In this article by Paul Sansom, Business Consultant at Vendavo, learn the keys to designing a strong sales enablement strategy for your team. Find out who owns sales enablement and explore the elements of an effective strategy, including elements like training programs, sales summits, sales certification, and of course, effective content.
Sales Enablement is a relatively new term. I’ve been in sales and commercial organizations for almost 15 years, and I’ve heard it used regularly in just the past 18 months. As companies expand and markets change, Sales Enablement has proven to be mission-critical for equipping sales teams for whatever the future may hold.
What is Sales Enablement? The term refers to the infrastructure of tools, processes, and systems built around sales organizations to drive effectiveness, and ultimately, success. I call these things the 3 Ts of Sales Enablement: Training, Tools, and Technology. Each “T” represents one leg of a tripod, none more important than the other, and removing one will cause the others to fail.
Who Owns Sales Enablement?
Who should own Sales Enablement? Because it includes elements of sales, marketing, pricing, and IT, this is always the question. It is frequently a hot potato tossed between those groups. But the question can be answered with another question: qui bono? For those that don’t speak Latin (or haven’t seen The Departed), that means who benefits? Well, that would be sales!
Despite Sales Enablement being a cross-functional practice, the sales organization is ultimately responsible for Sales Enablement’s creation and utilization and to ensure that it is both current and additive. All of those previously mentioned groups can and will provide both valuable support and insight, but ultimately, sales owns it.
The “T” Elements of a Sales Enablement Strategy
What are the elements of a sales enablement strategy? Remember the 3 Ts.
Sales processes have evolved rapidly and, as younger generations enter the workforce, so do different communication and correspondence methods. For example, many companies require greater input from finance and procurement before purchase decisions can be made. Meaning, what has worked for decades may not be as successful today and in the future. This reality increases the need for training across your commercial organization.
Investment in both periodic and on-demand training allows your teams to develop and retain the necessary skills to engage with prospects, customers, and partners effectively, and grow the business. Examples include:
- Onboarding and training programs
Coach and educate new team members about your company’s products and services, customers, and sales processes. Furthermore, an effective succession pipeline should be developed to identify potential sales talent within the company and promote and train them accordingly.
- Quarterly or annual in-person sales summits
Offer coaching, feedback, and guidance to improve and hone sales skills and performance. A little-used, but highly effective method, is the “Council of Rivals” approach where each team member chooses a real opportunity in the pipeline and presents their strategy to the rest of the team. For an hour or so, the team provides valuable experience and contextual insights to vet and improve the sales strategy for that opportunity.
- Sales certification
Certification programs can be very effective at standardizing sales processes and teaching good habits.
- Effective content
Build an easy-to-access library of training and education resources that give your team a place to rapidly turn to when time is scarce.
Build a resource bank of effective content and sales tools that builds credibility, establishes trust, differentiates your brand and products, and drives customer actions and behaviors. The last action is the most important: driving neutral-to-positive actions will build a cadence of communication and feedback from the customer and move your people from an external, sales relationship to that of a trusted advisor. Examples include:
- Case studies, whitepapers, eBooks, videos, and other digital content that showcase your company, its product/services suite, and concisely conveys the differentiation and market value.
- Market and industry-specific playbooks that provide guidance on how to approach different customer pain points, in their “language’ and context. Using the nomenclature of a specific industry gives your salesperson instant credibility, and knowing the macro and micro factors that are affecting their business is even more powerful. Playbooks should include customizable templates to meet specific customer’s needs.
It’s easy for most sales organizations to see CRM, analytics, content management systems, forecasting tools, and others as more of a burden than a help. But why? Having designed and managed multiple CRM systems over the years, I have 2 theories: 1) these systems are rarely designed with a specific, attainable goal in mind. If you think I’m wrong, ask ten people in your organization the purpose behind your CRM system. Chance are you will receive ten different answers ranging from: “forecasting and pipeline tracking” to “big brother’s system for customer retention” to “21st Century torture device.”
The truth is sales technology is essential today. Take price optimization software as an example. Price optimization is the practice of deciding upon the most effective pricing for a product or service, with a heavy reliance on the customer’s willingness to pay. It allows companies to offer their products at the price points most likely to be agreed to by customers – therefore making sales more effective.
There are many other examples of technology that supports sales directly, like CPQ software for faster quoting and indirectly, like cross-selling tools. The data outputs from all of them can transform your sales team. But it is our responsibility to build something that is simple, additive, and not burdensome. The idea, ‘Crawl, Walk, Run’ applies here. Design your systems around mid-term attainable goals to drive habits in the sales organization that build upon each other.
3 Rules for Implementing a Sales Enablement Strategy
Not all Sales Enablement Strategies are optimized for effectiveness. Keep these 3 rules in mind when mapping out how to build a sales enablement strategy:
Rule #1: Start with a GAP Assessment
How do you expect to create a helpful strategy if you don’t know where to start? Using methods like root cause analysis will help identify which issues are most pressing, and where you can make the biggest impact. Making assumptions on certain issues – such as low conversion rates – can needlessly waste valuable time. For instance, if a younger sales organization has recently failed to hit their sales goals, one might assume that it is a training issue, and organize a large, expensive training seminar. But if a comprehensive assessment had been carried out, the true problem would have been uncovered: that the team had excellent sales and communication skills but lacked the product and market knowledge needed to effectively make the sale. The GAP assessment will play a crucial role in prioritizing your activities and initiatives.
Rule #2: Don’t do Everything All at Once
Sales teams are notorious for being resistant to change and often, they view anything new as a burden. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a veteran account manager complain about learning how to use a new activity tracker in Salesforce, complete their Account Plans in Salesforce, or update opportunities in Salesforce. Or maybe, they’re negative about logging into Salesforce at all? As expected, that’s a lot of hands. Your sales organization should not feel like the theme of a recent Oscar-winning movie: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. As mentioned above, use the “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach to change management. Slow, periodic implementation of changes will drive habits and improvements, and not overwhelm your organization.
Rule #3: Addition through Subtraction
This may seem counterintuitive given that we’ve just spent 90% of this article talking about things to add into your sales process, but as we have mentioned before, most sales organizations are overburdened with needless review meetings, cumbersome technology, and inefficient tools and resources. Every time something new is introduced, it should be as an improvement of something else. Your salespeople should be better at selling over than anything else, and if they are not, then they are in the wrong job. Which is why one of the underlying goals of sales enablement should be to maximize what your team does best.
Sales Enablement might be a new term to many, but it isn’t a new idea. In fact, many of the topics mentioned here are as old as Sales itself. But Sales Enablement forces organizations to think about these themes as a single, cohesive strategy and in a way that builds more efficient, effective sales organizations.