Enabling Selling or Buying? A Traditional Term That Needs a Name Change

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Over the last several decades, there have been a number of technology offerings that at some point in their lifecycles either haven’t caught on or have begun to fade. A tried and true approach for vendors has been to add functionality and re-launch offerings using different names. Two examples leap to mind:

  • “Material requirements planning” began as MRP but had two re-starts. It morphed into MRP II before becoming enterprise resource planning (ERP). Could galactic resource planning (GRP) be next?
  • “Sales force automation” (SFA) morphed into customer relationship management (CRM) and was made more relevant when Marc Benioff offered Salesforce.com in a SaaS model. In doing so, he changed the software business forever.

The candidate that should now undergo a name change is sales enablement (SE). Ask 10 people to define SE, and it’s unlikely you’ll get fewer than 47 different answers.

Vendors have largely sat on the sidelines as spectators for the last decade and a half watching buying behavior change. To their credit, some recognized the ever-widening gap between the way people want to buy and the way they were being sold to. However, most responded tepidly by announcing SE initiatives to appease their investors or boards. This response is analogous to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after hitting the iceberg. Without significant organizational and philosophical changes, it’s unlikely that significant results will be achieved.

Reflecting Old-World Selling

The first issue with the term sales enablement is that it fails to recognize that people prefer to buy than to be sold to. Choosing “sales” as the first half of the term perpetuates vendors’ inward look and focus on selling products. One suggestion is to change the first word to “buyer.” At least vendors would then be looking in the right direction: outward.

You quickly see the problem with the second half of the SE term when you answer the question: Whom are companies trying to enable? The answer is salespeople, once again putting the spotlight on selling and continuing the inward focus on viewing selling as convincing or persuading buyers.

The word “empowerment” seems a superior choice as the second word. When you think about it, today’s buyers have become empowered by using the internet and social networking to level the playing field when it comes to product knowledge and actual user experiences with offerings. The concept of empowerment allows people to have control. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, after air, water, food and shelter, people seek control. Some people feel that sellers exert influence without authority. Buyers have the ultimate power in deciding whether or not to spend money.

Buyer empowerment means that for websites or salespeople, the first hurdle is to uncover latent needs. These are the business outcomes that executives would like to achieve. Salespeople can identify needs by interacting directly with key players or by having lower-level employees share desired organizational goals. Once business goals are shared, good things start to happen:

  1. Buying cycles begin.
  2. Buyers realize there is potential value.
  3. Buyers are willing to give sellers time to have conversations.
  4. Sellers are perceived as consultants if they know the right questions to ask.

Part of empowerment is realizing that most vendors and their offerings don’t solve problems or improve business results. Most sellers and organizations are guilty of making claims such as “I can reduce your costs” or “my software will reduce your costs.” When they make such statements, some bad things happen.

How many times have buyers been told that sellers will deliver business outcomes or make problems go away, only to be disappointed? A vendor’s offering could work perfectly, but if it’s not implemented or used properly, it’s likely to deliver disappointing results.

Finally, sellers don’t and can’t manage internal buyer resources, so they have no control when they commit to deliver business results. In the clear light of day, sellers’ offerings provide capabilities that can empower buyers to achieve desired business results. Buyersmust take ownership of achieving their business goals or solving their problems. Empowered buyers are not at the mercy of sellers to obtain the results they want.

Regarding sales enablement, let’s be clear: Buyers are sick and tired of being sold to! Selling has become old-school. Enlightened vendors can enjoy something that has become a rarity—a sustainable competitive advantage—but only if they can provide messaging and teach sellers to empower buyers.

Few SE initiatives have had their desired impact. True to a selling mentality, the measure of success is traditionally primarily top-line revenue growth. Instead, consider a cause and effect. Buyer empowerment could provide superior buying experiences that would likely result in top-line revenue growth. It’s a matter of whether vendors put buyers or revenue first.

Frank Visgatis is president and chief operating officer of CustomerCentric Selling®. Along with John Holland and Gary Walker, he co-founded CustomerCentric Systems, LLC in 2002 and co-authored the original “CustomerCentric Selling” as well as the second edition that was published in 2009.

John Holland is chief content officer of CustomerCentric Selling®. He co-founded CustomerCentric Systems, LLC with Frank Visgatis and Gary Walker in 2002 and co-authored “CustomerCentric Selling,” “CustomerCentric Selling Second Edition” and “Rethinking the Sales Cycle,” all published by McGraw-Hill. John is the lead contributor to the CustomerCentric Selling® Sales Blog, which has been named in the Top 50 Must-Read Blogs on Consultative Selling (Docurated), Top 100 Sales Blogs (FeedSpot) and Top 24 Sales Blogs Every Sales Professional Should Read (HubSpot).