In our inaugural episode of Coffee, Collaboration, and Enablement in Africa, Regional Host and Trusted Advisor, Dave Nel, sat down with Tony Cross to explore how to build and improve your enablement ecosystem.

Lots of great advice in this conversation from someone who has been building Enablement ecosystems for a long time.

Audio Transcript

Dave Nel
collaborator and enablement part of the much bigger organizational arm around collaboration and sales enablement. We are absolutely thrilled and lucky to have our first guest today, it’s Tony, Tony cross. Thank you for joining us today. Tony always said they can only be one number one. And that’s you. So thank you. And I think we should jump right in, if you don’t mind, giving our guests a little bit of an overview of who is Tony? And a little bit maybe about your business. That would be great.

Tony Cross
Yeah, thanks, Dave. And, yeah, super excited to be to be number one. Hopefully it all goes well. And I’m pretty sure that the African arm of the coffee, coffee collaborate is going to go really well. There certainly is a need. So in my experience, it certainly is the need for great sales enablement, and, and so on in Africa, as it is in pretty much in the world. So yeah, I’ve been in sales. Most of my life, I actually started my career in programming. But I realized that I was okay as I was every day that I never wanted to be anything. So moved my way through marketing and into sales, and started to read about sales and move from a sales person, a sales, professional interior sales management role, and then into a sales leadership role. So I was a sales and marketing director at one of the listed companies. So I love sales. I am it’s what I do. It’s It’s all I do. Yeah, it’s been an amazing journey. And for me, probably why it was so important is it’s not only the art in the sales, it’s also the science of sales. So we would argue that it’s art scientifically applied or science artistically applied. Either way, it’s not the one or the other, I think you need to have both. And then about seven years ago, myself, and in first year, we opened a business called growth matters, specializing in the sales management enablement area. So that’s pretty much what we do.

Dave Nel
Yeah, perfect. Thank you. And that, that passion for for sales on both sides of the equation is something that absolutely rang true when we chatted earlier. And I know that your your business works with many sales leaders, managers, sales enablement, professionals. And we were talking earlier, you mentioned that you’d developed a way to help companies really embed sales, execution discipline practices, to drive sustainable growth. Could you talk to us a little bit more about where to start and how you did that?

Tony Cross
Yeah, Dave, you know, our view, again, is that selling is not only a skill, you know, of course, it’s a skill. But it’s an ecosystem through which your your resources in sales have to be maximized in order to drive client value. So I think many businesses, organizations make the mistake of thinking we can fix sales by fixing salespeople, which is only really part of the sales ecosystem. And there’s five main roles in sales. We would argue that sales leaders have a massive role to play sales managers, sales professionals, the salespeople themselves, and then sales enablement. But it doesn’t stop there. Those are the traditional roles in the sales ecosystem, but also business leaders, it’s so important that the business leaders are aligned. Because otherwise you can’t drive the the value you’re trying to do it to get to the clients. It’s quite simple. So sales leaders is one thing, but the other business leaders, the Marketing Leaders, the fulfillment, the enablement, the finance, the HR, or play a role in the sales ecosystem.

Dave Nel
Absolutely. I mean, Tony, you’re spot on. And that’s such a profound perspective. So often, I see sales enablement, professionals, forgetting how key those different business partnerships are, and how important it is to bring them along in the journey, and not just run often, and do your own thing. So you talk about improving that whole sales ecosystem. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you guys would go about doing that?

Tony Cross
Yeah, Dave, I think there’s these three or what we would call big moves or big steps. And the first one is to align the thinking across the roles, because without the alignment in thinking, it’s very difficult to shift behavior. So that’s the first step. The second step is you need to enable what we would call the custodian of the sales ecosystem, who is the sales manager, because they almost become that pivot, and you have to enable them with some key disciplines and then you have to probably says the 12 elements in the sales ecosystem. So many people call them different things. But we built a model that talks around the 12 elements of a top performing sales ecosystem, because then you’re working with sales enablement to develop the roadmap that aligns to this, and that aligns to execution and the discipline of execution.

Dave Nel
And I love the fact that you call them moves and not steps, right, that we actually need to make specific moves in order to create the best sales ecosystem that we can. And that that number one is absolutely key, no question asked, what I’m really interested in is that deep dive maybe into move number two, which is all about the sales leaders, and making sure that you’re putting that discipline and execution in for them to tell me a little bit more about that, and why you think that is absolutely critical.

Tony Cross
Today, we see so many strategies out there, we see sales strategies, we see business strategies, and there’s lots of literature around that says, you know, a, an average strategy executed well is better than a brilliant strategy not executed. So those execution, you know, that component, or we would call sales, execution is so important. And to do sales, execution, well, we would say there’s disciplines that you need to embed into the fabric or the DNA of an organization. Because without that, you know, consulting training enablement, doesn’t really get, you know, the sustainable impact that we wanted to give. So, really, you know, we have to be very serious about what we would call the disciplines. I mean, you could call them practices, but we like the word disciplines. So the structure behind the sales ecosystem. So as an example, if you, if you don’t embed the discipline of driving deals success, you know, companies can’t forecast accurately, and you can’t improve your win rates, doesn’t matter how much training you do, or what CRM systems you implement. Because the discipline of making sure that you qualify, often around your big deal, you really unpack the big deals, not at the last minute in the sales process. And we see lots of there, Dave, I’m sure you’ve seen it in your work, where we talk about these big deals they’re about to close. And then we asked the question, when do sales managers or sales leaders or business leaders have the most impact on a big deal. And people sit there and they think about it, and they go, probably early on in the sales process, and we say, but then we’re only talking about them when they almost, you’ve already proposed, you’re about to close the deal, or potentially lose the deal. So we would say we have to be qualifying earlier and helping the sales professionals advance those deals. But that is a discipline. And that is that is in the true discipline, what we would call driving deal success. So that’s an example. You know, another example is around prioritizing your impact. Because if we can’t prioritize in sales, or as a sales manager, or a sales enablement, professional, or even as a sales professional, you can be very busy, but not that effective or productive. So that again, becomes the discipline. So you know, in our view, it’s really important that sales enablement is about creating these disciplines, as well as improving the behaviors. So hopefully, that that is in a nutshell, what we are on the discipline of sales execution.

Dave Nel
Yeah. And I mean, I mean, nothing Trump’s success, like focus, right, at the end of the day that that focus in a salesperson is so key. And I love the fact that you use the word discipline versus practices. It just has a very different meaning to it. It’s it’s, it’s almost relentless. It’s laser sharp, versus Oh, let’s just put some practices in place.

Tony Cross
Yeah. 100%. So, you know, obviously the practice if you’re a doctor, you know, you have your practice, if you’re an accountant, you have your practice, you know, so maybe in sales execution, you perhaps have some areas or practices, but exactly right, that when you know, when we’re looking at the terminology, you know, discipline, is it. It’s a structure, it’s a framework, it’s a it’s a focus, you saw, right,

Dave Nel
yeah. And I get it, I absolutely love step or move number two, which is those sales leaders and bringing that discipline in is absolutely key. It’s almost that lead by example, and do it from the top and it’s and it will filter down. So without that that soil or that culture of execution in place or discipline. It’s it’s unlikely, I guess that most organizations initiatives are going to great gain any traction or keep going because they’re going to fizzle out over time. But you you also mentioned this ecosystem, the sales ecosystem. Could you Maybe talk to us a little bit about those 12 different parts or different elements that you said, Come into a sales ecosystem and how you see them.

Tony Cross
Yeah, Dave, again, the terminology may be different from what, you know, one organization uses to another. But we would say that there’s there’s three areas. So the first area is the elements that the sales leader looks after. And that would be sales culture. So what is the culture in the organization in the sales organization, because culture is very important. As we all know, you know, we’ve all heard the famous quotes around, you know, culture eats strategy for breakfast. But building the right sales culture is really important. Then we have what we call sales understanding. So what’s the sales language that we use? You know, what’s the terminology? What is the sales policy, say, it all sits in there. Because if we, if you and I are having a conversation, and I’m talking about, let’s say, a prospect, you know, maybe a silly example, but if I’m talking about a prospect, and you name, but we call it a suspect, we call it a unqualified lead, you know, and maybe we missing missing the point. And that’s within sales, you know, outside of maybe involving marketing or other areas of the business. So it’s really a single language, the sales understanding. The third element for the sales leader is alignment and collaboration, because they are ultimately responsible for aligning at that senior level, with the other areas in the business. So many times we hear of salespeople, you know, talking to operational directors, for example, and vice versa, and we’re going but in a way, the alignment needs to be there at the senior level so that we’re all on the same page. Arguably, the toughest part, actually, of a sales leaders job is this alignment and collaboration, how do we work together? You know, rather than being a, you know, the MN s situation, which doesn’t help us, and it certainly doesn’t help the customer.

Dave Nel
Yeah, absolutely.

Tony Cross
And then the fourth element, you could put it first, if you argue there’s no necessarily right sequence, but sales strategy. Because whilst execution, we could argue is even more important, you need to know where you’re going, you need to have thought this thing through. Again, unfortunately, many businesses have a business strategy that’s not really translated into a sales strategy that a sales manager or sales team can execute. And that’s often where we see the bridge to the next role in the ecosystem, which is the sales manager, because the sales manager now needs to do plans, and execute. So we call that block or that element, the sales planning and execution. So they have to take the sales strategy, and build plans, you know, sales plans, or territory plans, as some people call them, and then go and execute. So that would be their first area of the of the ecosystem. Yeah, then sales numbers and measurement. Again, it’s in sales, it’s about the numbers as we often talk, but it’s also about the lead and the lag factors. So the sales numbers and measurement, you know, how are we measuring sales progress? How are we measuring sales execution? So you know, what are the metrics that we use? You know, Jason Jordan, in his book cracking, the sales management code, speaks of 360 different metrics we can measure, which is crazy. So we often try and measure too much, or the wrong thing that are only outputs, and not necessarily the inputs. So that’s really where sales manager has to make sure that we’re getting right in the sales ecosystem. The third block client value creation. So how do we unpack what makes us unique, what makes us different. And again, this is a huge role for for the sales enablement teams to help but the sales manager has to make sure we go and execute that they need to do things like coaching the venue communication, if there’s no marketing collateral, that, you know, screens out, we are different, and this is the reason why we different, you know, they should be demanding and say we need, we need that we don’t need, you know, more of the same, you know, if you take take off the logo and change the a couple of terms, you know, your competitor can have the same collateral, you know, that doesn’t really help the sales effort. And then lastly, sales talent. So that’s the role of the sales manager. And that’s where coaching sits. Because coaching as we all know, is so important. If a sales managers not really doing coaching or they’re only doing it 20% of the time, it’s probably not enough it’s such an important lever. So those are the the four for the sales leader, the for for the sales manager, in terms of sales enablement or what some organizations called Sales operations. The all four elements do and it starts with the sales compensation and rewards. I don’t want to talk too much about that I’ll be ahead. So it’s

Dave Nel
a hot topic, isn’t it?

Tony Cross
It’s always such a hot topic and very emotional and very personal and very, I’ll say fraught with danger when you change that, and and understandably so. But that’s where you have to now you know, use that extrinsic motivation for your, for your sales team, and your sales talent as part of the sales mix or the sales ecosystem. Then you move on to sales tools and technology. So what tools are we using? What systems are we using, etc. Again, hugely important, some organizations get this really bright. Other organizations are still battling through, you know, too many pieces of technology or, or it’s not really driving the impact that they want. But it’s

Dave Nel
tons of white elephants, potentially. Yeah. And

Tony Cross
quite right, Dave, and expensive white elephants, unfortunately. So there’s some great technology out there. But again, we often ask the question in the ecosystem, how will this piece of technology, how will the change in remuneration? How would the change in strategy impact our client or our customer? And if we can’t answer that question, we have to go back to the drawing board and think it through. Then the last few blocks, sales productivity. So we would, we would argue that sales enablement is responsible for sales productivity, was setting up the structures, and they were talking about effectiveness and efficiency. So effective are we do we have the right kits, sales, messaging, whatever it may be, but also, are we being efficient in the use thereof, you know, because some stuff could be automated, and so on. And it’s a big area, it’s a really big area for sales enablement, professionals to, to work with. And then lastly, sales intelligence, we would say in simple terms, taking the data, turning it into information, and ultimately into intelligence. Because, again, I’m sure all of us on the call can speak with experience. We have lots and lots and lots of data, lots of market research. But is it really enabling the sales professional, to have a better conversation, to understand which customers to visit and so on? So those are long story days, those are the toys or elements of the of the ecosystem as we see it. And we’re very happy to share in afterwards through you and john, you know, schematic of this, if anyone who’s interested?

Dave Nel
Well, look, it’s it’s, the sales ecosystem is a complex one. And especially if you’re going to start involving all the different leaders and key stakeholders, as a sales enablement, professional sitting in the middle, you might be like a deer in headlights wondering where do I start? Where do I go? So having a little bit of a framework to say, Yeah, you’ve got your four main areas as a sales enablement, professional. But let’s remember, there’s other parts to the sales ecosystem as well. And I would hedge a bit that if you looked at it, you’d probably find you can get involved in those other eight that fall outside of the sales enablement focus. Because everything connects, right, the whole sales process is one long connection. You can’t isolate things necessarily.

Tony Cross
Yeah, I mean, we would actually see it as less of a of a process and more of a circle. Yeah, 100% correct. It’s an interconnected ecosystem. You know, we sometimes explain it to an omni senior executives, we explain it as a Rubik’s Cube. Because the Rubik’s cube is interconnected. And as you change the different colors, you may get one side green. But actually, what that means is you further away from fixing the Rubik’s Cube than when you started. And when you three or four steps away from the end, you start to see it coming together. So we actually use it as a bit of a explanation of what a cell’s ecosystem is. And you saw, right, Dave, they’re all interconnected. And so the sales enablement, teams have such a huge role to play to help the sales leaders with their elements to help the sales managers with their elements. And then obviously, do the therefore elements and getting those in place was a

Dave Nel
I imagine I love that Rubik’s Cube example because it is funny, you move it and all of a sudden you think I’ve got all red, but actually you’ve messed up everything on the on the other side. And it’s your earlier point, how important it is to have a guiding sales strategy. Because how will you know everything’s falling into place? Unless you’ve set that kind of goal or that thing that we’re we’re working towards at the end of the day?

Tony Cross
Yeah, I mean, quite right. I mean, you can use As the different elements in the in the ecosystem. So by answering a few questions within each element, you can soon see you know where where the work is needed. But as you say, a sales strategy then without that it impacts other areas because they talk to remuneration, it should talk to execution and talk should talk to, you know, the value, client value, it should all be in one part of that sales strategy, for sure.

Dave Nel
Absolutely. And, you know, I would imagine, I gotta ask that 12 steps or 12 parts to the ecosystem. I guess you could use that as a nice SWOT analysis. If you’re starting out as a sales enablement professional, I say, Well, where do we have it? Right? Where is the biggest area for growth in order to execute the sales strategy? So it’s a nice starting process is take those 12 steps and and do a deep dive into each of them?

Tony Cross
Yeah, 100% Dave, you know, diagnosis is so important, because otherwise you starting to let’s call it prescribe without diagnosis. And and you know, the saying is that that could be malpractice. You know, you should really like you say, just do it, do a SWOT analysis, answer some questions, and look at it and say, Okay, I need to focus. What we found, you know, especially in some of our recent work, is the sales enablement. Teams are battling with focus, but not because they are not focused, but because they don’t have the clarity from the rest of the people in the ecosystem. Because, you know, they’re trying something and they’re fixing this and installing some technology, and they’re trying to get some training up and running. And, you know, their intent is completely pure. The challenge is, is they seem to be working a little bit in isolation, because maybe the alignment is not there, or the strategy is not clear. So clarity, this definitely helps you bring clarity, and for the, for the sales enablement, professional, you can look and say, you know, but hold on, Dave, you expected me to do this, this and that. But I’m not clear in these six blocks and the impact it could have on these six plus, I’ve seen john.

Dave Nel
Yeah, I mean, also, just my experience has been that sales enablement. And in Africa, and certainly South Africa is a relatively new profession. So a lot of those teams are incredibly understaffed, and just don’t have the capacity. I mean, you’re talking about a huge ecosystem and lots of moving parts. And then you almost feel like, again, that deer in headlights going, where do I go? Where do I start? Because there’s so much to do, and we don’t yet have an established profession. And I guess that’s my next question for you. This is about Africa and and South Africa. And we would love to hear from you as a as an expert in in selling and sales enablement across the continent. Is there any unique challenges, or anything specific that you think happens or needs to be overcome in selling or sales enablement in Africa or South Africa? At the moment?

Tony Cross
Yeah, David, it’s super interesting to ask because, you know, the global work compared to the Africa work that we do, many of the challenges are exactly the same or very similar. So sales managers aren’t empowered sales enablement, maybe lack some clarity to focus on what matters. And the sales professionals are not great at communicating value in a unique way, I mean, so that could be in the United States, or Europe, in Australia, in Kenya or in South Africa. In Africa, though, there are some unique challenges, in my opinion, the first would be exactly what you were saying earlier, you know, the profession of sales enablement, is still seen by many African organizations as an operational component or an administration component, as opposed to a strategic role in the sales ecosystem. So there’s no doubt that, you know, in Europe, and in the US, the professional sales enablement, is is elevated. So that’s something I think that Africa and, and somewhat in South Africa two needs to you know, really understand that this is not an administration of technology, you know, or only an operational it includes those, but it’s much more strategic in our opinion. And then the second component would be in Africa we still struggle with technology whether it’s the you know, internet speeds and connectivity and so on, obviously improving but as we’ve moved into this virtual world, our dependence on you know, zoom connection. Microsoft Teams connection is massive, and sales professionals already out of their comfort zone, you know, they’re working from home or or a coffee shop, maybe. And when they’re battling with technology, you know, that’s a layer of complexity that you know when you operate and work in the in the US or in Europe. You know, you’re operating it technology and connection speeds that we not very familiar with. Yeah. And that’s probably a unique challenge. Yeah, I would say those are similarities and probably a couple of the differences.

Dave Nel
There’s definitely an age old stories when it comes to selling that is common no matter where you go. And hopefully, with the work that we’re doing here with the African collaborator enablement, and having experts like you on the show, we can really raise that that profile of sales enablement across the continent. That’s the goal. The goal is also to showcase professionals like you. So I’d love to give you a few minutes to to boast and brag a little bit. You’ve done some amazing work over the last couple of years. And like you said, you’re just not someone who is happy with average. And when you started at the beginning, why don’t you take a few minutes to tell us a little bit about something that you’re absolutely proud of, that you guys have done that’s been incredibly successful? And that you’d like to tell the listeners about?

Tony Cross
Yeah, Dave, it’s always a bit awkward, sometimes speaking about yourself. But, you know, we look at it and say, you know, how we change the lives of the people we work with? First and foremost. Because if you have empowered sales managers, you have sales professionals that feel more confident, you have sales enablement, that some are starting to add, you know, get get everything working in an ecosystem. You know, those are our proudest moments. And there’s many of them. We had a graduation last week for one of our US based clients, and the stories they were sharing, you know, with the senior execs on the virtual graduation, were amazing. And, you know, I was saying to my colleagues, you know, in the team, it makes you feel that proud moment. So there’s many of those stories. You know, some clients have said to us, since working with you, you’ve improved our win rates. And that’s always a great thing, because it’s very measurable. So they’ve said, you know, we’ve improved win rates by over 30%, we’ve doubled our pipeline health, and we go, Okay, well, how much was it in the beginning, but if you’ve doubled it, that’s a massive step. You know, you haven’t just filled your pipeline up with arbitrary opportunities, but you’ve doubled the quality and the actual health of your pipeline. So that’s great. But I would say, our, our biggest sort of accolade is when through the through the program that we run, called the coaching becomes the culture at one or two of our clients. In fact, most of our clients, it takes a long time, it takes, you know, quite a lot of us doing one on one coaching and group coaching and so on. But when that when that coaching becomes the culture, which it tends to do, when we have almost a critical mass of at an organization, that is such a massive change, in that it can be felt, you know, you speak to the sales people, you know, and they and they sharing something is different, we’re not sure what we actually having conversations with our boss that’s changed and we seem to be more effective, they almost can’t put a handle on it. But when we when we managed to improve the culture of coaching, you know, that’s probably the, the happiest that we are. You know, my partner, Elon says, our sales process is very simple, add value and then repeat. And obviously, when that happens, you know, clients are happy, we’re happy and so on. I’m not sure if I fully bragged or fully Yeah, luckily, your question, but

Dave Nel
I will certainly say that, from my interactions with you, what comes across incredibly strong, is yes, there’s frameworks and there’s moves and there’s, you know, disciplines but really what it’s all about at the end of the day is enabling those individuals and being part of their journey and helping them move to that next level of success. And and I definitely get that loud and strong whenever I engage with you. So I can see why you would list that as as one of your your top things. And then again, I guess coaching, I always feel like every sales enablement professional some way on their tombstone is going to have written I told people to coach because it’s so key to everything that we do. And it’s it’s also the fun stuff, isn’t it? at the at the end of the day, so well, Tony, thank you so much for joining us today. We give you a gold medal for our our first guests that we have on the show. Just one and and also, we will certainly have you back because I think you’ve got a lot more to share with the enablement community across Africa. Is there anything else that I should have asked or that you would like to add? Or are we are we good for today?

Tony Cross
No, I mean, Dave, thanks so much for the opportunity and we love talking about This is what we do, but we love, you know, sharing as much as we can. In terms of what you didn’t ask, you know, we’ve spoken about coaching, which is, you know, the most exciting the highest leverage thing a sales enablement or sales manager can do. Probably the other concept that we are working on quite, you know, quite recently is this concept of habits over goals. And, you know, in sales, we have these goals, and the goals are very clear, you know, make X amount of revenue or profit, increase our market share. And many sales managers, sales professionals are not necessarily reaching those goals. And interestingly enough, sometimes when they do, they can’t explain how they did. And then we start to wonder, so we’ve got these goals, and then we unpack, are we actually doing a research project, not to say, you know, let’s look at the habits that underpin, you know, these goals, because, you know, setting goals is great, but sales, execution comes from disciplines, and disciplines are probably made up of the right habits. So every day I do certain things every week, I do certain things, you know, what are those habits? So that’s a, you know, not a new concept. But that’s something we starting to unpack for, for our, you know, for the organizations we work with, to say, what are the great habits you guys have in place? And then what are the habits that maybe need a bit of work? You know, and let’s coach you around those. To us, it’s a it’s a really interesting, you know, component of probably the, of the of the jigsaw puzzle is to create these these high performing habits. And do we really have a good handle on what they are for each of the roles in the ecosystem? Absolutely.

Dave Nel
I said, I mean, earlier, you’d mentioned input versus output. And it’s that shift to input focus, really. And then, of course, once you’ve got those habits, you better coach them. Otherwise, they certainly aren’t on sticking. So as soon as your research project is done, let us know and we’ll have you back and we would love to see the results if you willing to share them with us.

Tony Cross
Yeah, with pleasure. They would enjoy that. Yeah.

Dave Nel
Good. Well, thank you so much, Tony. Stay safe and dry in in Joburg. I know it’s raining at the moment, and we will see you back soon. Thank you.

Tony Cross
Thank you so much, Dave.