deck for them. Or, on a demo, we work hard to make sure we address all their concerns—rather than giving a canned, off-the-shelf presentation. The hustle factor is one of those techniques that helps build rapport in a compressed timeframe.
AF: How do you think that the relationship between sales and marketing has changed?
PM: That’s interesting. I think it’s gotten better because of technology. Marketing teams used to be seen as being in their ivory tower, placing ads, hoping it’s making a difference. But now, with marketing automation coming of age, they are much more accountable. They can deliver and prove it. So that’s helping improve the relationship.
Still, what we need to do is get marketing more visibility and provide sales leadership with visibility into what sales teams are doing with the lead generation. As we bring more technology to sales that will further strengthen the relationship between marketing and sales, bringing more alignment.
Ultimately, they will come together as a revenue team, not as two separate entities.
AF: When you’re looking at the sales professional role today, what are the most essential skills?
PM: First, good listening kills. They’ve got to listen to the customer.
Second, ask the right questions. They must know how to get the customer talking about the right things, so that they can either make the decision that they can help, or if not, move on in a productive manner.
The third is presentation. Because when they do get the chance to stand up and present, they must be effective. If they can’t impact somebody or make a persuasive pitch based on their tailored needs, then they’re not going to be effective today.
AF: What are the most essential skills for a sales leader?
PM: The ability to give good coaching feedback. To not only motivate the reps, but to do it in a tactful way and give the right guidance to help them navigate. Sometimes all they need is a little bit of a nudge, a little bit of an idea.
You don’t have to solve the problem for them. It’s not good managing practice. Rather, sales leaders need to ask the right questions of the rep to get them to figure out the solution. That’s a critical skill. It’s just so tempting to solve the problem for them, because, as a seasoned leader, you can– but you shouldn’t.
AF: What are three pieces of advice that you’d give an organization to help it become more successful in sales enablement?
PM: The first is that you’ve got to be able to see something before you can improve it. In our view, it’s visibility. We tell our customers, “I can’t improve your golf swing if you don’t show me some video or let me watch you. Otherwise, I’m just taking guesses.”
The second is, once you understand what’s going on, you’ve got to choose carefully the outcome you’re working to achieve. For example, “We’re going to increase sales by 15 percent ovelinr this period.”
Finally, don’t try to bite off too much at once. Instead, take bite-size chunks and achieve reasonable results at each stage. There are two reasons for this. It’s easier to implement, and it’s also easier for reps and managers to absorb what it is they’re doing in small, bite-size chunks.
About Accent Technologies
Accent Technologies is a cloud-based sales enablement company that helps customers sharpen sales execution and improve win rates. We work with sales and marketing teams wanting to increase alignment and productivity. In short, we use technology to bring better visibility, coordination, and use of resources. Follow Accent Technologies on Twitter at @Accent_Tech
About Amy Franko and Impact Instruction Group
Impact Instruction Group helps organizations accelerate high-value sales growth and develop future leaders. With a unique combination of sales skills programs and leadership development programs, we partner with leading mid-market technology companies and professional services firms to create lasting results and high-value business impact. Connect with Amy Franko on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter at @amyfranko.
For more modern selling strategies, watch Amy’s webcast with the Association for Talent Development, which is available to watch on demand through Nov. 9. Or download our sales ebook at any time!