Erika Davis, Sr. Manager, Sales Operations, sticky.io
Connect with Erika on LinkedIn
Before I was in sales, I was an English teacher. During my final year teaching, I was working at a university in China.
My favorite class that I taught was a creative writing class.
I thought it would be a good idea to give my students 10 minutes at the start of class to “warm up” their creative flow, so I suggested they free-write without any prompt.
The first day, I watched about 30 of the smartest 20-year-olds I’ve known sit at their desks and stare at the paper.
I thought, “What? How? Why? Is there something I did wrong?”
The next week, I showed up with a photo that I projected in the front of the class.
“Write about this image,” I said.
All the students immediately picked up their pens and started writing.
The following week, I showed up with a slide that included 2 photos and asked them to choose one and write about it.
My students wrote even more.
The next week, I showed up with a slide that included 4 photos and asked them to choose one and write about it.
The students wrote, but only a little bit.
From this, I learned that two photos offered the ideal balance between structure and freedom of choice. When I brought four photos, they took too long to decide which one to write about. But when I only had one, they didn’t have a strong enough connection to the photo to write a lot.
Your SDRs are a lot like my students. They need a defined process, with clear parameters around their goals and permissions. However, they also need creative freedom to bring their unique skills and passions into the way they sell. Consider this your guide to creating a “two-photo” strategy for your team.
Your sales execution process should establish non-negotiables. But don’t stop there.
If you hire sales representatives and let them run free, without clear parameters, they’re going to do about as well as the students I asked to free-write with no prompt.
There may be occasional flashes of brilliance, but most reps will quickly lose confidence and focus.
That’s why your sales enablement framework has to include the non-negotiable requirements that give shape to their jobs and ensure enough consistency for your metrics to matter.
Here are some examples of the non-negotiables within your sales execution process that you should define, train on, and broadcast:
- activity targets,
- resources and guidelines.
Make their goals, and the activity it takes to get there, very clear.
Your reps need to know the number of qualified opportunities they are expected to produce per month.
This may come from a list of prospects you will give them, with the expectation that they work through the whole listin a certain amount of time, or they may have to find prospects on their own.
Either way, you should define the level of activity it typically takes the average rep to hit that target. For instance, it might take X cold calls, Y emails, and Z new prospects added daily to a sequence or cadence.
This gives them a baseline for pace and volume; if they’re falling behind, they can expect not to hit quota. If they’re hitting these numbers, then they will be much more likely to succeed.
And if you have requirements about logging this activity in your SEP or in your CRM, then make that explicit at this step. If they don’t hit quota, visibility here helps you coach them and make decisions about how to proceed. For instance, if they didn’t hit quota or their activity targets, then you know they aren’t meeting expectations.
On the other hand, if they’re hitting their activity targets, then you know the effort is there. It’s time to drill into what they’re saying, and who they’re saying it to, to find out where there may be a misalignment.
Provide the guidelines and resources they need to succeed.
Your reps are going to be busy enough; you don’t want them to waste valuable selling time reinventing the wheel or shooting in the dark. (You’re welcome for the idiom parade).
To make their lives easier, and to spare you the fear of wondering what the h$ck they’re saying to customers, give them standardized resources and guidelines that encourage consistency and quality.
For instance, you should make this information available, at minimum:
- Your personas. Who are you talking to?
- Your brand. Who are you?
- Your product or service. What are you selling?
This might come in the form of a sales team playbook, a robust deck, or a team drive full of reference documents. In any case, make sure it’s both documented and frequently updated.
If you want to get all-star points and make my dog smile, then you’ll take it one step further and provide them with a sales messaging playbook.
Greaser Consulting has a team of documentation wizards. If you need help nailing any of this down, explore Greaser’s Sales Execution Services.
Please, for the love of dogs, don’t stop there.
Okay, yes. I might love my dog too much (impossible). But, seriously, don’t stop your sales enablement framework here. So many teams do, and it leaves so much value on the table.
Managers and above believe that their responsibilities for training their teams end where their KPIs end. This means all reps receive the same training, and they are all expected to perform the same way.
The problem is that sales is a highly creative profession, especially at the SDR level. In other words, reps are constantly pushed to “break through the noise” and be “as authentic” as possible, but they’re also held accountable to a very specific set of outcomes.
How do you expect reps to continuously innovate and be creative when they are receiving training that doesn’t necessarily encourage this?
If they were pilots or surgeons, perhaps this would be a good thing. But, in a relationship and human-focused profession, you have to let your salespeople be people.
Successful enablement programs also train reps how to be creative in sales.
Like my creative writing class, your enablement program should give salespeople choices, offering something to get excited about and options to leave behind tactics which don’t suit them.
I know this is possible, because it’s how I was trained as an SDR, and I’ve sought to replicate it every time I have managed sales reps.
I learned everything I needed to know to do my job, but then my leadership also equipped me with other tools and strategies that I could choose from.
If you only teach salespeople the bare minimum they need to know, they, like my students, will sit and look at a blank page without a lot of excitement.
The truth is that everyone learns and communicates very directly, and you need to provide ways for them to channel their strengths and explore what feels natural to them. If you succeed, they will come alive.
First, you have to know your team. I mean really know them.
This goes without saying, but it’s not worth spending a dime on new tools or training if your reps aren’t going to use them. It can be tough enough to get sales teams to adopt the essentials.
So, for the more creative tools and tactics to “stick,” it helps to consult your reps first and learn about what they want and need.
You may discover, in that process, that they’re already using additional tools and tactics. Your innovative reps are helpful scouts, doing some of the lifting with researching (and even testing) new ideas.
Or, they may not be using new tools and tactics yet, but they might have a pretty clear idea of things they might like to try or learn.
From there, your team can decide what’s feasible and what might need to wait for more resources. A great starting point may be to train your entire team to replicate the workflows of successful, pioneering reps or other internal experts.
The next level of investment may be purchasing a new tool or subscribing to a service. At this stage, a pilot typically works best: enable a few reps to test something out and then champion it to the rest of the team.
If you really want to be rep-focused, you could even encourage those reps to enable the rest of the team in a team meeting. As long as someone is documenting those best practices, ensuring that the learning lives somewhere other than a few peoples’ brains, this often works well.
Then, you need to know what’s out there.
I know you don’t exactly have time to research the market, best practices, and possible solutions. (Hint: we do).
But, if someone doesn’t keep up with what other revenue teams are doing, what tools are out there, and how the overall sales execution and revenue operations space is changing, you won’t be able to equip your team for innovation.
You can tackle this a few different ways:
- Task a rep (or group of reps) to do research, as they have time, on tactics and solutions that fit their interests.
- Ask your sales enablement folks to help you out, looking into how other organizations are equipping their sales teams.
- Invite an external consultancy to keep you up to date on best practices and train your reps on the latest and greatest. (If you need a recommendation here, I know a guy).
Here are some less traditional sales team training ideas.
The options here are nearly endless, but here are some ideas for training other organizations have offered their reps. Feel free to pick and choose, as you see fit.
Train your team to effectively use video.
A lot of sales teams are using personal video messages in their sales plays. However, not every team out there has an organized philosophy on when and how to use video.
Then there’s the reality that not everyone feels comfortable sending video messages. In the work-from-home world, your sales rep may have hyper cats diving onto their laptops or children finger painting the walls behind them. Sometimes it’s just too much work to find a quiet space to record a video.
That’s why, if this is a more optional part of your sales plays, you can offer video to the reps who are ready to embrace it.
From there, you can outline what good looks like. Do you send a video after a certain number of email opens? At a certain step in a sequence or cadence? For a particular persona?
Do you send it through LinkedIn (hint: a LinkedIn poll found that only about 12% of users are sending audio or video messages through their platform) or a link in a sequence or cadence email? If the latter, then what service will you use?
And most importantly, what makes a video message effective? (Think about length, scripts, environment, props, personalization, and the like). It takes time to create and send a video. Make sure your reps are using that time wisely, creating quality content.
Strengthen your team’s skills in creative writing and storytelling.
I’ve shown my hand here. I obviously love creative writing, but I know I’m not alone.
Storytelling is the bedrock of sales. The brand that tells the best story, which resonates most with the prospect, will get the sale. So your reps can use the same old product-focused copy, or you can equip the more creatively inclined to make a deeper connection with prospects.
As we covered above, you will want some parameters here (think about your brand, personas, etc. and make sure your core message is very well-established). However, outside of that, give your sales team some freedom to experiment with the way they connect your prospects to the value your company can offer.
Not sure where to start? Think about freewriting exercises, like the one I mentioned at the start of this blog. If you select photos that involve people, ask your reps to write about what that person is thinking or feeling and why. Empathy is the heart of a good story.
Or, if you want to tap into an external resource, here are a few options:
- Gotham Writers Corporate Creativity Class
- Storybrand Private Workshops
- LinkedIn Learning Storytelling for Business
- Storytelling Sales
There are quite a few more courses or trainings out there, and there are countless books on the subject. No matter what your budget might be, there are resources to help your team.
As a last note here, this is a good place to talk about the role of humor in sales. There are a lot of opinions out there, but it really boils down to this: humor is contextual. Your reps shouldn’t have a standup routine that they bust out on every cold call; instead, they should think about the persona, the timing, and the communication method.
There is a place for memes, pop culture references, and jokes. However, you will want to consider your brand, audience, and sales strategy to determine, for your team, when humor is welcome and when it’s best to save the jokes.
Love it or hate it, accept that social selling has its place.
Social selling is more than posting a lot on social media. Because most of your customers are probably already on social channels, it’s becoming an increasingly important part of a complete sales strategy.
But it’s not enough to say, “Okay, sales reps. Start posting on the Facespace.” You need to give them some guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for both personal and corporate branding.
Your goals for personal branding should be two-fold. You want your sales reps to frequently post relevant, high-quality content on the channels where you know your buyers are looking. For many in B2B, this means LinkedIn.
This is important because, if a prospect looks your sales rep up on LinkedIn and sees no relevant content, they might be even more tempted to ignore their engagements. On the other hand, if your rep appears knowledgeable, they’re going to be more likely to respond.
The second goal is for visible members of your team to become thought leaders, or informed experts, in your field. When someone representing your brand becomes a thought leader, it influences buyers to trust them and your company.
The important thing here is quality.
If your social selling content or thought leadership material stinks, it’s going to cost you. 46% of surveyed decision-makers said that low-quality or objectionable thought leadership has decreased their respect for an organization, and 29% have not awarded business based on it.
So if you’re going to invest here, then make sure you’re training anyone you plan to award any sort of a platform.
If you want some outside help, a great place to start is LinkedIn Learning. They have resources on social selling and a certification in thought leadership. As an alternative, Hootsuite also offers a certification in social selling.
Choosing to train in-house is also perfectly okay. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, and you lead your sales reps down a path of authenticity, value creation, and professionalism.
(The last thing you want is a post about your company showing up, sandwiched between politically-charged posts and photos from a weekend rager. Make sure your employees know that, as long as they’re working for you and posting on your behalf, they need to behave themselves).
Dig deeper into specific parts of your sales execution process.
Your basic sales execution process is probably well-known and documented, but what about the more niche parts of sales execution?
For instance, does your team know how to:
- use tags to work a lot faster, within your SEP?
- customize their views to display the information they rely on the most?
- write killer, personalized emails?
- interpret their own performance data to adjust their strategies?
- create reliable A/B tests for any messages they’re writing?
These are a few of 100 possible topics for more focused sales execution training. Because SEPs are so flexible, and each team uses them differently, you might find a lot of value in asking your users to submit their questions or frustrations.
Chances are pretty good that it’s possible not only to answer their questions but also to make their workdays a lot easier, with relatively minimal effort.
Some interests will be unique to individual people, so your learning options should be, too.
Sometimes you can’t beat a good library of sales books (virtual or physical, depending on your office situation). If you make a variety of titles available and invite team members to submit requests, you can help a lot of self-motivated team members at a low cost.
You can also consider giving everyone on your team an Audible membership or an Amazon gift card for Kindle or physical book purchases. With a monthly or annual budget, your reps can pick the topics of greatest interest and do their own research.
If you’re looking for a more guided experience, there are many online learning platforms out there, and each offers countless courses on topics ranging from how to become a clown to animal telepathy (yes, really).
As appealing as these options might be, there are a ton of sales-relevant courses on platforms like Coursera, edX, and Masterclass. Depending on the platform, you can purchase individual courses for specific staff people or you can get a license for all of your employees to access on-demand content.
Lastly, for those companies with the budget, sending employees to conferences (whether live or online) and external training events is a higher investment way to train someone on a particular skill.
The bottom line: train your people on the essentials and then get out of the way.
Specific strategies or topics aside, your sales team is made up of unique human beings with interests as varied as their skills and talents.
Your goal, as their leader, is to create boundaries, based around your core sales execution process, and then give your sales reps the freedom to innovate within them.
But, with too much freedom, they’ll spin their wheels. Providing some options that they can plug and play offers an ideal amount of choice. This is the key to a flexible and rep-focused sales enablement framework.
As a former teacher (and a rebel always looking for ways to do things my own way), I’m passionate about helping teams achieve this balance. And I know the team members at Greaser Consulting are too. If you need help creating both boundaries and opportunities for your sales team, I encourage you to get in touch.