Salespeople Need Two Kinds of Knowledge and Adaptive Competencies!

When I discussed our latest data on sales enablement, especially regarding the impact of onboarding, I also shared six design principles for effective onboarding. And one of those principles is “knowledge comes in different forms and shapes.” I referred to the difference between capability knowledge and situational knowledge. I received some questions about this from readers, so let’s look at it in greater detail today.

Knowledge comes in different forms and shapes. Often we are not aware of this, and I’m grateful that Christian Maurer involved me in this discussion years ago and again recently when we were both working with MA students at the Reutlingen University.

There is capability knowledge: it is knowledge about what you sell, about your products, what they are and what they do. This kind of knowledge is usually transferred to the sales force in the form of product training services, based on various content services.

However, as we all know, in the age of the modern buyer, this is not enough. Buyers have different preferences, and not a single one is about “tell me more about your product.” Not at all. What modern buyers are interested in, is what a certain product, service or solution MEANS to them, in their business context to achieve their desired outcomes. They want insights, expertise and perspectives in THEIR situation. For more details, please check out our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study. That brings us to situational knowledge.

Situational knowledge is all about what you need to know about your buyers, their specific buying situation, their specific challenge and desired outcomes. Situational knowledge as such cannot be ”prepared” up front by any enablement team. Instead, it’s different in every selling situation, and requires the salesperson’s homework, research and discovery efforts. Every single time.

To meet the modern buyers’ preferences, sales professionals have to be able to join the dots between their capability knowledge and the situational knowledge of their particular opportunity by mapping their product capabilities to the customer’s context and challenges. Then they can arrive at a unique, tailored, valuable, relevant and differentiating perspective that helps their buyers solve their problems and achieve their desired outcomes.

That’s quite an ambition. So, what can sales enablement leaders do to better engage, equip and empower sales professionals to do exactly this? The guiding principle is that you cannot provide everything, but that you can equip your sales professionals with a framework of methods and skills so that they can provide the required expertise and perspectives. Let’s look at five critical success factors:

  • Content has to be created with the customers in mind:
    Make sure that you have a content management framework in place that ensures that customer-facing and internal enablement content services are tailored to the different phases of the customer’s path and to all relevant buyer roles. This way, you provide your salespeople a framework of content assets, often capability-based, that can be customized to meet the specific situational requirements of a certain opportunity.
  • Product training has to be centered around the HOW to sell:
    These training services should never be designed to create the next generation of product managers, but the next generation of successful salespeople. That means, that the training should include various value messaging examples for different selling situations. In this way, you integrate the capability and the situational aspect already in a training environment.
  • A dynamic value messaging approach is crucial to success – content AND training:
    To be able to deliver on the first two success factors, you need a dynamic value messaging framework that covers the entire customer’s path, different buyer roles and business challenges. Only then can you provide your seller with the right value messages in the right content assets and playbooks for different situations. Of course, every message has to be customized by salespeople, as you can only provide messages for various general situations, but not for each specific situation, which will be unique and different in every opportunity. And these conversations require training and coaching to be effective.
  • Sales enablement content management solutions should be integrated in the CRM:
    Only then can sellers get recommendations regarding relevant content to share with the buyers, content to look at internally to prepare for customer interactions, and training refreshers. The power of an integrated enablement solution is that the technology can connect the dots between capability and situational knowledge of the opportunity.
  • Adaptive competencies are the glue that drives seller fluency:
    Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex buyer situations. Every buying situation, every opportunity is different. Sales enablement can prepare a lot, but not everything. There is always the last 10-20%, salespeople have to adjust for their buyer interactions. Almost no customer interaction goes completely according to plan. Salespeople with adaptive fluency are those who can change the meeting within seconds, adjusting their strategies, their messaging and their approach to any given new situation.

Effective sales enablement leaders know how important it is to align all their enablement efforts to the customer’s path, to different buyer roles and more. They also know that they can do only so much. But the last 10-20% always has to be customized by salespeople. Along with any other changes in the actual buyer interaction, this is where adaptive competencies are the differentiating element to ensure that the buyer interaction is relevant, valuable and differentiating.

Forward-thinking sales enablement leaders know this and ensure that they provide training and coaching services that drive their sellers’ adaptive competencies.


Check out our 2018 Sales Enablement Study!

If you haven’t already, have a look at our new book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. Lots of “how to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • What does your onboarding program look like?
  • What are your onboarding design principles?
  • Do you have measurable onboarding goals?
  • Is your onboarding program effective?

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