“Enablement” is a term that’s used more and more in sales and training. But what exactly does it mean?

Sales enablement is the structure and programs an organization puts in place to help sales teams achieve their sales goals. Unboxed Technology defines it as “a strategic initiative that aligns sales, marketing, and training to equip sales teams with the training, technology, content, and ongoing coaching they need to increase productivity, sell more, and improve the customer experience.”

In CSO Insights’ latest sales enablement optimization study, researchers redefined sales enablement as “a strategic, collaborative discipline designed to increase predictable sales results by providing consistent, scalable enablement services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value in every customer interaction.”

This definition focuses on consistency, scalability and what really matters: adding value in every customer interaction. Importantly, it also leaves out a previous component of CSO’s definition, “powered by technology,” because at this point in the evolution of sales and sales enablement, the researchers believe its use of technology is obvious. Another important note about the definition is its identification of sales enablement’s target audience as not just sales reps but all customer-facing professionals and their managers.

“Enablement services” include content, training and coaching. Tamara Schenk, research director of CSO Insights, says that sales coaching is the most impactful service; organizations with a formal or dynamic coaching approach demonstrate a 27.6 percent higher average win rate for forecast deals than organizations without such an approach.

Successful sales enablement includes a coherent, effective process; easy access to curated content; alignment with learning strategy and company goals; and sales leaders who are invested in their people.

Sales enablement is a relatively new concept in the industry, but it’s becoming more popular as organizations see its benefits. According to CSO Insights’ research, almost two-thirds of organizations have sales enablement functions, compared to one-third in 2016, but only one-third have achieved most or all of their goals – meaning two-thirds are still learning how to make sales enablement effective. Those who are effective, however, see higher rates of quota achievement among their salespeople.

Brian Leach, CEO and co-founder of Unboxed Technology, writes that sales enablement can help make new reps productive three to four months more quickly. By making sales reps better informed, it also means they can educate customers better, which builds more trusting relationships and adds value.

Where to Start

Schenk describes sales enablement as an organization’s “rough diamond that needs to be cut and polished.” If you’ve only just started mining your sales enablement diamond, don’t worry – here are some tips that will help.

A holistic, strategic sales enablement approach, Schenk says, “begins with the customers and their experience as the primary design point and factors in the business and sales strategies, the current challenges and the goals to be achieved.” Rick Lloyd, vice president of sales at Unboxed Technology, agrees that starting strategically is important, writing, “Without a well-planned strategy to accomplish your organization’s sales enablement objectives, you could waste time, effort, and money on so called ‘silver bullets’ without achieving results.”

A sales enablement charter can formalize your strategy and approach, and CSO Insights’ research found that organizations with a formal sales enablement charter had a 27.6 percent higher quota attainment rate than organizations without one. The charter should include a definition of the business problem(s) sales enablement will help solve, your target audience(s), strategies and activities to accomplish your goals (mapped on a timeline), and the metrics you’ll use to measure success. When creating your charter, make sure to align all your enablement services with the customer’s journey.

Metrics can include win rates, average deal sizes, new account acquisitions, ramp-up time, productivity and time spent searching for content. Schenk notes that it’s important to be aware that you’re “always working in complex environments with many different dimensions impacting each other.”

Make sure all relevant team members are involved in the process of developing a sales enablement function, including the main stakeholder (likely the sales leader) and sales operations, marketing, product management, human resources, L&D and IT personnel. If your organization is large, it may help to identify business units or industries that would be good pilots for the new enablement program. The sales enablement function helps coordinate all of these areas, Schenk says, preventing siloed thinking, which is a common problem.

Start with an initiative that has high impact and high probability for success. However, Schenk says, always make sure you’re managing stakeholder expectations; “the impact [of your sales enablement programs] won’t happen in that same quarter. It will be later, depending on the rhythm of your business.”