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Sales Enablement vs. Sales Ennoblement: Q&A with Deb Calvert

Nov 15th, 2017

Nearly 32% of companies have a formal sales enablement department. But sales enablement often has a different definition from one organization to the next. Some organizations focus on content management, while others prefer to view enablement in more holistic terms – a combination of training and coaching that prepares reps for each and every buyer interaction.

We recently sat down with Deb Calvert, president and founder of People First Productivity Solutions, who has an interesting take on sales enablement and how companies can get the most out of their sales enablement program. 

What is sales ennoblement and how does it differ from sales enablement?

Deb: Ennoble is a word you don’t hear very often. It means to elevate and respect or to dignify. When we ennoble a person, we’re acknowledging their worth and dignifying the value of their ideas and work. Ennoblement is what we do to ensure others feel respected and valued.

Enable means to make someone able or to make something easier. Giving people competence, authority and resources makes them more able to do their work. Enablement is also the process of equipping people through training, coaching, and tools.

What ennoblement and enablement have in common is the result: empowerment. People are equipped through enablement and motivated through ennoblement. If we want sellers to be ready for buyer interactions and strengthened to achieve their goals, we must use a combination of both enablement and ennoblement.

Why is ennoblement important to the success of a sales organization?

Deb: The success of a sales organization largely depends on the efforts of the sales team. I believe CEB’s definition of employee engagement says it best: “When employees feel an emotional connection to their workplace, they apply additional discretionary effort to their work.”

Research from “Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces” shows that specific leadership behaviors foster that emotional connection. Ennobling behaviors, such as recognition or empowering employees to make their own decisions, lead to emotional connections that produce increased discretionary effort. The results include higher levels of customer loyalty, increases in topline revenue, and improved profit margins.  

There’s another way that ennoblement matters. Sellers must also ennoble their buyers. In Stop Selling & Start Leading, our research with buyers and stories from sellers explain exactly what sellers can do to boost their effectiveness by doing more to ennoble buyers. Here’s how one of the buyers in our study described what she’s looking for during the sales process:

“The ideal is when a seller promotes an innovative or cutting-edge product, doing their best to answer all the questions we have. Then they invite our input so they can make relevant adjustments based on our specific requirements. Sometimes this is achieved through brainstorming sessions where we give our input and, by the end of the meeting, our contributions are recognized and complemented. All this helps to build a strong relationship between our company and the seller that lasts for a long time.”

What is preventing sales enablement organizations from ennobling their reps?

Deb: The two biggest barriers I see are a lack of awareness about how important ennoblement is and a lack of sales manager training on why and how to ennoble sellers. This is a clear case where many sales managers simply “don’t know what they don’t know.”

The lack of awareness stems from the fact that we prioritize measurable outcomes and tangible solutions. We can prove how many minutes an enablement tool saves or how much revenue is increased as a direct result of sales training. It’s more difficult (and takes longer) to show a clear ROI on behavioral shifts in the management team.

Without awareness and appreciation of ennoblement, sales managers likely won’t seek training or resources on how to become more ennobling. Instead, there’s a hyper-focus on enablement alone. Then, when enablement efforts aren’t as successful as expected, people wonder what was missing. Often, the answer is that the work of enabling inadvertently made a seller feel a diminished sense of worth or value.

Can you give an example of an organization successfully ennobling their reps?

Deb: One of my B2B start-up tech clients worked for six months to develop ways to ennoble SDRs. They had a plethora of enablement tools, and we added sales training and coaching programs to round out that enablement. Embedded in our training, coaching and distribution of workload was a focus on ennoblement, too.

At first, the SDRs were skeptical about spending time in training instead of being on the phones. Before we started training, I interviewed and observed each one to understand selling strengths, perceived barriers, and skills gaps. They were directly involved in shaping their own training. This was ennobling, and it also ensured high levels of buy-in for the training.

Then, when it came time for coaching, they were a little apprehensive about this, too. The Sales VP sent out a personal message that offered the SDRs assurance that this was an investment in their development because they mattered so much to the organization. That was ennobling.

In each coaching session, the feedback started with a self-evaluation and ended with self-directed goal-setting. The SDRs, highly ennobled by this process, reported that their opinions and judgment were respected. They were much harder on themselves than most coaches would be, and they were deeply committed to making the changes they defined for themselves.

After four months, the business growth required adding more team members. The SDRs were producing like never before. Their additional discretionary effort, enjoyment of the job, and sense of contributing at a higher level was palpable in the office. By July, this organization had already hit its 2017 revenue target, and ennoblement was a key factor in their success.

Deb Calvert is the co-author of “Stop Selling & Start Leading” and the president and founder of People First Productivity Solutions.