A sales enablement consultant applies a combination of content, coaching and technology tools to drive substantial improvements to sales productivity and revenue growth. We know this because this is our profession.
We also know that the typical tools-focused approach generally falls short of expectations, so in this post we’re going to share our method of integrating and engineering the tools to realize the most impactful sales outcomes.
But before diving into tools or outcomes, we need to define this sales process improvement discipline in a way that it is understandable and measurable. Unfortunately, there is no industry consensus definition, but description below is a generally accepted among professional circles.
Sales force enablement is the process of delivering information, content, guidance, and tools to salespeople, so they improve their performance and the company's revenue growth.
Empowering salespeople with these assets improves customer engagement and is proven to increase sales productivity, sales conversion rates and revenue growth.
But this goal is elusive for many.
A top mistake is pursuing a tools-focused approach that ends up delivering an IT solution to salespeople that don’t really care much about IT. Sales reps care about their personal performance and making quota. So, a smarter approach is to align enablement capabilities with the most important salesperson outcomes.
The 4 Building Blocks
It's helpful to recognize that salesperson enablement equips salespeople with the four building blocks of content, coaching, training and technology.
These assets are symbiotic, meaning that they are stronger together than apart. They can be mixed and matched to solve different problems and deliver progressively bigger results.
McKinsey research reveals that sales reps waste 10 to 20 hours per week searching for content. When they are unable to find something, they then recreate content, oftentimes of questionable quality because their focus is on speed.
The problem is a double whammy as Forrester's SiriusDecisions advises that Marketing goes to great effort and expense to create content, but 60% to 70% of marketing's content goes unused because it's not found.
A content management system (CMS) is the best tool to centrally store and manage content. But to proactively and automatically deliver the right content to the sales rep at the right time, you need to use your CRM system or another workflow based application.
CRM applications integrate with CMSs to aid content accessibility and shift to the next level of contextual content delivery. Several CRM systems can be designed to proactively suggest artifacts, collaterals, insights, offers or other assets based on a combination of customer type, buyer persona, sales step and other factors. This push-based technology delivers guided selling advice, eliminates search time, and better leverages the company’s content.
Analyst firm Gartner advises that by 2026, staff will reduce the time spent looking for information by 50% or more as information instead finds them in the context of their current work activity.
B2B selling is a team sport. And the team needs a coach.
Experienced sales managers know their greatest impact is to grow the contributions of all direct reports and achieve a workforce multiplier effect. However, a frequent coaching misstep is incorrectly allocating scarce time among sales performers.
Most sales managers spend the most time helping the highest and lowest performers. While all sales reps need coaching, investing the most time with the middle performers will yield the greatest upside revenue impact.
Sales coaching research shows that active coaching delivers extraordinary performance improvements in the areas of sale opportunity conversions, sales force quota attainment, year over year revenue growth and sales team tenure. No other productivity investment achieves a bigger financial impact than effective coaching.
According to CSO Insights Fifth Annual Selling Enablement Study, “For the last five years, sales coaching has delivered the greatest impact on win rates and quota attainment.”
Sales force training is area of common disappointment.
There are several issues, but the biggest is retention. Training classes are generally informative, but about 94% of the information presented is forgotten within 36 hours.
A better approach is to deliver training in an experiential way.
Training content gets applied when it is embedded into the company’s sale methodology and the sellers' processes. Even better, when new training topics are embedded into Sales Playbooks or best practices, and integrated with your CRM application, the workflow can deliver them at the right step in the sales cycle so they become routine and effectively applied.
Many businesses make the mistake of procuring sales technologies individually and often as a response to the problem at hand. That ends up creating fragmented applications, data siloes and inconsistent user experiences.
A smarter approach is to define a holistic sales tech stack in place of ad hoc and piecemeal apps.
Start with your CRM as your underlying platform. Then leverage the platform’s ecosystem (i.e., Salesforce AppExchange or Microsoft AppSource) for purpose-built or specialty apps that are pre-integrated and share consistent user interfaces. This approach will also share common tools such as workflow builders, report writers and artificial intelligence (AI).
The most empowering sales force enablement technology is AI. Most CRM platforms have built-in AI that can apply sales cycle data, customer intelligence and historical data of similar opportunities to advise which leads are qualified, which buyers will buy, and which customers are most at risk of churn.
AI maximizes the three prior building blocks to proactively push content, coaching and training for each sale opportunity at the right points in the sales process. It can apply customer sentiment to improve engagement and surface in-the-moment buyer insights to suggest the best content or next best action.
AI brings it all together.
Engineering Sales Outcomes from the 4 Building Blocks
The three most impactful sales outcomes that can be significantly improved as part of a sales force enablement program are illustrated below.
Improve Sales Productivity
There are three ways to improve sales force productivity. You can redesign business processes to be more streamlined and effective, apply technology to automate manual activities and develop analytics to work smarter.
Selling enablement programs typically begin with the first two ways. They automate processes to deliver content when and where it can be applied.
One big caution though. You need to streamline processes before you automate them. There's no sense in automating inefficient processes.
Our sales consultants generally use Agile Value Stream Mapping as the process design method. It's particularly effective because it quickly identifies idle periods which extend process durations, measures process steps by value, and is effective in eliminating non-value-added steps and activities.
Once business processes are effective you can use a combination of your CRM application or best of breed selling enablement apps to integrate your sale methodology, automate your sales process and automatically deliver content, coaching or training as guided selling recommendations.
Increase Sales Win Rates
Low sale opportunity win rates are often the result of earlier actions and not the real problem. For example, if marketing is acquiring leads that do not fit the company’s Ideal Customer Profile or otherwise passing unqualified sales leads to the sales force, sales conversions will fall.
The sales process must be examined end to end to understand how improvements in any of the upstream actions will yield downstream improvements.
There is more than one way to increase sales conversions. In fact, there are over a dozen best practices for just this goal. They include Sales Playbooks, Sales Win Plans, sale methodologies, Strategic Account Management, sales analytics, and Sales and Marketing Alignment to name a few.
Salesperson enablement often starts with content that includes the 360-degree customer view as that data is then shared in a high number of interactions.
Enablement apps also play a big role. For example, Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) software greatly reduces the time needed to create complex quotes, perform route planning to maximize sales visits and use digital contracts with e-signatures to accelerate sales closure.
Other enablement programs will likely be baked into your CRM system and include things like AI-calculated lead and opportunity scores, next-best-action recommendations, automated delivery of contextual content or artifacts based on position in the sales cycle, interactive dashboards, and collaboration support using enterprise social networks such as Salesforce Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Improving sales win rates delivers significant and sustainable revenue growth. It is also more effective and less costly than just playing the numbers game of increasing the volume of sales pursuits.
Achieve a High Performance Sales Team
Research and our own experience as a sales enablement agency make it clear that the two most powerful enablement programs to raise the entire sales force are sales coaching and sale methodologies.
Sales coaching applies structured dialogues to develop each sales reps full potential and grow the cumulative revenue impact of the sales force. These dialogues shy away from telling sales staff what to do and instead help them reflect on each situation to develop the right skills and reinforce the behaviors that deliver results.
When part of an enablement program, sales coaching is more than a sporadic activity. It is initially delivered in the onboarding process, continuously delivered as part of a recurring program and with the help of sales technology, proactively delivered in a just-in-time format.
Sale methodologies integrated within CRM technology accelerate sales cycles by providing road maps to get to a planned destination in the shortest time. Using workflow tools to automate sales processes saves time, creates consistency among salespeople, provides measured visibility and enables predictability.
Sales force enablement assets are cool, but sales outcomes rule.
Avoid the temptation to start with tools and apps and then seek out problems they solve.
Instead, start with the most pressing challenges and then engineer the tools and apps to deliver measurable and predictable results. Only then will you succeed in getting the sales team to actually use the enablement solutions.