We have been delivering sales enablement consulting services for over six years. However, while these processes have crossed the chasm for large companies, they remain somewhat mysterious for small and midsize businesses. So, this post is going to share how our sales force enablement agency defines this topic and more importantly, share when these processes are necessary and the benefits they deliver.
Sales Enablement Defined
Salesperson enablement is a phrase that gets loosely thrown around. There is no industry agreed upon or consensus definition, so we use a simple explanation.
Selling enablement provides salespeople with the content, coaching, training and technology to help them sell more effectively and increase company revenue.
It’s a systemic approach to apply content, guidance and tools (collectively 'sales assets') to sale opportunities at each stage in the sales cycle. These assets drive more effective sales interactions with customers and increase the productivity and effectiveness of the sales force.
At a tactical level these processes deliver the right sales asset to the right person on the right channel at the right time.
That helps sellers better engage buyers throughout the buyer journey and be more effective in every customer interaction.
The key to maximizing selling enablement is to understand how each of its components improve customer engagement and sales performance. Those components are shown below.
Technology provider Siesmic reports that salespeople spend an average of 30 hours a month searching for and recreating their own content. That lowers both sales productivity and content quality. The problem is exacerbated because content previously created by the marketing group goes unused because it's not found. Content management recovers this lost time and investment by pursuing three goals.
First, it increases sales force effectiveness by making content easily accessible. That happens by getting all content into a single repository and making it easily found with simple search queries.
Second, it increases customer engagement effectiveness by ensuring everybody uses the company's best content. Even better, these apps can adapt content for each customer industry and buyer persona. They can also align content with the steps in the buyer’s buy cycle to systemically advance the buyer through each sales cycle stage.
And third, it increases content effectiveness by ensuring it is consistent across channels, tracked for utilization and rated for value by the recipients. Ratings are often as simple as a thumb up or down button.
Coaching applies structured dialogues to develop each sales reps full potential. These conversations seldom tell salespeople what to do and instead apply probing questions to help the salesperson self-identify the steps, techniques and strategies to advance sale opportunities and their own careers.
When integrated with enablement assets, coaching is initially delivered as part of the on-boarding process, periodically delivered as part of a recurring training program, and with the help of sales technology, proactively delivered for each sale opportunity in a just-in-time format.
Sales training often starts with the most challenging topic of customer engagement. Research shows training for customer engagement is more difficult and less effective than other sales training programs such as product, process, service or technology training. That is in part because there are many types of customers with many more types of challenges so delivering the most effective message at exactly the right time can be a tough nut to crack.
Selling enablement aids this challenge with a combination of training, content and technology such sales playbooks, battlecards, guided selling prompts and next-best-action recommendations. The combination of these tools applies the lessons into daily execution and makes training more experiential.
The number of productivity tools and technologies is skyrocketing. Rather than try to keep up with them, a smarter approach is to understand the categories of these tools and how each category satisfies specific problems.
For example, managing sales content can be done with content management systems. Sales coaching can be aided and even automated by integrating Sales Playbooks into the CRM application. You can then use the CRM push-based notifications to dynamically deliver coaching advice or Sales Plays based on a combination of lead score, customer type, sales step, product or solution, customer business problem and other variables.
Depending upon your CRM app, you can further improve customer engagement with customer intelligence, Customer Data Platforms (CDP), data enrichment tools and guided selling automation.
Other technology categories include, but are not limited to, automated lead scoring, customer sentiment analysis, social selling, chat, internal social collaboration, gamification and virtual meeting tools to name a few.
But the single most empowering enablement technology is artificial intelligence (AI). AI can detect customer sentiment and use customer history or the history of similar customers to improve customer engagement. It can surface real-time buyer insights, suggest the best content and make highly relevant next best action recommendations.
Sometimes you may hear software vendors or sales consultants suggest that customer engagement is a selling enablement component. That's not really the case as engagement is not a component, it's the goal for which all the components are orchestrated to achieve.
Sales Enablement versus Sales Operations
Selling enablement is largely focused on delivering relevant, personalized, differentiated and effective customer engagement.
That’s different than traditional sales operations activities which include things like optimized sales processes, territory management, sales process reengineering, pipeline and forecast improvements, or strategic account management. Generally, sales force enablement activities occur early in the customer buy cycle while sales operations processes occur throughout or during the later stages.
When is Sales Force Enablement Needed?
Sales solutions work when they fix specific problems. The challenges below are strong candidates to be aided or fixed with enablement solutions.
- Poor sales productivity. Improving sales productivity is a perennial goal. Enablement solutions prioritize tasks and automate repetitive activities, so sales reps spend more time selling.
- Sales win rates are low or in decline. When prospects are exiting during early stage sales cycle steps it is a sign that the customer engagement in those steps needs improvement.
- Sales cycle durations are getting longer. This often occurs when salespeople are reactive rather than proactive or when the seller's sales process is not aligned with the buyer's purchase process. Enablement programs ensure proper alignment and provide sellers with the content, knowledge and engagement to efficiently move customers through the funnel.
- Unpredictable sales. This is indicative of sales teams with a few rock stars that usually carry the day but periodically fall short. It is also indicative of ineffective or inconsistent sales processes. Combining selling enablement with sales execution programs will help.
- Sellers not meeting quotas. When incurring quota shortfalls across the entire sales team its time to redesign the sales process and apply productivity solutions. Equipping the sales force with the company's best content, knowledge and technology improves team performance and reduces the reliance on top producers to carry the load.
- Not meeting revenue targets. Enablement solutions can be very effective at replicating the actions, behaviors and customer engagement techniques used by the top producers for the rest of the sales force.
- Unable to scale. Replicable and automated processes that deliver predictable outcomes are a prerequisite to scaling revenues.
The above sales challenges often occur sequentially but may not be noticed until several have accumulated. At that point the challenge can appear overwhelming.
The thing to recognize is that it is not a single massive challenge but several smaller problems that when isolated can be tackled with precision and much less time. Selling enablement implementation programs often start small and deliver progressively larger iterations.