Sales leaders are driving significant change in how their sales people go to market. Much of this change is labeled, “Sales Enablement”. The focus is on automating the sales process and equipping sales people with the right tools at the right time. In other words, developing a sales playbook. There are three significant problems with this approach:
1. Premature Automation
Automation only works well when the processes being automated are well understood. According to Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Business, knowledge comes into an organization through a knowledge funnel that has three stages.
1. Initially, it’s a mystery and we have more questions than answers.
2. Eventually, we begin to figure things out and we develop rules of thumb. We don’t fully understand, but experts develop sufficient experience that enables them to apply good judgment.
3. Over time, we have so much experience, and we’ve seen all the exceptions to the rule, that we can now create algorithms to address every eventuality. It is only at this stage that we are truly ready to automate. Automation attempts prior to this stage will result in disaster because we are bound to encounter something we haven’t anticipated, and the automation procedures will break.
In the world of complex sales, we are not ready for automation. While closing a complex deal may no longer be a mystery, we require experts with experience who can apply good judgment. Our prospects and customers are human and do not fit into neat boxes. Conversations and interactions with humans at the level of true engagement cannot be automated. Much of the sales automation on the market today, at best, discounts the intelligence and judgment of salespeople, and at worst, overrides it.
2. The Rise of the Automatons
Many sales enablement efforts are backfiring because they are not developing competencies within the sales force. Instead, the salesperson is given a playbook and asked for their compliance. This results in salespeople becoming dependent on systems to tell them what to do and when to do it. The concept of a playbook is taken from football, where everyone on the team understands what the next play is going to be. What many sales enablement efforts are missing is the fact that it’s the quarterback’s responsibility to call the play. The quarterback is not blindly carrying out instructions. He is reading the field and constantly making judgments in order to optimize the team’s position and eventually, score a touchdown.
In complex selling, playbooks should not be dictated to salespeople, they should be developed by salespeople. The constant discipline of having to observe, evaluate and make judgments builds mental muscle. That muscle is required to do the heavy lifting in complex sales.
3. False Sense of Security
Although many sales enablement efforts are overly ambitious, and therefore, are never fully implemented, the few that are implemented successfully, often lead to a false sense of security in the sales leader. He or she may believe that they’ve figured everything out and are no longer dependant on their top performers. The truth is what happens inside a computer may look good, but it has no value. The true value is what happens in the field when one human being is talking with another. Much of the content of those face-to-face interactions will never be captured.
For your sales enablement efforts to truly be effective, focus on enabling, not controlling, the sales process. Buyers are complex and they reside inside complex environments that are constantly changing. We need to develop salespeople who know how to think about how they do their work. Our sales enablement efforts must therefore focus on developing key competencies, rather than prematurely automating a process we don’t fully understand with automatons that haven’t developed the mental muscle required to move complex deals forward.