Uncovering Sales Secrets with Tamara Schenk

What are the missing pieces in today’s sales practices? We investigate with Tamara Schenk of CSO Insights for her enlightening thoughts on the matter.

September 13, 2017

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Have you ever tried to solve a problem in pitch-black darkness, only to find (upon giving up and turning on the light) that there’s no way you would have solved the problem without illumination? This part was backwards, that one piece rolled under the couch… not a chance. But shine a little light on the subject, and suddenly it all makes sense.

When it comes to achieving success in the modern B2B buying environment, too many sales teams are strategizing in the dark, putting together sales plans based on blind feel – where history tells them everything should be. The problem isn’t just that the parts have morphed and moved; the assembly instructions have changed.  

Consider Tamara Schenk your emergency flashlight. She has been Research Director for CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group for almost four years, and had previously risen to VP of Global Sales Enablement with T-Systems. Through her experience, Tamara has developed a deep understanding of the business practices that improve sales force productivity and maximize results.

She was kind enough to help us uncover the truth about common missed opportunities, helpful tools, and developing trends in the world of sales. Here’s what she had to say:

LI: You’ve seen it all in terms of sales enablement. In your experience, what still-prevalent sales enablement practice drags down ROI at too many B2B sales organizations?

TS: The main issues are misalignment and inconsistency. Misalignment means that the enablement strategy is disconnected from the business and sales strategy, or more accurately, the enablement services are too generic, don’t specifically support the sales strategy, and don’t address the particular sales challenges of the sales organization. Misalignment can also mean that the enablement services (content, training) are not centered on the customer’s journey and therefore not able to make the sales force successful along the customer’s journey. An additional form of misalignment is a coaching approach that is disconnected from the enablement approach, and therefore not able to drive adoption and reinforcement across the sales force.

Inconsistency comes in different forms and shapes, such as inconsistent enablement services, which often come about if enablement teams are not orchestrating ALL enablement services (content, training, and coaching) along the customer’s journey. One fundamental issue is inconsistency regarding value messaging. That means that sales training services regarding products and solutions are not consistent with the sales content reps are required to use with prospects and customers. The reason for this kind of inconsistency is that content services and training services are not designed and developed together, and not even aligned on a value messaging level. In fact, less than 10% of organizations in our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study develop product training and content together to ensure consistency. This is a huge area for improvement. Solving the inconsistency issue requires a strategic enablement approach that is designed along the customer’s journey, based on a formal cross-functional collaborative enablement approach.

LI: You’ve spoken about the importance for B2B sales organizations to formalize their vision through a comprehensive sales enablement charter. Should companies incorporate specific sales tools and platforms into their charter? If so, how?

TS: Yes, sales tools and platforms should be part of a comprehensive enablement charter because technology fosters sales force enablement. Organizations with a formal, strategic approach to sales enablement are more likely to achieve their enablement goals: 51.3% compared to 34.7% with ad hoc or one-off project mode. Such a formal approach, captured in a charter, should include the enablement target groups (salespeople, manager, channel, etc.), enablement vision, mission, purpose, goals, objectives, activities, provided services, a timeline, and how to measure success. In the area of goals and activities, the implementation of tools and platforms that support the enablement strategy should be included.

LI: Which sales trend do you think will have the single biggest impact on sales leaders in the EMEA region over the next five years?

TS: Digitalization is and will be the key trend impacting sales leaders overall, but specifically in the EMEA region. As an example: when I mentioned social selling in Europe three years ago, it was not appreciated, to say the least. That has changed since last year, as soon as I could present data that showed a long-term performance impact no sales leader could ignore. Now, sales leaders here are asking how to get it right. Social selling is just one aspect of the overall trend to digitalization, but the most visible one for sales. Sales force enablement now has the chance to become the transformation trajectory to lead sales organizations in the digital age, to drive this change. The digital challenge is already more mature in the UK and now coming to the entire EMEA region. Approaches and adoption in EMEA will be different to the US, due to the different cultures.

LI: In your experience, what core problem do sales leaders tend to overlook when attempting to boost traditional sales KPIs like win rate, average sales cycle, and average deal size?

TS: The core of the problem is when we look only at these lagging indicators such as win rates, average deal size, etc., and don’t pay enough attention to the activities and behaviors that are necessary to achieve these KPIs. And that brings us to the crucial role of frontline sales managers who have to focus on managing the right sales activities and coaching the related behaviors. A sales leader can concentrate on the lagging indicators, but frontline sales managers have to shift their attention to leading indicators such as: lead/opportunity conversion rates by value, volume, and velocity; the percentage of initial prospect interactions that result in follow-up interactions; etc. Only strong leading indicators can lead to the desired lagging indicators such as better win rates, higher average deal size, or shorter deal cycles. And that requires that the frontline sales managers are adequately enabled to be a business manager, a frontline sales leader, and a sales coach. There is a reason we call it sales force enablement: because sales managers have to be enabled accordingly and adequately.

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