Sales enablement has arrived in a big way, going from “What is sales enablement?” to entire departments dedicated to this effort in a relatively short period of time. The Sales Enablement Society started with 16 members in February 2016 and has grown to over 2,500 members in 13 countries in 2018. What has driven the growth of sales enablement (SE) is the profound number of innovations that are affecting sales organizations, giving sales professionals and leaders more tools, from CRM to mobile apps, to help the sales professional be more successful. But if you were to ask 10 people what “sales enablement” is, you would likely get 10 different responses. In fact, many would have difficulty articulating what SE is at all. That the definition is still evolving in the midst of this dramatic growth is significant and speaks to both the power of SE and the confusion surrounding it.
By its broadest definition, sales enablement is the process of providing the sales organization with information, content and tools that help sales professionals sell more effectively, with a primary function of enabling sales team members to successfully engage the buyer throughout the purchase process. The definition of SE often is manipulated based on what particular sales enablement tool a vendor is selling or what gaps sales leaders have identified in their sales team.
A critical part of understanding sales enablement is understanding what it is not. Sales enablement is not any singular technology, sales or marketing strategy, selling skill, product knowledge, or customer experience model. Rather, SE is the alignment of multiple elements, including but not limited to the tools that have emerged over the last five to seven years, in a cohesive manner that creates competitive advantage for organizations and brings insight, innovation and engagement to customers.
Sales enablement is the ability of the organization to merge into a comprehensive market strategy three distinct areas of sales and marketing: development, technology and strategy. With the culmination of these three areas, sales enablement allows us to modify technology and its information to be more insightful to both the customer and the sales professional and represents an aligned strategy for the markets we serve. This strategic lens ensures that information and actions work toward a common end. Is the focus on product, service, price or customer experience? Where do sales skills come into play, and how do you develop, coach and impact your sales teams to be a strategic difference?
Regardless of the sales enablement tools provided, sales professionals need foundational selling skills to succeed. In fact, one could argue that sales skill development is the original sales enablement tool. We also know that coaching is critical to skill development. Without coaching intervention, sales skills will not improve, behaviors will not change and improvements will not be sustained. An added challenge is the fact that today’s sales leaders are stretched further than ever and able to spend less time developing their teams. One wonders if the recent emphasis on hiring skills for sales leaders reflects a misguided belief that better hiring will lessen the need for coaching or skills training.
The objective of sales enablement is to provide sales professionals with resources to better understand and meet customers’ buying needs, as well as provide insights to the customers that make them better marketplace competitors. If organizations are to fully realize ROI for their sales enablement investments, sales professionals must know how to use the new tools. In addition to developing foundational selling skills, organizations must also invest in training and development on how to use specific SE tools – for the benefit of their own organization and their customers’ organizations. At the end of the day, foundational selling skills come back into play, since the sales professionals must have well developed communication and engagement skills to effectively apply these capabilities in specific customer situations.
Over the last several years, sales organizations have been overwhelmed with investment in technology: CRM, sales metrics software, marketing automation, SEO and lead generation tools, social selling platforms, and many more, as we seek to harvest all the new capabilities available and pursue a timelier, more efficient and more mobile sales force. Customer metrics are key performance indicators to help sales leadership understand performance. Sales professionals can use the technology to dramatically increase their productivity and efficiency. Technology platforms can also provide an effective coaching development platform and capabilities for sharing key insights and success stories within the sales organization. In this capacity, technology can take your development investment to a new level. With regard to content development and sharing, technology is a multiplier for success as a means to connect with and nurture leads and customers.
Creating an aligned customer experience is critical to short- and long-term success, yet sales and marketing often lack alignment in their function and/or messaging to customers. This issue goes back to the key strategic considerations regarding the position your organization seeks to occupy in the marketplace and your strategic focus to get there. When development and technology are aligned to strategy, the customer sees a seamless interaction from all aspects of the organization. Without alignment, neither customers nor sales professionals will engage. There is so much information continuously available to your customers with the potential to provide insight, innovation and engagement – but only if it is developed, packaged and delivered in a relevant and meaningful way. That requires alignment – both between sales and marketing and between processes and strategy.
The confluence of these three areas creates usable sales enablement for sales professionals and sales leaders. For example, technology now has a use beyond sales metrics, because we have access and insight into how customers are interacting with our organization. Effective development spans skills relative to sales function and specific SE tools, with a provision for a coaching component. All are aligned and applied within the organization’s strategic objectives.
A key concern is what has been lost in the buyer’s journey. Amidst the technology, software, social media and all the shiny objects in which we have invested, we have been distracted at the expense of foundational sales practices. We have veered from emphasizing the basics, to the detriment of sales effectiveness. Buying behaviors have changed significantly over the last 15 years, but the fundamentals that make or break a sales call are still the same. Optimal sales enablement is the integration of the new and old to create sales teams that are a strategic advantage.