How Covid-19 has further strengthened the business case for Sales Enablement

I’m not going to apologise for using Covid-19 as the centre piece for an article and then talk about it anyway. I’m not going to talk about the BIG picture, perspectives and the frailties of human life and then reverse shamelessly into a plug for my business. The vast majority of us are strung out on a situational gradient that starts at ‘pretty shit’ and ends at ‘the worst kind of shit’. We are, where we are, and no amount of staring into the abyss of 10,000 possible outcomes is going to change it. Our personal obligation must be to follow the governmental guidelines, be decent human beings and to crack on with our day to day lives as best we can. 

We will come through this and the world we enter into on the other side will be shaped by what we do today, tomorrow and the weeks that follow. We each need to play our part in helping to keep the wheels of commerce turning in any way we can, from helping to prop up the local economy through to working as effectively as possible in the day jobs we perform. For many of us it will require an open mind, increased creativity and a willingness to change our behaviours. This will require effort but if we each embrace the situation we will help to reduce the short and long term impact Coronavirus will have on the economy and in turn society. 

Coronavirus is acting as rocket fuel for remote working

Even before Coronavirus decided to take centre stage the fight to tackle climate change had already seen an increasing amount of pressure on big corporates to adopt a more flexible, remote-based working model for their employees. The results from these new ways of working being largely focussed on helping to facilitate a reduction in International and Domestic business travel and therefore lowering carbon emissions.  Remote working practices and everything that comes with them were already on the march, well before this shit storm blew into everyone’s lives. However, Coronavirus has, in a matter of weeks, accelerated this need a thousand times over. Remote working is now a business-critical capability for millions of organisations the world over. 

Whilst, for the uninitiated, remote working will be a steep learning curve (there’s already thousands of pieces of content to help people adjust) what will be fascinating will be how the remote working dynamic changes business behaviours. In this respect I’m confident the already fast-growing practice area of Sales Enablement will now be thrust further into the limelight.

How so?

5 Reasons why Sales Enablement will play a major role today and the world that follows Covid-19

1.      Remote selling

At all stages of my career I’ve had to wear multiple hats to perform my daily duties and the sales / selling one is a comfortable and familiar fit. As a result, I get the importance and significant value of being in a room with someone. It’s irreplaceable.  Chemistry, empathy and above all honesty are critical ingredients that are far harder to engender in a web meeting scenario. And these elements, when aligned, can often trump everything else. Of course, you can go some of the way to producing this in a web meeting but you’ve got to work a damn sight harder in my experience. 

However, this is our new reality and it’s one that means a greater proposition of the sales cycle will be conducted remotely. Even when the Covid induced restrictions and panic loosen I can’t see these shifting dynamics reversing a huge amount. To back this point up, by the end of Feb, friend to all SME remote workers, Zoom Video Communications, had added 2.22 million active users in 2020. Amazingly this eclipsed the whole of 2019 where its user base totalled 1.99 million. Can you see those businesses cancelling their subscriptions once we’re out the other side of the pandemic? I can’t, but I can see them realising that a more remote and fluid working model is viable and going on to implement permanent changes to ways of working.  

So, how do we adapt in sales? Well, there’s a whole host of Sales Enablement approaches, supported by the right technologies, that will help you to re-engineer your sales engagement and adapt effectively. Some of these are referenced in the proceeding points below but purely in the context of effective remote selling, the single biggest thing you need is understanding

Understanding of your sales cycles and how it aligns (or not) with what customers and buyers need at each and every stage. Clearly this was abundantly true before the pandemic but with the shift to remote based selling it’s now an imperative. 

Once you’ve mapped out (as best you can) both the existing sale cycle and your buyers journey you can then work through how you can best translate these activities into a remote selling scenario whilst identifying any gaps as you go. These gaps or deficiencies can then be effectively filled through tactics that are sympathetic to the situation i.e. well-designed remote meetings/workshops, a self-serving and laser focussed piece of content, an interactive tool or app, etc. You get the gist.  

2.      Remote buying

Buyers need to buy. Even in this climate. Granted the shopping list might look a little different in the short term and budgets tighter but it remains their job to solve problems, meet challenges and seize opportunities. And of course, in order to do this they will likely need to buy products, services and solutions. The question is how does this change when done remotely? Well probably not as dramatically as on the seller side because anyone in Marketing & Sales already knows that buyers have gravitated to more of a self-serving set of buying behaviours. 

Statistically most buyers would prefer to conduct their own research, due diligence and discovery (certainly in the early stages of the buying cycle) and avoid engaging a sales person until deemed necessary. Why? Well, it’s often cited that this is down to poor selling practices whereby buyers are left so exasperated at the hands of time-sapping, boiler plated selling approaches they’re left with little choice but to run and hide. 

So, if buyers were already acting remotely and in isolation of the seller before the crisis, we can safely deduce this will be amplified whilst we’re in the thick of it. Against this backdrop what can Sales Enablement do to support the buyer journey?   

I think the best way to look at it is to break down your buyers’ journey into the ‘jobs’ they need to perform and phases they need to move through. Gartner do a great job at this grouping the key phases into Awareness > Definition > Validation > Decision. Within these phases they then explore further by isolating some of the content, tools and exercises buyers need to perform to get to a point of decision. Examples include:

-         Calculators: A very quick and factual way of bringing together the buyers individual situation with a vendors product/service/solution. The net result is a far more precise and personalised position to have a conversation rather than simply chucking a case study at them and asking them to join the dots.

-         Advisory: ‘Trusted Advisor’ is in danger of becoming a hackneyed term but it’s overuse is grounded in a very real need. That need is driven by buyers and their want for salespeople to adopt a more consultative and business minded approach to how they sell. A shift from selling ‘to’ someone, to selling ‘with’ someone. This can be supported by guided selling apps, business case builders, priority mappers and a host of content that supports and evolves the buying process instead of trying to close it.

-         Diagnosis: Not rocket science. Listen to the buyers issues and objectives and then provide them with a professional view and diagnosis on what this means for their business and the potential solutions you can propose to help address them. All of this can be wrapped up and supported using a diagnostic toolkit made up on content, tools and techniques. Allowing you to flex subject matter expertise and give the buyer a valuable outcome.

-         Benchmarking: This plays on a very human quality, that of wanting to know how you’re doing against others – especially competitors. Many organisations have got (or can get) the data to provide benchmarking tools for its prospects and customers. Affording them the ability to understand what good looks like and where they stack up against this. It writes the project plan, solution roadmap and strategy for the buyer by giving them a realistic target to shoot for. Mobilising the benchmarking data and flipping this into something consumable usually requires some effort and investment but it can be gold dust when executed the right way.     

The beauty of all the above is that they can be performed remotely as specific ‘seller to buyer’ exercises or possibly independently by the buyer. Even within the relatively small world of Bridge, we’ve seen a big upswing in projects to develop these sorts of apps, tools and content. Everything points towards this being a big growth area in Sales Enablement over the coming months.

3.      Remote learning & coaching

 This is a BIG area for Sales Enablement to make a difference. Sales Enablement platforms such as Showpad have a ‘baked in’ learning and coaching capabilities that allow sales teams to develop knowledge and skills from the comfort of their homes as and when needed. With elements that encourage social sharing and peer-to-peer collaboration it goes some of the way to bridging the gap left by face to face or classroom-based training. Importantly in these types of L & D technologies there’s full audit trails, certification and scoring capabilities so they can be made robust learning experiences. Like everything discussed in this post it falls under the recurring theme of making sure the content, tools and approaches work in a remote setting i.e. If you simply record your full day, classroom-based training session and stick it up online, that won’t work, remote learners will get distracted and will be at their wits end within an hour!

 4.      Remote Understanding & Insight

If you lose more face time with the person you’re selling to it’s fair to say this will compromise a sales person’s ability to read the situation and how well a sale is, or isn’t, progressing. You can rely less on the wily old ‘gut instinct’ and have need for alternative measurement tools to validate pipeline projections and deal analysis. The good news is that the more the sales cycle moves into digital/remote based scenarios the greater our ability to understand what’s happening within a deal and support it in the right way. 

The best of the Sales Enablement tech platforms can drive this through using intelligent analysis of what content has been shared, with who, what’s working, and what’s not. These platforms can take it on even further by providing the salesperson with content recommendations, based on what’s historically worked in look-a-like deals. There’s even been great advancements in the capabilities to analyse voice (captured where? You guessed it… web meetings) to provide valuable insights and support.

The purists out there might baulk at all of this this claiming we will lose the real art of selling and digitising and/or automating will signal the death knells for the sales profession. Personally, I don’t think it’s that definitive, this is about adaptation and everything described still requires a highly skilled sales or marketing brain to engineer it in the right way. It’s also worth noting that we’re not talking about doing away with in-person meetings, in fact I’m confident they will remain one of, if not the, most important moments in the sales cycle and buying journey. Back in October last year, at a B2B Buyer round table event, I was told by senior buyers from BlackRock, Canon, Informa and Exxon Mobil that a fantastic, in-person meeting or pitch, can take a vendor from last to first place.     

5.      Remote control

What it says in your email auto-signature will probably colour your view on whether claiming greater control over the sales domain is a good or bad thing. The reality is that a shift to a more remote working model will mean the digital footprint made by sales will be even greater and with that will come increased transparency. Of course, this isn’t news, CRM has already changed the game in this regard but there’s still aspects of the sales process that rely on the salespersons feedback and viewpoints. Whilst this will remain, the ongoing proliferation of sales enablement strategies and tech roll outs will mean greater control and reporting will be possible by virtue of the fact it’s all delivered from a digital platform.

Personally, I think this is needed, Sales Enablement circles are constantly shouting about the need for the sales profession to step up and match the needs of the modern buyer, well better visibility and control is a major component in achieving this.   

All the points highlighted above exist and are in-play irrespective of any external factors but I think the Covid19 and Climate Crises have and will continue to form a perfect storm that will accelerate Sales Enablement adoption and investment.

I’m not celebrating or trivialising this horrible situation, just trying to make some sense of it in order to formulate some clear views on what it will mean for me, my business and the industry I work in. I also hope some of this will help to give those people, working in Sales Enablement, some reassurance that they’re in a good place. 

Aside of all this, I dearly hope, for the sake of the environment, people’s work-life balance and a host of other reasons this will force some us to realise there are better ways to work and live.

Since inception Bridge has operated a remote / flexible working model for its staff. This started out as a selfish decision made by me because I wanted to ensure I was around for my 5 and 7-year-old kids but it’s since evolved into a successful way of working for the whole company. It is not a replacement for human contact, which is why we still have premises in Old Street and regularly get together for planning sessions, socials, etc. It’s about balance and adapting to the very different lives we now lead in 2020.