Magazine article Talent Development

Playing the Right Game to Win: The Proper Strategy for Building an Enablement Program Is to Define the Sales Competencies You Need to Focus on before Trying to Fix the Problem

Magazine article Talent Development

Playing the Right Game to Win: The Proper Strategy for Building an Enablement Program Is to Define the Sales Competencies You Need to Focus on before Trying to Fix the Problem

Article excerpt

The final interview for my current position as field enablement manager at Appirio was in a Starbucks in Indianapolis with my future director. During the interview, I pulled out a deck of cards and started dealing them to him without identifying the game we were going to play. I explained to him that starting to build an enablement program without clearly defining and agreeing on sales competencies is like dealing cards to your salespeople and not telling them what game you are playing.

Many organizations do it all the time. But it is unfair to your salespeople if you don't give them a clear picture of what is expected of them. The result is that sales leaders are left on their own to explain their expectations, which can range widely based on experience and time available to invest in their team.

These problems, and they are clear in most sales organizations, must be solved first before any enablement initiative has a fighting chance. Enablement only can be successful at scale if it is trying to solve a common goal for the organization. We are all guilty of random acts of enablement, or what I call "the pasta test of enablement." What we typically do is identify or go with told problems and throw a bunch of enablement at it to see what sticks.

This type of enablement frustrates and confuses most salespeople. One day they are learning about widgets, and tomorrow they are learning how to write proposals. Neither connects to anything, so it becomes a checkbox for salespeople-they do it because they have to get it done.

This is where a comprehensive set of sales competencies is necessary. I was lucky enough to start this role of building an enablement program just as the Association for Talent Development's 2015 World-Class Sales Competency Model was in its final stages of development. We needed to start building the program with a focus on the sales force and sales management and leadership. I volunteered my organization to be a test organization with the new model. It was a win-win for everyone. ATD got to see its hard work in action, and we were able to implement a modern sales competency framework.

Knowing the rules to the game

Sales competencies can be a touchy topic for sales leaders if the conversation is not framed correctly. Sales competencies should not be used to judge the performance of a salesperson. Instead, the conversation needs to be reframed to the use of competencies to enable, coach, and progress salespeople.

If you asked your sales leaders today who would be the most qualified person in the field to take their seat and why, they might know. The why part would be based purely on performance (quota achievement) or observation. Instead of putting your sales leaders in that position, competencies give leaders the opportunity to easily understand what they should be evaluating with salespeople and, more importantly, how to help the salesperson grow and perform better.

One of the general principles I operate under is that enablement never should be created in a vacuum. You or your team is ultimately responsible for the planning, deploying, and evaluation of the enablement efforts. However, we cannot forget who our customers are: our sales organization.

Keeping that in mind, the first thing I did was develop a survey for my sales leaders. The survey leveraged the definitions found in the sales competency model's areas of expertise (AOEs) and competency dictionaries to describe the foundational competencies, in addition to the AOEs for the sales force and sales management and leadership groups (the third group in ATD's model is sales enablement). In the survey, two statements were provided for each domain:

* We need to have this foundational competency or AOE. (Responses were given on a Likert scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.)

* This foundational competency or AOE should be an immediate focus of enablement. …

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