Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sales Enablement and The Year of the Sales Rep

I've spoken about sales enablement quite a bit in this blog, and I'll continue to do so as marketers improve their ability to better enable the sales process from an internal as well as an external perspective. With this in mind, Clare Gillan, IDC's SVP of Executive and Go To Market Programs, will share some of her insights in the sales enablement area. . .

Thanks Michael. At IDC's recent annual Directions event, I gave a presentation titled "The Year of the Sales Rep." In response to The Year of the Sales Rep notion, an SVP of sales asked me, "Why does this year have to be my year?" "Precisely," I responded. Let me explain. . . . never have we more needed our sales reps to be successful and never have they needed us more — those of us in sales, marketing, and executive management.

The crisis in sales is driven not by the economy alone but by an evolution in how buyers buy. Sales organizations, in general, have not kept up. The economy heightens a need for change in how the IT industry "sells" — better mapping to how buyers buy.

For nearly 10 years, sales organizations have emphasized the desire to become "trusted partners" with their B2B customers. Nearly every sales organization has been through "solution selling" programs of one form or another. However, only one in five buyers will tell you that he/she is generally approached by sales reps prepared to discuss solutions. Too often, the sales engagement continues to be product led. Further, buyers will tell you that the pre-purchase experience is becoming a more important indicator of post purchase value. Buyers increasingly consider "relationship ROI" as well as product ROI. And, buyers will tell you that, in this economy, they no longer have tolerance for uninformed vendor representatives who come through their doors. The sales rep must come to a meeting prepared to discuss the buyer's specific business — yet 31% of sales reps are not prepared with even a basic level of Web available information before taking a buyer's valuable time. Only 16% are extremely prepared — these are the reps positioned to take share for the companies they represent.

The technology purchase decision is rapidly moving from a product decision to a relationship decision. Buyers can generally find a number of products that can do the job and within the same price range. They will select the vendor that will make them successful over time even if the vendor does not offer the very best up-front price. The shift from product-led selling to relationship-led selling calls for a significant transformation of sales — enabled by a transformation of marketing.

This transformation requires marketing to gather intelligence and create assets that better map to what buyers value and then make the intelligence and assets "accessible" at key points along the go-to-market chain for use by sales and partners. This requires researching buyers (and I stress--from the buyer's point of view), auditing program investments against what buyers value and other related investments your company is making, creating strong content assets (and then making these consumable in a variety of formats), and, finally contributing to a sales enablement process developed in partnership with your sales "partner".

Thanks Clare! Contact me at for a free copy of a recently published report by Clare entitled "Sales Enablement 3.0: A Transformation of Sales Enabled by a Transformation of Marketing".

More to come from IDC's CMO Advisory Practice on the emerging practices in this area of Sales Enablement.


  1. Michael,
    Excellent post and thanks also to Clare and her comments. I agree with the issue of sales and marketing alignment, but I also believe strongly that there is an issue with sales training and coaching. Sales reps need excellent, and consistent, training and coaching in order to make the behavioral changes necessary to thrive in this buyer/seller environment. When that is coupled with the appropriate sales/marketing alignment then we will see the buyers responding more favorably.

    With all of the resources available online to buyers the sales game has definitely changed; and, sales reps and managers need to adapt soon.

  2. Hi Michael. Great post. This is an area that is near and dear to me. Partly because my company, Kadient, offers a sales enablement solution and also because I'm very involved in enabling our sales team (working on a tool right now).

    You wrote "This transformation requires marketing to gather intelligence and create assets that better map to what buyers value and then make the intelligence and assets "accessible" at key points along the go-to-market chain for use by sales and partners."

    I couldn't agree more. Jeff Ernst our VP of Marketing would also agree with you. His ebook, The New Rules of Sales Enablement, stresses some of the same ideas. He writes that when a sales rep fails, many times it's because we (marketing/sale enablement) failed the rep.

    Here's a link to it if you would like to check the book out

    Keep fighting the good fight on this. Many companies are starting to embrace this thinking and really make changes. One of the ways that some sales and marketing leaders are helping there sales team is by providing them with sales playbooks (within CRM) that include all the tools and content they need for specific selling situations. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for sales to have what they need to do what they do -- sell!

    Amy Black

  3. I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!

  4. Michael,

    Great post! I would like to add that, when technology vendors consider investments into relationship marketing (which are typically high), they should consider an important factor: switching costs for the customer. When switching costs are high, relationship marketing is appropriate. When switching costs are low, transaction marketing makes more sense, as a vendor investing into relationship marketing is highly exposed to losing customers to low-cost competitors.

  5. This is a great post. Enjoyed reading it and cited it in my own blog post yesterday on sales and marketing 'mis-alignment':

    My overall reaction is that we need to embrace a dialogue mentality. There is a dialogue with the buyer, and today the B2B buyer determines the ground rules.

    Sales execs used to manage the entire dialogue, but they are brought into the dialogue later and later -- to your point, that means they must be more prepared than ever before.

    But that also means that marketing must realize it now owns the front-end dialogue and must make sure sales are 100% ready to go in, pick up the dialogue and close on opportunities.

    Finally, that means there needs to be a continuity of experience. Whatever the buying experience that marketing sets the tone for, sales must pick up and run with. That means there must be collaboration between both sales and marketing on establishing that tone and on agreeing to how they will jointly deliver on the desired experience.

    Again, great post and great dialogue.