The Financial Services Focus On Sales Enablement

In the past few months, we’ve seen a big uptick in inquiries from financial services firms, including life insurance. They are becoming much more focused on sales enablement automation and sales enablement in general. At the same time, sales enablement automation vendors are highlighting their successes with financial services companies. Based on discussions with practitioners, financial services firms should keep in mind a few key challenges as they tackle better enabling their sellers:

  • Agents and advisors are both sellers. Many financial services organizations seem reluctant to use the terms “sales” or “sellers” when talking about those who sell to customers. This often slows awareness and understanding of how sales enablement automation can help them leverage content, better engage with customers, and ensure that sellers play by the rules in a highly regulated industry. The same applies to independent advisors. They are business partners — another part of the channel — and need the same kind of sales enablement, especially because they may also sell competitive offerings.
  • Managing seller-focused content in a highly regulated environment is complicated. Financial firms have dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of content creators. Those creators cover a wide range of content including promotional, marketing, and reporting. Some content, such as investment updates, require tightly controlled processes for creating and updating frequently. All of that content creation takes place in an environment where a strong need for tightly controlled processes exists to create, produce, and manage how sellers can and should use content.
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B2B Marketers Need To Apply The Lessons Of Customer Obsession To Seller Development

“We need to train the sales force!” comes the cry. Whether marketing or product management, sales ops or finance, IT or legal, everyone wants to train the sales force. The reasons are always good: efficiency, effectiveness, and excellence. But frequent and tactical training can distract sellers from and delay them in performing their most important task: selling.

My newest report, "Build A Seller Development Framework," updates Forrester’s Seller Development Framework (formerly Forrester’s Sales Training Solution Framework) to take a fresh look at how to plan for and evaluate the training needs of sellers to move beyond defining needs based on "Who's asking?" to "What’s the right approach?"

Sales enablement vendors have also taken note of the need to embed seller development within sales enablement automation. Brainshark has announced partnerships with Highspot and Seismic to leverage Brainshark’s solutions for sales mastery and continuous training as part of overall sales enablement automation. Allego, a mobile video sales learning platform, just announced a partnership with Wilson Learning to provide more continuous sales development. These announcements are in line with our predictions of increased partnering in the sales enablement and development market.

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Advocating For Bespoke Content For Sellers

If you’re a B2B marketer and take responsibility for building content for sellers, here's one of those déjà vu moments that you’ve come to dread. During a presentation, a slide comes up. You’ve seen this slide before. In fact, you built that slide — a few years ago. What is it doing in this presentation? How out of date is it?

Oh, you know the story. The seller had some version of the original presentation and mixed this and other slides with newer content. Or the original presentation with additional slides is still findable somewhere on a shared drive. But someone changed — customized — it without regard to current positioning, messaging, or branding. From the seller’s point of view, nothing is more natural than to fit content to the needs of the buyer, which progresses the sale. But from the marketer’s point of view, carefully crafted messages are garbled or — worse — just plain wrong.

What do we do? For B2B marketers, the answer is not to just clamp down on customizing. Sellers will always have ways to download or screen-capture content and alter it. The answer is to think about how and why the content sellers use should be customized.

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Practice Makes Perfect: Lessons From Practitioners About Sales Enablement Automation

Register now for the March 21, 2017, Forrester Webinar: "Sales Enablement In Action: Learning From B2B Practitioners."

The Forrester Wave™ process involves more than vendors. It also requires interviews with two to three reference customers for each solution. The new report, which Jacob Milender and I wrote, "Applying Sales Enablement Best Practices: Reference Customers For The Sales Enablement Automation Wave™ Reveal Lessons That They’ve Learned," looks at how these practitioners have achieved the benefits of sales enablement automation (SEA).

We spoke to 20 sales enablement practitioners from a variety of industries who were evenly divided between reporting to marketing and sales. That is a lesson on how the role of sales enablement still straddles the organizational divide. And as with any technology, it takes a lot more than flipping a switch for SEA systems to get up and running. All practitioners agreed that getting their house in order (that is, finding, categorizing, reviewing, and restructuring content) was a necessary first step no matter what solution they chose.

The most immediate measure of a successful launch and implementation was adoption by sellers. “They love it! Content is much easier to locate,” was a frequent comment. But beyond immediate adoption, there are still challenges for many sales and marketing leaders in getting the most out of SEA, including going beyond using basic content usage reporting to correlating successful content with moving opportunities through sales stages.

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Sales Enablement Automation Systems Are Ready To Help B2B Marketers Support The Seller Of Today And Tomorrow

Just published, The Forrester Wave™: Sales Enablement Automation Systems, Q4 2016 highlights the nine leading vendors in the space using 33 criteria. Following on from the Forrester report Vendor Landscape: Sales Enablement Automation, the Forrester Wave report whittles down 18 vendors to nine of the strongest players in the sales enablement market.

The Forrester Wave evaluation process is rigorous, involving in-depth demos and customer references. As my colleague Lori Wizdo noted in a recent blog post about her report, The Forrester Wave™: Lead-To-Revenue Management Platform Vendors, Q4 2016, there’s no hiding for either the vendor or the analyst. The product and marketing teams for all the vendors are passionate and committed in presenting and defending their solution.

As the first Forrester Wave to cover the sales enablement automation market for B2B marketers, this report also offers a clear definition of just what is needed to be a successful solution. While there are many functions that are consistent across the solutions, such as CRM integration (mostly Salesforce) and various levels of back-end content management, there are clear differences as well. The solutions tended to be either/or:

  • Synchronous solutions that focus on the live presenting and meeting experience, whether face-to-face or virtual.
  • Asynchronous solutions that target engagement with content via email.
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Asking The Right Questions: A Socratic Approach To Sales Enablement Automation

 “The answers you get depend on the questions you ask.” 
― Thomas S. Kuhn

The Socratic method proposes that you can learn much by asking questions to test the logic of various facts and beliefs to stimulate critical thinking. Forrester's 30-minute inquiries often become a miniature version of the Socratic approach, usually with the client having an initial set of questions and the analyst then having a few questions in return to clarify the topic.

“To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.” 
― John Ruskin

After 11 months, I have engaged in dozens of inquiries with customers from many industries — all of them asking about sales enablement automation (SEA). Questions range from what technology to use to how to organize and support it, among other areas. As you'd expect, certain questions come up more than others. My latest report, “Brief: Six Sales Enablement FAQs — And Three More That Should Be On Your List,” presents the most common questions (and answers), which — I hope — stimulate some critical thinking about how B2B marketers can use SEA to sell better and more.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” 
― Attributed to Voltaire

It’s worth looking at the first six questions and determining how you would answer them for your own organization:

  1. What should SEA include?
  2. What are the benefits of SEA?
  3. Who should be responsible?
  4. Who else should be involved in SEA projects?
  5. What are other companies doing successfully?
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Passing the Lead And Dropping The Ball: B2B Marketers And Sales Operations Need To Play Well Together

It’s tempting to think that with all the power of automation for marketing, sales enablement and a multitude of sales processes that marketing and sales work together smoothly.  The vision is one of a well-oiled machine generating leads, qualifying opportunities, and winning deals.

The reality is somewhat different. While marketing and sales have moved closer together, there are still significant gaps in understanding between the two. For B2B marketers, the challenge is to better understand how Sales Operations, as a set of processes more than technology, drives sellers behavior.

In my newest brief, “Mind The Gap: What Marketers Need To Know About Sale Operations,” I take a closer look at what unites and divides marketing and sales. Starting with Forrester’s Q2 2016 International B2B Marketing Strategies and Tactics Online Survey and incorporating input from dozens of inquiries and interviews, it’s clear that marketers need to make an effort to better understand what happens after the lead has been passed:

  • Process and organization trump technology – Once a lead is accepted by sales, a whole new set of qualification actions take place, often based on concerns of territory and account planning not visible to marketing.
  • Compensation, configuration and contracts correlate to closing: Sellers, and Sales Operations, use a different lens to determine the quality of an opportunity, driven by considerations of how the seller gets paid, what product configurations help drive compensation, and how contracts are negotiated.
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Hedgehogs, Foxes, And Third-Party Data: What Sellers Need From Marketers

In Isaiah Berlin's most popular essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” the famous Latvian-British social and political theorist quoted a fragment of ancient Greek: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Since its publication in 1953, this concept has become an intellectual parlor game (something Berlin said himself) that those with a binary view of the universe have used to divide writers, politicians (Kennedy: fox; Nixon: hedgehog), and executives into two neat categories.

What’s forgotten is that Berlin used this ancient aphorism as a way to evaluate Leo Tolstoy. His conclusion? Tolstoy was actually a fox, despite many declarations that would indicate Tolstoy wanted to be a hedgehog. In short, Tolstoy was both — a fox by inclination, but a hedgehog by choice.

B2B marketers want sellers to know lots of things, and they use third-party data providers as part of that desire. At a recent Forrester event, I asked a marketer from a large financial services firm how may data providers they used; she casually replied: “77.” Seventy-seven separate data providers! If only a fraction of this data is provided to sellers, they must feel overwhelmed.

The consultative seller needs both the characteristics of the fox – knowing many things about the buyers, their companies, competition, and industry – and the hedgehog – knowing the one big thing (or maybe a few) that will lead to a sale.

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Open The Door To Sales Enablement Success

Open The Door To Sales Enablement Success

After seven months as a Forrester research analyst, with scores of vendor briefings and customer inquiries under my belt, I've seen certain patterns to unlocking sales enablement success emerge. Five Keys To Sales Enablement Automation Success brings together lessons learned from vendors and practitioners to show where B2B marketers should focus their attention. Some considerations to keep in mind – especially when it comes to content: 

  • Design content for conversation. B2B marketers naturally focus on outwardly focused content (PDFs, white papers, videos, third-party, etc.) and use sales enablement automation to make that content visible and easy for sellers to use to engage with buyers. But sellers need more – they need information on how to use content to best engage not with emails and links but in conversation. That’s where the real connection is made.
  • Keep it concise and consistent. Shorter is better. Fewer is better. Whether that’s the amount of content or the places to discover it, less is more. Using analytics, marketers can see what content is used, how often, and by whom. That unlocks insight into how to improve quality, not quantity.
  • Build in collaboration to improve customizing. Sellers will always need to personalize and customize content, whether it's an email, a presentation, or – most frequently – any sort of proposal. Analysis can show what is most frequently changed, and marketers can use that to better understand how to improve content.
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Simplifying the Seller's Journey -- Real World Sales Enablement Experts Weigh In

In this, the age of the customer, the value of simplifying the customer’s journey seems abundantly clear. But what is sometimes left in its shadow – especially as B2B marketers work to better align sales and marketing efforts – is how to simplify the seller’s journey.

For the new report, “Simplifying the Seller’s Journey,” I spoke with sales enablement practitioners at various companies, with from ten  to thousands of sellers, to investigate  how they are simplifying the seller journey – including using various sales enablement automation solutions.

Their experiences point to some key points to consider when planning on how to implement seller-focused projects for content management, training, engagement tracking and more:

  • Know your sellers: The more you understand a day in their life and where you can remove obstacles the better.
  • Understand how sellers – not just prospects – engage with content: This will help not only  marketers  to better target content, but sales  managers will be able to  better coaching their teams.
  • Improved efficiency opens the door to effectiveness: B2B marketers can then  measure how effective content and related sales actions can produce faster and larger sales.

That’s just the beginning – implementing solutions that are flexible and transparent so that they easily integrate with e-mail and your CRM helps ensure rapid adoption as well as rapid response to changes in your environment.

Continuously curious –

Steven