It’s the big buzz phrase of the decade, but what actually is Sales Enablement and how can it help your business thrive in a crowded and competitive market?
Put simply, Sales Enablement is the resources, tools, and behavior that enables salespeople to sell more. The core goal of Sales Enablement is to empower salespeople by giving them everything they need – whether that’s content, training or technology – to close deals.
Sales Enablement ensures buyers are engaged at the right time and place, and with the right assets by well-trained client-facing staff to provide a world-class experience along the customer’s journey.
Sales Enablement Society
At the heart of a Sales Enablement strategy is the recognition that salespeople don’t operate alone. Not only are they part of a larger sales team, they are one of several departments striving for the same results: growing the business and helping customers succeed by matching them with the product or service they need to get their job done.
Recognising these shared goals is a first step towards implementing a strategy that works for your business and ensuring that everyone is on board. It means the end of sales and marketing silos and the beginning of a new relationship in which salespeople have an input into content and marketing are more involved in the later stages of the customer journey.
In this article, we’re going to take a brief look at all the elements of Sales Enablement to attempt to give you a starting point from which to build your own Sales Enablement strategy:
Think about your purchasing habits for a moment. If you’re interested in buying new computers for your department, for example, do you call your IT supplier and ask which one you should buy? Probably not. The chances are you begin your search online, Googling phrases like ‘best laptop for frequent traveller’ or ‘Best hybrid for under $1000’. You skim through a lot of articles, read some blogs, some product reviews and then, once you’ve made up your mind – or at least narrowed down your choices – you start running price comparisons to see where you can get the best deal. By the time you get to a salesperson, you’re already a long way through the buyer journey and your sales rep has a lot less opportunity to influence your decision.
Compare this scenario with the way your grandparents would have gone about buying, say, a used car (to choose a sales cliché). They might have visited a few used car lots with some idea of the size or model or price they wanted, but it’s unlikely they would have gone armed with all the stats you’d have these days about fuel consumption, safety features or repair costs. Their ultimate choice would have been guided by the different salespeople they met.
60% of buyers would prefer to connect with a salesperson at the consideration stage – i.e. after they’ve done their research and built a shortlist
The difference, of course, is the internet, which has created what we call the empowered buyer. Whereas customers used to rely on salespeople to inform their buying choices, the easy availability of information online has largely made that role redundant. Customers often begin their relationship with a salesperson from a position of mistrust – a fact for which the used car salesman cliché must take some responsibility – and so salespeople have to work much harder a) to win their trust and b) to provide sufficient value to have any influence over the customer’s journey.
Enter Sales Enablement, which aims to give salespeople that value. By empowering salespeople with the tools and techniques they need to help create customer success, the industry hopes to gradually displace the old clichés and create new roles for salespeople as allies and consultants.
Side note: Yes, Sales Enablement comes from the same school of thought as inbound marketing
At this point, you might be thinking all this sounds a bit familiar – and if you have any involvement in marketing then you’d be right. The empowered buyer is also behind the rise in inbound (and content) marketing and for the same reasons. Both B2C and B2B customers are going to do their research before making a purchase. Inbound marketing – and specifically the content aspect of that – makes sure there is plenty of content to help them through the decision-making process. The attitude is kind of like ‘You want to do the research? Here’s the research’ and then you pepper your website, your social channels, your email marketing, etc. with helpful, insightful resources that will hopefully convince the buyer that yours is the brand for them.
68% of organizations that have adopted the inbound marketing approach say their marketing is effective compared to only 48% of companies using outbound marketing
Salespeople have always used content to inform their customers. Whether that was printed brochures, flyers, or more latterly a good old PowerPoint, content has tended to form the basis of every sales pitch and presentation for every B2B sales meeting that ever was.
However, such content was not without its downsides. Consider, for example, the number of times a salesperson:
Part of this relates to the silo behaviour of lone wolf salespeople. Partly, it’s out-dated technology (or lack thereof in the case of printed materials). But it’s also a failing of company cohesion and brand identity, and an inability to foresee what it is the customer might want to know – and the responsibility for that failing is on everyone, not just the individual in the meeting.
Salespeople need the right content at the right time – 58% of pipeline stalls because reps are unable to add value.
Under Sales Enablement, content is there to empower both your salespeople and your customers. The salespeople go into every sales conversation armed with the insight to provide value to the customer. The customer gets their questions answered and is able to make a more informed decision about their purchase. Because the customer has already had the opportunity to peruse all your online content in the research stage of their journey, it’s important that the salesperson is able to add to this with insights as to how the features and benefits relate to the customer’s challenges and pain points. Therefore, content needs to be specific; it needs to be targeted to the customer, their industry, their concerns, etc., but it also needs to be engaging.
You’re unlikely to be the only sales rep this customer will see. You’ve got competition – and that means you need to stand out from the crowd. In this respect, content plays a huge role in separating you from your competitors and helping you establish a relationship with your customer.
Over half of sales organizations (54%) do not formally align their sales process, or other aspects of how they sell, to the specific journeys taken by their customers. Those that do have such alignment report quota attainment rates of up to 14% greater than the average
Creating valuable content is one way of building customer trust. Proving that you are there to help the customer achieve their goals is a valid reason why the customer should put their faith in you.
Because we’re all basically magpies attracted to shiny things, though, it’s also important to put this content in a format that is:
Trust is an enormously important part of the customer relationship, but a good rapport also needs engagement, so if you can find a way to present valuable information in a delightful way, you’re on to a winner. That means no pages full of boring bullet points. It means go easy on the graphs. It means stick to the pertinent points, lean on visuals and equivalencies where you can, and don’t try and cram too much in one slide deck.
In terms of branding, first it’s critical that your company has a distinct brand identity to set it apart from its competitors. Second, a strong and consistent brand that is visible across all your collateral is – even subconsciously – reassuring. Presenting a united front across materials, messaging, company representatives, etc. shows your customer that you are a solid, reliable company that will deliver on its messaging.
95% of buyers chose a solution provider that “provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process”
The TAS Group
How do your salespeople express your brand identity? How do they present your content? How do they prepare for customer meetings? How do they stand up in front of people and tell your brand story?
Do you know the answer to these questions?
If you asked your sales team, would they all give you the same answers?
Training gives your salespeople the opportunity to improve their skills and it gives businesses the chance to instil a degree of uniformity amongst its sales team in terms of messaging, delivery and best practice.
All of the codes of practice implemented when developing new content – product messaging, brand tone of voice, the best way to highlight USPs, etc. – should also be passed on to your sales team. If their presentation style or – worse – the things that they are saying are at odds with the content they’re presenting, you’ve got a major problem. The customer won’t know which to believe, and they’re not going to partner with a business that’s sending out mixed messages.
Particularly in the early stages of a Sales Enablement strategy, our best answer to this would be: continuously. If consistency is something you recognize your sales team is struggling with, it’s worth holding regular training sessions to establish a baseline for best practice on content sharing and delivery. Of course you still want them to be themselves – a bunch of Stepford Wives probably wouldn’t give you any more clout with a customer than a Breakfast Club assortment of motley characters – but hopefully you hired the people best suited to represent your brand and that brings with it a certain amount of (charismatic!) homogeny.
In 2018, organizations that stick to their old selling methods and resist updating their sales processes and methods will suffer -- they are too far behind. Sales leaders that get training buy-in from their teams and spend the time and money on an innovative sales coach will prosper.
In terms of technique, there’s no right or wrong here: you have to do what works best given the circumstances of your team. Small, large, on the road, spread across the globe – for some teams it will be possible to hold weekly ‘storytelling’ sessions, in which you gather together to share new content, the stories behind it and in so doing, model the best way to present it to customers. This would also be an ideal opportunity for salespeople to share their own success stories – both in terms of resources and techniques that have been particularly successful for them in sales meetings, and actual customer success stories that could be turned into anecdotes and case studies for their colleagues to take to customer meetings. For larger, more widely dispersed teams, such an event would be impossible outside of the semi-annual company meetings and for those businesses the best training option is likely to be virtual. That’s not to say it still can’t be regular and continuous, however. In fact, a weekly ten-minute training video or webinar could be every bit as useful as a face-to-face session. For some people it would probably work better.
Training should focus on empowering your sales team with the knowledge, insights and confidence to sell more. If that means providing them with training on a particular industry they’re selling into, do that. If it means teaching them how to make better use of the CRM, do that. If it’s a course that helps them overcome confidence issues in high-pressure situations, why not? All of these will equip your salespeople to better add value to their customers.
Yes, yes it was. Sales Enablement hasn’t replaced Sales Training, it has simply absorbed it. If you were already doing a great job upskilling your salespeople, maintaining low turnover and high employee engagement, keep doing that.
When we’re talking about Sales Enablement Tools, we tend to be thinking of software. There are a variety of tools out there marketing themselves as Sales Enablement Solutions, but they don’t all do the same thing, so let’s take a brief look at the kind of technologies that are available under the ‘Sales Enablement’ umbrella.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools have been around since the 1980s, if you’re thinking digital, and go even further back if you count rolodexes and little black books. Their basic function is to manage the customer relationship (hence the name) by keeping a record of everything from the customer’s contact details to the purchase history, right down to details of the most recent customer contact. As software has advanced, the capabilities of these systems have grown remarkably so that many systems now offer entirely automated record keeping, capturing emails and recording phone calls. In a Sales Enablement context, all this information puts the salesperson in a stronger position to identify the customer’s needs and build a lasting relationship.
Technology that helps marketing capture and nurture leads may not fall into your traditional definition of Sales Enablement, but look at it from the perspective that by developing more qualified leads, marketing is enabling sales. Makes sense, right? Though some of these tools may be geared to the very early stages of lead generation, increasingly smart software is now able to target very specific buyer personas, bringing in leads that are much more sales-ready than in the early days of marketing automation.
Guided selling software gathers information about a customer’s interests/needs/desires in order to optimize the customer journey. Rather than presenting them with an assortment of largely irrelevant choices, which can be overwhelming, guided selling software brings the most relevant offer to the surface so that sales teams can focus their attention on the best fit for the customer. This increases opportunities to show that you know and understand the customer’s pain points, and to personalize both your content and your offer.
Marketing may be doing their best to optimize content to better enable sales, but if the salespeople either don’t know it exists or can’t find it, it’s not going to make the slightest difference. Content management software provides an easily accessible repository for marketing-approved content that prevents any confusion over where content can be found. It’s more than a cloud-based file sharing system, though. The best content management solutions have additional functions such as:
Content is the secret ingredient to sales productivity – Top-performing companies look to Sales Enablement technology to power their content strategies. Sales content analytics (44%) and easy, instant access to content in the field (41%) are the primary features these leading companies look for from a Sales Enablement solution.
Yes – and there are probably more we could have included. The sales toolkit is growing by the day. Many of these solutions offer a SaaS option, so you don’t have to commit to using one for the rest of your life, and in some cases providers will offer more than one of these functions so you may not need to invest in all the individual products. But even so, try to be discerning in your investments and go for options that are compatible with each other where possible. It will save a lot of hassle in the long run.
You want to be able to access all your selling tools on the go, which means ensuring all the software you choose is easy to use on a mobile device. If you go for an app, you know it’s built to work across mobile phones and tablets, which means no issues with the layout or the size of the text, or filling in forms.
Mobile sales tools really are a lifesaver for the travelling salesperson, saving you from either a) lugging around a hefty laptop everywhere you go and/or b) waiting until you return to the office to do all the admin. With something like iPresent, for example, you’ve got everything you need to create, deliver and share a presentation all on your tablet or phone. That saves a lot of space in your briefcase. In fact, do you even need a briefcase anymore...?
A final note on tech: just like you need your software to work together, you also need your devices to work together, so make sure whatever tools you choose run on all the same operating systems that you do. Even better, choose something multi-platform so that a change in hardware doesn’t necessitate a total software overhaul.
Remember, software like these are there to support good methodologies. They provide shortcuts and they make life easier, but they can’t act in place of the basic philosophies of Sales Enablement, like sales and marketing alignment or empowering salespeople with knowledge. What we’re saying is, undertaking a Sales Enablement strategy is always going to be work – the technology is there to make the work a little bit easier.
So far we’ve talked a lot about what Sales Enablement is. Now it’s time to think about how to bring all these elements together into a strategy that fits within your business.
The reality is, it’s likely you’re already doing some or all of these things. Implementing a Sales Enablement strategy just means corralling these efforts into one big drive and, critically, breaking down the last of the remaining walls between sales and marketing to make it happen. So let’s look at that first.
“Marketing and Sales alignment is an abstraction until grounded with clear goals, specific metrics, and continuous refinement.”
The key to aligning your sales and marketing departments is to give them a shared goal – preferably a shared revenue goal. This might seem like a big ask, given that marketing’s goals tend to be lead-based rather than revenue-based, but with a little bit of backwards math, it’s possible to determine what converted MQLs are worth to the business and build a revenue quota from there.
This alone might not make magic happen. It could be that your sales and marketing teams need a service level agreement (SLA) to reinforce their newfound commitment to each other. With an SLA in place, each team is promising to deliver a certain standard of service – in this case, it means marketing guarantees a certain number of qualified leads and sales agrees to follow them up within a certain time period. Of course, there would be addendums – the lead should be qualified according to standards that both sales and marketing agree on and the follow-up should take an approved format to ensure that both departments really are adhering to the spirit and not just the letter of the SLA. But a formal agreement between the two departments is a good starting point to change the tone of the conversation.
If you don’t plan to create a Sales Enablement role or department within your business, it’s a good idea to choose some enlightened individuals from both the sales and marketing departments to help drive the change you are trying to implement. Regular ‘smarketing’ meetings give you the opportunity to discuss your combined goals and progress, how the SLA is holding up, what content is working or not working, what content is needed or not needed, etc. Basically, the more exposure to each other, to the work that each department does and to the knowledge that each team holds, the better. Physically putting them in the same space on a weekly basis – or even moving the two departments into a shared office – is a proven method for improving their relationship.
When sales and marketing teams are in sync, companies are up to 67% better at closing deals
A successful Sales Enablement strategy should begin with an open and extensive conversation between key figures in your sales and marketing departments in which you establish the following:
Note: this conversation isn’t just for C-suite – you really want the opinions of the people who are operating at ground level, otherwise you’re not going to get real answers.
Depending how your business is structured at the moment, you may find it easy to answer these questions and you may not. It may be that you need to go back a few steps and figure out things like your buyer persona, your ideal customer profile, your hero statement, etc. before you can make any real progress in identifying your current needs.
In terms of goal-setting, make sure to implement SMART goals – i.e. goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited – so that you can track your progress. It’s also important that you continually revisit both your goals and your strategy to make sure they are serving their purpose.
Once you’ve answered all those questions, prepare a document outlining your Sales Enablement Strategy and share it with all relevant parties, bearing in mind this might extend beyond the sales and marketing departments.
73.6% of salespeople whose companies have a formal Sales Enablement charter meet quota, compared to 43.3% of salespeople in companies with a one-off approach to projects.
If you are already working on all these things, great! The point of a Sales Enablement strategy is to bring them all together, to make sure they are bound by the same philosophy and working towards the same goals. Consider the purposes each of your existing processes serve and then try to write down your Sales Enablement strategy – if it’s simple and seems fit for purpose, perfect. If not, it’s worth looking at ways to unite the different threads. After all, we can always do better.
In some companies, the responsibility for Sales Enablement falls within the sales department. More often, however, it is marketing that delivers a Sales Enablement strategy, since they are responsible for the content side of things. Increasingly, businesses are establishing a separate Sales Enablement function – whether that’s an individual or an entire department – to run their Sales Enablement program.
However you choose to structure the ownership of your Sales Enablement strategy, it’s critical that both sales and marketing have a seat at the table otherwise neither will feel fully invested in the program and then you’re doomed to fail.
We’d suggest you start with that big conversation and go from there.
Once you have identified your Sales Enablement strategy, you’ll need to determine a timeline and steps for rollout. There are templates out there to help you clarify your Sales Enablement readiness, giving you some idea as to how much work you need to undertake before you can really dive into the strategy itself. For example, you might need to think about the best means of introducing the idea to your teams so as to fill them with enthusiasm (rather than the dread that often greets a new idea), or you may have realised that you’re way behind on content development and you need to catch up on that before you can really make any headway. You’ll want to compare all the tools on the market before settling on what’s right for your team. The process of investing in new software may require extensive pilot schemes and financial justification. All this takes time.
Taking everything into consideration, implementing a Sales Enablement strategy can be a lot of work and it could be half a year or more before you feel like you’re making progress on the goals you identified. That being said, if you’re not starting totally from scratch (e.g. if you already have a content strategy in place), you can use the strategy as a basis to improve existing procedures while you prepare for full-scale roll-out. In this way, you will also have evidence of success to help you win over the naysayers when roll-out rolls around – or failures you can learn from.
Thanks for sticking with us through this long and yet brief introduction to Sales Enablement. There’s a lot of ground to cover and lots more to say, but this is probably more than enough to be getting on with.
If you’ve enjoyed this piece, we’d be grateful if you could share it with friends and colleagues on your social channels. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on Sales Enablement – what it means to you, how you are implementing it in your business, or even if you think we’ve got it all wrong! It’s still a relatively new term and open to interpretation.
When you’re ready to look at Sales Enablement software, we would be delighted to give you a tour of all that iPresent can offer in terms of facilitating a true dialogue between sales and marketing on content development, content management, and sales presentation delivery. Simply click below and we’ll be in touch to arrange a demo.
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