Sales Leadership and Partner Enablement - Part 2

In part 1, I talked about metrics. Once the work has been done to reset metrics that focus on ecosystem led growth, then it becomes imperative that a sales leader be supporting ecosystem behaviors by reinforcing the importance of partner enablement.

Support is crucial throughout the sales cycle but especially for training and enablement. its during enablement that sellers are setup to be successful. It is where the seeds of motivation are first planted.

The best way for sales leaders to support their sellers is to take action in the moments where they are most valuable during training and enablement.

There are three moments in particular that are key:

1. Just before enablement training

A leader can help set the priority by highlighting the importance of a particular piece of learning before sellers go through the content. It can be done with a simple message or voice note so seller know it’s important to the business. Here's an example:

“We have a new partnership that I'm excited about. ACME Co just came on board and they fill a much needed gap in our services portfolio. There are some great incentives to position ACME Co and I want everyone to be prepared. Please review and complete the enablement content, which is available now, before our team meeting this Friday where we'll talk more about positioning ACME co and the incentives. Bring your questions and ideas to the meeting.”

The primary purpose of the message is to emphasize to the seller that the learning is important to their job function, not just to check the leader’s compliance boxes. The seller knows that this partner is important to their leader, that the content was crafted and delivered so they can improve a skill or add a new one. The message also indicates that they’ll be held accountable to the leader, and the team, for having completed the enablement or training function.

If the leader communicates the importance in this way, and then doesn’t follow up on the accountability, the sellers will recognize that it’s mostly just bluster and there will be a breakdown in the generation of learning culture, and the organizations ability to learn about ecosystem selling.

2. Just before learning application

So a seller completes their partner enablement training, which is probably self-paced and LMS driven (because scale). They now know more about the partner offering and the potential value the offering can bring to their book of business. They may have even identified potential clients in their book of business that would be a great fit for the partner they just learned about.

Now what?

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....

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Exactly.

Just because a seller completes their enablement training doesn't mean they will actually do anything with it. In fact, that's the biggest gap in all sales enablement - take what you learn and put into action. Knowledge does not equal action.

Sales managers can't assume that sellers are talking about a new partner just because they read something, or watched a video or completed a quiz.

Sellers may not be sure about where the new partner fits in their book of business, especially if their LMS doesn't help surface that information just-in-time.

Or the seller may not be confident in how to message the partner offering, or they may have lingering questions about the joint value proposition.

Sales managers can start to gauge where their team's hearts and minds are right after a learning opportunity. In fact - it should be thought of as part of the enablement and practiced as a routine within the learning culture.

Sales leaders should avoid asking questions like, "How did the training go?" or, "What questions do you have about the training?" or, "So, are you ready to talk to you your clients about ACME Co?"

Questions like like won't give sales managers much information about where their team is at. Sellers maybe reluctant to share any hesitations or confusion they may have and just 'Yes' their manager to get out of the meeting as quickly as possible.

The followup doesn't have to be complicated, but it does need to to serve as a litmus test.

Probe for how the team has internalized the learning (the mind) and what their attitudes are on the new partner and or services (the heart). It should go in that order.

Start with questions focused on what they learned first before getting to how they are feeling about it.

Some mind focused questions can be:

Describe ACME Co and the value of their offer?
How does ACME Co compare to other partners in our ecosystem?
What about ACME Co’s offering makes our offering better?
How do you find supporting resources and points of contact for ACME Co?

Mind focused questions tend to be questions that lean matter of fact. Matter of fact questions are effective during team calls because as the team answers these questions, they can fill in any points that may have been missed during the training.

Also, having sellers describe in their own words what they learned, helps them to deepen the learning and start thinking about talk tracks. It's almost like a soft practice. Sellers can hear different ways to articulate the value proposition and learn from each other.

Answering matter of fact questions builds confidence and starts to set the expectation that the team will be positioning the new partner to clients.

Engaging sellers in this way takes information that lives in an LMS to information that will be put into action.

Heart focused questions are a little different. They gauge attitudes and can give key insight on the sellers motivation to actually share what they have learned with a client.

Just because they can talk about the new partner, doesn't mean they will.

Here are a few Heart Focused questions a leader could ask their team:

What about ACME Co are you most excited to share?
Who in your book of business could be a good fit for our ACME Co co-offering - and why them?
How would you introduce ACME Co? What are some strategies specific to your book of business?
What pushback might clients have about ACME Co services?
Why do you think we decided to partner with ACME Co?

If sellers have the knowledge of the new partner AND are thinking about how to relate the new partner services to their clients then its appropriate for a sales manager to hold the expectation that sellers will take action - and try to position the new partner.

Keep the door open for questions or concerns that the sellers may have. try and read between the lines --- there maybe some hesitation... and that's ok. Go back to the mind based Q&A - it may just be a knowledge gap that needs clarification.

A good best practice for sales managers is to recognize that positioning something new isn't easy, thank them for trying something new which can be outside of a routine that is working, but will pay bigger dividends in the long run for everyone - clients and partners especially.

This entire conversation can happen during one team call.

If it seems like this is a lot of time to devote on a call just to follow up on one simple training - think bigger picture. its part of developing your team's ability to take what they learn and apply it.

What will happen over time is, like any muscle, they will get stronger and faster with this type of thinking and this will become part of the the ritual of the learning culture.

Soon, sellers will come deeply prepared to the meetings with how to describe and position what they are learning with their clients in mind. The meetings will start to shift from a learning followup session to a sales strategy session and it will happen before your eyes. It will turn into one of the most important meetings you have with your sellers

3. Just after application

The final, logical, time in supporting their team's partner enablement is right after the first attempt at applying their learning.

This isn't about seeing how successful the seller was at positioning the partner, although that will probably come out in the conversation. It’s about the attempt.

Did the seller make the attempt to apply the learning. Did they mention the partner? Did they ask a key qualifying question? Whatever the plan was that came out during the team meeting - did they try?

Don't be surprised if the sellers didn't. And don't be disappointed. That's what this conversation is for. Remember talking about a new partner or new service maybe a new behavior for the seller and new behaviors might mean unlearning old behaviors. That takes time and mentoring.

The sales leader’s attitude in coaching their sellers has a massive effect on the effectiveness of enablement.

I have found that the best question to ask the seller is, "Walk me through the interaction from beginning to end." Keep it matter of fact (mind based). Thank the seller for sharing what happened and thank them for keeping an open mind. Assure them that they will be supported and that there will be more opportunities to position the new partner - but don't offer any suggestions yet (Keep that advice monster in check. It may be the hardest part).

Find out details:

When did you bring up the partner?
How did you position?
What was the clients response?
If you could do it again would you change anything in the approach?

Remember this is about building the behavior of applying new learning and encouraging the attempt before and during the next team meeting will set an expectation that taking action is what matters.

These touchpoint are foundational to a change in behavior. Which is ultimately what enablement is all about. It’s not a single training or event, it should fit into the workflow of the seller and be encouraged and coached by the sales leader.

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