The good news? More and more companies are investing in sales enablement. The bad news? More than a few are failing to recognize sales enablement as a distinct discipline, with a distinct audience and distinct development needs. Here are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid, as well as some suggested remedies.

Sales training that’s too generic

Just as no two salespeople are alike, the same can be said for no two sales positions. Regardless of whether your rep is a new hire in his first sales role, or a more experienced professional who has been selling for a dozen years, there are dynamics that are unique to each industry, business segment and product or service offering. Understanding these dynamics, and the specific competencies required to navigate them successfully, is critical to effective coaching. An effective sales enablement program is not just about teaching your reps to sell, it’s about teaching them to sell for you.

Sales training that’s not aligned to your customer’s path-to-purchase

Understanding your customer’s buying journey is critical to your reps’ ability to progress and close new business. While customer journey mapping is a typical component of any sales enablement program, particularly for new hires, many programs make the mistake of teaching too much, too fast. If your typical sales cycle is 3-6 months, why train your reps on pricing and negotiation, which they are not likely to put into practice for months down the road, in the first week? A better approach is to align your training content and focus with the sequence and timing that your customers will follow in selecting, and ultimately purchasing your solution. For most sales teams, that means starting with personas, prospecting and qualification, not pricing or proposal development.

Focusing on the wrong data points

This is really a story about leading versus lagging indicators, and it’s a common challenge for many sales leaders. We all know the sales manager who spends all his time looking at “what’s closing this month?” Metrics that this manager focuses on are things like, number of deals closed, total bookings, average deal size, length of sales cycle or number of new customers secured. The rub is that these are lagging indicators: they are the resulting output of the work that came before. Unfortunately, because they are the result of effort expended in the past, this also means that they can’t be changed. They may be important things to be tracking, but it’s not the right place to focus when it comes to proactively managing your salespeople’s time and effort.

For example, you may have a (lagging) KPI of $250K in quarterly sales revenue but your sales cycle is 6 months. Managers should define one or more leading indicators such as number of first demos or meetings executed, or the size of your reps’ pipeline to ensure you’re on track to close enough deals to achieve your KPI.

The second part of the data story is ensuring that you’re measuring the right combination of leading indicators to deliver on your goals. When it comes to data collection and analysis, sales managers will most often turn to their CRM system. Yet CRM systems tell only part of the story, and are generally limited to process and productivity metrics such as number of calls and meetings, or number of new opportunities created.

To get a complete picture of their team’s capabilities, as well as their future capacity to meet their goals, today’s sales leaders need a rich data set that also takes into account the individualized knowledge, skills and behaviors of their team. These might include dynamics such as product knowledge proficiency, competitive positioning, even sales process adherence and core selling skills.

Sales leadership and enablement pros can also work together to develop dashboards that align a variety of critical KPIs and measure each rep against them. Sales operations can capture leading, learning and lagging indicators and create dashboards that help reps understand how they are doing, give front-line managers individualized perspective on where reps may benefit from additional training or coaching support, and provide a roll-up view for sales leadership.

These dashboards also help determine what coaching actions should be conducted to improve overall performance. With customized categories and KPIs, it requires an agreed upon view of what “good” looks like and how each category of metrics works together. When evaluating a rep, it’s also important to group individuals by cohort to allow front-line managers to analyze and coach individuals based upon similarity of tenure, role and organization assignment.

(Editor’s Note: our recent webinar with SiriusDecisions’ Peter Ostrow covers this development process in detail and shares a great example of what a good, blended dashboard looks like. Check out the recording here.)

Ignoring your sales managers

Sales managers have a complicated role. While their main goal is to grow revenue, they’re often managing large, widely dispersed teams that require them to be consummate managers of people as well. This is where coaching can provide significant leverage, and the benefits are clear. CSO Insights found that in companies with proactive coaching, 68.2% of reps achieve quota versus only 48.4% of those in organizations where coaching is substandard.

While coaching is a critical component of any successful enablement program, the obstacles to building and maintaining an effective coaching culture are significant, including lack of time (and to a certain extent, lack of coaching skill).

One of the biggest mistakes companies make in investing in a new sales process, for example, or even launching a new product, is to assume that after the training is done, the sales managers – just because they were at the same event -- will pick up the ball and run with it, keeping the concepts alive and ensuring that they’re properly and consistently put into practice by their reps.

We know that on average, about two-thirds of coaching time today is dedicated to opportunity-specific coaching, while only a third is focused on skills and competencies development. Remember that most of our sales managers were once top sales people themselves, promoted into their roles often with very little preparation or instruction on to become great people managers. Doing this effectively requires a significant change in mindset, going from being a top sales hero to being a leader of sales heroes. It also requires sales enablement pros to develop specific training and development programs focused exclusively on their front-line managers, essentially, “coaching the coach.” Our friends and partners at VantagePoint Performance have written extensively on this topic, concluding that that the top 25 percent of sales managers (defined as sales managers who conduct the right kinds of rep sales coaching in the right frequency) outperformed the bottom 25 percent by a staggering $3.5 million per manager per year.

Even the best sales managers can fall into the trap of trying to coach too many skills at once, or coaching the wrong skills altogether. With Qstream your sales managers not only know who needs coaching, but when to coach, and the specific skills that need to be addressed. No more guessing.

And remember: Managers at all levels can benefit from leadership development support that ensures they are equally fluent on critical material, and that they have the skills to be effective leaders. Qstream customers often pilot new sales challenges to managers first, before a training program begins, and will include scenarios that are unique to a manager’s specific role, product focus or business unit.

Are there other sales enablement “mistakes” you’ve experienced and overcome that should be added to this list? We’ve love to hear from you! Share a comment here or Tweet us @Qstream.

Share it with all your network