Just 10 years ago the term sales enablement would have drawn blank stares even from seasoned sales professionals and top business leaders. By contrast, a 2015 Forbes study affirms that today nearly 60 percent of companies with best-in class sales organizations boast a robust sales enablement function.
And yet the mention of sales enablement will still frequently provoke blank stares – even within the rank and file of organizations that have a well-defined function. Just ask anyone with sales enablement in their title. They are likely to have a pithy definition at the ready for those unfamiliar. But, they may also suspect that many of their cross functional partners (who may never ask) have questions too.
So what is sales enablement? What I hear most often is some derivative of IDC’s definition: “Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward.”
But this definition - while undeniably sound – is usually inadequate to satisfy our more well established partners in marketing, product and even sales learning who may already own pieces of these functions. So for our partners, the question “What is Sales Enablement?” really means, “What does it mean right here, in my company?" and "How does that impact my functional area?” And there’s just no canned answer for that. In fact, for some companies the answer continues to evolve over years.
Complicating this is the dirty little secret that not all sales enablement organizations understand themselves. Now, I could be wrong about the pervasiveness of this problem, but it’s the honest perspective I’ve developed networking with peers over years and serving diverse sales organizations. How many sales enablement leaders have whole teams that can articulate the group’s function and mandate to the organization? What about half of their teams? And if most can’t, how well can a new enablement organization stand itself up with integrity between other sales-adjacent functions with clearer and often louder demands.
Regardless of how mature the enablement organization may be, it’s a worthwhile exercise for team members to actively discuss and reinforce their group’s identity and role in promoting and protecting the effectiveness of the living sales experience. This will allow them to fully distinguish themselves as powerful advocates for sales and, as such, become better partners to all cross-functional areas. With a hyperfocus on how information from all the support areas converge within the average sales rep’s workday, sales enablement serves a unique function and goes where other internal partners lack the inclination to tread.
In that spirit, here are a few helpful touchstones for sales enablement teams who agree their true north lies on the ground with sales.
Enable through structure
We all know, but all too often forget, just how fragmented an outside sales rep’s day can be. Whether we're on the sales technology or content creation side of sales enablement, structure and uniformity are our best friends.
Organizations using a standard sales process have a leg up and can leverage this structure to ensure content is integrated within the daily sales routine. Those that don’t have a formalized process can simply standardize the format of their information so reps can become familiar and later quickly reference what’s new and what they need to do. When sales reps are familiar with structure whether in stages, steps, or categories, the content associated can be more quickly and more thoroughly assimilated.
Many top performing organizations leverage technology to more dynamically integrate content into the structure of the sales experience. CRM-enabled content platforms can serve up context driven information throughout the structure of the sales cycle.
Filter and translate all incoming information
Are we just serving up work product or are we ensuring it actually works? When cross-functional partners create new mandates in the form of content for sales, we must resist the urge to simply repackage and rubber stamp. Sales enablement should always work through the content, filtering and translating anything it delivers to sales. Before providing content to sales, we should always ask:
- What is sales really being asked to do? Is it practical?
- To be effective, what should this really look and sound like within a sales interaction?
- How does this impact the sales process and the flow of the entire sales conversation?
Sometimes this will require going back to the originators to ensure the correct takeaways. Often, it will require re-writes and pushing back on extraneous information. Brevity is key and worth enforcing. More information can always be made available on demand.
Stay close to the sales experience
Spending time with sales is critical and provides the periodic (and humbling) gut check most of us in sales support functions need. It reminds us that we are enabling humans and not just processes. This goes for those in strategy, technology, analytics, and content alike.
For those involved in targeting tracking and reporting, witnessing the line of a sales person’s day can inspire new common sense efficiencies. For content creators, it can be a bit depressing to see how much of what we work so hard to deliver goes ignored and unused. But it’s a good reminder that if we don’t stress simplicity and practicality our sales reps will take care of that for us.
Mo Schlick is a sales enablement professional and sales storyteller with experience creating messaging for such organizations as ADP and Bloomberg, LP. She is currently the Director of Sales Messaging at YP.