If the impact of your sales enablement initiative seems disappointing or misunderstood, it could be because of your organization’s (all too common) mistake of confusing sales training with sales enablement.
There’s no doubt that sales training is key for reps’ foundational knowledge of their company and the product it equips them with the basics they need to do their jobs. For example, if they’re selling equipment leases in Massachusetts – a state with very different laws than the rest of the U.S. – reps need to understand the local rules and regulations.
Sales training is ideally suited for onboarding new hires and getting them up to speed, but sales training alone can’t help to move the revenue dial.
By nature, sales training wasn’t designed to help salespeople foster new skills and behaviors, such as how to ask timely questions, build customer rapport, or counter objections. It also wasn’t designed to help reps improve their knowledge over time, or to keep up on the latest market updates and movements so they can continually engage prospects.
Sales training programs lack the ability to measure and track progress, leaving sales and business leaders in the dark about where their efforts are succeeding and where they aren’t and usually doesn’t engage multiple stakeholders or align with the overall business goals of driving revenue and brand affinity. At the end of the day, sales training in and of itself is only a portion of the overall solution that an organization needs to be adopting.
What Sales Enablement Isn’t
Sales enablement is not – or more accurately, is not only – about training and onboarding. What it does best lies well beyond the onboarding process: continually providing the tools and support salespeople need, when they need it, and wherever they need it.
Sales enablement also is not only about supporting sales training events. Sales enablement leaders are realizing that event-based, one-and-done approaches to preparing their sales reps are both costly and woefully ineffective.
Forrester analyst Mary Shea observed in her report from March 2018 entitled Now Tech: Sales Readiness Tools, Q1 2018: “As the bar continues to rise for salespeople, B2B marketing and sales leaders must modernize training for their sellers. Event-based sales training falls short for all constituents. This approach is time-consuming, expensive, and lacks analytics.” (The report is available for Forrester clients here).
What Sales Enablement Is
Now that we’ve covered what sales enablement isn’t, let’s talk about what sales enablement should be, and when done right, what it can uniquely do for an organization. First and foremost, it should be considered strategic in helping to deliver on the goals of onboarding and sales training. More importantly, though, it can mobilize, amplify and continually reinforce the foundational knowledge reps learn in the onboarding process.
Effective sales enablement should deliver:
1. A view of reps’ knowledge, skills, and behavior.
How do you know that the training you’re giving your salespeople is actually making a difference in the field? In one word – data.
A proper sales enablement program will help you answer questions like:
- What do my reps know?
- How are they talking about the company and the offering?
- How are they handling objections or concerns?
- Are they capable of creating an environment conducive to selling?
Ultimately, you should be able to correlate the data from your sales enablement efforts to your reps results to show individual reps’ gaps and leaders can provide the necessary additional training, coaching, or remediation. And lastly, it will use data to show decision-makers if their teams are on track or in need of an adjustment.
2. Rigorous alignment with business goals.
Regardless of where sales enablement fits into the organization, it’s clear it works best when it’s a cross-functional effort that ultimately encompasses not just salespeople, but also high-level executives and everybody who has a customer-facing role. At its best, sales enablement eliminates time and money-wasting disconnects between operations, sales, and marketing.
To do this you need to “get a seat at the table” for the business strategy conversations so at least you can communicate the power of sales enablement beyond the onboarding/sales training zone. Be ready to articulate, loud and clear, how a broader approach to sales enablement can support the company’s vision. Because when an organization properly invests time and resources into your sales enablement, there should be a considerable return on that investment.
Additionally, this cross-functional nature of enablement means it’s ideally positioned to ensure that sales strategies don’t stray from overall company objectives. A solid sales enablement strategy takes time to construct, but once it’s in place it fosters stability and consistency. When it takes a considered, calculated and methodical approach to supporting a strategy that is aligned with the business goals.
3. Replicating the success of “A” players.
If a sales executive gets excited after closing a big account—and management wants the team to use the same approach, it’s necessary to ask, is what the sales executive did able to be replicated? What specific plays did the happy sales exec think made the difference? Or it worked this one time, but did he get just get lucky? Sales enablement, when used correctly, can be a positive forcing function for helping to turn a portion of “B” players into “A” players.
The Don’ts for Sales Enablement
Don’t mistake sales training for sales enablement. Sales training is ideally suited for onboarding new hires and getting them up to speed on mandated company compliance or product knowledge. But on its own, sales training doesn’t have the ability to support reps’ in the skills and behaviors necessary to engage customers and grow revenue.
Don’t forget to engage with multiple stakeholders. The saying “it takes a village” definitely applies to sales enablement. To get the full benefit of a sales enablement investment it takes executive and cross-functional team buy-in and participation. Otherwise, the sales enablement leader of one has an uphill battle implementing a meaningful program over time.
Don’t mistake quantity for quality. More content doesn’t translate to learning and retention. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Start with the end in mind and try to think of the outcomes you want from your sales enablement efforts. Just because you have a platform to push and measure engagement with content, doesn’t mean you should inundate your representatives with it. Sales enablement should shorten, not increase, skill and behavior development time for reps.
The Do’s for Sales Enablement
Get a seat at the table. Sales enablement leaders must act as a champion for their own team at the table, but also, as a liaison to the C-suite. This means keeping the larger business goals in mind and understanding how their teams can impact and improve them, with clear, actionable methods. When sales enablement leaders are included in the decision-making process, organizations now have all the right people to make the best decisions to drive the business’ success.
Test and enhance (aka hack). Investigate platforms that enable split testing, gamification, microlearning, and assessments to enhance reps’ engagement with your content. Look for creative ways to continuously measure and improve their performance through content, training, coaching and more.
Crash the silo of one. Keep sales enablement true to its cross-functional nature. Even if you’re an army of one, it’s still a team effort. If you don’t have dedicated resources, you’ll need kindred spirits across a variety of departments who are ready to help you shoulder the workload for this crucial initiative.
Don’t be afraid to push back on any moves that are of questionable value to your sales enablement efforts. For example, your leadership might decide to add all-hands meetings to your list of enablement activities that are managed by sales enablement. You need to ask if this is the right team, the right use of resources, and at the right time. If it doesn’t fit in your overall sales enablement strategy and if it’s not going to help your sales teams close the accounts that you’re going after, you shouldn’t do it.
Once you understand how sales training is only one-third of what’s needed for your sales to be effective, you’ll be able to use sales enablement to equip your team with the skills, behaviors, and knowledge they need to succeed today.