July 21, 2020
Updated: October 29, 2020

Why executives must lead the change management of sales enablement

Welcome to the third post of this blog series for executives.

In this edition, I’ll be discussing why you as an executive in a sales, marketing or CX leadership role play a mission-critical part when it comes to making sales enablement successful in your organization. 

One aspect of making enablement successful is how it is designed and set up. I discussed this here, including the critical role of alignment. Another aspect is how to make sales enablement the engine of your digital transformation efforts

Even if you take all these steps the right way, there is one missing link that’s often underestimated: How well you manage and lead the change aspect that comes with any enablement initiative. 

Effective change management and leadership is a mandatory ingredient for any effective enablement initiative. 

Today, our focus is how to bring sales enablement to life and how to actually live sales enablement so that people use enablement services effectively on a daily basis. Only then can you achieve the desired enablement goals. And if enablement achieves its goals, you also achieve yours. And that requires adoption.

Successful enablement requires high adoption. And high adoption requires an effective change management and leadership approach

In a nutshell, this is what you as an executive should focus on. I’ll explain why great adoption is crucial to your success and why it can only be achieved if there is excellent change management and leadership in place. You won’t get to high levels of adoption without a strong change management and leadership approach. Both are intertwined.

Let’s look at the data on adoption. Adoption is measured by the percentage of people who are using the provided enablement services as a vital element of their workflows on a daily basis. That means adoption is critical for all enablement services your organization provides for salespeople and managers. Think about sales methodology and process training, the content your enablement team provides — customer-facing and internal enablement content — and the technologies and tools you want your teams to use.

Adoption rates above 75% lead to significantly better sales results

The data on the impact of adoption on performance is stable over the years. Based on the CSO Insights Fifth Sales Enablement Study, it’s fascinating to look at an example. 

In the case of implementing sales methodology and process training, revenue plan attainment improved by 4.1%, quota attainment by 6.7% and win rates by 16.6%, compared to the study’s average results. 

As soon as adoption rates go beyond 90%, results skyrocket. Revenue attainment improved by 9.8%, quota attainment by 20.7% and win rates by 24.6%, also compared to the study’s average results.

Similar patterns could be observed with the implementation of sales enablement technology as well. The impact created by technology alone is, on average, smaller, but the impact of adoption rates follows the same patterns: remarkable impact is created as soon as adoption rates are above 75%, and significant impact happens beyond 90%.

Achieving high adoption rates requires a comprehensive change management and leadership approach

You might be familiar with change management and change leadership practices. Let me focus these best practices specifically on enablement and its collaborative, cross-functional and orchestrating character. There are four key elements to a successful change management and leadership approach.

#1: You first need a shared vision of success across the organization

This step shouldn’t take long, as the shared vision of success has already been created during the sales enablement strategy and charter development phase. And in this phase, we made sure that this vision is derived from the organization’s broader vision of future success. Also, some high-level metrics have been defined to measure progress.

If your enablement didn’t go through a formal, strategic and charter-based set-up process, I’d highly recommend that you encourage and empower them together with your related peers to do so right away. And yes, they will need your support with this. They will need support from all executive roles in, for instance, marketing, sales, customer experience, product management and L&D. But it will pay off significantly, as you can see here.

As long as this step has not been completed, you won’t be able to come up with a comprehensive change story.

#2: You need a comprehensive change story, well communicated and brought to life 

If your enablement team didn’t already create such a change story, make it their top priority. A change story should answer these questions: 

  • Why are we doing this? 
  • What does it look like?
  • What will change and what will remain the same (per role)? 
  • How is this happening?
  • When is this happening?

The biggest obstacle is the why question. Many organizations don’t answer it at all or they provide an answer such as “we need to increase our productivity by x%.” Even if this is the metric you are aiming for, that’s not what the why question is all about. 

To answer the why question, you need an inspiring, comprehensive message for your teams that touches the deeper purpose of the organization, connected to the change ahead.

Many years ago, I was speaking at a manufacturing company’s global sales manager gathering. The company did really well. They had so many leads that they had the luxury of not knowing which were the most valuable to focus on. They also implemented a CRM at this time, and the sales and marketing leader was very unhappy with the low adoption rate. Looking at the pipeline in the CRM the company seemed to be in big trouble, but in fact, they were doing very well. The issue was that there was no change story at all to support, guide, drive and lead the CRM implementation. The leadership team said that the purpose of the CRM would be to increase sales productivity by 10%. Now, how does that sound? Would you feel inspired by this message and actually change your behaviors and workflows? Probably not. And their sales managers and sales teams didn’t either. 

A better change story for them would have been to build on their global leadership position in their market niche, on improving CX from lead to implementation to become the best partner for their customers. Or something like this; you get the point.

#3: Lead your direct reports and have clarity on how to manage consequences

Your goals are defined, the related metrics are set and the change story is compelling. That’s great, but we miss another element. You also need a change leadership and management approach. And that begins with a definition of the changes you want to see in behaviors. 

Based on that clarity, you should develop clear guidelines how you and your peers (horizontal alignment) and you and your direct reports (and theirs) lead and manage through change (vertical alignment). I refer here to my previous blog where I wrote about the principles of alignment. The same principles can be applied here as well.

What are desired behaviors you want to reinforce to drive adoption and success? For instance, in the CRM example, a deal that’s not in the CRM does not exist and gets no support or resources. Executing this rule a few times is usually enough to get the point across to drive adoption. So, the desired behavior is that salespeople put all deals in the CRM, at the specific stage you’ve defined. The undesired behavior is that salespeople keep their deals in their own spreadsheets until they are closed.

In sales enablement content platform examples, it cannot be tolerated if people still share content with buyers directly via email and not using the platform, and if content creators are still emailing content directly rather than uploading it onto the platform. 

Therefore, it’s important that you, your peers and your direct reports have absolute clarity on how to manage the consequences of undesired behaviors. It’s recommended that you run workshops with your peers and with your direct reports to agree on how to coach and reinforce the desired behaviors and how to manage consequences in the case of undesired behaviors.

#4: The change you want to see in the organization begins with you 

Imagine the change story is in place and has been communicated in a thoughtful way, touching people on various channels via audio, video and in writing. 

Ideally your change management and leadership approach also includes change agents, a group of early adopters who will share their success in the weeks and months to come during implementation. 

Most organizations know theoretically how they should run change situations. Change experts helped to create the change management and leadership approach, often including the change story. But as usual, execution is where the problems occur. 

The key for success is you being the example for the change you want to see in your organization. That means that you should be the first to use and apply the new methods, processes, tools, content assets, etc. You should be amongst the first to use new content, including the sharing functions, with your clients. If it’s about training or coaching, you should be the first one attending the class, even if it’s an online training, Do it, and share your experience via your internal messaging channels. 

Let me share a few examples why this is important.

Imagine you are implementing a new CRM. In the past, your staff has pulled data from many sources to present you the pipeline and forecast data via PowerPoint. Now, everything is in the CRM. It should be in the CRM, to be precise. If you continue to ask your staff to pull data from the new system and copy it to your PowerPoint template as before, the message you are sending is that it doesn’t matter what is changing in the organization — you are still doing it the old way.

Change requires strong leadership; it requires navigating complexity to arrive together at the future vision of success. Reading through the key elements I shared here, I hope you sense and feel what this is all about: It’s about changing the heartbeat, the energy and the culture of an organization.

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Sales Enablement Platforms

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Sales Enablement Platforms

The best sales enablement strategies are supported by powerful technology. But how do you know which solution is the best for your organization? Read this guide to discover the factors to consider — and questions to ask — when vetting sales enablement platforms.

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