Connecting sales development, enablement, and engagement to do more with less
COVID-19 has forced sales organizations to embrace virtual selling models whether they were ready or not. They are also are having to virtually provision sales learning and development (L&D). While available technology has proved useful in this effort, many firms have still met with unsatisfactory outcomes. As a result, many organizations are reevaluating their sales L&D investments, resources, and strategies in light of the pandemic’s persistent impact.
The Remote Sales Productivity Study we recently completed reinforces the urgency to rethink sales learning in a remote context. The pandemic is forcing sales learning and development teams to do more, with less, faster:
- Sales organizations are not as productive selling remotely. Sales productivity has dropped by 20% since the pandemic began;
- Remote learning is now a fact of life because face-to-face training delivery is not a practical option this year. Most organizations have cut travel (84%), training (34%), and sales support (25%) budgets while encouraging employees to work at home. Some like Fujitsu have made remote working permanent.
- Sales teams are not very effective at coaching or conducting product demonstrations remotely. Sales managers rate these as the two most difficult things to do remotely in the survey.
- And managers have largely failed to leverage the potential of advanced analytics to improve accountability and reinforcement. The survey identified visibility into adoption, behavior change and use of sales skills and tools in selling situations as the biggest opportunity to improve sales performance.
To do more with less, sales leaders should be looking for ways to dramatically increase the historically low return they are getting on their investments in sales technology, data, and people assets while leveraging limited resources. Unfortunately, most survey respondents feel their sales technology stack is not effectively supporting remote selling in terms of providing visibility, engagement, speed, and sales rep productivity;
There is no practical reason for this. In my experience building digital sales platforms at Hitachi and Cisco, sales training effectiveness and reinforcement can be significantly improved by giving sales reps the right tools, knowledge, and reinforcement at the right time in their sales context. The trick has always been management’s commitment to leveraging technology in the selling process by providing the right incentives, culture, and user experience to get salespeople to use these tools. In the absence of these factors, adoption of sales automation is under 20% at many organizations, even after implementing five to ten focused tools in the sales technology stack.
The pressure to quickly reskill sales teams in the wake of the coronavirus has changed this dynamic. Sales leaders are being forced to move quickly and adapt to a new, more virtual selling model. This involves training dozens, hundreds, or thousands of sales reps to learn “new school” remote selling tactics and adapt to the faster operating cadence of virtual sales. Unfortunately, sales leaders lack the luxury of time or the possibility of pulling large sales teams out of the line for classroom-based training and role playing as they would in the past. I expect this will be the tipping point where the value of technology and advanced analytics can finally be fully realized in sales readiness and development.
To retool their sales organizations quickly and enforce the behaviors in execution – sales leaders must take a more integrated and virtual approach to sales development, enablement, and measurement. There’s lots of opportunity in connecting the dots between these functions and systems. The technologies and programs that underlie sales development, management and measurement are usually highly fragmented. This is because most organizations buy and deploy the systems and assets that underlie sales development in a siloed and even tribal fashion. As a result:
- Learning management systems are disconnected from the sales enablement systems where sales playbooks reside;
- The sales analytics and AI used to measure sales activity, adoption, and behavior are not linked to sales readiness and training;
- Feedback and reinforcement suffer because very little of this information is available to sales managers to support grading, coaching, reinforcement, and performance measurement.
There’s no good business or technical reason for these systems to be separate and disintegrated. All are in common use across most sales organizations. But they exist largely in silos because the functional experts that own them have no financial incentive to connect the dots across them.
Sales leaders must make linking sales readiness to sales effectiveness a priority. They can no longer afford to automate only “part” of the learning and development process. The urgency and cost of rapidly reskilling sales forces to prepare them for virtual selling will compel organizations to treat them as one system. This will provide sales leaders, managers, and effectiveness executives an end-to-end approach to building skills that can measurably lead to sales and profit outcomes.
Don’t waste the crisis. The pressure it creates is an excellent platform to drive change by insisting these expensive and important growth assets work together and work effectively. To move at the speed of the market, learning and development organizations are going to have to find ways to connect the dots across their systems to make them faster, more “virtual”, and accountable.
TAKING AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO SALES READINESS
By connecting these dots sales leaders can create an integrated sales development approach that is both highly efficient but also a “closed loop” in that it connects training to behavior to performance. For example:
- Training and skill development can be assigned and executed virtually by taking advantage of video role play and pitch management systems. These allow reps to practice and develop role play, product demo and “situation-specific” presentation skills remotely using video platforms.
- These video role plays can be inspected and graded consistently and at scale using a mix of AI-assisted scoring and human assessment by peers and managers.
- The best of these can be cataloged and connected to a master content library of plays and best practices that can be targeted by process stage, persona, product, industry, or pain point.
- These plays can be tagged to be deployed in real time using advanced AI and guided selling tools that recommend the next best sales play, or most relevant content, based on buyer engagement and response data and the context of the selling situation.
- Managers can track and measure how this effort and training translate into actual customer engagement and account success by building data driven KPI that quantify outcomes based on actual seller activity, customer engagement and success.
- The entire process should fuel a feedback loop that continually reinforces skills, refines plays, adapts to customer needs, and tightens the connection between training and results.
Not every organization can take all these steps at once. But most of the underlying technologies and assets are in place in most large and complex sales organizations. Any connecting any of these dots will represent a significant step forward compared to the status quo or waiting for the next opportunity to conduct traditional classroom training (which could be 12 months away).
The business objective of taking an integrated learning and development approach should be to improve your sales readiness and performance in four specific ways:
- Reinforcement in the context of day-to-day sales activities with real time, micro-learning and easy to use training guides;
- Accountability with automated and AI-assisted evaluation, grading, and feedback and behavior-based KPI;
- Scalability by integrating to the existing sales process workflow and sales enablement assets;
- Cost effective delivery by using techniques like “virtual role playing” that allow reps to practice remotely and get feedback and coaching quickly.
You can learn more about the evolution of remote learning at the Improving Remote Sales Learning Webcast being hosted by the Sales Management Association on July 21st where Bob Kelly and I will be discussing these best practices with a panel of experts and practitioners.