I had an intriguing conversation with Scott Santucci, an analyst at Forrester who covers the sales enablement space, about the role of sales teams. Santucci asked, “What is the one word that should describe sales reps?”
A few popped into my head:
But Santucci wanted to make a broader point by asking another question that would lead to the answer of the first question: “What is a company trying to do?”
To this question, I felt like I had the correct answer at the tip of my tongue. “To sell their product,” I replied self-assuredly.
“Sort of,” was Santucci’s response. He continued to lay out a framework of three players:
Company —> Salesperson —> Customer
The role of the company is to create and disseminate the message.
The role of the customer is to be the audience for that message.
Therefore, the role of the salesperson is the intermediary between the company and the customer. The salesperson is the messenger.
Message —> Messenger —> Audience
If sales reps have a responsibility to be messengers, then there is a single characteristic that should be used to describe them: communicators.
But how many sales organizations view their reps as communicators of the corporate message, usually developed by marketing and only somewhat adhered to by sales reps? And if they aren’t pure communicators of the message but still hit their monthly quota, should sales leaders, or the CEO, really mind?
My opinion is that companies are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of message consistency. Why? Because even though the Street and sales rep comp plans usually operate on a quarterly basis, senior leadership has an interest in the medium term 3-5 year plan (if only to ensure their ISOs perform well, which is an example of good corporate incentive alignment). And message consistency improves not just win rates, but customer loyalty and retention.
Yet sales reps aren’t compensated on message consistency directly—training and auditing of sales activities, like demos, are factored into performance but don’t contribute to quota. And they shouldn’t: we don’t want puppets who look the part but fall apart going for the close.
Then how should a company address the paramount issue of getting the message right with their sales team?
One popular answer is training—rep onboarding, new product training, continuous education training. Corporate sales training has become an enormous industry, in part because companies recognize the importance of consistent message delivery, and in part because large service engagements can make a splash: we’re investing $10M in improving the effectiveness of the sales team—we’re doing to improve the performance of the sales organization!
But sales training is kind of like spending money on Google Adwords: when you stop spending, you stop seeing results. And while training should arguable be built into the fabric of every sales organization, it isn’t practical to always be training.
This is where sales enablement solutions—which is a broad and often misunderstood category but that always includes delivery of content used by sales reps—have been making tangible inroads into corporate sales environments. From a messaging perspective, content delivery is where the rubber meets the road with the corporate message / brand and the messenger.
Put the right message in the hands of the messenger, and it gets delivered. Train them to deliver it the right way, but make it hard to get their hands on the right message, and forget about what that ROI on training was supposed to be.
So it makes sense that the one word to describe your salespeople is a communicator. Now it’s the job of sales leadership to put the right message at their fingertips. If they’ve been properly trained, they’ll hit their quota and build long-term customer loyalty. And that’s a recipe that makes the company, salesperson and customer better off.