This post originally appeared on Forbes.com on February 1, 2018.
A dozen years ago, no one had heard of the term sales enablement, but that doesn’t mean the concept didn’t exist. Companies have long sought to improve their sales team’s productivity and results by equipping (or enabling) them to demonstrate greater value in meetings with buyers, and that’s really what sales enablement is all about.
As a former analyst at the sales-focused research firm SiriusDecisions for 10 years, I had a front-row seat for the birth and evolution of this dedicated field and frequently saw its impact on clients. It’s been especially exciting to see a greater emphasis on — and articulation of — the space and its importance in recent years. And 2017 was a seminal year for the field:
• More and more organizations reported sales enablement functions, programs and titles — an 81% increase (registration required) over 2016 according to CSO Insights. These often focused on the critical areas of sales readiness, content management and communications management.
• The field got less amorphous, with greater consensus on its definition. CSO Insights currently describes it as a strategic, collaborative discipline “designed to increase predictable sales results by providing consistent, scalable services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value in every customer interaction.”
• The Sales Enablement Society, a volunteer organization, held its first “Experience Sales Enablement” event: a sold-out conference in Dallas.
In the year ahead, as companies continue to establish, bolster and evaluate their sales enablement functions and initiatives, expect to see the following focal points:
As organizations implement strategic shifts — emphasizing new products, buyers, markets, methodologies, etc. — they rightly want to educate their sellers. But all too often, companies neglect to pay attention to enabling front-line managers, who are actually responsible for sales rep readiness. Obviously, you can’t expect your sellers to master new areas if their coaches aren’t well-versed themselves.
For example, Pete Bell, head of sales enablement at Philips Image Guided Therapy Devices (a Brainshark customer), told me that a priority of his this year is to ensure their field sales management team “has the systems, skills, processes, tools and desire to serve as true force multipliers.” According to Bell: “We will not be satisfied with sales managers who are simply great former reps. Rather, we aspire to have all managers leading, steering, guiding and developing their teams so that the managers’ personal capability is multiplied exponentially by their direct reports.”
Faced with highly competitive environments and increasingly informed and empowered buyers, many sales teams seem to have gotten distracted. They’ve veered away from emphasizing “the basics” — including thorough pre-call planning, agenda-setting, call execution, consultative skills, improvisation and agility. Sales enablement departments are recognizing that even though buying behaviors have changed over the last 15 years, the fundamentals that make or break a sales call are still the same.
Reframing Desired Outcomes
When sellers engage with buyers, there’s often a frenetic focus on landing that sale. Regardless of whether a deal pans out, I always want our reps prepared to engage in a way that leaves buyers thinking their time was well-spent and that our conversations and solutions deliver value.
Daniel West, VP of go-to-market strategy and operations for Oracle University, also advocates for this important shift in mentality — which sales enablement can and should drive. “The end result of an engagement with a customer shouldn’t be ‘closing the deal,'" West says. "It should be ensuring that the customer achieves a successful outcome and generates a return from their investment in your product or service. This isn’t the sole responsibility of sales, but it does mean that everything about your sales process needs to be focused on that outcome. This includes understanding the buyer’s role, their pain and being able to show how you’ve successfully helped similar buyers achieve their goals and created a return on their investment.”
Sales And Marketing Alignment
Sales enablement departments can’t succeed without strong sales and marketing — particularly product marketing — alignment. Both groups are integral to uncovering and delivering assets that equip sales reps for success. Roderick “RJ” Jefferson, VP for global enablement at Marketo, articulated this concept during a recent conversation with me. “My resolution for 2018 is to strengthen the relationship between our sales and marketing organizations to make it stronger than ever," Jefferson says. "The goal is to be the centralized point, focused on things that matter and things we can impact -- which will lead to increased incremental revenue and customer satisfaction.”
The Right Content At The Right Time
Achieving what I like to call perpetual sales readiness means having the right content — whether for training or prospecting — for sales reps at the right time to drive buyer interactions and deliver value. Rather than having reps hunt for content, try to gear your technologies and processes to allow the content to find them. Jake Braly, VP of marketing at Highspot (a Brainshark partner), suggested this as well. “Modern buyers don't want to be on a ‘journey,’" Braly says. "They want a destination ... I will embrace a modern approach to sales enablement by equipping our sellers with insightful content at the right moments so they can add value to every buyer's purchase process and guide them to their destination.”
It can be difficult to reach channel partners, especially with so many vendors jostling for their attention. Sales enablement departments are increasingly focusing on delivering content and training materials — often in a video-based format — that will better engage and enable channel partners. Kurt Andersen, CMO of Symmetry, is focused on this exact approach and says his company’s greatest sales enablement priority this year is “giving our global channel the tools, training and support they need to operate and present themselves as a genuine extension of our company’s sales team. We need these partners to sell and deliver our company’s value proposition with the same understanding and confidence as if they sat in our headquarters.”