As an executive, you are constantly making decisions about where to invest money, with committees, meetings and signature requests crowding an already jam-packed set of priorities. One of the areas you are probably asked about is “investing in people” — specifically, in programs or technologies that have the word “Enablement” attached. Sales Enablement, Field Enablement, Enablement through content, Enablement through tools. What are the things you need to make sure are covered and understood before you approve spending?
How aligned to the business strategy, audience, and customers is the “ask?” You have a business strategy in play. Is the investment request actually in alignment with that strategy and what it means for customers? How will the audience (your employees who will use the thing being invested in) benefit from or make use of the investment, whether it’s a technology or a program? As an example of an investment gone awry, we saw one B2B company spend millions on a platform for sales content, organizing everything by their own products and offerings. But their customers didn’t think this way at all— instead, customers wanted to solve specific business problems. The salespeople using the platform had to create content that didn’t exist, and had no good place to keep it, while the offering materials languished on servers.
Is the business outcome clearly defined? Many organizations struggle to define a tangible business outcome for a given investment. Business outcomes are measurable, where something increases or is reduced, such as rates of customer retention or acquisition, revenue, costs, process improvements, profitability, conversion rates. Numbers of views, downloads, or employees “using the technology” are not, in themselves, business outcomes.
One large system integrator had a challenge when 10 people from different parts of the sales organization were approached and asked, “How do you ramp up new sellers?” They received a wide range of answers, from “We just give them a computer and say ‘Good luck!’” to “I just try to mentor them but there’s only so much time in the day.” It was clear that a new sales onboarding program was needed, but they couldn’t find common ground when it came to articulating how to connect onboarding to a a measurable outcome. The HR people thought onboarding meant that the seller had their laptop and logins. The Marketing people thought it meant that all of the information on several different intranet sites had been emailed to the sellers. The Sales Enablement people thought that the requirements were met when a seller had attended a week-long boot camp. None of these definitions had any kind of objective that connected to why sellers actually have a job in the first place: to increase revenue. Finally, they asked the sellers what they thought. The sellers’ answer: “We think someone is onboarded when they are able to close their first company deal.” Boom! Closed deals lead to revenue. Who wouldn’t invest in something with such a clear tie to a business outcome?
Can impact be effectively measured? Effective impact measurement requires thoughtful consideration of the right types of metrics. One client, who ran call centers with 27,000 agents, had “Reduce Average Handle Time” of calls as a key business metric, only to learn that reducing handle time at all costs was a goal with a significantly diminishing return. Some customers needed to talk through their issue on the phone, and to be rushed through the process because the agent was instructed to resolve the call as quickly as possible resulted in lower customer satisfaction.
Another aspect of effective measurement has to do with processes and systems. Increases in something good, like customer retention rates, and reductions of something not-so-good, like time-to-quota or redundant cost, can be very difficult to track if you don’t have the systems or processes in place to gather relevant data. And, to measure anything, you have to start with a baseline. If your organization is pushing for investments but blindly adhering to shallow metrics and can’t articulate how they are going to baseline and gather data, consider pushing back.
Is the initiative going to be cross functional? We mean truly cross functional, where people have to get out of their silos and figure out how they are going to work together, versus the loudest voice determining all the answers. In this area, you’ll want to ask questions about how groups are going to get others to participate, and who will be doing what. Recently, an office furniture company launched an initiative to help their high-end office design teams generate more interest from executives who were creating modern work spaces. On the first pass of making their case to the CEO, the Marketing group said, “Well, we tried to get the design teams to engage but they were too busy, so we didn’t get their input.” The CEO halted the whole project, saying “Initiatives done in silos are about as effective as doing nothing at all.” The next step was working with the CMO to appoint a new project lead who had the acumen and skills to galvanize the busy design team.
Are people going to work differently? You’ll want to pay attention to whether the investment ask also includes discussion of how teams are going to produce something differently. In today’s world, teams that aren’t thinking with Agile principles, or showing that they are considering the audience (employee) experience, are missing a critical element of getting the most out of an investment. Groups should be showing their work “early and often” and getting stakeholder input along the way. A large system integrator tried to crack the code behind their most high-profile deal teams—the ones responsible for the company’s largest deals and 70% of revenues. What assets did they use, and how did those assets get created? They discovered these guru-level teams never used the materials created by the marketing or sales enablement groups, mostly because those groups didn’t work in a collaborative or iterative way with the gurus; instead, they kept trying to create perfect-looking “answers” which then missed the mark or weren’t helpful.
By asking these questions, you will gain insights that are critical for making smart decisions about where and when to spend on enablement programs. Placing your needs in context will enable you see a way forward for people with concrete, actionable criteria. Perhaps most importantly, this context will help the people you work with know how to deliver clarity before you make the big decision.
Written by Juliana Stancampiano and Rob O’Such.
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