A sales tech stack needs a sales execution platform
We often meet revenue leaders who know their sales execution platforms–and the supportive infrastructure that keeps them going–need more attention. However, their working lives often feel like that of a firefighter. Everything is urgent, and there’s only so much water to go around.
If you know your sales execution program needs more “water,” but you have limited buckets to toss at it, then this piece will help to clarify the four central elements of a sales execution program, the highest priorities you should address with each, and a few questions to get you started.
The four central elements of a sales execution program are:
We will explore each one, empowering you to make the tough choices you inevitably face in how to accomplish 100% of your goals with 25% of the time and resources you probably need to get there. If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone and you can do this.
Your revenue org needs a sales execution program
Many of the companies we work with have purchased a sales execution platform because they believe in the core value propositions: predictable revenue, rep efficiency, aligned messaging, and robust measurement.
But they don’t always realize that an investment in sales technology is not just purchasing a technology, it’s creating a program with the power to transform (for the better) your full go-to-market strategy and revenue organization.
A sales execution program is the holistic infrastructure needed to support a sales execution strategy. It involves assigning clear ownership to, and continuously innovating on, the processes, insights, and support for your sales execution platform (SEP) and the people who use and contribute to it.
When done well, this removes silos, facilitates cross-team collaboration, engages reps in the process of creating their own sales plays, encourages adoption of the tool, and facilitates more robust data collection, makes your pipeline more predictable, and paves the way to revenue operations (revops).
But to reap any of those benefits, you have to send some of your “water” toward the four core components that create and sustain a healthy sales execution platform.
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Element One: Technology
Sales execution is a technology, but it’s also so much more
Sometimes folks get confused when we talk about a sales execution program, because they can’t get past their understanding of a sales execution platform (SEP), which may seem like just another tool in your tech stack.
However, a sales execution platform is more than a technology purchase. In order for the technology to work as expected, and consequently produce the ROI you want, you also have to plan to grow and maintain it.
Here are the three highest priorities you should focus on, as you make decisions on how to allocate your people and budget around your SEP:
Your SEP should grow with your company
As your company grows, more reps come on board, and your sales plays become more sophisticated, someone has to be assigned the specific responsibility of making sure your SEP scales with you.
This often looks like higher-level strategy conversations about your company’s goals and how your platform needs to support them.
For instance, if you know you want to grow very quickly, and you have to make a lot of decisions to get there, you will need to pull a lot of records and data to inform those choices. Your investments here should be on creating the most clear and complete reporting dashboards your admins can build.
If your goal is to streamline processes to maximize efficiency for the reps you have, then you will want to lean into building the right automations. This requires workflow interviews to find inefficiencies, and then a subject matter expert who understands the platform to come in and add automations that fill in the gaps.
Without this direction, the people you task with administration won’t know how to best support your team for the specific growth you need to achieve your goals.
Your SEP isn’t an island, so invest in your integrations
Most enterprises have too many tools in their sales tech stacks. But who can blame them?
The 2021 Enterprise SalesTech Landscape recently dropped, and there are over 1,000 sales tech solutions on it. If you want to know what they are, grab your bifocals and take a look:
Even if you have 1% of these tools at your company, you’re still talking about 10 separate software programs. This may include tools like a CRM, intent service, data provider, dialer, sales execution program, chat bot, and/or video platform.
The hard truth is that if those tools are not constantly communicating properly with one another, updating your CRM as your “source of truth” and your sales execution platform as your system of action, then you’re leaving your team open to a lot of risks.
Are reps calling to “cold” prospect someone who has just had a demo with another colleague? Are video and other more personalized engagements captured in your SEP or CRM? If not, what other activities might reps be performing that are not recorded either for your context on that prospect’s experience with you or that rep’s performance?
The bottom line is that your SEP is not an island, and you need to prioritize someone on your team to build the expertise–and take responsibility for managing—complex integrations.
If you don’t, then your data will be telling the wrong story, and you won’t be able to rely upon it for your big-picture decision making or for confidence in each rep’s daily activities.
Keep things clean
Just like you spring clean your house (or intend to, before Netflix and your cute dog remove all motivation), your team has to spring clean your SEP.
This means instituting data integrity protocols, fixing bugs, and frequently looking at errors and settings to be sure that, when someone puts a prospect into a sequence or cadence, the anticipated string of engagements actually happen.
If this isn’t a specific responsibility assigned to someone on your team, then make sure someone’s name is next to this box as soon as you can.
Just remember our friend Smokey the bear; it’s much easier to prevent a forest fire than it is to put one out. Just imagine how many buckets of water that would take.
Here are the tactical questions to ask yourself (or your technical lead):
Those big-picture priorities break down into a lot of smaller steps. Here are some questions which will help you to contextualize these priorities within your org:
- Who should be assigned to each of these responsibilities?
- How do we revisit our strategies and make changes?
- Do leaders from marketing, operations, and customer success need to weigh in on what integrations we need to connect from their tech stacks?
- If marketing also touches your sales technology decisions, then: 1) whose budget is this coming out of?, 2) who makes final decisions?, and 3) who is accountable for it?
Element Two: Messaging
Sales messages aren’t marketing emails in disguise
Customers hear messages from marketing, sales, and customer success. If those are different in the wrong ways, leading to inconsistency, then your prospects either won’t close or they won’t stick around.
On the other hand, if messages aren’t adapted to the appropriate stages in the buyer’s journey, then, Houston, you’ve also got a problem. For instance, a bottom-of-funnel prospect who is about to sign should not get an email from you that looks like an e-commerce advertisement.
This balance requires messaging alignment across your entire revenue organization, from the C-suite go-to-marketing strategy down to what your individual reps say on the phone to win over a prospect.
“Alignment” might not mean what you think it does
Messaging “alignment” is your objective, but it does not always mean direct and daily collaboration. Instead, as a revenue leader, your goal should be to facilitate a balanced relationship between sales and marketing. Each team should have a direct line to the other to give and receive feedback, make requests, share new content, discuss MQLs (both quality concerns as well as clarity on things like lead scoring), and sync on strategy.
Every client’s circumstances are different, leading to differing recommendations, but this is why we typically recommend that sales creates its own messaging. Marketing can provide assets, brand standards, case studies, and suggested language.
However, at the end of the day, your reps are the ones spending hours every day talking to prospects, learning about their pain points, and staying up on industry trends to come across as credible with their accounts.
If they communicate one way on the phone with prospects, and then they’re handed messaging that sounds nothing like that “voice,” then they won’t use it.
That’s why it’s often best if marketing gives sales a starting point, but gives them the power to adapt those messages to a sales context.
If you want to learn more about aligning marketing and sales, then here’s a short read on how to create a collaborative sales messaging program.
If you’re not involving sales reps in creating your messages, then minimize this tab and start Slacking with a rep right now
Revenue leaders are often frustrated because they don’t know what their sales managers are up to. They “go rogue” with their teams, and don’t share out what tactics they’re using. It makes forecasting and predictability really shotty, but nobody really knows why they either are or aren’t hitting their quotas.
Moving down the org chart, sales managers often feel the same way about sales reps. They know they’re making dials and sending emails, but they have no idea what they’re saying or why some reps succeed and others fail.
You can put out both fires with just one bucket. Involve your sales reps in a content creation committee, give them “drafting rights” to write a first draft of new sales plays or sequences that you then consider for use, give them an open channel to give brutally honest feedback about the content they’ve been given, interview them often to understand whether their current messaging is working, and listen to what they have to say.
If they feel “heard,” then they will be much more likely to adopt the SEP and the sequences or cadences in it. When they do that at scale, you suddenly see detailed reporting about performance (for reps, teams, and content) and enough data to start making predictions and confident decisions.
In other words, it’s mutually beneficial to empower your end-users. If this isn’t your model today, then start tomorrow.
Here are the tactical questions to ask yourself (or your messaging lead):
- Who is involved in creating messages, and how do we revisit this and make changes?
- You’re making decisions that affect both sales and marketing. Considering your leadership counterparts, can you find a way to make decisions that advance cross-departmental goals?
- If you have an MQL process, are sales and marketing aligned about quality standards? Scoring? Expectations around speed-to-lead and prioritization? Measurement?
- Can you share resources with other departments?
- Can you share budget here for writing or content creation?
- What would it look like to align your entire content supply chain from C-suite to front-line reps?
- Is your buyer’s journey cohesive? Do your customers hear one consistent story, framed for their stage in the process, across sales, marketing, and customer success?
Element Three: Enablement
Sales enablement isn’t a Google drive full of decks
If you feel called out by this header, then maybe you should lean into that, because we’ve found that far too many companies rely on a static enablement strategy. They train people to do something one time, and then they assume they’re going to start doing it perfectly.
But what we know about human nature suggests that people fundamentally dislike change. Most people have an “if it works, don’t fix it” mentality with their jobs, because diverging from the norm opens them up to risk. A half-baked system, which they know and trust will get them there (even if it takes more work), is more appealing to most people than the risk of trying something entirely new.
Despite those instincts, you need a sales enablement strategy that encourages your sales reps to adopt your SEP, the sequences or cadences in it, and stick to approved strategies. For some seasoned reps who have been doing things the same way for five or more years, this is a big ask.
But if you don’t navigate the transition and encourage adoption, you will be perpetually stuck in “guess land,” where you rely on instincts and incomplete data to make important decisions.
One or two trainings won’t cut it
For those who are parents, aunts or uncles, or older siblings, think back to a time when you taught a child to do something like ride a bicycle. That took frequent reinforcement and practice.
Adult learners need the same thing. Strong sales enablement is a continuous process of practical education and reinforcement around everything a sales rep needs to succeed. And then, once someone is “riding a bike,” enablement continues to broadcast updates and communicate about where the cyclist is going and what gear to shift to for inclines and obstacles.
For some companies, this looks like an ongoing “university,” continuously offering self-guided resources for more and more advanced use cases with an SEP. For others, it’s periodic live training on new features, content, and strategies. For others, it’s a combination of both.
Know your audience and speak to their pain
For sales enablement professionals, their “customer” is the sales rep. Just like sales reps spend hours learning about their prospects, someone on your team needs to understand your sales team well enough to make specific recommendations for tailored training and ongoing means of communication.
For instance, everyone has a different learning style. The person you task with sales enablement should offer as many options as possible, including live training, pre-recorded sessions, documentation like playbooks, workbooks or assignments, and “ride-alongs” or job shadowing opportunities.
Your enablement expert also needs to understand your internal personas well enough to know why new SDRs may not be adopting your SEP and how that differs from the pushback you’re getting from seasoned AEs. Getting everyone on board with your sales execution program requires intentionality.
Your goal should be 100% adoption
If you want your team to stand out and get the maximum output from your sales execution program, then your strategy needs to aim for 100% adoption.
While this is a process, and it’s probably unrealistic to hope for that next week, you need to set the expectation with your sales enablement leader–and every sales manager–that adoption is not an option. Your enablement strategy needs to end with everyone in the platform.
It might not be your job to make that strategy, but you at least have to know whose job it is, so if adoption doesn’t happen, you know who to hold accountable.
While this might sound tough, we’re not just a bunch of sales people who have drunk the kool-aid and now think everyone else should, too. It’s because if you’re measuring a system as if it were 100% adopted, but it’s actually only about 30% to 40% of the way there, then you can’t trust that data.
If you’re looking at a new sequence or cadence, and you want to know if it’s working, you can’t reliably tell if sales reps are still using their own salesplays. Or, if you want to see what volume of activity it takes the average rep to hit quota, you can’t assess that without all reps using the same tactics, in a way that records every activity.
Sometimes, this may require delaying a launch with your whole org, or with a specific team, to make sure you have the right plan in place first. It’s a lot easier to launch well with a clean slate than it is to fix a series of misunderstandings and complaints from disillusioned reps who didn’t learn the right tactics from the beginning.
Here are the tactical questions you should ask your enablement lead tomorrow:
- How early does enablement need to be pulled into conversation to properly plan a content announcement versus training and documentation?
- Who is responsible for notifying enablement when they’re needed? Does that change depending on whether it’s regarding the technical aspect of the software versus strategy or messaging?
- How often will documentation and resources need to be updated?
- What content will enablement provide as virtual or pre-recorded (asynchronous training) and what will be live?
- Are additional office hours needed outside of training sessions?
Element Four: Change Management
Change doesn’t happen by accident
You remember this from middle school science classes: objects in motion remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. In other words, things typically continue happening as they are, unless someone (or something) external steps in and says, “hey, knock that off.”
This is as true for throwing a baseball as it is for facilitating a team transition either to a sales execution program or, if you’re further along in the journey, revenue operations (revops).
The backbone of a successful change management strategy for your sales execution program boils down to a focus on your people more than systems, processes, tools, or data.
Because unless your entire business is run by machines, and your sales all come through self-service online forms, people still design your product and close your sales. And unlike software, which just does what it’s coded to do, people are often very resistant to change.
Fundamentally, your revenue organization won’t be successful if your people are not in the right roles, with the right expectations, working toward the right goals.
Assign the right seats on the bus
Depending on your role, you might have oversight over moving around folks in leadership roles to better facilitate collaboration. Or, you may be one of those folks in leadership who is figuring out how to align with your counterparts across organizational functions.
In either case, it’s vitally important to look at the above sections to see where there are clear opportunities to assign specific responsibilities. Make sure someone on your current team has clear ownership for those, and then look at the spots where you don’t have someone to cover the base.
If people are in the right roles, empowered with the right levels of input and decision-making, then they will be much better positioned to help you co-create your vision for your future state. Discluding their input will, on the other hand, take away motivation from your best people.
You might need to hire more people, if…
Sales execution programs are notoriously under-staffed. However, the rub is that most leaders don’t know it.
Hopefully this article has helped to show how complicated it really is to do this well, and why it’s essential to be sure you’ve clearly assigned responsibilities so that your critical bases are covered.
If you don’t, then you will have an exhausted bucket brigade running around trying to put out countless fires with a handful of spigots. That often looks like this:
- Sales execution and sales operations folks are doing a lot more than they bargained for. When they give any feedback to their supervisors, it’s mostly that they are either tired or underpaid. (They are probably both!)
- Your SEP frequently breaks down or has a lot of errors, sending your sales team into a tizzy.
- Sales messaging is either of a low quality or insufficiently measured so that, when you ask the people responsible for creating it what works, they will tell you, “I don’t know.”
- Across diverse roles, turnover on your sales team is high.
We share these examples with you because sometimes, as leaders, we assume problems are performance issues. In reality, there may be unrealistic expectations, or situations of insufficient resourcing, that would make it impossible for anyone to perform well and maintain some semblance of sanity.
It boils down to this: have some grace for your sales execution team, talk to and listen to them frequently, and advocate for more staff, if you realize the people you have are burning out.
Here are the tactical questions you should ask yourself (and your team) tomorrow:
- What can we leverage to introduce this as a positive change?
- Can we leverage some individual contributors or sales reps as internal champions to promote early buy-in?
- Once things are launched, what can we do to support reps through the transition? (This is especially important, as things often get harder before they get better).
- What reporting will be needed to show reps and leadership the benefits?
- What processes do we need to create to promote reporting, at each level, on ROI?
You can do this
Reading this article may not have magically increased your budget or staffing, but it highlighted the areas where your resources should go.
If you have taken a moment to answer the tactical questions around each of the four elements (technology, messaging, enablement or training, and change management), then you should have a list of the problems you should solve first.
For more help discerning where your sales execution program stands, and what your best next steps look like, you can consult our sales execution maturity model. This free resource will help you identify where you are on your sales execution journey, and what you can do to “level up.”