Achieve Sales Enablement Success – Fix the Plane While It’s Flying

12 Sep Achieve Sales Enablement Success – Fix the Plane While It’s Flying

I was recently working with a team of enablement professionals in a fortune 100 company as they were building out their operating model plans for their next fiscal year. Many voiced frustration regarding their ability to drive strategic change and transformation. To be honest, they were struggling. They knew what actions they needed to drive to help their reps become more relevant to customers. But in reality, they weren’t gaining traction and buy-in on the operational challenges that existed. One leader said “we know what needs to happen, and we make plans. But our execution sucks and we can’t transform fast enough. We have to get better at fixing the plane while it’s flying.”

I like this concept of “fixing the plane while it’s flying.” It implies speed and focus, while at the same time it seems a bit crazy (and some might say perilous!). But in all seriousness, it represents exactly what many Sales Enablement pros need to do. Their companies are moving forward at cruising speed, and they need to work on a variety of critical components without making the plane spin out of control. In many ways, “fixing the plane while it’s flying” represents a paradox — to fix the overall system, you have to work on its component parts over time.

This concept was recently discussed at on of our Sales Enablement Society meetings held earlier in the year in the Washington DC Area. In that meeting, we discussed that some of the challenges of operating new ways within legacy companies. In essence, piloting out new components while at the same time helping our companies continue to operate with the least amount of disruption. We discussed that customer-facing, revenue-generating teams are stuck in the middle of the two realities. On one hand, the reality to drive immediate revenue. On the other hand, the reality to be more consultative and sell higher (which takes longer). Within these two realities, inefficiencies occur across training, marketing, and selling organizations making it complex and difficult for sellers to be successful.

Additionally, executive teams are finding it difficult identifying and solve issues because there is no real visibility across the sales organization and no functional operating model or practice metrics to strategically assess and correct execution.

Fixing the plane while it’s flying implies that a new approach to achieving revenue growth is required for success. Fixing the plane also implies that marketing, training, and operational approaches grounded in the past aren’t necessarily adequate to driving success in the future. The implication to me personally is that in order to fix the plane while it’s flying, a strategic approach to Sales Enablement can likely be a key ingredient to bridging the gap between yesterday and today.

The concept of sales enablement is much more than a single technology or approach. The discipline / profession of sales enablement offers tremendous potential to drive breakthrough results for businesses. However, the role and scope of the sales enablement function (and the people who lead that function) will likely have to evolve within the organization to create more strategic value and expand its influence to coordinate the work of sales, marketing, and product teams.

Let’s face it. There is no “textbook” on Sales Enablement. There are no silver bullets. In many ways, the principles, processes, skills, and tools necessary to be successful in operating in both the old way and the new way. In our discussions at the Sales Enablement Society, we talk about how we can (as sales enablement professionals) gain momentum and create success? In many ways, it starts with our mindset and our approach. Over the years, we’ve developed some principles and approaches to operating in both the “old way” and the “new way”. Here’s what we’ve discovered:


  1. Create whitespace: Many organizations have operations that are fine-tuned for an old strategy and old buying habits. While progress might be happening, it is likely that you will need to carve off small groups to learn new ways and make incremental improvements. For example, moving people into special projects to give them the flexibility to create new tools and projects within very well defined scope.
  2. Stay Focused on Customers: Orienting away from an “operations bias” (rooted in a deep go-to-Market mindset) to a “customer problem-solving bias” (an outside-in, go-to-customer mindset) is going to be very difficult. You will have to proceed with patience and find ways to use customers as the design point.
  3. Manage Expectations: Stakeholder management is the most critical ingredient. We will take the time to coach, educate and bring people along. Focus on the “Rule of Thirds”(1/3rd will go with you, 1/3rd will watch, 1/3rd will fight you every step of the way). Focus on those who want to work with you.
  4. Embrace the 80/20 Rule: Focus on getting some small wins accomplished. Remember, success breeds success. Do not over-engineer things and learn to embrace the concept of “it’s good enough for right now”. From there, iterate and improve.
  5. Go Fast by Going Slow: Taking on too much at once overloads the organization and the newly evolving work to drive sales results. Learn to break things down into a variety of very specific small projects that each have their own value, but can be combined for additive results.
  6. Focus on the Right Few: Help identify the issues that generate the most waste while ALSO freeing up the most productive work that is vested in helping agents be successful. We can realize nice gains by focusing on the right pockets while better understanding and preparing the new organization for future changes.

Find out more about the Sales Enablement society at (www.sesociety.org)