Sales Enablement 101

Sales enablement has become a buzzword amongst business professionals, but what does it actually mean? And how can it help improve your business? 

This guide will answer all of these burning questions and teach you how to build a winning sales enablement plan for your business.

Introduction

Sales enablement is a popular business concept. It has been for many years. Yet few people really “get it”.

According to a recent report released by CSO Insights, the number of companies that have a sales enablement process increased by 79 percent between 2016 and 2017. Growth continued in 2018.

The same study reports that almost 60 percent of companies currently have a dedicated sales enablement function. Eight percent plan to introduce one in the near future.

There are approximately 40 sales enablement related LinkedIn groups and more than a quarter million people reference sales enablement in their profiles on the platform.

That’s in addition to countless software businesses, products, consulting firms, and websites that use the term in their names, descriptions or value propositions.

Google Trends reports that searches for “sales enablement” on Google increased by more than 50 percent year over year.  

This clearly demonstrates an extraordinary level of interest in sales enablement.

Despite all this information and chatter, few people really understand what sales enablement is and the impact it could have on their businesses.

HISTORY

The term can be traced back to the 1990s when it began to be used as an umbrella encompassing:

  • Sales knowledge management
  • Performance-based training
  • Sales material cataloging and distribution
  • Sales results tracking

The 1990s were a time when the concept of using systems, processes and procedures to improve sales became popular. There were countless products, books, conferences and speakers all positioning themselves as the next big thing in selling and sales enablement. The trend has continued over the last quarter century.

All the experts and their conflicting messages have made things worse, not better. For most people, it has become less clear what sales enablement is and what it does, not more.

SALES ENABLEMENT: WHAT IS IT?

Sales enablement is a process that provides people in sales organizations with the information, content and tools needed to sell in the most effective ways possible. It gives salespeople everything required to successfully engage with buyers throughout the selling process.

Information delivered through sales enablement takes two forms:

  1. Content and sales support materials that sales professionals use with buyers
  2. Training materials, including conversation guides, scripts, best practices, answers to frequently asked questions, research and tools that help sales people learn how to sell more effectively.

Content & sales support material

Content and support materials can be delivered in many ways. What’s important is that the right messages are delivered to target audiences at optimal times through media they regularly engage with. Mistimed messages delivered in media buyers are unfamiliar with or rarely use are wasted opportunities.

Unfortunately, prior to the advent of modern sales enablement, most marketing messages never got to their intended audiences. Ads were never seen in unopened magazines, direct mail got tossed, emails were ignored and collateral piled up unread until it was thrown away.

Sales enablement has reduced waste and improved marketing efficiency for the firms that take a disciplined approach to it.

A good sales enablement program consistently monitors the effectiveness of the collateral being used in the field so the messages, packaging, timing and delivery can be fine-tuned over time to optimize engagement and sales results.

Common types of content distributed through sales enablement systems include:

  • Sales presentations
  • Videos
  • Emails
  • E-brochures
  • Infographics
  • Forms
  • Social posts

Again, it’s critical that marketing professionals take time to understand target audiences and find out what they respond to before creating any new pieces. Marketers should also partner with salespeople to learn how the pieces will be used so they’re packaged effectively.

Training material

The training supplied through sales enablement includes top-down education on sales techniques, messages and materials. It’s delivered through videos, in-person sessions, manuals, fact sheets, research, best practices and answers to common questions.

Tip: No matter how the information in a sales enablement system is formatted or presented, it should be easy to consume and usable by everyone in a sales department or division of it.

Training programs can also leverage collaboration tools that encourage interactive participation of sales people and marketers. These tools transform training into a group effort that generates fresh knowledge and insights over time.

One of the most critical types of training offered through sales enablement programs is onboarding for new sales team members. Many organizations make the mistake of rushing new sales reps into the field so they can start earning revenue as soon as possible. If they don’t have a solid understanding of your company and the products and services it offers, they could do significant damage to your brand and company’s reputation.

A sales enablement system can deliver a solid and efficient onboarding experience to new employees. This allows them to start selling as soon as possible without harming your business.

Sales training isn’t once-and-done. It’s easy for seasoned reps to become stale over time or pick up bad habits. A sales enablement program and system delivers continuing education so sales reps constantly learn how to sell new product and service offerings, use updated sales collateral and adopt techniques that will help them close more deals. It will keep them performing at their peak.

Specifically, sales training can:

  • Prepare reps for new assignments
  • Improve the skills and behaviors of low performing salespeople
  • Introduce new or enhanced products and services
  • Support changes in sales messaging
  • Make new hires productive quickly
  • Take the skills of successful salespeople to the next level
  • Correct deficiencies

 

Tip: Many companies use sales enablement to transfer knowledge and best practices from their top sales people to the rest of the sales team.

Organizations that align their training with their enablement programs improve their win rates by almost 28 percent

OWNERSHIP

Sales enablement can only be successful if it’s jointly owned by marketing and sales.

  • Marketing supplies sales with messages and materials, along with training on how to use them. Marketing typically manages the system, making sure everything is current and up-to-date. They also consistently monitor the effectiveness of marketing and sales programs.
  • Sales implements and operationalizes the program, ensuring the materials and training supplied are used as intended. It also has significant input on knowledge gaps and training needs. Sales also provides feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

In the end, marketing should be thought of as the creator — and sales as the driver — of sales enablement.

 

Sales Enablement Team

When it comes to building a successful sales team, quality always beats quantity. It doesn’t matter how many reps a company adds if it doesn’t have the right sales enablement personnel to back them up and guide them.

At a minimum, every sales enablement team should include the following people.

Sales Enablement Manager

The manager is in charge of all sales enablement initiatives. They oversee the launch of the program and the implementation of its processes, procedures and systems. Once the program is up and running, they’re responsible for its ongoing operations.

The manager typically handles:

  • Uploading new marketing and training materials to the sales enablement system
  • Removing outdated pieces
  • Monitoring usage of marketing content
  • Scheduling and leading meetings
  • Providing regular reports and updates to key stakeholders

A good manager is a champion for the program and is willing to do anything it takes to achieve success.

The ideal candidate for this position should have several years of sales enablement experience. The program manager typically reports into marketing, but are in constant contact with members of the sales team. For many start-ups and smaller firms, this responsibility falls to a marketing manager in addition to their regular duties. In larger companies, the sales enablement manager is a dedicated position that may have a team supporting them.

Analytics Manager

People launching new sales enablement programs are often overwhelmed by the amount of data they have access to. Marketers and sales professionals generally don’t have the backgrounds required to read and interpret it.

It’s critical to find someone with a background in data and analytics to support them. Small companies may have an accountant or bookkeeper that can pitch in. Or they could find temporary help on an as needed basis. Larger organizations usually have employees with analytical backgrounds that can become part of the team or they hire dedicated sales analysts.

Training Manager

The training manager is responsible for understanding what sales reps need to learn to be effective doing their jobs and supplying training to educate them. This includes everything from on-boarding to improving skills and filling knowledge gaps.

Training managers typically partner with the marketing team to develop different types of learning experiences or purchase them from outside sources.

They check that everyone completes their assignments on time, monitor the effectiveness of the training and recommend changes to improve it.

At smaller firms, the training manager responsibilities are handled by an experienced member of the sales team. At firms with large sales forces, it’s a dedicated position that is supported by a team of training experts.

Marketing Manager

The marketing manager is responsible for developing the messaging and materials sales reps use to support their interactions with prospects and clients. They also, working in close partnership with the training manager, develop training or purchase it from a supplier.

In smaller companies, marketing managers may create assets themselves or work with agencies and freelancers. At larger firms, they typically have a team to back them up.

To achieve success, marketing managers must work closely with people on the sales team, along with the sales enablement manager and data expert to understand which messages and materials are working and which are not, so they can be improved over time.

C-Suite Executive

As with any business initiative, a sales enablement program needs a senior-level company sponsor for it to succeed. The sponsor attends meetings, provides insights and most importantly, communicates the importance of sales enablement to the organization.

At smaller businesses, this position is usually filled by the owner or head of sales. At larger ones, it’s an executive that oversees sales or marketing, such as a chief sales officer or chief marketing officer.

Filling all these roles will help ensure your sales team will succeed.

Now that we’ve built a common understanding of what sales enablement is, how it works and who needs to be involved in a program, let’s take a look at the benefits of it.

Having a sales enablement charter is linked to a 27.6 percent increase in reaching sales quotas

THE VALUE SALES ENABLEMENT PROVIDES TO ORGANIZATIONS

Sales enablement has been proven to increase sales and improve company performance over time. It has a positive impact on businesses of all sizes, from fewer than five sales people to more than 1,000. Companies in any industry that sell products and services benefit.

Most people think the only beneficiary of sales enablement is the sales department. However, good sales enablement programs are equally about buyers. Sales enablement programs can only be successful if it gives sales people tools and information to engage with their target prospects and convert them into clients. In the end, it’s all about finding the best ways to connect salespeople with purchasers and getting prospective clients to take action.

In addition to improving bottom-line results, sales enablement — and related systems — provide the following benefits:

Aligns marketing & sales

The conflict between marketing and sales is well known. Their differing perspectives are often the result of working off different technologies and platforms. Sales enablement systems connect all these things together so the two groups are able to see the same sources of data and information. This improves dialogue and cooperation.

Increases responsiveness

Sales enablement systems make it easier to find materials when reps get unexpected questions or requests during in-person meetings or phone calls.

Completes deals faster

Data from sales enablement can be used to find unnecessary steps in the sales process so they can be eliminated. The systems also provide immediate access to forms and other tools needed to complete deals.

Improves interactions

Sales enablement technology can be customized to improve everyday client interactions. It can be leveraged to enhance content flow between firms and their clients, as well. This functionality is important to companies such as advertising and marketing agencies, that need to pass drafts, storyboards and concepts to clients.

Increases efficiency

Sales enablement brings greater efficiencies that allows reps to find more hours to sell and close deals. It also ensures that training is purposeful and meaningful and will pay off in improved performance.

Keeps companies compliant

Sales enablement systems help ensure the latest, approved versions of materials are used with the public. This is particularly valuable to companies in highly-regulated industries, such as those in the healthcare field.

Metric Tracking

One of the key reasons sales enablement delivers bottom line benefits to organizations is because it makes it possible to monitor metrics, allowing them to identify positive and negative trends and giving them the power to improve how they sell.

Some of the key metrics that are typically monitored include:

  • Average time to close sales, which will go down over time
  • Percentage of reps achieving goals, which will increase
  • Average deal size, which will be optimized based on company goals

There are other metrics which can be tracked, but these three are good indicators of how the overall sales process is working.

Another key part of sales enablement is understanding if — and how — your sales team uses sales collateral. The best programs track usage and make certain resources are being used by everyone as intended. It also identifies materials that are — and are not — effective.

In the end, sales enablement should be central to every company culture. Everyone must either be working in sales or supporting it. Any other activities are unnecessary, and sales enablement will help identify and eliminate them.

Tip: Companies that understand every employee must be involved in helping improve sales and overall performance are ones that are more likely to succeed.

 

Organizations with sales enablement programs are 96 percent more likely to achieve competitive levels of sales sophistication

DEVELOPING A SALES ENABLEMENT PROGRAM

Every organization is unique and so is every sales enablement program. However, there are certain commonalities. Here are seven steps typically involved in creating sales enablement programs.

7 STEPS

1. Setting and communicating goals

You can’t implement a sales enablement program if you don’t know its purpose and what you want it to achieve. Sales and marketing must work together with organizational leadership to come up with and document measurable goals.

2. Defining the end-to-end customer experience

Sales enablement is all about helping sales people engage buyers in the most effective way possible. You can’t do that if you haven’t documented an optimal customer experience. This isn’t a once and done activity. Your buying journey will evolve over time based on knowledge gained through sales enablement.

3. Selecting a system

It’s almost impossible to employ sales enablement without technology to support it. We’ll explain what to look for in a sales enablement system in the next section.

4. Planning for deliverables

Marketing and sales should work together to identify the types of materials and training that must be developed to support the end-to-end sales experience.

5. Developing content

It’s a mistake to launch a sales enablement program with random, legacy sales materials. Doing so frustrates salespeople and makes it almost impossible to measure effectiveness against the defined sales process. If necessary, delay introducing sales enablement at your business until you have current, fully-aligned sales content.

6. Making training a top priority

As we know, training must be an ongoing part of the sales enablement process. Launch your program with modules about your optimal customer experience and on new sales support materials. Training should be consistently updated over time based on best practices. New content should be added when processes, procedures and materials are introduced.

7. Monitoring use of materials and training

Sales enablement programs fail if no one watches how salespeople use what’s provided to them. It’s easy for reps to fall back into old, bad habits. Sales enablement is a numbers game. A business can’t know if it’s winning if no one keeps score.

Need help setting up your program?

If you have questions about setting up a sales enablement program, speak with someone who has launched a successful one at their organization, hire an expert consultant, join sales enablement groups on Linkedin or attend conferences.

There is no single right way to build a program. You owe it to yourself and your business to do your research and gather differing perspectives so you find the model and process that’s right for you.

Start your sales enablement journey today

Request a call with one of our experts to learn more.​