A compelling conversation about “sales enablement” is unfolding among thought leaders in sales and marketing. The initial emphasis on sales enablement grew out of what “Harvard Business Review” calls “the notoriously fraught relationship between sales and marketing.”
As companies sought solutions to better align sales and marketing to drive revenue, people started to talk about how they should approach and align other functions in order to enable sales. Yet as with any exciting evolution, there is a lot of buzz but not necessarily a great deal of clarity as to what it means. So what exactly is sales enablement, why does it matter to your business and what are the keys to doing it well?
Why Does Sales Enablement Matter?
Everyone wants a piece of the salesforce. Internal functions, such as marketing, training, research and development, and sales operations, all have information they want to provide to sales. Well-intentioned efforts to help equip your salespeople with knowledge, information and resources may actually be wasting precious selling time as your salesforce struggles to make sense of it all.
Ask yourself these questions to identify opportunities for improving your company’s sales enablement:
- Have your internal processes failed to keep pace with the way your customers prefer to shop, buy and use your company’s products or services?
- Are you hearing customers and salespeople complain about information overload?
- Are various internal functions competing for your salespeople’s time?
- Are your salespeople receiving conflicting messages from different sources?
- Is time wasted on training that is not relevant or immediately useful?
What Sales Enablement Is
Put simply, sales enablement is an approach that bridges the gap between sales strategy and execution. It ensures that actions taken to support your sales and service functions align with the overall strategy of your organization and with the way you want your customers to experience your brand.
What Sales Enablement Isn’t
Sales enablement is a new term, and many companies make the mistake of applying this new term to old ways of doing things. They rename “sales training” to “sales enablement,” or they create more mobile or technology-assisted selling tools and call these tools “sales enablement.” The reality is that learning and technology are important to sales enablement, but they are only parts of the equation, and focusing on any one element in a vacuum is likely to produce limited results.
What’s Critical for Success?
A systems view of sales enablement includes four core elements that must be aligned with one another, with your organization’s go-to-market strategy and with your desired customer experience. Achieving or improving this triple alignment is the ultimate objective of sales enablement. Let’s consider each of the four core elements in more detail.
Process Mesh or Mess?
All too often, the sales processes and systems that are intended to help drive results actually conflict with one another and consume time. Consider the following questions:
- Does your salesforce rely on or resist using your CRM system?
- Do you have a well-defined sales process? Does your salesforce consistently follow it, and do managers coach to it?
- How well do your sales process and systems mesh with your customers’ shopping and purchasing processes and preferences?
Information: Access or Overload?
A sales enablement approach to information and resources focuses on optimizing the streams of information aimed at the salesforce, support staff, customers and prospects. When these flows are orchestrated by a sales enablement strategy, the sales process begins to synchronize more closely with the “shop and buy” cycles of customer organizations. Instead of being overwhelmed by the constant push of information into their space from other parts of the organization, salespeople begin to pull critical information and skillfully guide it toward customers. Instead of simply reacting to customer inquiries, salespeople and support staff are able to anticipate customer questions, and, as a result, customers begin to view the information they provide as an important source of value.
Learning Clutter or Learning Strategy?
In order to support sales enablement, your learning team must stop focusing on the quantity of learning programs and instead develop a learning strategy for sales that is aligned with both your organization’s go-to-market strategy and with your vision for the desired customer experience. The team must partner with sales leadership to define the mindsets and behaviors necessary to execute the strategy. The salespeople must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to engage prospects and customers to drive sales forward. Sales leaders must also be equipped to coach salespeople toward higher levels of performance. Consult with business leaders to identify barriers to successful sales performance and drive solutions that go beyond training and development.
Leadership: Tactical and Practical
No element has a greater impact on sales effectiveness than the day-to-day practices of sales leaders. Unfortunately, few organizations take the time to actively ensure that sales leaders fully embrace and then visibly support all the systems, information and learning described above. A sales enablement approach entails asking the following questions and addressing identified disconnects and gaps:
- Do the everyday actions of sales managers and their supervisors support the organization’s strategy and desired customer experience?
- Do they accept the importance of their coaching role to the success of the sales strategy?
- Have they had sufficient skills training to be effective in their role as coaches?
- Who is coaching the coaches?
- Are leaders held accountable for ensuring alignment and performance?
Sales enablement requires new levels of cross-functional collaboration. More than ever, the productivity of the salesforce is tied to how effectively marketing and other internal support teams work with sales and one another.
To improve your company’s efforts at sales enablement, consider beginning by bringing together leaders from multiple functions to engage in a sales enablement audit. Using the questions posed above to guide discovery and dialogue will allow the team to identify inefficiencies and identify improvement opportunities.
A well planned and executed systems approach to sales enablement can yield increases in sales by maximizing the role of sales leaders, optimizing the flow of information to salespeople, leveraging cross-functional collaboration and freeing salespeople to spend more time with customers. Done well, sales enablement closes the gap between sales strategy and sales execution.