Sales Enablement Tips for Gaining C-Suite Buy-In

June 11, 2018 | Alec Shirkey
Sales Enablement Tips for Gaining C-Suite Buy-In

Sales enablement leaders need C-suite sponsorship when establishing a formal program or function.

Even as the case for sales enablement becomes increasingly compelling, new sales enablement leaders are likely to encounter executives and other company decision-makers who fail to grasp its purpose – or its benefits. Maybe that’s why 40% of companies still lack a dedicated sales enablement professional, program or function, according to CSO Insights.

A CFO, for instance, might not immediately recognize the financial value of improved sales training and onboarding. Other teams, such as product marketing or sales operations, may feel like sales enablement encroaches on their job responsibilities. Even the sales reps themselves might not jump at the notion that they need enabling.

This kind of pushback presents a major challenge for would-be sales enablement leaders, who need executive sponsorship and a well-defined plan when establishing a formal program. How does one get key stakeholders to buy into sales enablement if they don’t understand it?

Selling the C-Suite on Sales Enablement

Jill Guardia, executive director of sales enablement at TriNet, has been a sales enablement practitioner for nearly 15 years, including a decade spent leading readiness and training efforts at Symantec. She says sales enablement leaders must speak the language of their audience in order to foster a better understanding of enablement’s value while illustrating where and why status quo programs fall short.

That means they should discuss sales enablement’s potential to increase reps’ contributions to revenue when meeting with the CFO. A CEO might be most swayed by improvements to profitability and retention rates, while a CMO would need to understand how enablement will affect and support the marketing team’s sales content creation efforts.

“The worst thing you can do is go to someone in the C-Suite and say, ‘We need to train new hires, and it’s going to take us 6 days, and can you pay for us to do that?’ You’re probably going to walk away shaking your head,” Guardia says.

[Learn more by listening to our latest webinar, The First Year as a Sales Enablement Leader: What You Need to Know]

Each of these conversations should emphasize how enablement will improve sales productivity, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, says Brainshark Chief Readiness Officer Jim Ninivaggi. Both he and Guardia agree that data is an especially powerful tool for sales enablement leaders looking to demonstrate the benefits of a program.

For example, analyzing day-to-day activities performed by sales reps could reveal that they spend too many hours building presentations or responding to corporate communications each week. As reps spend less time selling, they incur a higher opportunity cost. That would make the case for enablement much simpler, because the value of improving efficiency is obvious.

“[Sales reps] are not low-cost,” Ninivaggi says. “Every hour they’re spending in non-productive, non-revenue generating activities, it’s costing you money. The more you can have them focused on activities that are actually going to help pay for themselves, [the better].”

Enhancing sales rep effectiveness is another easy sell for enablement if there’s data to support the claims. If the average salesperson in an organization produces $1 million of revenue per year, and an internal study projects that mark to increase by $200,000 with a formal enablement program, you can clearly demonstrate enablement’s contribution to the top-line.

By partnering with whichever team monitors and analyzes the sales data – be it sales ops, business intelligence or another group – sales enablement leaders can effectively highlight the organization’s pain points and pitch an enablement program as the solution.

Setting the Sales Enablement Agenda (While Minimizing Conflict)

On top of winning sponsorship at the executive level, new sales enablement leaders must also navigate a sometimes-tricky political landscape. Why? Departments that feel responsible for enabling sales often view enablement as a competing interest, Guardia says.

“I have seen this so many times,” she says. “I can’t even remember a place where there wasn’t at least somebody outside the true sales enablement team who said, ‘That’s what I do for a living. I enable the sales org.’”

It’s important for all parties to recognize that sales enablement is a joint effort – one which requires support and collaboration from other teams. Thus, enablement leaders should work with other teams (such as product marketing and sales operations) to develop a strategy that clearly and comprehensively outlines enablement responsibilities.

Guardia suggests mapping out the sales process to determine which groups contribute to either the buyer’s journey or the seller’s when reps engage customers and prospects. Who owns the messaging, and at which points during the buyer’s journey? Who oversees sales training, and who is responsible for the tools used by salespeople? By answering these questions, enablement leaders can ensure alignment across a common touchpoint – because, ultimately, the entire company's goal should be improving and accelerating the sales process however possible.

“We’re all, with best intentions, enabling our salespeople,” Ninivaggi says. “The purpose of the noun and the function ‘enablement’ is to take all that good work, organize it, distribute it and track it so the salespeople can actually leverage it… Figure out how we can all work together to help our field force do a better job of impacting this buying process.”

Are you a new sales enablement leader?

The first year on the job is full of obstacles, opportunities and crucial decisions. In our latest on-demand webinar, Ninivaggi and Guardia discuss several key aspects of building a sales enablement function, including how to measure program effectiveness and create a charter that guides your strategy.

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