3 Reasons why your CEO Can’t Ignore Sales Readiness any Longer

3-reasons-CEO_invest-sales-readinessOnly 32.7% of companies

have a sales enablement or sales readiness function. This is the area that is responsible not only for sales training but ensuring reps are coached, receive appropriate reinforcement and have all the tools they need at their disposal. According to research by the ATD, continuous investment in training and reinforcement activities, like coaching, with sales reps results in over 50% higher net sales per employee. This translates into a 40% higher gross profit per employee and 20% higher ratio of market-to-book value.

Now mentally calculate what a difference those achievements would make to your bottom line and your shareholder value. It’s a compelling case for sale readiness, but how do you convince your CEO?

Here are three reasons why your CEO can’t ignore sales readiness any longer.
Give them context: Disruption is the new normal

The C-Suite can no longer just set a strategy and watch it being implemented over the next 6 to 12 months. Every industry is changing rapidly and all hands are required on deck to ensure your business doesn’t fall victim to the next disruptor.

According to Eugene Clerk of Credit Suisse

, the average age of a company listed on the S&P 500 has fallen from 60 years old in the 1950s to less than 20 years old today.

That means the company that is getting ready to disrupt your business may not even exist yet.

With so much change occurring, your frontline teams need to have direct alignment with leadership. Whether your business is just tweaking strategy or pivoting, your sales reps need to be able to deliver the vision as soon as you make a change. Otherwise, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you risk your customers and competitors being more up-to-date than your sales reps.

That’s why your CEO needs a direct line to the frontline teams, so they can change their messaging quickly.

Most companies tweak or change their messaging regularly, to keep up with competitive changes and new product updates. A lot of time and effort goes into each change, especially if it involves a new product rollout. Given that anywhere

between 33% and 80% of new products

fail, and each can cost millions of dollars, it’s worth taking the time to try and get it right. According to Harvard research, the

biggest reason new products fail is lack of preparation.

A lot of resources are devoted to designing the product, but the finer details of the launch are forgotten, like preparing your sales team to sell it.

Add on top of that, the cost and lost sales that you’ll incur by taking your reps out of the field to attend classroom training each time you roll out a new feature, and it builds a compelling case to find a sales readiness solution that works.

Reps belong on-the-field, that’s why sales readiness technology is crucial now. It enables your reps to cope with constant change while they’re on the field.

2. To grow shareholder value you need to measure effectiveness as well as efficiency

In order to maximize your shareholder value, you can’t just deliver some training to your sales reps and cross your fingers. Your business needs to be able to measure what knowledge has been transferred and quantify how much topline revenue it will generate.

Quantifying results has traditionally been easy to do with tools that profess to improve the efficiency of your sales team. Automatic diallers and emails, and a vast array of other selling tools have all helped your sales organization achieve more with the same amount of resources. But when it comes to effectiveness, you need to be able to demonstrate the ROI to your shareholders.

One way that you can measure the revenue impact of efficiency initiatives on your sales organization is by tracking if they are achieving larger deal sizes and increasing their win rates, for example. Sales readiness tools help reps improve these metrics by improving how effective they are at selling.

Research by CSO Insights

looked at how win rates increased after reps received appropriate training on social selling. They found that training that met or exceeded expectations also improved win rates by 38% and improved quota attainment by 51%. Then a

dd on top of that the impact of effective sales coaching, that can see

win rates increase from 25% to 54%

over 18 months.

But for a sales coaching program to be effective, it needs to be systematic. Sales leaders can use sales readiness tools to identify what reps need to be coached on, and leverage tried and tested programs to coach their reps. Overlay individual sales performance before and after coaching, and you can predict what the longer-term impact on your revenue will be.

Of course, if you’re scaling it may also be necessary to hire more reps, to cover broader markets and industries as well. However, hiring 10x more reps is unlikely to translate into 10x revenue. That’s because new reps need time and skills to ramp up and become productive. Depending on your product and market this can take 6 months or more. That means your bottom line will take a hit while your top line remains flat, placing your ambitious expansion plans in jeopardy.

Sales readiness tools are also designed to onboard and ramp up your new hires quickly. They give managers and sales enablement leaders the tools to identify and nip any problems in the bud and work out how to get each individual new hire to productivity as soon as possible. The quicker they’re onboard, the more shareholder value they will generate.

Research by Aberdeen has found that 34%

more new hires achieve quota after receiving reinforcement for their training. When you consider that the average B2B sales rep costs $29,000 to hire and takes 7.3 months to achieve full productivity, anything you can do to bring that down will have an immediate impact on your top (and bottom) line.

Sales management can predict the impact of these initiatives on your bottom line by measuring how much quicker new hires are becoming productive – time to first sale or time to achieving quota, for example. If all your reps achieve their quota a couple of months earlier, that’s two months worth of revenue that goes straight to your top line.
3. Show the long-term value of your investments

The C-Suite rarely gets into the minutiae of sales initiatives. For example, they might see some glossy publications and a rather hefty cost centre, but do they know what the return on these investments really is?

To make decisions on where to allocate resources they need to see the bigger picture. What economic impact will sales readiness initiatives collectively have over the course of the year?

Take collateral for an example.

Research indicates

that between 70% to 80% of collateral is never used. That’s a huge sunk cost, but it doesn’t mean that the content isn’t valuable. Rather than just cutting the budget, show the C-Suite how much more value this investment can create if you enable your reps.

According to SiriusDecisions, one of the reasons 63% of sales reps fail to achieve quota is because they can’t find and use the relevant content. Now if sales readiness tools can enable your reps to use collateral to their advantage, those reps who aren’t making quota can potentially improve their performance. A simple calculation can show you just how much of an impact that can potentially have over the course of an entire year.

Now extrapolate that over the course of every single product launch or new feature that you release. If sales readiness tools can improve how your reps sell each new product and feature, how much more will you sell each year?

It’s a compelling argument that your CEO will find difficult to ignore. Then the question doesn’t become whether you should invest in sales readiness, it’s why haven’t you invested in it yet?

Striking a Balance between Proactive and In the Field Sales Coaching

proactive-in-the-field-sales-coachingMarathon runners don’t go out on the field and keep running until they get an injury. They work with their coach to put in place a plan that makes them strong and keeps their muscles supple. All those hours in the gym and time spent with trainers is helping them to increase their chance of winning and reduce their chance of injury. This ensures they’re not worrying about it when they’re racing towards the finish line. But when they’re in the race they still need refreshments to keep them going and performing their best.

They need both proactive coaching and refreshments in the field.

It’s no different for sales reps. They need proactive sales coaching to help build and improve their sales skills for long-term benefit. But they also need on-the-field coaching so they’re refreshed and ready for their next customer meeting.

The benefits of sales coaching are well established, but coaching is often misunderstood.

While coaching on the pipeline and tactical sales activities is important, reps need more to be successful. They need a proactive approach that reinforces behaviors. And they need a cadence to this, it’s not enough to rely on coaching sessions at QBRs or sales kickoffs. That’s why managers and sales enablement teams need to find the right balance between the two.

Too little proactive coaching and your reps will be unprepared for the field. Not enough in-the-field coaching and they might find themselves struggling to close deals.

Proactive sales coaching is about prevention

Proactive coaching is about honing your rep’s skills, building their knowledge and ensuring they understand and can articulate the messaging. It focuses on product knowledge, competitive insights, and industry information.

Now I can hear sales managers starting to gasp. After all, you’ve got a lot on your plate – helping out with demos and objection handling – but your role as a sales manager is much bigger than that.

That’s why best practice sales organizations have a structured coaching program. It provides a framework to coach consistently and ensures reps are up to date and trained in the areas they need the most regularly. By leveraging technology, your reps can handle part of the process themselves. They can practice a demo and allow you to give them feedback without having to be in the same room.

If you are in a hyper-growth industry this type of coaching may occur quarterly, or even more frequently.

In-the-field coaching is about reinforcement

Traditionally, most managers have focused on in-the-field coaching. You sit through a meeting with a sales rep and, in the car ride back to the office, give them feedback and coach them on how they could improve their performance. This is trigger based coaching – you saw something that needed to be coached and reacted.

While this kind of tactical coaching has its place, it isn’t strategic. For in-the-field coaching to be strategic it requires managers to have the ability to step back and look at the bigger picture. What are your reps doing well and where do they need to improve?

For example, if a rep is struggling in three stages – demo, competitive objections and closing – how do you approach all three? This requires a structured approach – show, observe and remediate. You need to show them how to do their demo. This must be coupled with regular, on-field observation so you can monitor how they are performing. Then finally it requires remediation at each specific stage, not just a broad brush approach.

Their coaching strategy also needs to be aligned with the broader business objectives and identify what ongoing issues their individual team members need to have reinforced. This then sets the foundations of what to coach on.

To achieve this, the proactive coaching must be specific and well-structured.

Data holds the key to coaching

Traditionally, managers have had access to lagging indicators to help them identify what to coach on. But by the time you can see your win rates declining, it’s already too late to stop the losses from happening.

To stay ahead of the game, managers need to leverage data to identify what their reps need to be coached on and identify their gaps. This is important for both proactive coaching and structuring in-the-field coaching. That’s where data analytics comes in.

Thanks to the advent of sales readiness and enablement technology you now have access to a wide range of data that can help you identify where your reps might be struggling or where their knowledge or skill gaps are.

Structured coaching on baseline knowledge, new product updates and message articulation can be performed when it is convenient for reps using sales readiness technology like Mindtickle. Coaching is accessible anywhere and reps can complete role plays when it suits them. Feedback can be provided instantly, or reviewed by the rep when they have time.

Certifications and quizzes give managers information about who is up to speed and what areas your individual reps may require additional training or coaching on. When integrated with your SalesForce CRM you can also conduct analysis based on role, region, cohort, whatever way you want.

This data can also be used for in-the-field training. Analyze how your best reps use their sales readiness technology before meeting a prospect. This information can then be used to identify how to coach your B and C players before their next big meeting. Leverage quizzes to identify areas where your reps need to have their knowledge reinforced. When combined with structured activities, like specific objection handling exercises, managers can provide valuable in-the-field coaching based on what reps actually need, rather than their own intuition or observation.

With the power of data at your fingertips, you can make a fundamental shift in how you coach your reps, build their sales skills and resolving immediate issues. Rather than solving a problem once it’s come to your attention, you can proactively nip issues in the bud.

So rather than waiting to find out where your reps weak spots are, leverage tools that help you prevent issues becoming injuries that leave your sales reps sitting on the bench.

In Conversation with Christopher Fulmer

Conversation-Christopher-Fulmer_sales_enablement_symantecThis post is based on a webinar where Christopher Fulmer, formerly of Blue Coat and now Director of Global Sales Enablement and Product Evaluations at Symantec, explained the importance of data-driven sales enablement to maximize sales effectiveness. You can listen to the entire webinar here.
“Our team in enablement is held responsible for making sure the sales teams have what they need to be successful. It’s their responsibility, and their manager’s responsibility, to make sure they’re continually taking those steps to stay educated. Sales enablement is not just training. My team partners with key teams within our company such as product management, engineering, product marketing, sales leadership, operations, finance, and HR to drive forward the end goal of making us all successful. I’ve found a lot of success when we form those strategic partnerships. When sales win, we win. That’s where we find our success.”
Initially Blue Coat, before being acquired by Symantec, introduced Mindtickle to their sales team. “We took a sales kickoff, which could have been perceived as a challenging time to roll out the technology, and chose that as the time to roll out Mindtickle. This environment, where sales were coming together, helped us roll out Mindtickle as it was an essential tool at that sales kickoff. Because Mindtickle has the flexibility to create separate audiences, it allowed us to push out personal agendas, quick references, surveys, and feedback,” he explained.
“When we left that sales kickoff, every sales rep had been on Mindtickle, was using the tool, knew how to navigate it, and was comfortable with it. When they got back in their sales roles, and I needed to get product information out, I knew that I was pushing it to a team that could quickly absorb it,” he continued.

Blue Coat continued to leverage Mindtickle as their sales team grew

“We found ourselves growing at a hyper rate,” Christopher explained. “We were a fast-moving company in a constantly changing environment. We were leveraging Mindtickle for two main things during that time – our incoming new hires and our existing salesforce.”
“In the cybersecurity area, your entire industry can take a left turn overnight. With just one outbreak or vulnerability, things can dramatically change. How quickly you get information to your sales team and they understand, absorb and go forward with that information can be a driving force as to whether you have a successful outcome. That’s one of the areas that we found success with Mindtickle,” he continued.
According to Christopher, sales onboarding was another way Blue Coat successfully leveraged Mindtickle. “We were onboarding 25 to 35 new sales reps per month, at a minimum, and there were months where we were just wearing out our team running onboarding sessions every week or two. We were able to use Mindtickle to experience faster ramp-up times with our incoming sales reps,” he explained.

Sales enablement was crucial when Symantec acquired Blue Coat

“An acquisition is a great opportunity for sales enablement to be engaged. During Symantec’s acquisition of BlueCoat, our main challenge was how to enable two separate sales teams concurrently. We also had a couple of back-office systems like SFDC. We were able to work with them by working with the Mindtickle team,” Fulmer explained.
“We had a big desire to communicate to the field, and everybody within the company had something they wanted to communicate to them – our integration team, our executive leadership team, and the sales teams. Mindtickle gave us the ability to push out corporate communications, a corporate pitch, and executive communications to the teams very quickly. Through the technology, we were able to target specific teams and simplify messaging. It was a huge benefit to us as we went through that acquisition.”

Symantec now uses Mindtickle to enable their sales teams

Fulmar identified four ways that Symantec still uses Mindtickle to enable their sales teams:
1. Onboarding
“An Olympic rowing team is all in sync. Everyone’s got their hand on an oar and they’re driving that boat forward as fast as they can. That’s like a highly effective sales team in action. Everyone with a single focus, driving the boat forward, in sync, working together. A new hire, until that person is ramped up and effective, is in a big pool float dragging behind the boat. They’re not helping, they’re slowing things down. My job is to get that person out of the water, in the boat, put an oar in their hand, and get them working with the team,” explains Fulmar.
Mindtickle is used by Symantec for their onboarding program as Fulmar explains, “I can use it for pre-work to level the playing field so when they do arrive at an onsite training everyone is on the same page. I really need that time, onsite, to be high value, high return. Technology allows us to do that. The ability to track the pre-work and verify that they’ve done it with quizzes and certifications adds the ability to see where there may be gaps or where you need to spend a bit more time with an individual before, so they’re on the right page when they come in. The strengths of the analytics give us the ability to do that.”
“Having them jump on that technology as part of the onboarding process sets the new hires up for success as they continue in their life as a sale team member. I teach them, from day one, how to use that tool and where to find value in it. They’re much more likely to use it when they get in the field than if I wait and expose them to that tool after they’ve been at their onboarding session as a new hire,” Fulmar continues.
2. Quick updates
“This is a big area where we leverage Mindtickle. When I say quick updates, I want to be realistic on what quick is. If it’s something that’s going to take an hour or multiples hours to read and absorb, that’s not my target for a quick update. I use it for something that they can quickly access and absorb. A product update, something around a product release, executive communications, or sales communications are things that I push out in that quick format,” Fulmar explains.
3. Coaching
“The landscape has changed in the sales enablement world over the years,” according to Christopher. “For example, when we used to work on a corporate pitch, we wanted to “certify” the sales reps on it. So we would come up with a plan where someone from my team and someone from the sales management team would get in a room together. We would then ask the sales rep to take time away from the field and come and give that corporate pitch to us so we could certify them. As you can imagine, it was very costly and took time.”
“Now we use Mindtickle. If I want to know whether everyone knows how to articulate our corporate message I can give them an example of me giving that corporate message and then ask each of them, using Mindtickle, to record themselves. They then send that to me on Mindtickle and I can give them feedback and send it back to them. If there needs to be a correction, I can do the correction and send it back to them. They can then redo it and send it back to me.”
“Basically, I can certify that they understand that message without ever having to get on a flight or asking them to take time out of the field. Coaching with Mindtickle is an area that we’re just scratching the surface on now and have found success with,” outlines Fulmar.
4. Surveys and feedback
“I use this when we do a meeting, such as a sales kickoff, to get feedback on the speakers and identify any hot topics the team may want to hear before the meeting.  We then push information out to the reps afterward and understand whether that information has been absorbed, they understand it, and if we need to spend more time on it,” explains Fulmar.

Data-driven sales enablement is crucial to maximizing sales effectiveness

“Data is what allows you to show that something you’re doing is working. Without the data, it’s your opinion. I want to be able to show management with something that can be measured and show a result,” according to Fulmar.
“Just a quick example, NFL players go in on day one of offseason and do measurements like strength, speed, agility. They have a measurable starting point. Then towards the end of the offseason training program, they go back and remeasure. They can show where there has been growth and where they didn’t get the growth they expected. Until they have those measurable results, a general manager can say we had a great offseason. Unless you have measurable results, how do you back that up? That’s why I feel like data-driven sales enablement is important for maximizing the sales effectiveness,” he explains.
“Whether we’re running a report on our entire sales force or our managers are running a detailed manager dashboard, Mindtickle gives us the analytics to maximize our sales effectiveness.” Fulmar identified three areas in particular:

  1. It gives the ability to take data and continually learn and refine how they enable their sales team;
  2. It highlights what the sales team is using—what content are they taking advantage of and what are they not; and
  3. If they’re not using content it allows sales enablement to question why. Perhaps the format didn’t work well or the information wasn’t right.

“If I’m looking at the numbers, I can see that kind of information and make adjustments to move forward. I can also show value to our leadership team. If I can show that people within our top 20% of sales are also those people that are our top users on Mindtickle, then I can show a direct correlation that our top people are taking advantage of the technology. Being able to show that kind of value to our senior leadership team, to our board, that’s priceless!”