It's Elementary My Dear Watson! - Sales Questions A Computer Can Answer

Question: What do Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and a computer named "Watson" all have in common? 

Answer: The two humans and computer will all compete on the US game show Jeopardy! the week of February 14, 2011.

In case you're not a Jeopardy! fanatic, both Ken and Brad are previous Jeopardy! champions, and they're credited with some of the longest winning streaks and largest take-home earnings in the game show's recent history (see endnote 1). 

And here's the scoop on Watson: 

For over three years, IBM has been developing what they call the "world’s most advanced question answering machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human language and respond with a precise and factual answer" (see endnote 2).

Features of Watson:

  • Runs IBM's "DeepQA technology" to help identify context, and answer questions quickly
  • Runs on Linux OS / 10 racks of IBM POWER 750 / 15 terabytes of RAM /2,880 processor core
  • Tens of millions of documents stored
  • Access to the equivalent of 200 million pages of content
  • Note: Watson is not connected to the Internet, so it does not do Web searches.
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The Rise Of The Sales University (Again)

The year was 1916, and the new "Bureau of Salesmanship Research" at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) was launched in order to isolate and define the characteristics of successful salespeople. Founded by psychologist Walter Dill Scott, the bureau focused on identifying the training methods, processes, and personal characteristics necessary to sell complex products like insurance and financial services. Underwriting the organization were well-known names like Burroughs, Ford, Heinz, and Westinghouse. There, at the bureau, Scott went about the business of compiling what he could learn about improving "human efficiency." His work on compensation, loyalty, competition, imitation, and even "love of the game" led to a book on the subject that's now in the public domain (thanks, University of Virginia).

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Product Pusher Or Professional - What's Your View?

In the novel A Bad Man, author Stanley Elkin deconstructs the word salesperson as “sales is person." In other words, individuals have perceptions -- about themselves and about others -- and (in this case) those perceptions about salespeople matter. How you view the sales channel influences your approach. For example, are you trying to become more empathetic with the sales team (or not)? Your strategy drives how you provide the content, skills, and tools that salespeople need to have a valuable sales conversation at higher altitude levels within the buying organization. 

About once per quarter, we hold a Sales Enablement Roundtable. The roundtable event is cool because we bring portfolio, marketing, and sales executives into a room to tackle specific sales enablement challenges. During the course of one of our most recent events, we heard different points of view from a seasoned group of sales enablement professionals. For example, in our most recent roundtable, we heard statements like:

  • "Our sales teams are hitting their numbers, but getting them to do something different is a challenge."
  • "We're finding that it's not about what to sell, it's about how we sell."
  • "Sales and marketing have to work together. To do that, someone has to bring the two together."
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Responding To Change With A Sales Talent Management Strategy

As a sales leader, it’s difficult to help your sales team overcome the complexity around them. When buyers change and market forces change as well, there is no doubt that salespeople need to change their approach. In fact, many salespeople are recognizing that they need to adjust their approach to the buyer and change the way they sell in order to stay relevant. And, let’s face it, changing the way the sales team sells isn’t easy. As a sales leader, you have some choices to make. On one hand, you can retool sales processes, content, or tools to focus more effectively on the customer. On the other hand, you can retool the skills of your sales team members to have more effective sales conversations with buyers. The best approach may be to accomplish both. Either way, retooling the skills of the sales team requires a strategic approach.

Retooling the skills of the sales team can be broken down into two phases. One phase is the pre-hire phase, where your strategy should help you identify, select, and hire the right people into the right jobs. The second phase is the post-hire phase, where your strategy should help you develop and retain the people you hire. In an ideal world, both of these pre- and post-hire phases would be aligned to a solid understanding of the customer. Working backward from the customer’s needs, challenges, and business drivers, a sales talent management strategy can more effectively link business objectives to individual results.

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Taking Stock Of Sales Managers

I recently talked with a CEO of a mid-sized software company looking to hire a new sales VP. The conversation quickly turned to strategies for assessing sales management candidates and the need the CEO had to better understand the skills and expertise of the entire sales team. He validated a lot of what I'm seeing in other organizations -- the skills of his sales team are shifting (i.e., salespeople need to sell differently).

To summarize the conversation, he wasn’t sure if the sales managers he had in the sales organization were the right people to help the sales organization achieve the vision set forth by senior leadership as they moved to a more consultative selling motion. Additionally, he wasn’t sure what "type of sales VP" he wanted to bring in to replace the other sales VP he just let go. He was really concerned with making sure the new sales VP would execute toward the end state vision for success.

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Building A Sales Coaching Culture?

All change is not growth; all movement is not forward.
-- Ellen Glasgow

Sales teams are changing (or have changed already!)

Sales transformation requires some sort of new action and behaviors from reps and managers. Investments in time and effort to change the actions and behaviors of sales team members require a long-term strategy for sales success. More importantly, that strategy needs to be built "outside-in" with the customer as the design point. 

For example, a strategy to optimize consultative selling and transactional selling models at the same time requires an adjustment of content, skills, and tools within the team. While there are many other strategies at play in this newly emerging economic reality, one thing's for sure, transformation needs to happen at the individual level.

 I often have to remind Sales Enablement professionals we're in the business to make the value communication vehicle more effective and efficient -- and sometimes we have to take a "one person at a time" approach. 

To help any change take hold in the trenches, you have to focus on the individual at some point. To support change at this individual level, we have to recognize the strategic importance of creating a culture that is supportive of those changes.

When it comes to creating a culture, I often hear Sales Enablement professionals striving for a "sales coaching culture." In talking with them, I discovered many have a strong belief that a sales coaching culture creates a more collaborative and adaptive team.  

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Too Bad the Sales Team Isn't a Bunch of Robots

 

Have you noticed? A lot of help is heading toward the sales team these days.  I've been thinking alot about all the help the sales team gets. I mean, it can come from different areas of the organization like product groups, marketing teams, or sales leadership. And it can come in the form of product or skills training, playbooks, tools, or technology (to name a few).

Over on LinkedIn, I started a list of the "help" that the sales team gets (you can check it out  (and add to the list) here)

Have you ever tried to help someone who doesn't need it or want it?  It's frustrating isn't it?

I think a lot of Sales Enablement professionals get frustrated with sales teams in the same manner. 

I've heard the frustration:

  • Why can't the sales team just...
  • I wish the managers would...
  • I don't know why the reps don't...
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Help Us Pick A Relevant Research Topic!

A new analyst, Dean Davison has joined the Forrester team supporting Tech Sales Enablement professionals, and we are launching new research as a result. Dean needs your input. To start, he is asking you to help him home in on research around how you manage a portfolio to support the delivery of business outcomes to your customers. Please take a moment to vote in the Client Choice panel to the right of this post, and please also visit Dean's blog and give him your comments and input on this important area of our research, and you can be sure he will get back to you.

Weigh In On Our Research Plan For The People Side Of Sales Enablement

Why is it so hard to execute on a business strategy? While it may seem easy to identify the roadblocks to execution, it’s often even easier to overlook the most important dynamic of all — people. Think about it: Most business strategies look great on paper. They’re well-thought-out and well-articulated. But what is written on paper requires execution — and that’s where people come in.

I’ve found that sales enablement initiatives often fall into the same boat. These strategies are often well-crafted, cross-functional in design, and cover all aspects of process, technology, and metrics. But no matter how you slice it, people are required to execute them.

Our client’s choice survey this month focuses squarely on the people dynamic. As we’ve engaged with Technology Sales Enablement professionals, we’ve found some recurring themes around sales coaching, sales management, and the profiles of salespeople. So please take a moment and weigh in, and we’ll write up some research that targets the area that receives the most responses.

Tell us what you think by casting your vote here:

http://www.forrester.com/rb/ballots/ballots.jsp

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