THE BLOG
01/02/2014 10:15 am ET | Updated Mar 02, 2014

Stop Training Sales, It's Frustrating Customers

This post was co-authored with Gavin Finn, CEO of Kaon Interactive.

The time-held annual company ritual of sales kick off has sales people amassing for team building, a parade of marketing presentations, and the unveiling of new sales enablement tools. For most sales people, the value of this ritual lies in the sharing of stories and getting their hands on the latest sales enablement tools.

Sales enablement tools are the guides that help sales be more successful and outperform the competition. The underlying assumption is that the sales person can control the buyers' journey.

Unfortunately, that's an illusion. There is a psychological phenomenon known as the "Illusion of Control"* which states that people tend to overestimate their ability to control events. The illusion is that without the sales function the buyer is virtually helpless to solve their business problems, and that buyers make decisions that are largely influenced by salespeople. And this belief is often held from the Chief Revenue Officer down the organization. It is one of the root causes of ineffective behavior and spawns repeated sub-optimal sales performance.

There is an old saying, "He who has the gold makes the rules." The first step in "Illusion of Control" recovery is to recognize and admit that the buyer is in control at each stage in the process.

What sales and marketing should be doing is providing buyers with the information and tools to enable them to make the most informed decisions possible. It may be counter-intuitive, but vendors that effectively enable buyers actually build credibility and brand preference faster and have more loyal customers.

This is important because cognitive research has shown that early impressions become embedded in people's decision frameworks, and are very difficult to change as time goes on. This phenomenon is acute when people have already made a decision, making it almost impossible to change someone's mind when they have decided something about a person, product or company. Imagine the immensity of the challenge a sales team faces if a prospect has the wrong impression about a company or solution, and the team is responsible for setting the record straight. Research shows that these buyers will almost never change their minds.

Because the power in the buyer-seller relationship has permanently flipped in the buyers' favor, new rules are in play. According to a recent study by Qvidian, "Ninety percent of selling content is never used in selling."

That means all those fantastic new sales enablement tools shared at sales kick off won't change your "win rate" or change that on average only 63 percent of B2B sales people make their sales quota.

And that is why everything you thought you knew about sales enablement needs to be tossed out the window.

The process of enabling buyers by providing something of value to them at every stage in the buyer's journey is the true definition of sales enablement. Positively influencing buyers so that they can make rational, justifiable and successful decisions on how they can achieve their desired outcome is the mission of sales enablement. How a vendor's products and services fit into delivering that outcome is a component, not the raison d'etre.

That begs the question of how to enable buyers before they've raised their hand? Instead of loading up sales people with corporate-issued standard presentations, tools and content, stop and walk in the shoes of your buyer. Experience the purchase process through their lens.

Enabling the buyer on their journey through the use of role and situation-specific interactive applications opens up a whole new tableau of possibilities. By delivering these applications to customers' mobile devices, sales and marketing teams now have the unique opportunity to share the information that customers need, seek and value on the customers' terms. As the customer uses these applications, at their own pace, navigating to whatever section is relevant to them they are having an engaging experience and interactive dialogue with the brand.

Fujitsu Network Communications wanted to enable their target prospects in way that matched how buyers evaluated IT decisions. Fujitsu released interactive product experiences embedded in mobile apps directly into customers' hands via tablets and online. Customers loved being in control, on their own terms, and the ROI to Fujitsu was the sales pipeline increased by more than $93 million. These interactive applications "feed the customer 24/7", according to Michael Rapp, Fujitsu Network Communications' Senior Marketing Manager.

Enabling your buyer drives more effective sales people and pipeline velocity. The buyer becomes an active participant in their own purchase process which is what they want, rather than being forced into a passive (often bored) role by sales teams. Outside-the-box, interactive tools help buyers to remember the most important aspects of the vendor's differentiated solution. Why? Because it was discovered in a contextually relevant and emotionally appealing manner.

Relinquishing control is the best action that sales, sales enablement and marketing teams can take -- let the customer drive the process. Deliver the experience buyers want and value through interactive applications. The result will be a more profitable long term relationship built on a mutual exchange of value.

* Thompson, Suzanne C. (1999), "Illusions of Control: How We Overestimate Our Personal Influence", Current Directions in Psychological Science (Association for Psychological Science)8 (6): 187-190, ISSN 0963-7214, JSTOR 20182602