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How to Build a Successful Sales Enablement Initiative in 5 Steps

Facing the pandemic and related challenges all over the world, the need for change is huge. That’s true in all areas of our lives — including how we run our businesses.

Looking at the sales space, we are facing a few very specific challenges.

Buyers are in fear, postponing decisions and cutting budgets. As a result, all selling approaches that focus on selling a product or taking an order will fail.

Only sales approaches that clearly connect your solution to the buyers’ specific business challenges — challenges that have been properly diagnosed beforehand — have a chance to succeed.

The same is true for sales enablement. In critical times, only sales enablement that’s been proven to move the needle will survive.

For sales enablement, that’s challenging. Many sales enablement teams won’t survive the current crisis, simply because they haven’t been able to demonstrate tangible results so far.

What’s missing? A sales enablement framework that’s been proven to work.

Researchers have confirmed time and again that only a small percentage of organizations apply critical success criteria for effective sales enablement, whereas the majority of organizations invest in sales enablement without moving the performance needle.

The need to set up and lead sales enablement effectively has never been more important than NOW.

That’s why, in this article, I’m going to give you a 5-step process to set up your enablement initiative right so you can effectively move the needle on performance.

How to Approach Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is a cross-functional discipline for driving your desired sales results. It is not a campaign or project intended to improve standard business metrics.

Any project or program approach that’s focused on meeting the budget, the timeline, or the quality won’t work. Research proves that year after year.

In my book, co-authored with Byron Matthews, Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower a World-Class Sales Force, you can see that if sales enablement is treated as a project, only one-third (35%) of organizations will meet the majority or all of their stakeholders’ expectations.

Instead, if sales enablement is set up in a formal way — with a charter (business plan) that’s aligned with and connects to the organization’s business strategy and that’s tailored to tackle specific challenges of the sales force — more than half (51%) of organizations met the majority or all of their stakeholders’ expectations.

In fact, the impact on win rates and quota attainment impact was significant — research in 2018 and 2019 confirmed this trend.

What does it mean? How can organizations get there?

The Challenge for Sales Enablement Right Now

Over the last several years, I’ve repeatedly pointed out in various publications that in the face of an economic downturn similar to the one we’re facing now, the first thing Finance does is examine which functions are essential and which are not.

To be sure your department survives, you need a business leader to set up Sales Enablement in an effective way.

Today, many sales enablement teams cannot prove their business relevance because they are managed as one-off projects or programs, focusing more on budget than on business impact.

The reason for that is often sales leaders themselves — because they often underestimate the complexity of sales enablement and hire program managers to lead it. Don’t get me wrong, every enablement team needs program managers. Just not at the helm.

If you as a sales leader, looking for a head of sales enablement, you should hire a business leader to set up sales enablement in a strategic, formal, and effective way — as an engine to drive the desired sales results.

A program manager usually does not have the required business acumen nor the internal sales skills to get on senior executives’ calendars. And that’s crucial to success, as only in conversations with senior executives will they get the various perspectives of your leadership.

After talking to the sales leader, the marketing leader, and the customer experience or customer success leader, your sales enablement leader have the proper perspective and be able to map it against their initial analysis and assessment results.

By the way, these are mandatory interviews. They’re the MOST critical issue to sales enablement success, and in many organizations, they are often not conducted at all. That’s why you need a sales enablement leader or business leader in this role, and not a project manager.

Again, you will need program managers, of course, but not as the head of sales enablement.

5 Steps to A Successful Sales Enablement Initiative

Now, I’m going to share a 5-step process for building a successful sales enablement initiative from scratch — or leveling up an existing one — so you can both drive and demonstrate significant results.

Step 1. Assess and identify the root cause of your challenges and align to your company’s digital business strategy.

It’s crucial to determine what the specific point of departure is in your organization. More precisely, you need to identify the actual problems in your sales organization that are essential to drive results.

It never works to implement a program that worked elsewhere. Every organization is different, even if the core challenges might look the same: The culture is different, the organization’s “DNA” is different, the senior executives are different, and their goals as well.

Equally important is a thorough understanding of your company’s digital business and sales strategy.

RELATED: Power-Up Your B2B Sales Enablement Strategy With These Essential Tips

To get a clear picture of the situation and the senior executives’ desired results, assess the current state of your business goals, how well they’re being executed on, and the challenges to achieving them.

Structured interviews are an essential part of this process. They’ll help you understand the vision, goals, objectives, and metrics.

Step 2. Create a targeted, tailored, focused sales enablement strategy.

Armed with the information you gather from Step 1, you can answer these important questions:

  • Where are we?
  • What’s the actual problem to be solved?
  • Where do we want to go?

You can then develop your organization’s sales enablement mission and create a specific, tailored, and targeted sales enablement strategy.

You also need to capture your strategy in a charter or business plan. The name doesn’t matter. What matters is what you put it into your charter or business plan.

Here are the essential elements in a strong strategy:

  • The target audience (e.g., customer-facing professionals and their managers)
  • The desired results
  • The related enablement services that should be created and implemented (e.g., content, training, coaching)
  • All the steps that are necessary to get there

Part of this strategy can be, for instance, the selection of the required technology:

  1. To implement cross-functional content strategies and content management processes
  2. To reinforce integrated value messaging approaches
  3. To establish a related training landscape, ideally digital
  4. To enable sales managers to become frontline sales coaches

Often overlooked, but ultra-important: You need to define the KPIs that will be used to measure sales enablement success and its impact on the senior executives’ desired results.

As an example, if sales enablement KPIs are focused on ramp-up time for new hires and conversion rates from your leads to sales opportunities, it’s important to show their impact on the revenue goal, the average deal size, the win rate goal, or the quota attainment goal.

Step 3. Don’t forget the internal capabilities you need to build.

Make sure you consider both what you will provide for your audience (your defined sales enablement services), and what needs to be implemented to deliver those services.

Often, the latter is underestimated or completely overlooked. When that happens, enablement teams become chaotic, try to fix everything on the last mile, and are not able to scale their services.

As an example, you will need a structured collaboration model as you have to orchestrate multiple activities across various functions. Also, you will need a process to be able to produce the required sales enablement services in a scalable, efficient, and effective way.

Step 4. Define the relevant metrics to be achieved.

Often overlooked, but ultra-important is to define the KPIs that will be used to measure sales enablement success and its impact on the senior executives’ desired results.

As an example, sales enablement KPIs are usually focused on ramp-up time for new hires and conversion rates from lead to opportunities. It’s important to also show their impact on the revenue goal, the average deal size, the win rate goal, or the quota attainment goal.

Here, it’s crucial to understand how leading and lagging indicators are connected, and what KPIs have to be achieved first, before the lagging indicators senior executives expect can be achieved.

Step 5. Getting approval, and introducing an advisory board.

All necessary investments should be derived from the strategy and be included in the sales enablement charter. This charter then serves as a business plan and a guideline to keep the agreed priorities front and center throughout the fiscal year.

Your senior executives should approve your charter/business plan with all the related decisions that have to be made. Then invite them to the first sales enablement advisory board, which should serve as a key element of your governance model.

Ideally, you’ll hold advisory board meetings regularly to report about progress achievements, address decisions to be made, and learn more about the corporate weather forecast.

Bottom Line

Based on research over the last couple of years, few organizations get this right. On average, one quarter to one-third of organizations met their stakeholders’ expectations and achieved significantly better sales results.

That means the majority of organizations did not. And that’s a situation that needs to be addressed. Right NOW.

Check out these valuable resources to learn more and get it right!

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      Profile picture of Elias Suliman
      @elias-suliman
      ( 520 POINTS )
      2 years, 3 months ago

      This is a great piece @tamara-schenk! What I really like is that this is as relevant to a startup just looking to kick off sales enablement as to a enterprise!

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