Author Archives: Jim Ninivaggi

About the Author

Jim Ninivaggi is Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. Jim’s focus is on helping to deliver data, knowledge and insight that our clients need to improve sales performance and drive ROI. Follow Jim on Twitter @jninivaggi.

Reflections From Sonoma: Sales Leadership Exchange 2014 (The Days of Wine and Closers)

On February 26 and 27, more than 85 senior sales leaders gathered at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa for SiriusDecisions’ inaugural Sales Leadership Exchange (SLE). While the weather was a little wet on the first night (we’ve been asked to run the event throughout the Southwest to help with the drought), it didn’t dampen the energy and enthusiasm of our attendees. We designed the SLE to foster networking and conversation by limiting the number of guests and holding it in a venue that allowed folks to unplug for a few hours. Mission accomplished – according to feedback from attendees and sponsors. Our theme was productivity – which was fitting for our locale. Sonoma is famous for vineyards that produce some of the best wines in the world – and one thing we learned during the wine tasting is that to grow great wine grapes, you have to “stress” the plants. The idea is not to provide the best soil or plenty of water, but to provide just enough nutrients, and just enough water, so that the plants create fruit with concentrated flavor. So instead of yielding lots of mediocre grapes, you end up with fewer grapes of higher quality, which yields better wine. This is analogous to the challenges our sales leaders face – how to improve yield in markets that are “stressed” by improving their sales organizations’ productivity to ensure growth.

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You Win Some, You “Luge” Some

A client recently came to us with the following question: What do we see other b-to-b companies doing to help their reps accelerate late-stage deals? Their reps often struggled to “cross the finish line” and close opportunities at the bottom of their funnel, so the client wanted to know what content and tools they should develop. What training might be useful? What offers should be extended? The truth is, there are probably several factors contributing to this problem. Maybe their reps are weak at negotiating. Maybe they are unable to sell effectively to senior-level decisionmakers who often play a role late in the buying process. Right now, we are helping the client to diagnose the exact problem, and then we’ll explore the possible solutions to address them. Perhaps they could leverage tools like ROI calculators or client reference systems. Of course, this discussion got me thinking about the Winter Olympics – particularly the luge competition. Perhaps this client’s problem wasn’t a “bottom of the funnel” problem at all.

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The SiriusDecisions Sales Leadership Exchange: See You in Sonoma

On February 26 and 27, SiriusDecisions will be hosting our Sales Leadership Exchange – bringing together a select number of sales, sales operations, sales enablement and channel leaders in beautiful Sonoma, California, for networking, thought leadership, and sharing of best practices. There may be a little wine involved as well. While our guests will be from different companies, industries and geographies, they will all share one thing in common: The number they need to hit in 2014 is bigger than the number they had to hit in 2013. That’s why we are focusing a day-and-half event around the topic of sales productivity: the ability to increase the yield of every rep and channel partner through a relentless focus on improving efficiency and maximizing effectiveness. This is SiriusDecisions’ first exchange (we also hold forums, roundtables and summits). What makes an exchange unique is:

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The More Connected I Become, The Less Connected I Become

I used to be a pretty good networker. I was disciplined and organized. I’d set aside a couple of hours a week, block the time on my calendar, and I would rarely let other “more urgent” activities (shout out to the late, great Stephen Covey) take that time. Back then, the tools of my networking trade were simple: a phone, my contact list (first stored in a Rolodex (for the Millennials out there, below is an image of a Rolodex) eventually moving to electronic contact management systems. (I used ACT! and my trusty Palm Pilot to organize the names I had). I used a tickler system to remind me to reconnect with folks on a regular basis. I would sometimes take notes to remind me of our last conversation, their kids’ achievements, etc. – more often than not, I’d just remember. It was done primarily via phone, though sometimes in person over breakfast, lunch or drinks – having an actual conversation. Harvey Mackay, the author of the networking how-to book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, would have been proud!

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Sales Enablement Can Be the Pits

I recently went to see Ron Howard’s latest movie Rush. If you are not familiar with the movie, it’s about two Formula One racecar drivers and their intense rivalry. While the movie was disappointing, it had some great driving footage – and one scene in particular that caught my attention and got me thinking of sales enablement. (You know it has to be a pretty bad movie when I start to daydream about sales enablement.) The scene showed the orchestrated precision of a Formula One pit crew. Within a few seconds, tires were changes and fuel was topped. The pit crew was run by a crew chief, who also helped the driver set strategy before the race and adapt strategy during the race via radio communications. So, here’s what got me thinking of sales enablement.

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Focus on the Enablement Quadrant

For those who may not know, Vince Lombardi was a legendary American football coach for the Green Bay Packers. At the risk of using yet another analogy comparing sports with sales, I’d like to share a passage from the book Run to Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership by Donald T. Phillips: “At the end of the day, Vince Lombardi realized that once the players were in a game and on the playing field, there wasn’t very much that he, as their coach and leader, could do to affect the outcome. And, not surprisingly, the football players on his team realized it, too. In fact, the Green Bay Packers had a running joke about it. “We have the greatest coach in the world,” it went, “but once the game gets started, Lombardi is the most useless guy on the sidelines.”

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All Onboard! Findings from Our Enablement Roundtable

We recently gathered sales enablement leaders in the Atlanta area for a roundtable on sales onboarding. There was a lot of great discussion and sharing of common challenges, innovative ideas and best practices. (If you are a SiriusDecisions client, we’d be happy to send you our notes captured during the session). Here are some highlights:

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Pipeline Multipliers: The Math Just Does Not Work

Increasing the pipeline multiplier means putting more junk in the pipeline and hoping to improve output. Can you imagine a manufacturer taking this approach? We are going to keep output the same by lowering the quality of our raw material and increasing waste. Rarely is decreasing efficiency the answer to improving rep productivity, as shown by a SiriusDecisions study. We divided more than 200 b-to-b companies into two groups: those that mandated a 3X (or less) pipeline and those that managed a 4X (or greater) pipeline. Here’s what the data showed us:

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Personas Are People, Too

While sales reps may be engaging later, they are still engaging – and their time to influence and persuade is being accelerated. Regardless of when they engage in the decision process, one truth remains: Personas are rational – but people often aren’t. Personas are not in a bad mood because they were stuck in traffic that morning and decided to take it out on that sales rep waiting in the lobby. Personas don’t have it in for the guy in the next office in order to get the next promotion. Personas don’t tell you they are seriously considering your product when, in actuality, you’re just price fodder so they can negotiate down your competitor. You get the idea. While we may market to personas, we sell to people.

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What Is Sales Enablement?

Unlike established corporate functions like accounting, finance and marketing, sales enablement is still evolving, and the term means different things to different companies. (It doesn’t help that “enablement” isn’t even a real word – try looking it up in Webster’s.) Sales enablement’s mission, where it reports, how it is funded and what it is responsible for vary from company to company. SiriusDecisions conducts ongoing research to understand this function and how it’s changing. Here’s what we see today:

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