As the wave of digital transformation has swelled, businesses have invested trillions into projects that aim to elevate the customer experience, grow revenue or achieve bottom-line efficiencies. In fact, IDC projects companies will spend $6.8 trillion on these projects by 2023.
But employees have been left out in the cold. Approximately 70% of employees say they don’t have a strong enough mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs and 87% of executives report readiness gaps in their organizations. Sales employees feel this gap most acutely. As new products and competitors appear daily, companies are investing significantly to ramp them up in their job.
But simply providing a budget and resources won’t work without the right strategy. Large-scale sales certification and kickoff events create an initial burst of knowledge transfer and skills development to sellers — but then they fall off in effectiveness in the following weeks because they are designed simply for completion, not knowledge retention. In fact, according to a Gartner survey, B2B sales reps forget 70% of the information that they learn within a week of training, and 87% will forget it within a month. Many call this the forgetting curve.
This knowledge erosion contributes to a mediocre sales team. Forrester reported recently that, between 2011 and 2019, the average seller quota attainment actually dropped from 63% to 43%. Faced with an underperforming team, sales leadership is forced to churn and burn through sales reps, relying even more heavily on their top performers. All of this may explain why 90% of sales training programs fail after 120 days.
Businesses have also tried to address the enablement challenge with content surges. Often led by marketing, this type of program throws content at sellers at every turn. The problem? More often than not, the content isn’t aligned to the sales process, and thus, isn’t delivered at the right moment when it would have the most impact. So, it turns out that the massive content surge is a massive waste of time: 90% of sales reps never use it anyway, and knowledge gaps persist.
With traditional approaches like these clearly failing, it’s time for businesses to address their enablement challenge with a fundamental change. Rather than focus on traditional learning and development (L&D) for sellers specifically, they need to embrace the discipline of sales readiness. While L&D and sales enablement are functions, sales readiness is a strategy. When implemented correctly, sales readiness provides comprehensive, personalized and adaptive ways to forge the skills and behaviors that today’s sellers need to succeed.
Let’s take a closer look at sales readiness and how revenue leaders can create it.
Creating Readiness in 5 Steps
Simply stated, sales readiness is a continuous state of excellence in growing revenue, achieved through increasing knowledge, enhancing sales performance and helping sellers adapt to change.
Step 1: Define Excellence
“Excellence” goes beyond whether a seller makes or misses their number. It can be quantified beyond just the revenue outcome. To achieve this, sales leaders must first clearly understand and define their ideal rep profile, which can be organized into three buckets:
- Inherent attributes, such as whether the seller is a good negotiator or strong communicator.
- Trackable behaviors that can be tied to training, such as scores on messaging or presentation delivery.
- Individual seller metrics, such as revenue goals, sales cycle length or customer satisfaction.
Step 2: Build Knowledge
The second step in the path to sales readiness is to build seller knowledge. Training programs shouldn’t be a one-and-done endeavor. Building knowledge must be an ongoing discipline aimed at developing mastery of skills, not just memorizing messaging and passing tests. Three components exist to build knowledge effectively. They are:
- Defined skill sets, such as product knowledge, deal negotiation, sales forecasting and message delivery.
- Engagement mechanics, which include a diverse set of tools (like role-play exercises, social sharing and quick quizzes) to keep the seller interested.
- Spaced reinforcement, which involves revisiting topics periodically to strengthen and fortify knowledge and ensure it’s not forgotten.
Step 3: Align Content
Next is building a process to deliver sales content just in time. The buyer journey isn’t linear — therefore, content that’s planned out in advance isn’t always applicable. Sellers will only use the content that helps them in the moment to advance a deal. For that reason, a seller’s “readiness” can be helped along with a system that is organized by the type of content that works for them in that context.
For example, evaluation content — either technical or specific to a product or service — helps guide customers to the right decision. Objection content helps sellers to clear hurdles that are blocking a deal from moving forward. Value content uses case studies or ROI analyses to illustrate top-line improvements or bottom-line savings.
Step 4: Analyze Performance
The fourth step critical to achieving sales readiness is the ability to analyze seller performance — understanding how a seller achieved their goal and quantifying it through their behaviors in the sales process. This is where a new breed of conversational intelligence tools come into play. These tools leverage AI and machine learning to provide sales leaders insight into what’s happening in the field, and tie that back to competencies that were or weren’t achieved from an enablement standpoint.
Forrester found that the biggest limitation to utilizing AI sales technologies to gain deeper visibility into sales process activities was capturing a high enough percentage of the interactions between sellers and buyers. Voice represents 42% of these interactions pre-COVID and 57% post-COVID according to Forrester’s sales activity studies of more than 25,000 B2B sales professionals. Conversation intelligence tools integrated with sales readiness platforms do exist today to bring real-world selling interactions to the training process.
Step 5: Optimize Behaviors
The final step in achieving sales readiness is optimizing seller behavior through coaching. Coaching closes the loop in sales readiness, ensuring feedback makes it back to individual sellers as well as informing and enriching the entire readiness program. There are four key coaching interactions that should be harnessed in this step:
- Manager-to-seller interactions, which include pitch assessments and deal remediation.
- Manager-to-team interactions, which include daily communications to discuss account targeting and territory management.
- Seller-to-seller interactions, offering peer feedback and opportunities for content sharing and pitch review.
- Manager-to-manager interactions (“coaching the coaches”), which involves analyzing team trends and collaborating on how to troubleshoot problem areas.
For sellers to survive and thrive in the dynamic and ever-changing B2B selling environment, L&D must focus on helping them achieve business outcomes. It must include continuous skills reinforcement, training, field observation and coaching to make sure sellers are ready to make the most of every sales interaction.