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

what is 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. (You can dive in deeper with my new book, Sales Enablement 3.0.)

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

    1. Sales Enablement Definition
    2. Sales Enablement Framework
    3. The Sales Enablement Process in 5 Steps
    4. Sales Enablement Tools and Software
    5. Common Sales Enablement Metrics and KPIs
    6. Sales Enablement Best Practices
    7. Key Takeaways: Getting Started With Sales Enablement

What is Sales Enablement?

Sales enablement means equipping your sales teams with the right strategies, tools, content, and other resources to help them succeed. Good sales enablement tools and content places the focus on the customer, helping sales reps target the right buyers and increase engagement using relevant content.

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 increase 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

sales enablement definition

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.

Sales Enablement Framework

One might think sales enablement as a bridge between marketing and sales, but it’s much more than that. The key functions of sales enablement — and its team members’ responsibilities — are to build out a process, or framework, to ensure that marketing and sales are aligned with the same revenue objectives.

To have a successful sales enablement framework, there needs to be a communication feedback loop between sales operations and marketing. Sales teams pass insights from leads, prospects, and customers back to marketing, and marketing creates better content that enables sales teams to reach their goals and drive increased revenue.

In this section, we cover key functions and team structure for your sales enablement framework. Then we’ll dive right into the processes and tools.

Who is responsible for sales enablement?

According to CSO Insights, almost half of companies with sales enablement teams are led by their Head of Sales. In the other half, sales enablement teams may report to either marketing, sales operations, or executive leadership. Depending on the specific organization or implementation framework, Sales Enablement may encapsulate different sets of functions.

What are the elements of a sales enablement strategy?

The goal of 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.

sales enablement key functions

What should your sales enablement team structure look like?

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.

sales enablement team structure

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, the 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.

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 conflicting messages among prospective buyers by breaking down departmental silos in your company. 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 that drives actionable insights on the most promising or profitable opportunities, and the sales enablement software to inform use of the right content for each.

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

Now let’s go into the 5-step sales enablement process.

The Sales Enablement Process in 5 Steps

Similar to its structure, the processes central to Sales Enablement are still evolving. The sales enablement process focuses on the early to middle parts of the sales cycle, including discovery, mapping out custom solutions, and presenting those solutions. Although the later stages such as negotiation and closing deals are typically handled by Sales Operations. Both sales enablement and sales operations teams do need to be tightly aligned with marketing for the entire sales process to work.

sales enablement process

1. Identify robust target buyer personas your sales rep will actually use.

By the time you’re reading this, it’s quite likely that your marketing team already has a couple of buyer personas for email campaigns, SEO, or PPC. But are these personas optimized for use in sales?

Your sales reps are the ones who actually talk to prospects and customers, and as a result, they may have valuable insights that go into these personas. Once your sales reps align with the marketing team, they would be able to:

  • Identify the right buyers
  • Create campaigns that actually work
  • Improve the sales cycle

Most importantly, your sales reps would use the resulting personas to make sales conversations more productive, resonate with buyers, and drive more revenue than if they communicated the same messages to everyone.

2. Align the sales process with the buyer journey.

As an extension of creating buyer personas, marketing and sales teams need to pay attention to the buyer’s experience.

  • How do buyers make their decisions?
  • What information do they look for?
  • Where do they find this information?
  • In what formats do they digest that information?
  • How do they decide on one solution over another?
  • Who do they consult before making a purchase decision?
  • What objections do they usually come up with?

To optimize your sales process, you could put on your buyer persona’s hat to think like them, and then align your sales process with the buyer’s needs and questions at every stage from beginning to end.

Even better, you could go straight to the source: collect insights from your customer-facing sales reps and the prospects themselves.

For more details, check out our webinar on how to connect your sales process to the buyer’s journey.

3. Align marketing content with each buyer persona and sales cycle stage.

With a customer-centric mindset, it becomes straightforward to align content with each stage of the buyer’s journey.

The first step is to break the buyer’s journey down into three primary stages:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision

The next step is to build a content strategy with the primary goal to answer what questions your prospects usually have. Your strategy should also include a distribution plan where you push content through the channels where you can find your prospects.

Awareness

Content for the awareness stage would be more about the problem or pain points for the prospects who are aware of the problem itself, but not of the available solutions. These easy-to-consume pieces would typically include:

  • Blog articles
  • Explainer videos
  • Webinars or podcasts
  • Social media content
  • Infographics

Consideration

In this stage, prospects are more solution-aware and their purchase intent is rising. At this point, they need more in-depth content than the top-of-the-funnel stuff like blog posts and explainer videos. The meatier content formats would include downloadable resources:

  • White papers
  • Guides
  • Datasheets
  • Comparisons
  • Ebooks

Decision

Buyers at the decision or purchase stage are about ready to buy, but they need reassurance that they are making the right choice. Content that nudges or reinforces their decision typically include the following:

  • Case studies (use cases, customer stories)
  • Industry reports
  • Tools
  • Demos or audits
  • High-conversion landing pages

4. Customize sales communication tools to engage with buyers.

In 2021, the theme surrounding communication with buyers can be summed up into one word: Mobile.

Increasingly, sales teams will need to stay in contact with potential buyers through mobile apps on Android or iPhones. These apps could also include social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Instagram.

To maximize productivity of sales teams, these social media technologies can be integrated with chatbots, video conferencing, and calendar scheduling tools to increase the number of touch points along the buyer’s journey.

Check out our complete list of sales tools (updated for 2021) for some ideas on what you can use for your sales enablement process.

5. Serve as a feedback loop between prospects, customers, marketing teams, sales teams, and product teams.

When it comes to sales enablement solutions and processes, it is important to remember that sales reps cannot do this all by themselves. Sales enablement involves multiple teams and disciplines while putting the central focus on the customer.

While sales reps may have a lot of experience talking directly with potential customers and overcoming their objections, they need to pass these insights back to marketing and product teams. Customer success teams may also have valuable insights from existing customers.

These insights should be used by marketing to create or refine better sales enablement content to help sales teams reach their goals and bring in more revenue.

We cannot stress this point enough: 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.

Sales Enablement Tools and Software

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.

The right mix of CRMs, content libraries, and engagement workflows will help optimize every sales opportunity.

A centralized content library or platform for sales can include videos, articles, infographics, social media assets, presentations, podcasts, mobile apps, etc. However, what makes this useful is how easily a sales rep can pluck the most relevant piece of content to send to a prospect at a given stage of their customer journey.

Your overall sales toolset should include BI analytics platforms, sales intelligence software, content management tools, CRMs like Hubspot or Salesforce, lead generation tools, and most importantly, sales enablement software.

Here are a few popular options for sales enablement tools, and what each does primarily:

  • Accent Accelerate: Gain full visibility into opportunities, selling activities, and customer behavior.
  • Highspot: Uses AI and machine learning to deliver content for each unique scenario.
  • Klyck: Allows reps to build interactive presentations right within the platform.
  • Seismic: Enterprise CMS that shows sales reps which content makes the most impact.
  • Showpad: Helps your sales team find or share relevant content for every situation.
  • Veelo: AI-based tool that helps sales reps reach peak performance quickly.

There are hundreds of options available whether you are looking for sales enablement software or other sales tools such as CRMs. It is, however, important to use the right sales tools for your company and buyer’s journey.

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

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:

sales enablement kpis and metrics

1. Time to Revenue (Sales Cycle Length)

This metric refers to the average time required to close a sale. To measure this accurately, you need to have consistent start and end points of the sales cycle. Determining the end point can be straightforward — when a potential buyer pays or signs a contract. But what will the start point be? Whether that start point begins when a lead becomes a MQL, a SQL, or an opportunity is up to you and your sales team.

2. Quota Attainment

Quota attainment is the percentage of sellers in the team that consistently meet or exceed targets. While it may be useful to track sales team performance over time within your company, it may not be advisable to put too much weight on it when hiring new sales reps.

3. Lead Conversion Rate

This is a measurement of how many leads have been converted into clients or customers. The lead conversion rate is typically expressed as a percentage.

However, for longer sales cycles, this KPI can be broken down into sub-KPIs including the MQL-to-SQL conversion rate and the SQL-to-Opportunity conversion rate.

  • MQL-to-SQL conversion rate: measures the percentage of MQLs that get converted to SQLs along the buyer’s journey.
  • SQL-to-Opportunity conversion rate: measures the rate of SQLs that actually become part of the sales pipeline as a highly-scored lead.

The MQL-to-SQL and SQL-to-Opportunity conversion rates are metrics for intermediary steps between a new lead and a closed won deal. These metrics reveal the quality of each, how well your marketing and sales development teams are qualifying leads to maintain a high quality pipeline.

4. Time Spent Actively Selling

The average length of time sellers actively spend engaging prospects. This could also be a measure of their productivity. When you know who are and are not reaching their targets in a certain time frame, you can change up your training and provide better tools to improve the overall performance of your entire sales team.

5. Content Usage

Are your sales reps using content to educate and convert potential buyers? This metric evaluates the efficiency of each content piece 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

This one is self-explanatory. It is simply the ratio of closed won deals to the total number of won and lost deals.

8. Average Purchase Value

Each closed sale may result in similar or different purchase values, depending on the pricing of your products or services as well as how long your customers stay with your company. The average purchase value is the overall average of how much revenue each sale brings in.

9. Number of Closed Deals

This is simply the number of engaged/closed deals in a specific timeframe, whether they have been won or lost.

10. Product Mix

Product mix is just the percentage of products/solutions included in a closed deal.

There are many other sales enablement metrics you can use to monitor the performance of your sales enablement teams, how much time they spend on each task, and the content they use to move potential buyers along the customer journey.

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

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 seller efficiency on achieving their targets and how to drive further improvements.

With shifting customer behaviors, especially in the B2B space, sales enablement also becomes not just valuable but also 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 with collaborating closely with first-line managers and executive sales leaders to align sales enablement metrics with revenue success.


Also published on Medium.

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