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5 Sales Enablement Takeaways from the 2018 #SESociety Conference

Sep 21st, 2018

The 2018 Sales Enablement Society Annual Conference wrapped up this week after an exciting three days of discussion in Denver. As practitioners, knowledge-seekers and thought-leaders boarded their flights home, we couldn’t help but wonder: what did attendees take away from the event?

After all, the sales enablement function is relatively new, certainly fast-growing, and constantly changing. And with so many practitioners gathered in one space, the ideas and insights discussed were surely eye-opening.

Luckily for those who didn’t attend, the Sales Enablement Society interviewed several conference-goers at its coverage desk throughout the week. Below are 5 interesting takeaways we heard from the sales enablement leaders and researchers in attendance. 

1. Buyers Expect More from Sales Reps

CSO Insights’ 2018 Buyer Preferences Study found that only 23% of buyers consider salespeople to be a top-three resource for solving business challenges. In fact, more buyers viewed web searches (27%), trade publications (29%) and online communities (30%) as trusted resources than they did sales reps.

So how can sales enablement change this perception?

Tamara Schenk, research director at CSO Insights, advocated for an integrated approach to sales enablement – one that teaches reps how to apply sales content and the right value messaging to buyer conversations. Sales training and sales coaching are key to this approach, she said.

“We want to drive relevant, valuable, differentiating conversations at each stage of the customer’s journey… Conversations with different buyer roles at different levels. Conversations with executives that are business-driven, rather than talking features and functions,” Schenk said. “Training is a very important element, and sales coaching – it’s very often underestimated.”

Watch more: Rush Olson chats with Tamara Schenk 

2. Sales Enablement is not One-Size-Fits-All

Heather Cole, service director of sales enablement strategies at SiriusDecisions, brought up the concept of “enablement-centric design” – the idea that sales enablement should be structured with the end users (sales reps and managers) in mind.

A hands-on exercise she conducted at the event asked professionals whether user experience is important to managing a great sales enablement program. Attendees were also asked how well they actually deliver positive user experience.

While nearly everyone agreed that user experience is critical to effective sales enablement, attendees are all over the map when it comes to making it a priority.

“What we have seen points to starting from the ground-up and saying, ‘How is it that the people you enable really want to be enabled?’” Cole said. “They have learning preferences, preferences for certain assets and [preferences for] the environment in which they work. If you look at the user-centric design principle, the organizations doing this have great success with it, but it’s not as easy as it seems and it’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Watch more: Heather Cole Offers Serious Data Insights

3. Changing the ‘Status Quo’ is an Uphill Battle for Sales Enablement

Helping salespeople realize their full potential is a never-ending challenge for the sales enablement function. Laura Welch, senior director of sales and sales enablement at Polycom, pointed out three factors that typically prevent effective selling: 

  1. Sellers often don’t use systems and tools the way they were designed, because they would rather be selling than learning about processes and tools.
  2. Many sales reps don’t realize which skills they can or should improve without the consistent, strategic sales coaching that an effective coaching program provides.
  3. Becoming truly comfortable selling a range of solutions and products to different target markets and buyer personas takes serious time and effort, which sellers would (again) rather spend in front of buyers.

In all three examples, sales enablement is tasked with changing ingrained selling habits over the long-term. The disruptions caused by new technology has only made changing those habits tougher, Welch said.

“Why would I (as a sales rep) let go of the behaviors and workflows that have worked for me time and time again?” she said. “When I change, I will fail at first. I will need to learn to walk again. Figuring out how to get that down quickly for the sales team is tough.”

Watch more: Laura Welch chats with Gerhard Gschwandtner

4. Sales Enablement Will Be More Strategic, Unified

With the practice evolving so quickly, what will “good” sales enablement look like in the future?

Haley Katsman, VP of account development and sales enablement leader at Highspot, believes the role is shifting away from being reactive while becoming more proactive and strategic. “When you get people in the role that are strategic, you’re seeing much more innovation out of the function,” she said.

The other trend Katsman highlighted is the consolidation of sales content, training and coaching under the larger sales enablement umbrella, with organizations aiming to provide a more integrated function focused on increasing seller productivity.

“It always goes back to [getting] buy-in and adoption,” she said. “You really have to empathize with the actual workflow of the salesperson, instead of throwing a bunch of things at them. Then you have to show them why it worked and explain it. You have to have some successes and say, ‘This is why you should listen to us.’”

Watch more: Haley Katsman joins the coverage desk

5. Without Technology, Sales Enablement is not Scalable

Bethany Atkinson, sales enablement manager at Kronos, provides new hire training, methodology training and coaching to a large, globally-distributed sales force. That means she faces the distinct challenge of delivering effective enablement content to several different regions and cultures.

Atkinson’s key to making sales enablement work on a global scale: incorporating technology into her efforts.

“You have to utilize technology (with a spread-out group),” she said. “You can be a one-man or one-woman band and travel all over the world, but that’s exhausting. It’s not something you can leverage. Really learning how to leverage where your assets are, where your strengths are, and how you can empower people in other regions is going to help you be more sustainable and have a better personal and professional life.”

Watch more: Bethany Atkinson at the Coverage Desk