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Sales Operations vs. Sales Enablement: Better Together?

May 27th, 2021

Buying cycles have become more and more complex. Many organizations are approaching sales as a team endeavor – one where several critical players help push each deal through.

Sure, having talented and well-prepared salespeople is critical. But closing new business today involves so much more than just the rep; there’s marketing, sales development, sales engineering, procurement, and legal, to name a few.

Two essential parts of the equation are sales operations and sales enablement. Both functions improve sales force productivity and support reps before, during, and after the buying process. But for those not familiar, it’s natural to wonder: what is the difference between the two?

Below we’ll examine how sales operations and sales enablement should work together within the overall sales organization. (We’ll also look at the difference between sales enablement and sales effectiveness.)

What is Sales Enablement?

Sales enablement can be tough to define. Ask ten companies what sales enablement means, and you might receive ten different answers.

Most accept that the primary purpose of sales enablement is to equip sales reps with the training, coaching, assets, processes, practices, and tools needed throughout the entire sales process.

Certifying that each rep has the knowledge and skills needed to maximize every sales opportunity (sales readiness) is a critical component of sales enablement’s mission. The function also manages the creation and maintenance of content to promote effective buyer conversations (sales asset management).

Because they are defined so broadly, sales enablement teams can have a lot on their collective plates. But some of the most common (and essential) responsibilities include:

  • Managing and ensuring rep adoption of sales enablement tools
  • New sales hire onboarding
  • Equipping frontline managers and sales leadership with effective coaching practices (or, even better, establishing a formal sales coaching program)
  • Reporting on metrics tied to sales learning and readiness (such as time to productivity for new hires)
  • Delivery of continuous learning programs
  • Supporting reps during product launches and other sales transformations
  • Implementation of the sales methodology (including related training and coaching)

On the other hand, the structure of the sales enablement team can vary significantly based on the sales force’s size, industry, and learning needs.

Some organizations may only have one professional who handles sales training and coaching for the entire company. Other companies may have a sales enablement team made up of multiple people. Sales enablement might exist within sales operations, reporting to its VP or director, or it might exist separately.

More and more businesses are seeing their investment in a sales enablement team lead to revenue growth.

According to the HubSpot Research Global Sales Enablement Survey, 65% of sales leaders who outperformed revenue targets have a dedicated sales enablement person or team.  

What is Sales Operations?

Even though sales operations may be a more established function than sales enablement, the function’s organization and priorities vary from company to company.

Sales operations teams work to support reps by continuously optimizing the sales process. Often, their focus is on activities that don’t directly involve buyer-seller interactions. For instance, the sales operations function might manage areas such as:

  • Administration of the CRM and other sales tools
  • Territory and quota management
  • Sales compensation, incentive plans, and SPIFFs
  • Sales KPI reporting
  • Lead routing
  • Pipeline and forecast management
  • Proposal and contract management
  • Sales communications (although this can also reside within sales enablement)

Sales enablement supports the sales force through learning and content – geared mainly toward improving each buyer interaction. Sales operations focus on making the process itself more efficient through data, tools, and optimized workflow.

For instance, while sales enablement delivers training or coaching to give reps the skills needed to move a stalled opportunity forward. Sales operations would implement and manage a deal desk responsible for reviewing deal pricing and structure, ensuring each deal is profitable and compliant with the company standards.

Sales enablement could facilitate a live role-play or video coaching activity that assesses the sales team’s negotiation skills (before its reps interact with buyers). They might provide coaching guidelines and best practices that help sales managers deliver effective feedback. The sales managers would then provide coaching feedback directly, assisting reps in performing better during negotiations.

On the other hand, sales operations could leverage CRM data and to advise that a rep’s proposal has a certain level of deal margin based on past deals and the buying company’s size. Sales operations might also help the seller navigate additional security audits required by sensitive industries, such as healthcare or finance.

How Do Sales Operations and Sales Enablement Work Together?

Sales enablement and sales operations both exist to improve sales productivity and performance, inevitably creating overlap, making it vital that they maintain a strong relationship.

Imagine, for instance, a company that implements a new sales platform. The sales operations team might set up the sales force in this new tool (e.g., creating accounts, building dashboards) and use the relevant data to improve the sales process.

On the other hand, sales enablement would train reps on how to use the new tool effectively. Enablement might also collaborate with sales operations to create a new dashboard within the platform, discuss which KPIs should be reported on, and then communicate how those changes affect the sales process.

Without alignment between sales enablement and sales operations, you can imagine how quickly that situation becomes complicated – especially for a large, dispersed sales organization. The result could be low rep adoption of the new sales tool, or worse, reps using the platform in the wrong situations!

An effective partnership between sales operations and sales enablement allows sellers to execute the sales process more efficiently and show up to every buyer interaction more prepared and ready to sell.

Sales Enablement vs. Sales Effectiveness

Another term involved in the conversation is “sales effectiveness.” What does it mean, and how is it different from sales enablement?

Sales effectiveness is the result of a well-executed sales enablement and readiness strategy. An effective sales force is one with reps equipped to excel at each stage of the buyer’s journey.

You may have also seen job titles that include “sales effectiveness” or even “sales excellence.” You may not know how their responsibilities differ from sales enablement (or sales operations).

Sales effectiveness as a job function often combines responsibilities that fall under sales enablement and sales operations. It can often be found more often in larger sales organizations. However, the role of sales effectiveness is mainly interchangeable with sales enablement.

For example, sales effectiveness professionals might support first-line sales managers by helping them interpret the data they receive from sales operations and apply that understanding to their sales coaching.

Like sales enablement, companies may establish sales effectiveness as their own function or consolidate it within sales operations. Because the term is even newer than sales enablement, approaches can vary significantly from company to company.

Now that you understand the difference between sales operations and sales enablement think about your organization’s current situation. Examine how these groups work together or where there might be room for improvement. With today’s business landscape, it’s more important than ever for everyone to work together to drive results.

Looking to learn more? Join the webinar “Aligning Enablement & Operations for Scaling Orgs” to learn how well aligned Operations and Enablement teams help your rapidly growing org go to the next level for faster success, stronger teams and more revenue.