Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cascading detail for sales enablement

I've been working on a lot of sales enablement kits lately.  My biggest learning on sales enablement came about ten years ago, when I did a study for a big enterprise technology company on marketing effectiveness.  We looked at three marketing objectives: Generate demand, drive awareness and comprehension, and enable the sales force.  In hindsight, it was ultra-simple.  But, we came up with a really powerful conclusion.  The most effective programs, in terms of ROI, were sales enablement programs.  However, when we spoke to reps, they complained about 90% of the content they were provided.  What really mattered was the 10% "really good" stuff that made the deals.

So, the recommendation had two parts: First, invest more in sales enablement.  Second, only produce 1/5 of the material.  This sounds like a "duh" recommendation, because we've all heard the trite adage about the CMO who says "I know I could cut 50% of my marketing spend, I just don't which 50%"... but there was more to it.  The number one thing reps needed, it turned out, was cascading detail about the solutions they were selling.  Reps selling into complex organizations need to be enabled with at least three levels of detail--one for the business lead, one for his or her researchers / support in the deal, and one for the technical folks that will actually be doing the implementation.  Without a clear value proposition and component model for each of these audiences, reps spend hundreds of hours spinning their wheels.  In most cases, these levels of detail don't exist, at least not in distilled form.

Another interesting observation I've had is that companies are usually really good at selling into one of the above audiences, but lousy at selling in to the other two.  For example, Microsoft seems really good at selling into the implementers, but not so good with the decision makers and researchers.  They're ok, don't get me wrong, but every company has its strength.  So, if you can figure out how to make selling into role a strength, you'll outcompete your rivals and win.

Each level of detail should also cascade.  If we're focusing on a value proposition, it might cascade like this:
  • Decision Maker: Acme helps me realize my performance targets by providing my teams with the best possible productivity tools, while functioning flexibly with my existing systems.
  • Researcher: Acme provides superior performance management tools across the finance and HR functions, at a superior value / price ratio to the competitive set; Acme's core APIs are best-in-class and can be integrated with a minimum of effort compared to the competitive set.
  • Implementer: Acme's integration services are flexible and best-in-class, and can be installed on any of my core systems using its easy-to-use customization kit; Acme's load balancing services make it the least impactful to our overall operating environment
The idea here is that the value proposition builds from one level to the other.  Researchers and implementers will still be interested in the "core" business value proposition, but the value we can provide them needs to be more specific to be sufficient for them to be comfortable.

The same concept applies when we get to component model.  For a decision maker, a component model should be purely functional, but should show exactly how the solution in mind meets their business needs and enables the value proposition.  The component model would then be filled in with detail and potentially blown into a few pages for the researcher.  Finally, when it came to implementation, the component model would turn into a full-blown technical design.  The key is that it's translatable top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top.  An example is shown below:

Thoughts about this topic?  What are some examples of cascading sales enablement / core content that have worked for you?