As someone who has been a Sales Enablement “practitioner” for many years at companies both large and small, I’ve often pondered whether or not Sales Enablement is a truly strategic function. 

Before answering that question, we need answers to these:

  1. What is Sales Enablement?
  2. When should organizations invest in a formal Sales Enablement function?
  3. What kind of organizational politics are involved when looking to establish a Sales Enablement team?
  4. What is appropriate Sales Enablement staffing?
  5. Is it possible for Sales, Marketing, and Training to align with Sales Enablement?
  6. What are the right Sales Enablement Tools & Technology?

I’ve personally led several – and observed many more – Sales Enablement functions at B-2-B companies and offer answers to these questions from this perspective.

1. What is Sales Enablement?

Forrester Research offers the following definition:

Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.

I like the definition, because it contains some “keywords” that inform some of the critical success factors for a successful Sales Enablement Function: “conversations”, “stakeholders”, and “systematically”. 

On the other hand, “engineering” the correct seller-buyer conversation to take place systematically involves many moving parts and dependencies.  What is the content (messaging) that anchors the conversation, and how is this messaging developed and deployed to sales? 

What training is required and how often?  Which selling “system” (packaged or home-grown) is being employed? Is a formal selling system even a requirement?  From this definition we can already tell that the Marketing, Sales, and Training teams need to be fully aligned and involved.  We’ll get to that in #5. 

IDC Research has its own definition:

Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward.

IDC’s definition is more succinct and perhaps a bit less ambitious compared to Forrester’s.  We’re not trying to engineer the perfect conversation or gain deep knowledge of the buying process, and no formal selling system or methodology appears to be a requirement. On the other hand, does this relegate Sales Enablement to simply being a bunch of “content pushers”?

2. When should organizations invest in a formal sales enablement function?

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume our companies sell expensive and complex solutions or services to educated buyers in competitive markets.  

Furthermore, a need for a formal Sales Enablement function usually implies there is a competent, experienced, b-2-b seller who needs access to specialized content, techniques, and technology to be more effective. These sellers need help now more than ever. According to CSO Insights, less than 50% of salespeople made their number in 2013, and that percentage is steadily declining. 

3. What kind of organizational politics are involved when looking to establish a Sales Enablement team?

For those who can stomach the politics, challenges abound.  Sales Enablement is in the cross hairs of so many better staffed and better funded groups – Marketing, Sales, Sales Operations, Training, HR, Channels, etc.

You’re trading favors and making back room deals to get things done.

Frankly speaking, sales enablement is a thankless staff job! 

Tons of mandates and programs to launch, but no budget or authority to make any of it happen.  And ALL the accountability when one of the programs doesn’t meet with stunning success! On the other hand, the accountability mysteriously dissolves when things go great – success has a thousand fathers!

The “Waterloo” of the Sales Enablement leader is usually the Sales Kickoff, which is the only time you can influence meaningful budget dollars. 

Its frantic and stressful… and you’re mostly running around setting up tables and making sure speakers go to the right rooms. If it comes off great, it’s a small feather in your cap and oh, yeah – you can keep your job another year. 

4. What is appropriate Sales Enablement staffing?

Would it surprise you that many Sales Enablement VPs and Sr. Directors are individual contributors? In many cases the enablement function entails herding cats that live in Marketing, Sales Ops, Training, and a few other groups. Tasks include putting together project plans, scheduling web meetings, and planning lunch menus at regional training sessions. In this case maybe you don’t need staff.

BUT if you have a staff of 3-4 Sales Enablement Managers working for you then you truly have arrived! To be strategic, Sales Enablement has to have true ownership over – and accountability for – x-functional programs and initiatives, and this requires dedicated staff to make those programs a success

5. Is it possible for Sales, Marketing, and Training to align with Sales Enablement?

Herein lies the paradox. I’ve observed that the more autonomy Sales Enablement is given, the more headwinds that team will face. Marketing and Training are usually the most-often threatened by Sales Enablement. 

From their perspective, the mere existence of Sales Enablement implies they are somehow perceived to be deficient in some fashion.

After all, Marketing is the group that did all the enablement before that fancy “Sales Enablement” title even existed!  Says marketing: “Oh, so you don’t like my messaging, do you Sales Enablement?” Same with training: “So you think we don’t have enough virtual training, huh?”  Those discussions never end well, even if you sugar coat it!

6. What are the right Sales Enablement Tools & Technology?

Let’s review IDC’s definition:

Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward. 

To do this, WE NEED technology.

The WittyParrot Marketing Alignment and Sales Enablement Solution

We know this because we tried it by killing trees back in the 80s and 90s.  We took the content from marketing, swizzled it a bit into playbooks and battle cards, and stuffed the whole mess into big binders and playbooks that gathered dust on cubicle shelves; after all, they were obsolete the moment they were printed.

Then, along came the Intranet and portals in the late 90s, and we just took all the “stuff”, posted it, and emailed logins to sales. 

When you look at these portals – which may have prettier clothes and makeup on then they did years ago – they really haven’t changed much. 

You type in a search, get back 20 documents, and then you have to wade through them one by one to find the specific information nugget you are looking for. Then copy, paste, and reformat everything depending on how you are going to use it.

The next rung up in the Sales Enablement Technology evolutionary ladder  lies within IDC’s definition – that the information needs to be in the right format. 

The right format is information that is “atomized” or “componentized”, intelligently extracted from monolithic documents so it can be used contextually to address a customer’s needs and pain points, and that is easily accessed by a company’s knowledge workers without having to wade through some sales portal.  

Take the great content from Marketing, format it into knowledge nuggets, and use the right technology to deploy it to sellers (inside, direct, channels) for “just-in-time” access at the point of sale.

If you’ve componentized the content, it can be immediately used in a multitude of scenarios:

  • Rapid response to customer inquiries
  • Proposals
  • RFI/RFP response
  • Customized sales letters
  • Competitive response
  • Sales qualification
  • Call scripts

This means providing “sales-ready” information to sellers in a format that is readily usable and easily found.  It’s a practical endeavor that doesn’t require re-engineering the entire sales process.

To learn more about structuring content for reuse, download our new eBook “A Guide to Sales and Marketing Messaging Alignment with WittyParrot

Conclusion

While positioning Sales Enablement as a strategic function is difficult with a “top-down” approach, starting with a quick win (2-3 weeks to deploy) using the right technology will position Sales Enablement as a “value center” that provides useful tools for in-the-trenches sellers. 

Is this tactical? Perhaps.  But it can lay the foundation for a strategic mandate by building credibility with the people that really matter – sellers.

 

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Topics: Sales Enablement

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