GUEST POST: Return on Sales Enablement: The Adoption Challenge by Tom Pisello


Oct 16, 2014


Below is a guest post by Tom Pisello, Chairman and Founder of Alinean, a developer of B2B value selling and marketing tools.

This weeks’ Dreamforce event, with some 135,000 attendees, brought home the enormous investment organizations make in their CRM solutions and sales reps. But also begs the question – is the large investment in CRM and sales enablement delivering an adequate payback?

Many are not seeing a return on sales enablement You are not alone if you are getting mixed results.

Forrester indicates that for each typical sales rep, $130,000 is spent annually on sales enablement, training and support, trying to make each rep smarter, faster and more powerful. The goal: the bionic sales rep ready for the 21st century customer.

Yet many are not seeing a return on sales enablement:

  • What about all the investments over the past decade in CRM? Unfortunately 40% of sales reps still fail to achieve quota each year, and new rep ramp-up still takes 9 months or longer (CSO Insights).
  • What about the millions spent on new methodologies and sales training each year? 87% is forgotten and abandoned within weeks (CEB). Worse, less than 10% of sales reps are identified by buyers as focused on what matters to them most – value and outcomes – with 58% disengaging as a result (Forrester / Qvidian).
  • And what about all that great content? 90% of the content never gets used by typical sales reps, who instead spend 6 hours / week recreating or customizing content (IDC).

Whether its CRM, training or content, there seems to be a disconnect between today’s sales enablement investments and realized performance improvements. And most of it comes down to sales rep adoption, or lack there-of.

So how do we get better leverage on sales enablement investments and drive better adoption?

From a recent interview with Jim Ninivaggi from SiriusDecisions, we came away with 3 potential ways you can help drive sales rep adoption and improve the return your enablement investments:

1) What’s in it for Me – You are often frustrated by sales reps because they don’t adopt your CRM systems, new methodologies, training, tools or content.

Often, your sales reps don’t adopt because they don’t understand “what’s in it for me” – how the new initiative will deliver specific and personal benefits to them: increased commission checks, greater peer / executive recognition, or career advancement.

First, your sales rep has to buy in that the challenge is a serious one that affects their livelihood, and is worth addressing now. If your sales reps personally believe there is a high cost to the “pain” – lost deals, commissions and job risks – they’ll be more receptive to change.

Guide each of your sales rep to quantify for themselves what “business as usual” is costing them each and every day, and how even a small improvement from what you are proposing can help them be more productive and effective, yielding better quota performance and success.

2) Keep it About the Customer – The job of your sales rep has changed. The buyer is now in control. It’s not about traditional selling anymore, but about:

  • Challenging the status quo, getting today’s frugal buyer to realize that business-as-usual and the high cost of “do nothing” is not tenable

  • Adding value to each engagement, delivering valuable insights and advice beyond what your buyer can easily find on the Internet or via social media

  • Facilitating the more complex customers buying process, nowadays involving an ever-growing cadre of decision makers, 40% more than 3 years ago, all with a different challenge / value perspective (IDC).

You want your sales reps to adopt the latest CRM, training and content – but if the investments don’t help fuel and elevate the 21st century customer conversation, and you don’t get more customers to stay engaged / perceive sales reps as value focused, then what are all your investments ultimately for?

If you want adoption, you have to be sure to focus on investments that are less about your products or adding overhead (tracking, managing and forecasting) and more about evolving the customer conversation. For each unique selling situation, the right value storytelling, insights, quantification and content are all essential. Ultimately, more customer success will drive adoption.

3) Sales Enablement and Golf – Whether because of the focus on quarterly results, budget or resource constraints, often you are forced to focus on a particular short-term initiative: For you, the right now might be all about that CRM upgrade, or that new hot sales methodology, rolling out that new training program, or overhauling your messaging. But success doesn’t come from just the latest silver bullet.

In our interview, Jim used a helpful golf metaphor to describe why you need to take a more comprehensive approach.

To be a successful professional golfer, where just like in sales it’s a couple of strokes that separate a champion from someone who doesn’t make the cut, you need multiple elements in concert to elevate your game: First, you need the help of a Golf Pro to teach you the proper method and guide your practice. Second, you need a good set of Clubs with which to play. And finally, you need a good Caddy, to recommend the right shot and clubs.

If you invest in just one of these elements without the other, you won’t have all the elements needed to help your sales reps win.

In Sales Enablement you too need a cohesive investment in several elements in order to provide the winning formula:

  1. Golf Pro = Methodology / Training

  2. Clubs = Messaging / Sales Tools

  3. Caddy = Playbooks / Coaching

The Bottom-Line

You invest a lot in your sales reps’ success, striving to make them more productive, capable and effective. However, your investments may not be delivering all they can.

Unfortunately, lack of sales rep adoption remains a significant issue, driving much of the shortfall. We suggest three potential ways you can bolster adoption today, in particular:

  • Making sure your sales reps knows what the “cost of do nothing” and “value of change” mean to their personal performance and goals
  • Driving success with a focus on evolving sales rep’ customer conversations from product pitches to value selling
  • Implementing programs in concert to be sure your sales reps have the methods, tools and coaching to achieve success

These three sales adoption strategies should give you a good start, but we want to know how you have addressed the sales adoption challenge?

Tom PiselloTom Pisello, CEO and Founder, Alinean

Tom Pisello, the "ROI Guy", is a renowned analyst and entrepreneur, currently serving as CEO and Founder of Alinean, a pioneering developer of B2B value selling and marketing tools. Tom’s expertise is in value storytelling and financial justification (ROI / TCO), beginning in 1993 with his first entrepreneurial venture, Interpose, acquired by Gartner. With Gartner, Tom served as a Managing VP, building their ROI / TCO consulting and tools practice.

Over the past 15 years, Tom has been responsible for launching and accelerating several innovative companies including Alinean, Full Armor and Conntate Technologies. Tom holds a BS Electrical Engineering from SUNY at Buffalo, and a mini-MBA from the Crummer School of Business, Rollins College. Visit Tom's Frugalnomics Survival Guide blog, or follow his latest writings / research on Twitter.

This article has been posted with permission by Tom Pisello. Find the original blog post at