What is sales enablement?
Sales enablement is something of a slippery fish.
The tighter your grasp becomes on it, the more it wriggles out of your grip. We all think we know what sales enablement is but trying to pin and mount it is a tricky business.
Nevertheless, we’ll start with a definition of sales enablement and take things from there.
Let’s break this down a bit.
Sales enablement is a continual process
Sales enablement is not a one-off hit. The market changes, new products/services are introduced and new audiences are discovered. Sales enablement is an iterative process that never ends – there’s always room for improvement.
Sales enablement removes barriers to achieving sales
Sales enablement is closely related to – but not limited to – sales and marketing alignment. Barriers to sales can occur, for instance, through product development or service delivery, through customer satisfaction or even through overly-complicated processes to signing on the dotted line thanks to finance and accounting procedures.
The barriers are not a function just of sales. Nor are they just related to marketing and its relationship to sales. They may exist anywhere in the business.
Implicit as well in removing barriers to sales is the recognition that these barriers arise from processes and practices that are not 100% relevant to the buyer personas or journeys. Enabling sales starts with understanding your customers.
Sales enablement can realise and maximise sales
Far too often we think of sales enablement as smoothing the way to gain new customers. But sales enablement goes beyond the first-time hit of a fresh deal to look at ways the true lifetime value of each customer can be reached.
Again, this can be achieved not just by sales but by marketing, customer service, product development, service expansion and so on.
Sales enablement strategies, tools and processes
There are many paths to sales enablement and these will never be exactly the same for each organisation.
- Should sales training be seen as enablement?
- Where do prospecting and lead qualification fit in?
- What about sales processes?
- How about an email plugin or CRM tool?
- And what about content strategy?
The answer is yes to all: anything that improves sales performance – in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness – can be part of a sales enablement action plan.
As long as an area has been identified and analysed as hindering sales then it’s fair game for sales enablement.
Hopefully the sales enablement territory, sprawling as its is, has now been at least given some form of distinct outline.
Answering the question ‘why do you need sales enablement’ should help us give it further shape.
Why do you need sales enablement?
The bottom line is this:
Research by Aberdeen has shown that 84% of sales reps at companies with best-in-class sales enablement strategies achieve their quotas, compared with 55% at companies with average strategies and 15% for laggard companies.
And that should be reason enough!
We’ve written about how the modern B2B buyer has changed. When not at work, services like Uber and Netflix have conditioned us all to expect tailored and on-demand experiences. We want the right info at the right time – and the same is true of buyer’s expectations of the sort of content and input they receive from your business.
The days of using sheer personality and persistence to push prospects through your pre-determined sales funnel are long gone. What sales enablement concentrates on is ensuring that the sales process identifies and caters to the key moments in the buyer’s journey. Sales enablement solutions help you use different channels to reach your audience with targeted content and personalised sales messages.
Here are some primary benefits yielded by adopting a sales enablement focus.
Sales enablement focusses on equipping everyone in the sales team with what they need to succeed. This means that your business is no longer reliant on its big hitters to smash those quotas. It can scale success by ensuring that low performers are hitting targets and middling sellers are propelled into the next tier.
Informed decisions based on data
With so much B2B activity now taking place online, across many different channels and touchpoints, sales enablement has forced businesses to invest in technology that can understand data and drive, or even automate, actions based on this.
Critically this brings each customer and their journey into the centre of sales activity. Insights can be harvested and gained around buyer preferences, pain points and personas which help sellers adopt a more personalised, tailored approach.
Another result of better data and tools being made available to the sales team is that they now enjoy instant access to what they need and benefit from superior insight into each lead.
This opens up more purposeful conversations and faster closing of deals. Just a few years back a study by Aberdeen calculated that salespeople typically spent nearly six working days a month engaged in research. Imagine gaining back over a quarter of your month to sell, based on accurate insight.
That’s sales enablement.
Sales and marketing alignment
Having said that, content is often a key component in the sales enablement mix. Salespeople are more successful when they can provide prospects and leads with the right materials at the right time. And they are more successful when the messaging they use to close deals has been echoed in content a buyer encounters throughout their journey.
And the onus here is not just on marketing: it’s a two-way street. Historically, 65% of marketing content goes unused and there’s no way this is because 100% of this was ‘irrelevant’. Sales teams need to work with marketing to ensure content fits the bill and is used productively.
Sales Engagement and Retention
Sales enablement exists to help reps succeed. And when reps can produce better results, they’re more likely to be engaged with their jobs and stick around at your company long term.
SiriusDecisions reports that high-performing sales organizations provide more continuous learning, peer learning and advanced skills training than low-performing teams.
This extends not only to sales reps, but also to sales managers. Equipping front-line managers to support reps with good coaching and communication skills improves seller engagement and leads to better results.
“How your sales managers inspire, motivate, and engage your sales teams is the single most important practice to drive seller engagement.” – CSO Insights
With and without sales enablement
Let’s quickly sketch exactly what sales enablement brings to the table by imagining life with and without it.
How to introduce a sales enablement programme
1. Assess what your business needs
It’s important to define the precise issues that sales enablement will try to resolve. Setting clear goals will help you focus your resources.
For instance, if the sales team are underperforming an analysis of the sales funnel may reveal leakage focussed on the discovery phase and new team members struggling to close deals. From this it would be clear that discovery training and onboarding are critical areas.
2. Document your strategy
An outline of your sales enablement strategy allows clarity for teams affected and transparency for the executive team to sign-off.
3. Brush up on your presentation skills
You will need to sell your sales enablement programme internally and present it in a way that secures your leadership team’s buy in.
4. Gain support from the ground up
Change management requires gaining support from multiple teams and people. Make sure you present sales enablement so that it is immediately clear what is in it for each group of stakeholders.
5. Choose your sales enablement tool-kit
To a large extent this will depend on your goals and strategy, but common sales enablement tools include:
- Sales CRMs
- Sales intelligence software
- Content management platforms
- Customer experience management tools
- Sales and marketing automation software
- Sales enablement AI and predictive analytics
How can you measure the success of sales enablement?
As part of setting out your stall for sales enablement you should include key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help you measure your success in hitting your goals.
These may include:
- Lead to conversion rate
- Sales velocity
- Quota attainment
- Content usage (including email opens and clicks, content downloads, video views and content shares)
Where can you find out more about sales enablement?
If you want to find out more about sales enablement, buyer-centred selling and sales and marketing alignment here are some great places to start.
A sales enablement agency that is never short of thought-provoking ideas.
SiriusDecisions provides consulting services to help organisations improve their sales and marketing. They share insight about their research here.
Experienced B2B consultancy that writes extensively on sales and marketing alignment
Forrester is a research and advisory firm that helps businesses develop customer-centric strategies.
This sales management tool provider’s blog is brimming with pipeline management tips.
Tamara Schenk is a Research Director for CSO Insights and her blog addresses how to strategically use sales enablement.
The world’s leading enterprise cloud ecosystem, provides an assortment of tips and trends for sales enablement.
The MarTech blog features an assortment of content on marketing strategy with a focus on gaining competitive advantage through smart technology.
Oxygen Learning is a sales enablement consultancy.