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How to Launch a Sales Enablement Program [Melissa Madian Q&A]

Dec 09th, 2019

No matter what drives a company to invest in sales enablement, each one of them needs to know how to launch a program that will drive better results.

But as a newer function, there’s no universal playbook for getting things off the ground. What’s right for one organization might not make sense for another, whether you’re talking about sales enablement team structure, initial priorities, or program execution.

It’s why establish sales enablement is often easier said than done.

For more clarity around this topic, we turned to Melissa Madian, sales enablement consultant and founder at TMM Enablement Services Inc. Madian has spent the past 25 years in sales, customer experience, and sales enablement roles, working to make revenue-generating teams more effective through the process design and coaching she provides.

In the latest installment of Brainshark’s ongoing Q&A series, Madian discusses what companies should consider when establishing a sales enablement function, what they need to get started, and how to ensure it succeeds.

Previous Sales Enablement Voices Q&As:

How do you know a company needs sales enablement?

MM: If you have a rapidly growing sales force, and the only thing you’re doing is having new hires shadow people and access your content portal, you probably need someone in sales enablement.

If you have a complex sale and no one is helping the sellers navigate that effectively, then you probably need someone in sales enablement.

If you have messaging changes or you’re trying to really set yourself apart in the market, and all the reps are saying something different, then you probably should be thinking about sales enablement.

Or if you have a rapidly changing product or service, you should be thinking about sales enablement.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a full-time sales enablement person. But you do need someone in the organization thinking about how to enable sellers.

What do you need to get started with sales enablement?

MM: A lot of organizations think, ‘I’m going to enable my sales team by tossing a bunch of tools at them.’ Doing that without any kind of plan or process in place is not going to help your sales force.

If you’re thinking about enablement, you need to know what that means to the organization.

Some companies might think of enablement as sending the right content to the buyer at the right sales stage, so that it advances the deal. That’s very different from reducing the ramp time for new salespeople.

You need to know what you’re trying to accomplish with the sales team and have a goal before you start to put enablement pieces in place. If you don’t have a goal, you’ll end up meandering.

How do you assess an organization’s sales enablement needs?

MM: I start with the current state to assess where you’re at. Do you have an enablement person in place? If so, on what are they focused?

Then determine where you want to go so you can chart your plans accordingly. Do I want all my reps singing from the same song sheet when they talk about our solutions? Do I need to improve the productivity of my sales force by X percent?

There are often so many moving parts that it can be tough to visualize what you’re working with. I’m an old-school white boarder. I love to take out the markers and draw how everything connects in the sales organization.

How should companies approach sales enablement headcount?

MM: It depends on the organization’s maturity. Size does usually matter! Small companies might not need a full-time enablement person. But they do recognize that they need someone to set up processes and a plan that can be divided among the sales managers, who each take on components of a sales enablement function. That’s a good way to leverage consulting.

For other companies, the product might change so rapidly – or the selling organization needs so much skills development – that they might require two people in sales enablement. Maybe one of them is focused on helping with training and coaching in different time zones.

Take a step back, keep your plan in mind, and then figure out how to staff the function in a way that fits the plan – whether that’s hiring a full-time person or dividing the labor among sales managers.

What should you consider if you’re enabling a dispersed or global sales team?

MM: Time zones matter, for sure. It’s tough if you have someone based on the East Coast that’s supporting an APAC team, especially if the goal involves coaching and in-person training. That isn’t feasible or scalable.

Languages also matter. If you have a geographically dispersed team, you need to be cognizant of local languages, making sure your training and content can be consumed in the other regions you support.

The good news is that the process usually stays the same, wherever you’re at.

How do you integrate sales enablement with the rest of the organization?

MM: The function of enablement is still very new. Roles that would traditionally feel like enablement is part of their purview – like marketing, HR, or sales training – folks might feel like you’re playing in their sandbox.

All these departments want to help sales – which is great. But it can also overwhelm sales with people trying to serve them information.

There’s no way for salespeople to prioritize all the information they’re receiving from all these different departments. Sales enablement acts as a hub of information so all those departments can feed into the enablement function, to ensure reps get what they need when they need it, while sales can focus on using that information to close business.

The enablement function should also be very clear about their mandates. It’s not to take over someone else’s job. It’s to make what you are producing for sales most effective, so the sales organization feels how valuable those functions are. It’s not that sellers are lazy. They just have a million things going on.

How do you get reps to buy into sales enablement?

MM: It helps if the person in sales enablement comes from a sales background. That lends credibility to the enablement function. ‘I’ve walked a mile in your shoes and I get where you’re coming from.’ It’s not required, but it’s helpful.

How I usually position enablement to junior-level managers and reps: Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time, and she still has a tennis coach. That coach helps her with improving little aspects of her game. The enablement function should be viewed like that.

Even if you’re a rock star, you can always improve, and sales enablement is here to help you do that.

If you’re trying to implement a new sales tool, pilot it with a few salespeople. You want them to learn about it, talk it up around their peers, and sell internally to the rest of the sales organization. As a salesperson, I’m trying to get the path of least resistance to my deals. If I see one of the top-performing gals crushing it with a new tool, I’m going to want me some of that tool. That’s usually the way you get tools into the sales team’s hands quickly.

What’s one productivity tool or hack you love?

MM: I have everything organized in OneNote by files, and they’ve each got little tabs. It’s like those old filing folder systems. My OneNote is organized like that. But it’s all in the cloud, so if I spill coffee on my laptop, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s so simple, but it works.

You can follow Melissa on Twitter (@MelissaMadian) and connect with her on LinkedIn.