Category Archives: Qualfication

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The Trump Effect On Enterprise Selling

This is not a political opinion piece. I’m not commenting on policies in favor or against the new administration. I’m simply spotlighting a challenge and an opportunity in sales given the current transition in power.

The inspiration for this article came recently while listening to Jim Cramer’s show called Mad Money, where he evaluates investment opportunities and makes recommendations on buy/sell actions. The segment that caught my attention was focused on the Trump effect on Wall Street. Also a non partisan assessment of the ups and downs on Wall Street related to recent policy announcements with some insight into investment opportunities. It got me thinking about the effects of recent policy changes on sales people and sales campaigns.


The most obvious implication is for sales people who sell healthcare solutions or solutions to help companies comply with regulatory requirements. Both of these topics are front and center for the new administration which is likely to cause prospects in these categories to go into “wait and see” mode. For sales leaders in these segments, no decision outcomes are likely to increase and create havoc on forecasting and close ratios.


Secondarily are companies or industry segments that are spotlighted but have not yet experienced a policy outcome. This includes pharmaceuticals, companies with foreign manufacturing, and potentially even travel related businesses. There may be others in the weeks to come.


The point I want to make is that now is the time for sellers focused on these industries to pivot from their standard operating procedure. For example, when the dot com bubble went bust in 2002, Cisco’s sales retracted about 15%. But their closest competitors reported a 30% reduction in sales. Cisco pivoted while their competitors stayed the course. In the face of a frozen market, Cisco consciously branched out from their focus on IT and began a campaign to call on the C suite to compel investment into networking to deliver business results, not just implement updated infrastructure which was the focus of most IT purchases prior to the bust. Their pipeline from non-IT centric opportunities grew by 300% and mitigated the sales retraction that would have happened had they not pivoted. (As you may have guessed, I was consulting with Cisco on this pivoting strategy at the time.)


If you are selling into a market that might freeze like a deer in the proverbial headlights due to potential changes in policy, here are some practices you might want to sharpen:


1. Identifying the compelling reason to change. Whether your sales proposal is battling other uses for funds, or trying to unstick a frozen buyer, being meticulous in uncovering, articulating and confirming the reasons for change are of paramount importance. This means identifying the people/process/technology problems the buyer is experiencing, connecting these underlying problems to C level topics I call business issues (time to market, cost management, competitive differentiation, and more.), and calculating the cost of not taking action. The three components of a compelling business proposal are critical for overcoming the distractions of potential policy changes or mitigating the impact of an actual policy change if the business proposition is compelling. This orientation requires the seller to get out of a capabilities focused dialog and into a problem hunting, value articulation and stakeholder threading dialog.


2. Incorporate more powerful stakeholders.  As Cisco found out, the more powerful the stakeholder the less difficult it is to compel action in the face of uncertainty. Lower level stakeholders tend to get scared and withdraw during times of crisis, so they need help overcoming this natural behavior mode. An Agile seller will announce the requirement to incorporate more powerful stakeholders as a result of concerns about wasting time given policy implications, and hold the line if pressured to relent. Use the potential waste of time as a reason to bring more powerful stakeholders into the conversation.


3. Qualify, Qualify, Qualify. When markets freeze, your time allocation becomes critical. As I’ve said before, a prospect that won’t buy robs you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent with them with no results to show, and second they rob you of the time you could have spent with a different prospect that was in a better position to buy. In times of crisis, BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) is no longer a viable qualification model. The Agile seller shifts to a disqualification model. In effect they put the buyer in the position of having to convince the seller that they will buy even under unusual circumstances. In 2009, at the height of the great recession, Imprivata, a provider of single sign on solutions used this model to separate tire kicking prospects that had too much time on their hands and no money to spend from those that were willing to help Imprivata sell more effectively. Their business grew 47% during the worst year of the recession. The secret to their disqualification process? See items 1 and 2 above. Or read more here.


In a nutshell, the new administration is and will probably continue to create crisis in specific industry segments. The Agile seller will learn to use the situation to compel their contacts to collaborate more effectively given the obvious potential for wasting time. And they’ll take the opportunity to sharpen their selling skills and turn adversity into an advantage. 

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Build a Bigger Sales Funnel: Learn to Disqualify

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but learning to disqualify can help you build your sales funnel faster. If you happen to be one of the many that are hustling to rebuild a year end depleted funnel, this article may help.

Back in early 2009, during the height of the recession, I took on a new client named Imprivata. They deliver single sign on solutions to improve security in the healthcare marketplace. They were perplexed by their situation. After investing a lot of money into marketing automation, they had more leads than ever before, but their close rate was getting worse. It would have been easy to rationalize the decline of their close rate around the impact of the recession, but they wanted to be sure.

In an effort to flush out the answer, we implemented a disqualifying process, and the results were phenomenal. They ended up closing about 20% more opportunities per rep than the year before, and their average contract value increased 19%, all during the most significant economic downturn many of us have ever experienced. (Tom Brigiotta, VP Sales, Imprivata)

To understand how these results were achieved, I’ll start with a basic description of the disqualifying process and then connect it to the outcomes.

For Imprivata, we designed a two tier qualification question set. The first tier included:

  • Can the prospect define the problem set that needs to be addressed?
  • Can the prospect identify the impact of the problems?
  • Can the prospect identify the current business issues of their company or organization?

The problem identification question doesn’t have to be cut and dry. The sales person can also help the prospect develop the problem statement. As an example, if they contact a prospect because they engaged in some marketing automation activity that flagged their interest, the sales person would reach out and begin the dialog. A key part of that dialog would be to ask them why they were looking at this solution, in essence, getting the prospect to verbalize the problem set. If the prospect couldn’t verbalize the problem set, the rep could probe for existing problems: “Do your employees leave their passwords on sticky notes in plain sight?” “Does this pose security challenges?” “Do you have to abide by HIPAA regulations?” The objective is to surface the problem definition to identify the reasons for change and gain agreement on the problem set.

However, if the prospect wouldn’t agree to a problem definition, the qualifying question is rated as a “no” and they move to the second tier qualifying question explained below.

If the prospect could define the problem set, the next question in tier one is intended to uncover the implications of the unresolved problem set and help the prospect rank the problems against others that might be competing for their attention. Again, if the prospect can’t answer the question directly, a set of probing questions could be offered to help the prospect understand the value: “Have you been put on notice or fined for any security violations?” “Have you or your colleagues’ ever lost productive time due to lost or forgotten passwords?” “How long does it take for IT to help reset passwords?”

If the prospect still can’t mutually help develop the value proposition, then the second qualifying question is rated as a “no” and the seller would jump to level two.

Lastly, if the answers to the first two qualifying questions were positive, the prospect is asked to identify the current business issues of their organization. The objective is to connect the problem set to a higher level business issue that has the attention of senior management, which helps justify and prioritize this expenditure against a more circumspect criteria set. Many purchase requests are shot down because they don’t align with senior management’s current agenda. Again, if the prospect couldn’t identify the current business issues, the rep would be prepared to probe with an examples such as: “Most of our customers are focused on… lowering costs, or seeing more patients in each workday, or scaling their operation… do any of these apply to your situation?

As with the first two, if the answer to this qualifying question was rated a “no”, the second tier qualifying question was applied.

Tier Two Qualifying Question: “Can you introduce me to someone who can answer these questions?”

If the contact contact couldn’t answer the first tier qualifying questions, and refused to introduce another stakeholder, the engagement was put on hold, usually by politely putting the contact into another automated marketing nurturing process to be followed up when another trigger was tripped. On the other hand, if they did introduce a new stakeholder, the qualifying process was repeated with the new contact.

So how does this help you build a bigger funnel and sell more? The answer is twofold.

First, most enterprise selling professionals report no decision outcomes as representing 30-60% of their selling efforts. No decisions outcomes are frequently caused by sponsors that can’t effectively articulate the need to change, prioritize the need to change against other initiatives that are competing for the same money, or they fail to align their needs with the current agenda of their superior management who find it easier to ignore requests that lack meat. By removing these contacts from further activities that have no chance of producing a positive outcome like demonstrations or follow up communication, the seller is freeing themselves to pursue other opportunities that can buy.

I’m reminded of the adage taught to me by a sales manager I had early in my career. “When a prospect fails to buy, they have robbed you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent on them, and second, they rob you of the opportunity to spend that time on someone who can buy.”

Secondly, the qualifying questions actually help a buyer buy more effectively which leads to higher contract values. In essence, the answers to the qualifying questions help the contact to shape the problem definition more articulately, justify the purchase more clearly in light of other competing options, and more effectively compel senior management to take action with their own interests. This framework frequently compelled decision makers to expand the scope to include other organizations or stakeholders that weren’t included in the dialog but could benefit from the application.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile in their disqualifying process and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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No Decisions Take Twice As Long As Wins!

Our firm recently completed an analysis of the pipeline statistics for a large software company. Like many of the companies we perform this service for, the most revealing statistic to them was the time it takes to reach a No Decision outcome. For those of you that might be new to the term, a No Decision is the result of a sales engagement where the buying team “decides” not to buy anything. Some refer to it as a decision not to decide. There have been lots of statistics published about the percentage of No Decisions in the average pipeline; it’s not uncommon to see No Decisions make up 40-60% of most enterprise selling pipelines. But the fact that they take twice as long to conclude was mind blowing to this sales team as well as others.

Early in my career a sales manager told me No Decisions rob you twice. First because you don’t get paid for the work you did, and second because you could have worked on another opportunity that you could have won. Since then, I’ve updated that perspective. You actually get robbed three times over since you could have worked on TWO other more probable opportunities in the same timeframe AND you didn’t get paid for the one you did work on!

So why do they take longer to conclude? I think there are two primary factors. First, the buying sponsor has some level of commitment to the solution, but lacks the ability or argument to mobilize and convince others – so they keep trying. But they keep their voices down to the mutual detriment of both parties. If you’ve ever heard a buyer say, “I’ll bring it up, but now is not the right time.” You were hearing the telltale sign of a No Decision in process. If the argument really is compelling, now is the time to bring it up! 

The second reason is the seller’s reticence to qualify engagements out of the pipeline. The continued engagement of the sponsor seems like a positive buying signal so they keep investing time and resources. However, they would be better served by frequently qualifying the engagement against some common indicators of a successful outcome, and taking the appropriate steps to back burner the opportunity if they don’t make the cut. These should include:

  • Has there been a clear identification of the problems to be solved?
  • Has the impact of taking or not taking action been clearly identified in terms of money?
  • Do the problems contribute to a business issue that currently has the attention of more senior management? (Versus a business issue we think they should be concerned about.)
  • Does the sponsor mobilize other more powerful stakeholders into the conversation?

Recently, a client of ours implemented this type of “qualify out” process and ended up closing 20% more transactions per rep AND witnessed a 19% increase in average contract value! The first metric was not a surprise. Spending less time on engagements that have no chance of closing should produce more success, but my curiosity was piqued when we found the average contract value improved as well.

My rationalization of the outcome centers on the influence of the qualifying questions. By doing a better job of articulating the problem statement, the impact of not taking action and the connection to current business issues, the opportunity gained more visibility and better sponsorship. As a result, the natural tendency to start with a small pilot trial was enhanced with a higher sense of urgency to resolve the problems and deliver a business impact resulting in a higher initial spends.

If your pipeline is suffering from a high percentage of No Decision outcomes or you’re looking for a way to improve revenue results in general, I’d suggest a qualify-out initiative. At a minimum, you should see an improvement in win rates, but don’t be surprised if your average contract value improves as well.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Reducing “No Decision” Outcomes: The Forensics of Selling

I read a quote the other day attributed to Sirius Decisions, the sales research organization. It stated, “71% of sales leaders attribute difficulty in revenue growth to the lack of ability of their sales people to connect their solutions to the business issues of their customers.”

If you’re in the 71% struggling to get over the goal line, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that sales training doesn’t solve the problem – as if that’s news to you. The good news is that Selling Forensics can.

Selling Forensics is the science of examining the work product produced by your sales team. Work products are the distinct communication vehicles developed and delivered to the customer during the sales process. They include presentations, email confirmations, proposals and the like.  Just like fingerprints can reveal who was at the scene of a crime, the work product captures the customer conversation of your sales team for each individual account opportunity, revealing insight into the selling mechanics of the sales person or the entire team if taken in whole.

However, the interesting aspect is that just observing work products can produce positive results. In applied physics, there’s a principle that comes into play whenever anything is measured. It’s called invasive testing, where the test itself can alter the results. For example, consider a scientist trying to measure the temperature of a liquid in a vat. Placing a thermometer into the solution can actually change the temperature of the liquid. If the thermometer is colder than the solution, when inserted it robs some of the energy of the liquid as predicted by the second law of thermodynamics, producing a different reading than the temperature of the liquid prior to measurement.

When a sales leader initiates a work product review, the work product will change. Instead of the laws of thermodynamics, I call this the laws of selling. They are:

  1. The energy exhibited by a sales person is equal to the amount of energy need to just barely get the job done plus the level of oversight on the activity. To improve a sales effort, oversight has to be applied.
  2. When two closed systems come in contact, a buyer’s organization and a seller’s organization, the resulting entropy is equal to the quality of communication exchanged between the two. Buyers are more motivated to change if the seller connects their solution to the buyer’s business issues and challenges.
  3. The entropy of a minimum selling effort is zero if the buyer doesn’t recognize a reason to change. This is why so many sales organizations have 40-60% no decision outcomes. Minimum selling efforts will result in fewer buying decisions.

All kidding aside, inspecting work product and identifying short falls will improve the work product, the quality of communication and ultimately the number of buying decisions made in your favor.

Years ago, a software company called Cadence Design Systems was undergoing a sales transformation. As part of the transformation a decree was made that no proposals could be submitted to a customer until it was inspected and passed the test for three criteria: the business issues of the customer were identified, the underlying people, process and technology problems were reiterated, and the impact of the customer taking or not taking action was cited. The thought was that while the sales person may not be able to access the decision maker, the proposal probably could. They wanted the proposal to sell for them in their absence.

At the beginning of this initiative, almost all proposals failed the test. By day 60, almost all proposals passed the test.  The testing itself changed the outcome of the test. But even better, their average contract value (ACV) increased 38% in just 90 days. They didn’t just close more deals, they closed bigger deals as well.

On a side note, you can imagine the number of conversations this caused that went like this: “My boss won’t let me submit a proposal until I get three questions answered that I forgot to ask. Accompanied by the reply, “ok, what do you need to know?”

If you’re one of those sales leaders that could benefit from your team’s ability to connect the customer’s business issues to your solution, then I recommend an initiative to test your work product. Ultimately, the proposal is the final communication that either captures the compelling reason to change, or demonstrates a minimum selling effort with a price quote wrapped in a gracious thank you.

Your inspection should include evidence of:

  • The current business issues identified and confirmed with the customer.
  • The top three to five underlying challenges or problems that you can solve better than other solutions.
  • The impact of making the decision in their terms, not yours. We’re trying to cite their metrics for achievement, not ours reflecting other customer successes.

I’ve implemented this Selling Forensics initiative at a variety of companies and the result is always the same: average contract values improve and no decision outcomes decrease.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Sales Agility: Selling Around I.T.

Y’all a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”

The words stung when they first rolled off of Hank’s tongue. I felt like it was an insult to our sales team, but rather than show my irritation, I asked Hank to clarify what he meant.

Hank was a new board member brought on to help our software company revitalize its lost growth luster. He smiled his approval at my curiosity, and explained. “Every day your sales team comes the work, it’s like they walk through a long dark tunnel to spend the day hacking away at the wall to generate a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal. On their way through the tunnel, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks, so they kick them out of the way. What they don’t realize is those rocks are made of gold.” His Texas accent only made the analogy more powerful for me.

Hank was explaining that selling to IT was like coal mining. He continued by pointing out our own IT department had a budget equal to 1% of the company’s planned spending, while our sales department had 26% of the overall budget. His point was well made. We were working like dogs to scratch a living out of selling to IT. And they never had a kind word for us in return.

I spent the next nine months leading our sales team to be more agile in selling to the real stakeholders in their accounts. It didn’t happen overnight, but the results were mind blowing. Our largest deal size before Hank spoke up were in the $1M -$3M range. Within a few months we were booking $15m – $20M deals.

Although selling to General Managers and CEOs seems like a no brainer, we had to overcome years of ingrained habits to succeed. Here’s a short list of the challenges we faced in this particular situation:

  • Our messaging was tailored to I.T., not CEO’s.
  • I.T. did not have the mojo to sponsor us to the business side, nor did they want to.
  • Most of the business leaders who would benefit from our solution had no idea who we were.
  • Our sales people lacked the confidence to take on a new stakeholder conversation.

Sound familiar? Almost every technology company I’ve helped since then faced the same set of challenges.

Here’s how we overcame these challenges and became gold miners.

  1. We profiled the problems faced by the executives in our major target verticals. This means capturing their business issues, underlying problems, potential impact of changing in dollars, and the connection to our solution. We drilled this into our sales team, even requiring them to become certified in this type of dialog.
  2. We created new messaging that focused on the business issues, problems and impact that we could deliver to these new stakeholders with stories to illustrate real life examples.
  3. We went through an exercise to calculate how much value we contribute to the world on an annual basis. Without an exception, every sales rep came to the same conclusion. We delivered billions in cost savings and revenue acceleration, yet we were only billing about $200M at the time. We implemented this exercise to build the confidence within our sales people to carry their message to more powerful stakeholders.
  4. We challenged our sales people to take this message to three senior leaders in their accounts. We tracked and measured the initiative. Almost every sales person uncovered an opportunity that over shadowed previous projects. This alone fueled their appetite to prospect even more opportunities outside of IT, and created a workforce of gold miners.

In addition to the deal size growing tremendously, we had several other benefits emerge as well. Our discounting practice dropped by over 30%. Our breadth of products per transaction jumped dramatically, and our services bookings jumped from $2M the year prior to over $98M in less than nine months. This initiative revitalized our growth to the 30% range and took us to the billion dollar revenue mark in a few short years.

Although changing a culture to target business leaders outside of IT seems like a sales challenge, it’s really a leadership challenge. I’ve worked with many technology companies on this challenge, and the one common denominator for success with this level of agility is leadership.

Do your sales managers need to become sales leaders?

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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What Sigourney Weaver Would Say About Selling: The Alien as a Competitor

You remember the movie “Alien” with Sigourney Weaver playing the protagonist Ellen Ripley? She’s trapped inside a spaceship with a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. The crew battles the alien several times, only to be knocked off, one after another while the beast grows and grows until it’s over seven feet tall and immensely strong.

Like the alien that Ripley rarely sees, there is a hidden foe challenging every sale we work on. It too, seemingly hides out of view in the shadows, grows rapidly and can eat other sales campaigns without any witnesses.

The Alien I’m referring to is the “alternate use of funds” sometimes camouflaged as a no-decision outcome. Your sponsor reports back that they decided not to do anything at this point in time. Part of you is relieved you didn’t lose to one of your direct competitors, but the other part of you is in despair about working so hard on an opportunity, only to lose twice. The first loss is the time you spent on the opportunity with nothing to show for it, and the second loss is because you could have been working on another opportunity that had the ability to make a purchase.

However, unlike a real no decision, where the prospect isn’t compelled to purchase any solution, in the case of an alternate use of funds, or alien use of funds as I’ll call it, your sales campaign is squashed by a more important issue. It gobbles up the funds intended for your sales campaign and your forecast accuracy along with it.

Recently, in a follow up conversation for a win/loss analysis we were conducting for a client, we called the contact of a forecasted opportunity that was reported as a “no decision” and removed from the forecast. When we spoke to the contact, he elaborated that although he communicated they were not going to buy any solution like the one sold by my client, the real reason they didn’t make a purchase was because their general manager decided to cobble together several buckets of unspent budget to accommodate the need for more parking space. As a result, the sales campaign my client ran for several months was killed dead by a parking lot.

It may seem like it’s impossible to fight an unseen competitor like a parking lot, but don’t despair, just like Ripley, we can neutralize or defeat the predator. The key is to uncover and understand the current issues that have the attention of the prospect’s senior executives. I call these Current Business Issues (CBI). Every company has one or more CBIs they need to address. For the lucky ones, it’s usually a good kind of problem, like scaling issues such as hiring more staff, finding outsourcing options to meet the demands of a popular product, or a new parking lot to accommodate the many new employees they’ve hired to expand a new business line as in the case above. For the not so fortunate, there’s a roulette wheel of common issues; difficulty getting products to market, cost management, new competitors and so on.

The way to neutralize the alien is to get your solution connected to a CBI. As the satirist Thomas Carlyle once said, “Our great business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” We need to seize the relevancy power of the CBI to elevate the priority of our sales campaign and prevent the Alien Use of Funds from sucking the blood out of our campaign.

In the parking lot example, if the seller knew that scaling was the primary CBI, he could have retargeted his messaging to connect to that topic rather than cost savings, as was the theme of his generic, one size fits all, sales campaign. I call this more productive approach agile selling.

So how does one uncover the CBI without planting a listening device in the boardroom? It’s much easier than it seems. In most cases, CBIs are born from outside pressure; unsatisfied investors, new competitors, disgruntled customers, new government regulations and such. All of which publish their expectations in some form. Most of these instigators can be uncovered with the Internet. A few simple search terms like “problems”, “issues” or “challenges” combined with the name of the company can usually turn up several potential issues to leverage. It’s advisable to run the issues by your contacts to confirm the relevance. Also keep in mind, the I.T. department may not be aware of the issues, so branching out to personnel on the business side is valuable.

So let’s say you’ve uncovered a potential CBI, now what do you do with it? We need to align it with your solutions. If you sell an enterprise solution it probably delivers multiple value propositions. It probably helps to reduce costs; get something completed sooner, enables higher throughput, or some other positive outcome. It’s a matter of connecting the CBI to a set of underlying challenges or problems that your solution can address. It’s also valuable to tie in the key metric the customer has attributed to their CBI and is watching closely. Then it’s a matter of publicizing the value proposition in several communications; emails, proposal summaries, and presentations. Eventually, your message will make its way to the top, even if you can’t.

After working with many companies around the world to improve their key selling metrics, I have witnessed this discipline work very well and some cases where it was not implemented well. Most often, the poorly implemented attempts were due to a wishful CBI, meaning the seller proposed a CBI that he/she assumed everyone cared about, with a corresponding metric obtained by averaging out several prior customer successes. Unfortunately, this is like stabbing in the dark. Most of the time you won’t hit anything, but the one time you do compels one to keep stabbing blindly. Keep yourself honest and find out what current business issues your prospect is pressured by, confirm it, then use it to align your solution to the most compelling topic in their closed meetings.

Let’s get back to the title of this piece. If we did get a chance to ask Ms. Weaver, or more properly, Ripley, about combating our alien, I envision her saying, “be agile, pick the right weapon, and don’t give up.

Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin has consulted for companies like Cisco, Dell, Polycom, Gartner, VMware and many others. His specialty is helping companies achieve a measurable improvement in key selling metrics like average contract value, largest transaction size and others. The Enterprise Selling Group is a world leader in sales training, sale enablement and sales effectiveness. www.enterprise-selling.com