Demystifying Sales Enablement: What It Is, Why It Matters, And How To Do It Right

What is Sales Enablement: Demystifying Sales Enablement
Sales Enablement

To see what selling on steroids looks like, check out companies with the best sales enablement strategies. You’ll discover a lively place, with a lot of things — like revenue, productivity, and win rates — going up, and a lot of things — like speed to revenue, sale cycle period, customer churn, and staff attrition rate — going down.

Sales Enablement is an up-and-down ride that moves the needle where it matters, driving sales teams to peak performance and customers to brand loyalty.

In fact, Aberdeen found that companies with excellent successful Sales Enablement programs have:

  • 32% higher team sales quota attainment,
  • 24% better individual quota achievement, and
  • 23% higher lead conversion rate.

Not only that, over 75% of companies using sales enablement tools report higher sales in the past 12 months, with nearly 40% reporting growth of 25% or more. And 59% of companies that exceeded their revenue targets (including 72% that exceeded them by 25% or more) have defined Wales Enablement functions. Only 30% of underperforming businesses can say that.

Clearly, Sales Enablement has a broad and powerful impact on business success, which means Sales Enablement is no longer an option. It’s crucial for survival, growth, and success in today’s economy.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to succeed with Sales Enablement.

  1. Sales Enablement definition
  2. Key functions
  3. Team structure
  4. Process
  5. Reinforcement
  6. Sales Leadership coaching
  7. Examples
  8. Sales Enablement vs. Sales Operations
  9. Metrics and KPIs
  10. Best practices

What is Sales Enablement?

After (20) + years of success in multiple roles in the Sales Training, Sales Productivity, and Sales Enablement space, I’ve narrowed my definition down to this:

Sales Enablement is centered around “Getting the right people in the right conversations with the right decisions makers in the right way. We break the complexity of Sales Enablement into practical ideas through scalable and repeatable practices that will lead to increased revenue .”

It really comes down to increasing productivity by adopting a systematic approach to Support Content that will drive incremental revenue. Of course, based into that is a focus on metrics, tracking, and reporting to substantiate the ROI that you and/or your team brings to the company.

Seems simple enough to do, right? Well if you believe it’s simple, I’ve got a “famous” bridge near San Francisco that I’d like to sell you!

The biggest problem with “Sales Enablement” is there is no one globally accepted definition.

Sales Enablement is a combination of multiple sales functions

If you ask the question, “What is Sales Enablement?” to ten people, you’ll get ten different answers. Some will say it’s training. Others will say that it’s on-boarding new employees and building a solid foundational experience that will lead to long-term success.

Yet another group will say that it’s all about making sure that sales professionals have access to sales tools, templates, and processes.

Finally, some will say that it’s about doing whatever it takes to ensure that a company’s messaging and positioning is deployed consistently to prospects and customers. I would venture to say that it’s a combination of all of these components.

Understanding the importance of Sales Enablement

As Sales Enablement professionals, we often complain that senior leaders don’t understand the importance of our craft and don’t appreciate the value we add. In many cases, though, we’re to blame for this lack of understanding and appreciation, and here’s why:

  1. We often don’t speak the language of business, and we don’t do a good job of strategically aligning our programs to their goals.
  2. Sometimes, there’s little effective communication to define the planned impact and agree on roles and responsibilities.
  3. Most importantly, seldom do we consistently tie our value to metrics around influencing increased incremental revenue.

One of your primary goals should be to provide a roadmap around how to move from being viewed as “training” to being valued as a true business partner with sales and the multiple lines of business within a company.

Key Functions of Sales Enablement

Depending on the specific organization or implementation framework, Sales Enablement may encapsulate different sets of functions.

That’s where the orchestration comes in.

The goal in Sales Enablement is to align the intersecting elements of sales, marketing, customer care, product/brand management, legal, and human resources to improve seller productivity and enhance the buyer experience.

These generally include…

  1. Optimization of technology resources such as CRMs (sales orchestration)
  2. Content development (sales communication)
  3. Talent management (on-boarding, performance analysis, enablement, and coaching)
  4. Customer happiness (buyer journey optimization)
  5. Ongoing process efficiencies (sales collaboration)

In a sense, it focuses on the seller-buyer dynamic and the tools, different systems, methodologies and processes that enhance engagement. It optimizes value (expressed in ROI) for both buyer and seller over time.

Hence, one of the most constant functions of Sales Enablement is to help fine-tune an organization’s sales process so that it aligns perfectly with the journey of its prospects and customers.

Once perfect alignment has been reached, prospects and customers become more emotionally invested in a brand (company, sales team, product). Thus, win rates, repeat business, referrals, sales cycles, and customer success improve significantly.

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Sales Enablement Team Structure

Even after its core functions have been clarified, Sales Enablement — especially the way it is set up in a company — is still evolving.

Unlike well-established departments such as Finance and Human Resources, the team structure of Sales Enablement dramatically varies across organizations.

In its early years, Sales Enablement either emerged as a subset of the broader field of Sales Operations or as a function performed singularly or collectively by other business units (sales, marketing, customer service, etc.) in support of revenue-oriented goals.

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As Sales Enablement matures, it’s becoming an independent unit. Some companies that originally structured it within their Sales Operations unit now run the two units as co-equal branches within the sales organization.

On the other hand, research and advisory firm TOPO recommends a company’s sales and marketing units to assume joint ownership of and collaborate on Sales Enablement. Marketing, they feel, should spearhead content development while Sales heads up efforts to “operationalize” the content/communications assets that help sellers drive better engagement and conversations with customers.

The Sales Enablement Process

Similar to its structure, the processes central to Sales Enablement are still evolving.

On the buyer side, Sales Enablement should:

  1. Help align the sales process with the buyer journey
  2. Customize engagement tools, sales communication, and marketing content with the different buyer personas the organization is targeting
  3. Serve as the feedback loop between prospects, customers and multiple internal lines of business

On the seller side, it can focus on the following:

1) Recruiting and onboarding

Sales Enablement should be a consistent component of the sales interview process. A sales organization needs the right number of top talent to consistently meet targets, grow revenues, and remain competitive.

Too many sellers on the floor can impact profit margins while an insufficient number can retard growth. The talent acquisition team should work closely with Human Resources in finding and retaining qualified professionals with above-par experience and skills, bearing in mind that hiring sub-par candidates will dampen overall team performance.

2) Enablement and coaching

It takes more than qualified sellers to achieve business goals. Top talent needs ongoing enablement and coaching to build knowledge, hone skills, and harness resources to drive customer conversions, sales velocity, and win rates.

In addition to a dynamic, robust, and easily accessible knowledge base, organizations should have seminars, workshops, mentorships, and other training programs to keep their salesforce in top shape.

3) Tools and technology enhancement

Deploying talented and highly-skilled salespeople out in the field will not necessarily translate to success without access to the right tools. In a highly competitive arena, powerful tools that improve conversations, shorten sales cycles, or generate valuable business insights that provide a game-changing advantage.

RELATED: In Search of the Perfect Sales Tech Stack (Here’s What’s Working Today)

The right mix of CRM, content library (videos, articles, infographics, social media assets, presentations, podcasts, mobile apps, etc.), and engagement workflow will help optimize every sales opportunity.

4) Performance/effectiveness assessments

Successful Sales Enablement is a team sport!

How do you know your salespeople are in top shape and your investments are not going to waste? Through assessment tools such as feedback mechanisms and key performance indicators.

Working with the sales First Line Managers (FLMs) to adopt the right performance metrics will give you a 360° insight on:

a) The level of efficiency of sellers and team leaders and how they are achieving their targets.
b) The sweet spots where you can still tweak the numbers to drive further improvements or hack overall growth.

Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the key component that separates sales training from Sales Enablement.

Traditional sales training is made up of one-time events that support your long-term strategy. It may include reinforcement components, but it generally provides little to no metrics — so you can’t evaluate how well it’s working.

On the other hand, Sales Enablement is an ongoing process that is tied to a long-term strategy. When done correctly, it resembles a beautifully played piece of music performed by a seasoned orchestra. And it always has a focused reinforcement strategy.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about reinforcement? Believe it or not, it’s far more than testing or review.

A world-class reinforcement strategy includes:

  • Sales leadership input, adoption, and execution plans
  • Structured communication plans
  • Scalable and repeatable sales leadership coaching activities
  • Revenue focused, data-driven metrics, and KPIs
  • Continued iterations, updates, and enhancements

Why so involved? This quote by Art Kohn at Learning Solutions explains it well:

“Within one hour, people will have forgotten an average of 50 percent of the information you presented. Within 24 hours, they will have forgotten an average of 70 percent of new information, and within a week, 90 percent of it will be completely forgotten.”

Sales Enablement should act as a hub that interacts with all parts of the organization to drive reinforcement — including but not limited to sales, marketing, product marketing, HR, training, and product management.

Of these, the most important are first-line sales managers. To be truly effective, Sales Enablement must be able to work with and align to them.

At the end of the day, these are the people who will ensure enablement practices, processes, collateral, and tools are used by client-facing reps. So it’s imperative that you get their buy-in and support.

Sales Leadership Coaching

There’s an old adage that goes, “What’s important to my manager, is imperative to me.” This has never more true and accurate than in sales!

Coaching is an essential tool for achieving business goals. Unfortunately, most companies don’t invest enough in coaching to make it effective. Too often, high performers are promoted into management positions — but never actually taught how to lead — so they end up trying to “manage” their teams the same way they ran their accounts, territories, and sales opportunities.

Here’s what Ed Ross at Michigan & Manchester has to say about that:

“Coaching a team may that be a sports team or coaching your team in the workplace, is one of the most demanding yet rewarding jobs you will ever attempt.

To be a good coach, you must understand how to manage the individuals on your team. Different players will respond differently to coaching methods. Because of this, it’s essential to understand how to best motivate and train each player to maximize the team’s performance. Now, doesn’t this sound familiar? Wouldn’t this be important in the world of business as well? Isn’t this precisely what we need in the workplace?”

Sales Enablement Examples

There are many specific ways Sales Enablement can impact process and profits.

Here are some common methods:

1) Build a long-term, strategy that includes roles specific tools, processes and scalable, repeatable best practices. This can be done by partnering with the sales organization to agree upon specific goals, deliverables, milestones and responsibilities.

2) Drive better conversations and achieve higher conversion rates by facilitating seller and buyer access to on-demand, in-context, and high-quality engagement materials.

3) Eliminate silos and bubbles that tend to convey conflicting messaging/processing among prospective buyers. It’s important to adopt organization-wide communications tools that automatically sync everyone on new available resources or workflow updates.

4) Improve bottom lines and scale growth by systematizing sales training activities and coaching to deliver best-in-class outcomes.

5) Gain full visibility to customer behavior using cloud-based technology tools that track engagement with branded content.

6) Optimize sales pitches using sophisticated data analytics software.

7) Communicate early and often to ensure engagement, commitment, and adoption between Sales, Sales Enablement, and the multiple lines of business.

Sales Enablement Vs. Sales Operations

Professionals in non-sales roles sometimes use the terms Sales Operations and Sales Enablement interchangeably. When used in reference to corporate functions, the two terms do coincide in some sense — but they are not identical.

Certainly, both aim to improve the performance of a sales organization, but each technically do so by focusing on distinct areas.

Sales Operations focuses on the entire sales organization and its daily grind, overseeing even processes and people that may not have direct sales roles but are considered part of the sales organization.

On the other hand, Sales Enablement spearheads all programs that directly impact the efficiency and performance of sellers and the experience of customers.

In general, Sales Ops handles the daily operational side of the sales organization — including territory planning, transactions management, compensation, and systems management.

Meanwhile, Sales Enablement leads training, coaching, content development, sales communications, technology optimizations, performance analytics, engagement tools, and process efficiencies.

Common Sales Enablement Metrics & KPIs

Different organizations adopt varying metrics to evaluate their sales enablement efforts, depending on how they structure the unit and which areas it is tasked to focus on.

Here are ten common metrics this function typically tracks:

What is Sales Enablement: KPIs and Metrics

1) Time to Revenue

This metric refers to the time required to close a sale.

2) Quota Attainment

The percentage of sellers in the team that consistently meet or exceed targets.

3) Sales Cycle

The average time duration it takes to close deals from one end of the funnel to the other.

4) Time Spent Actively Selling

The average length of time sellers actively spend engaging prospects.

5) Content Usage

Evaluates the efficiency of each communication material based on unique visits, amount of time customers spend on the content, and other quantifiable factors.

6) Sales Funnel Transition Rates

Specific transition rates from one stage of the funnel to the next (e.g., from prospect to marketing qualified lead, from sales qualified lead to won opportunity and to a closed deal).

7) Average Win Rate

The ratio of closed won deals to the total number of won and lost deals.

8) Attach Rate

The percentage of deals that includes a go-to-market strategy with a Partner.

9) Number of Closed Deals

The number of engaged/closed deals in a specific timeframe.

10) Product Mix

The percentage of products/solutions included in a closed deal.

Sales Enablement Best Practices

The decision to adopt Sales Enablement to support sellers, keep customers happy, and drive revenue carries the additional responsibility of implementing the field’s best practices.

Here’s how to make sure you’re running a best-of-class Sales Enablement program:

1) Set clear objectives for your Sales Enablement program

The goals should not be just to support the sales force in general but to drive specific, transformative, and measurable changes in the organization and its performance. It could be to update the technology stack, quicken the sales cycle, improve margins, or other strategic goals.

2) Make Sales Enablement accessible to all stakeholders

A program won’t deliver its promise if there are hurdles to its actual implementation by sellers.

Ensure that all salespeople know about and are skilled in utilizing your sales enablement assets. Playbooks and engagement material should be uniform and updated across the organization. Use effective communication and training to optimize the benefits of Sales Enablement.

3) Use Sales Enablement to make salespeople more buyer-centric.

Customer centricity has become a success factor in the digital economy where power has already shifted to consumers. Align the program with the customer journey and tailor each engagement to deliver the best buyer experiences.

4) Adopt Sales Enablement as a corporate mindset

Encourage a culture where every non-sales employee believes they are part of the sales support team. Meanwhile, establish sales training as an ongoing process for members of the sales force.

5) Make Sales Enablement transparent, integrated, and measurable

The sales organization should be able to make accurate and quantifiable assessments about the impact of each sales enablement effort. Sales enablement assets should also be synced with the rest of the company’s technology stack.

6) Improve and evolve Sales Enablement processes periodically

This is a continually evolving field. Stakeholders should remain open to technological breakthroughs and new methodologies that can improve current capabilities.

As the mindset, behaviors and needs of your prospects and customers are shifting, you must be prepared to change the way that you support them. In other words, “Learn their language. Don’t expect them to learn yours.”

Key takeaways: Getting Started with Sales Enablement

As customer behavior shifts (especially in the B2B space), Sales Enablement also transitions from being just “valuable” to “indispensable.”

As competition gets fiercer, the need to make Sales Enablement part of the corporate culture has also become more urgent.

At the end of the day, if your company thinks of Sales Enablement as the “fixer of broken things,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. Sales is not broken, but it can always be better!

The key is to position Sales Enablement as a revenue generator and not a cost center. And that starts when you’re able to shift the mindset away from training and onboarding, etc., and begin working closely with first-line managers, internal lines of business, and executive sales leaders to associate sales enablement metrics with sales success.


Also published on Medium.

Roderick Jefferson

Roderick Jefferson is the CEO of Roderick Jefferson & Associates. He is responsible for setting the readiness framework for SMB & portfolio companies required to assess, crystalize and execute their growth strategies. In this role, he leads a series of sales enablement activities that spans strategy, resource planning, communications, and productivity tools.
Prior to Roderick Jefferson & Associates, he held a variety of executive leadership, sales, sales enablement, operations, and customer experience roles for Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Salesforce.com, 3PAR/HP, Business Objects, NetApp, PayPal, Siebel Systems, & AT&T.