By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Throughout my career I’ve sold technology and helped tech companies sell their offerings. During that time I’ve witnessed a number of technology offerings that at some point in their life cycles either hadn’t caught on or had begun to fade. A tried and true approach for vendors has been to add functionality and re-launch offerings using different names. Two (2) examples leap to mind:
- Material Requirements Planning began as MRP but had 2 re-starts. It morphed into MRP II and then became Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Could Galactic Resource Planning be next?
- Sales Force Automation (SFA) morphed into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and was made more relevant when Marc Benioff offered salesforce.com in a SaaS model and changed the software business forever.
The candidate I’d like to nominate for a name change is Sales Enablement (SE). Ask ten people to define SE and let me know if you get fewer than 47 different answers.
Vendors have largely sat on the sidelines for the last decade and a half as spectators watching buying behavior change. To their credit, some recognized the ever-widening gap between the way people want to buy and how they were being sold to. Most made tepid responses by announcing SE initiatives to appease their investors or boards. This was analogous to rearranging the deck chairs after hitting the iceberg. Without significant organizational and philosophical changes it’s difficult to see results.
My first issue with the term “Sales Enablement” is that it fails to recognize that people would much rather buy than be sold. Choosing “Sales” as the first half of the term continues vendors’ inward look and focus on products and selling them. My suggestion is to change the first word to “Buyer.” At least vendors would be looking in the right direction: Outward.
You quickly see the problem with the second half of the term when you answer the question: Who are companies trying to enable? The answer is salespeople, once again putting the spotlight on selling and continuing the inward rather than outward focus. Beyond that, companies are trying to enable them to sell in the traditional sense.
The word “empowerment” seems to be a superior choice as the second word. When you think about it, today’s buyers have become empowered by using the Internet and social networking to level the playing field as relates to product knowledge and actual user experiences with offerings. The concept of empowerment allows people to have control. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs after air, water, food and shelter – people seek control. One perspective of sellers is that they exert influence without authority. Buyers have the ultimate power as they decide whether or not to spend money.
“Buyer Empowerment” in my mind means that for websites or salespeople, the first hurdle is to uncover latent needs. These are desired business outcomes executives would like to achieve. This can be done by interacting directly with Key Players or by having lower levels share desired organizational goals. Once business goals are shared, good things start to happen:
- Buying cycles begin
- Buyers realize there is potential value
- Buyers are willing to give sellers time to have conversations
- Sellers can be perceived as consultants if they know the right questions to ask
Part of empowerment is realizing that most vendors and their offerings don’t solve problems nor improve business results. Most sellers and organizations are guilty of making claims such as:
- “I’ll reduce your costs.”
- “My software will reduce your costs.”
- “The system will reduce your costs.”
- “My company will reduce your costs.”
In making such statements, some bad things happen. How many times have buyers been told sellers will deliver business outcomes or make problems go away and been disappointed? A vendor’s offering could work perfectly but if not implemented properly or used, it’s likely to deliver poor results. Finally, sellers don’t and can’t manage internal buyer resources so they have no credibility or control when committing to deliver business results. In the clear light of day, sellers’ offerings provide capabilities that can empower buyers to achieve desired business results. Buyer must take ownership for achieving their business goals or solving their problems. Empowered buyers are not at the mercy of sellers to get the results they want.
As relates to SE let me be clear: BUYERS ARE SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SOLD!!! Selling is becoming old school.
Enlightened vendors can enjoy something that has become a rarity: A sustainable competitive advantage, if they can provide messaging and teach sellers to empower buyers. Continuing with SE is like a losing football team failing to make the necessary roster changes but expecting different outcomes – Do your buyers want more of the same? Buyer Empowerment could provide a welcomed change in buying experiences.