Practicing What We Preach: An Inside Look at Forrester’s Sales Advisory Council
- Most B2B organizations invest significant effort in customer feedback via customer advisory boards, but many fail to consider the same kind of insight from their internal sales team
- Sales advisory councils represent a valuable opportunity for organizations to collect vital sales feedback on major strategic initiatives and identify any broad sales issues that must be addressed
- Forrester’s own council is a textbook definition of how high-performing sales teams leverage a sales advisory council
Every day, Forrester SiriusDecisions’ Sales Enablement Research Service leverages its sales communications and rep advocacy expertise to challenge and guide clients on better governance of the constant flow of information, data, and noise that can plague even the most nimble of sales teams. Sales communications governance means keeping B2B sales reps informed, engaged, and productive while encouraging their feedback, and includes two important components: coordinating delivery to sales reps and gaining insights from them. To support the latter, we often test clients by asking if they complement their traditional external customer advisory board with an internal sales advisory council (SAC) — because, after all, shouldn’t enablement think of the sales team as its customer?
At Forrester, we rise to this challenge. Since 2012, a proactive SAC has met every month to provide, according to Forrester’s chief sales officer Kelley Hippler, “an incredibly productive forum that provides a unique testing ground for strategic company initiatives, plus a vital conduit to identifying the ever-changing needs of our hundreds of sales staff.” Below are four essential elements informing the success of an SAC, as evidenced by the Forrester iteration and from the words of some of our 2020 council members.
Get the People Right
Constructing and running an effective SAC begins with selecting the right participants. Chaired by Hippler and Peter Zink, Forrester’s director of sales enablement and training, Forrester’s 20-member, 12-month-term SAC is carefully sourced to reflect a diverse membership, reflecting a variety of sales personas, experience levels, customer segments, and geographies. “As a global organization, Forrester includes varied perspectives, and I feel honored to be a voice for our EMEA sales team,” says Nicolas Leroux, a senior account executive based in France. “Honor” is the key word here, because the SAC participants are determined by blind, peer-based nominations every year, with the selected council members announced — to their own surprise — at the annual company sales kickoff each January. Carole-Ann Haun, account manager, captures the emotion of that moment: “They call your name to come onstage, and that’s when you understand that your peers think you have something to say and have a voice that is worth hearing.”
Get the Preparation Right
To ensure SAC efforts aren’t perceived as incongruous with best-of-breed sales enablement — we’re constantly running sales activity studies for clients to help them optimize precious seller time — organizations must exercise great care in pulling council members away from daily revenue generation duties. Account manager Liz Trombetta echoes this: “Our meetings are very well organized so that we don’t feel angst about our time management. We have a small amount of pre-reading and out-of-session communications, but the agendas are designed so that each feedback opportunity is calibrated to hear our voices and effectively communicate them upstream.”
Get the Agenda Right
Forrester’s SAC agendas fulfill the dual purpose of an SAC: to leverage the perspective of sales contributors in trial-run strategic corporate initiatives and provide an efficient outlet to capture ground-level needs of the sales team. First, “we focus on important, big-picture programs that potentially impact not just sales but the whole company — such as changing buyer personas and our overall go-to-market strategy — instead of tactical sales items like compensation or territory disputes,” says Samara Collado, account executive. Hippler concurs: “This year’s council has been very vocal, which is exactly the perspective we’ve needed considering the two major disruptions of our Forrester/SiriusDecisions integration and the global socioeconomic crisis.” Additionally, the SAC encourages surfacing of sales-specific issues that leadership wants to hear. Zink emphasizes that “the culture of the council needs to expressly be a safe place where everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a C-suite executive.” For example, Collado refers to a recent major overhaul in the Forrester internal sales newsletter process — simplification and customization — that stemmed directly from an SAC session earlier this year, for which the agenda item had been submitted by a council member.
Get the Value Right
The most common theme that came up in my interviews with Forrester SAC members was appreciation for the chance to have a legitimate say in major company-wide plans. Haun explains, “In my previous roles, all decisions were made by sales, product, or executive leadership in a vacuum. Here, the insights gleaned from our council are clearly promoted far upstream. Our voice really matters.” Collado agrees, stating, “It’s incredibly refreshing to have a direct impact on business decisions, especially as an individual contributor still somewhat early in my career.” Hippler confirms that SAC members instantly become well known and respected and are considered influencers within the sales organization. “It’s a wonderful honor for them and a great feeder program for our internal leadership development efforts,” she says, “but our executive leaders consider themselves the most important beneficiaries of the SAC. We couldn’t do our jobs without them.”
Why do SACs matter? Effective communication with feedback from sales reps fosters the active involvement of high-performing sales personnel and informs initiatives to drive improvements across the company. The resulting sense of personal investment improves rep retention and promotes faster innovation. So, the question remains: Does your company have one?