Sales Enablement Defined
“Sales enablement is the process of making sales teams able to efficiently move customers through the sales process to the point where the customer can make a buying decision.”
Sales enablement isn’t the latest tech cure for inefficient sales operations and marketing management. And even though its guiding principle is a laser-sharp focus on the customer, sales enablement encompasses much more than useful “buyer-first” sales methodologies like CustomerCentric Selling.
Instead, sales enablement is a strategic approach, involving not just Sales and Marketing but also people from other functional areas like Customer support and Field Services. When implemented effectively, sales enablement equips an organization’s sellers with the necessary tools and resources, especially informative and educational content, to engage buyers. The payoff? An interactive, dare we say, enjoyable experience for buyers that also helps sellers shorten the long sales cycles typical of purchases in B2B and in high-end consumer goods, resulting in increased revenue.
A Brief History of Sales Enablement
Sales enablement didn’t suddenly wash up like a life raft on our shores. We’re still waiting for the definitive history on sales enablement, but we can trace its origins to 1999. That’s when John Aiello, a former brand manager at Miller Brewing Company, and Drew Larsen, a telecommunications consultant, began touting a new strategic approach to sales operations and sales management.
Aiello and Larsen’s goal was to clean up long-standing problems that have plagued sellers for decades, such as:
- Incomplete and inconsistent messages across functional areas, especially Sales and Marketing
- Unrepeatable sales processes
- Lack of accurate and easy-to-access sales tools, including product information
- Poor insight into customers and their behavior
Sales enablement consultants and sales trainers made gradual inroads with early adopters, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that interest in the concept really took off. As more organizations became eager to implement sales enablement, software vendors developed technology to corral the volumes of data buyers and sellers generated. Analysts used reporting tools to make sense of that data to provide sellers with insights that help improve their interactions with leads and prospects.
Word spread as sales analysts were joined by tech analysts at firms like Forrester, Gartner, IDC and SiriusDecisions. In 2013, the Sales Enablement Society was born, anointing sales enablement as a profession.
In a recent study, CSO Insights showed that 60% of sales organizations “have a dedicated person, program or function for sales enablement.” From 2005 to 2015, the number of vendors offering sales enablement solutions doubled, creating a $700 million market that’s predicted to hit $5 billion by 2021.
Components of Sales Enablement
Sales and marketing content is nearly as old as the printing press. Collateral and PowerPoint presentations were once the standbys, but today’s currency is interactive content delivered in the context of the buyer’s journey. Think videos, podcasts, social media, websites, games and online demos and tutorials, all optimized to help buyers find answers to their business problems, available in real time and on any device.
Traditionally, Marketing has owned the early stages of the buyer’s journey, including creating awareness, generating demand and nurturing relationships with potential buyers before identifying marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and referring them to Sales. Sales enablement prioritizes close collaboration between Sales and Marketing by aligning them into one Sales and Marketing (SAM) team focused on a common revenue goal. The results: Marketing influences revenue growth like never before, sales operations become more efficient and other departments help contribute to revenue.
Formal, structured sales training — courseware and classes — used to be the standard
for bringing new sales reps up to speed and continually sharpening top performers’ skills. Traditional training alone no longer makes the grade, given the mountains of data and information that sales reps must keep up with to sell effectively. Ongoing, informal training in bite-sized chunks (think YouTube videos) is a must to help sales reps master today’s tools of the trade, especially interactive content, but also best practices and more finely tuned sales processes.
People use mobile devices not only to discover, compare and buy products online but also to check out deals on the floors of retail stores. These activities generate mountains of data. When a company automates the capture and organization of this data and then analyzes and reports on this data, it gains deeper visibility into buyers and their behaviors. Sales enablement automation delivers the most relevant and helpful content directly to customers and arms sellers with content tailored to the needs of each customer, often in real time.
And it can identify the most recent version of a content asset and push it to sellers, so they always have the latest information at their fingertips.
Every organization follows sales processes for common activities such as qualifying leads and prospects, pre-call planning, pitching, demoing and closing. In successful selling organizations, Sales and Marketing work together to refine their sales playbooks, methodologies, processes and procedures, with a big assist from their martech stack. The stack tags and categorizes and publishes that information company-wide so everyone can work from the same script.
The main actors on stage are buyers and the Sales and Marketing teams. Increasingly, though, other stakeholders have become increasingly critical to supporting the sales process, including customer support, field services and partners. One thing is clear, though: Everyone in today’s organizations can contribute to revenue, which means everyone is in Sales.
Achieving buy-in for sales enablement at the highest levels and implementing it across the organization brings together people across all functional areas. A sales enablement strategy boosts communication and collaboration across the company by tying together content, training, technology, processes and most importantly, people. When an organization marshals all these components to underpin an overarching sales and marketing program, sellers gain the ability to provide the engaging customer experiences today’s connected and empowered buyers expect and demand.
Why Do Companies Implement Sales Enablement?
Today, implementing sales enablement is indispensable because buyers expect their commercial interactions to mirror their day-to-day, personal experiences in today’s digital and mobile.
The Buyer Seller Relationship
The proliferation of digital — and in particular, mobile devices — has turned the buyer/seller relationship inside out. Cisco estimates that the number of connected devices worldwide will reach 50 billion by 2020 — amazing when you consider that earth is home to 7.4 billion people. That’s about 6.7 devices per person!
Buyers have hijacked the sales process by researching every nuance of a product or service online before talking with a salesperson. In many cases, especially when a buyer has investigated a niche product by a company that offers a wealth of options, the buyer may be more informed than the seller. Clearly, the times they are changing.
In B2B, it’s unheard of for a single person to handle a big-ticket purchase like a new payroll platform. Although an executive usually approves purchases, everyone from managers and users to technical experts and finance people may be involved. According to IDC, today’s average sale relies on more than eight decision makers.
Understanding buyer behavior has always been tough, but in the absence of sales enablement strategy, it’s wildly unpredictable. Today, implementing sales enablement is indispensable because buyers expect their commercial interactions to mirror their day-to-day, personal experiences in today’s digital and mobile universe.
Aligning Sales and Marketing
Historically, Sales and Marketing worked in silos. Sales managed all sales operations, including prospecting, presenting, pitching and closing. Across the aisle, Marketing worked on attracting potential buyers from the total addressable market. Typical activities included creating collateral, developing go-to-market strategies, planning and executing product launches and campaigns, and presenting at trade shows.
Marketing traditionally has owned the top of the funnel (TOFU), the earliest stages in the buyer/seller relationship, which focus on generating awareness of the company’s product category. Using a marketing automation system like Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud (formerly Eloqua) or HubSpot, marketers tracked online shoppers’ activities, especially patterns of content consumption, and nurtured relationships with those who responded to subsequent content offerings. From this pool, Marketing identified marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and passed these MQLs to Sales.
The bottom of the funnel (BOFU) was (and still is) the sales operation’s domain. Sales reps used criteria, such as budget, decision-making authority and severity of need, to identify promising leads and upgraded them to prospects. To move prospects closer to purchase, Sales provided more product-focused content to those who showed the most interest, either by sending the content directly to buyers via email or via the company’s marketing automation system when triggered by an event (e.g., a buyer downloading a particular piece of content or signing up for a newsletter).
From there, sales reps contacted the best opportunities from this more exclusive pool for live demos or question-and-answer sessions, and depending on the product, offered free trials or discounts. And, of course, Sales brought home the bacon by converting some of these opportunities into paying customers.
Because marketing automation systems captured the digital fingerprints left by buyers consuming all this content, the inbound model afforded previously unavailable visibility into buyer behaviors and actions. By the early 2010s, the new era of data-driven marketing was in full swing. Nevertheless, Sales and Marketing still lacked alignment, and glaring inefficiencies in the selling process remained.
In today’s digital and mobile world, content, which usually is produced by Marketing, is the new currency. As a result, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest issues Sales has with Marketing center on content creation, access and distribution.
Such problems mean sales reps waste too many cycles scouring their intranet for meaningful content assets or force them to create their own assets and tailor them to their targets’ needs. Not only does this result in some off-message content, it also takes sales reps away from what they do best: spending time in the company of buyers and selling.
Intelligent Onboarding, Learning And Coaching
Sales enablement’s dynamic approach to content marketing is also revolutionizing training. No sales rep can possibly memorize every detail of his or her ever-evolving product line, a rapidly changing marketplace and continuously emerging regulations. For the same reason, physicians are required to take continuing education classes regularly to keep with the never-ending developments in science and medicine. Salespeople who constantly reinforce their general knowledge and can summon the right information with a couple clicks or swipes will be well-prepared to answer their buyers’ questions.
The key for salespeople to become revenue-generating superheroes is to supplement their formal classroom learning with adaptive, intelligent training. Such training is delivered dynamically and in the context of each stage of the buyer’s journey, enabling salespeople to educate buyers about what they need to know whenever and wherever they want.
The main class of technology that companies have used since the 1990s is the learning management system (LMS). Many sales enablement platforms also offer informal training delivery capabilities. The LMS is dedicated to creating, hosting and delivering training. Most manage structured training courses and some more dynamic, informal training. Because they’re web-based, remote salespeople can use LMS systems to take classes on a desktop or via a web browser.
The benefits of these platforms for salespeople are many and include:
- Micro-learning: Because sales reps are road warriors, there’s no such thing as down time. They’re expected to be always in front of buyers or prepping for the next sales meeting. By breaking down longer classes into bite-sized modules, these platforms let reps learn whenever they can steal a free moment: on the plane, train or bus, during lunch, in between meetings, and for retail associates, any time they’re on the floor but not in the company of customers. It’s convenient, fast and efficient.
- Just in Time (JIT) training: Change is the only thing in life you can count on: new product launches, product updates, promotional campaigns, bug fixes, new regulations, compliance changes, selling into a new market in a new language. Did the CTO you’re meeting with in an hour suddenly ask you for technical specs on a new product he never expressed interest in before? No problem. If your sales training team has developed a training module for that product, you’ll find it quickly on an app on your smartphone or tablet
- Push publication with Adaptive Intelligence: Powered by AI, these platforms identify what training is most likely to help you improve your product and industry knowledge or selling skills. AI uses machine learning to constantly deepen its understanding of what you need to progress in your job or career. It also recommends in a moment’s notice what material you need to master to further the conversation with a buyer, such as an up-to-date mini-class on the tech specs and use cases for your company’s new circuit boards. Drawing from data such as your detailed profile, intel on the buyer you’re scheduled to meet with and the segment you sell to, the platform learns what you need and pushes it to the training app on your mobile device as a recommended module. Click the module and let the learning begin.
- Coaching and collaboration: New reps often shadow a sales star to learn the ropes. These relationships often continue after this learning phase, but the new sales rep at some point leaves the nest for good. Most sales enablement automation platforms enable senior salespeople to continue mentoring newer reps by letting them record video or audio modules, which also can be used by other reps to sharpen their skills and boost their knowledge. Some of the more advanced platforms offer video coaching with full workflow for feedback from trainers, managers and other key members of the organization. This capability supports team selling. With this increasingly popular sales approach, multiple reps are involved to accelerate a large deal or to reactivate buyers who have delayed their decisions. In the near future, look for real-time chats and texts among members of selling teams as they partner to land highly sought after customers.
- Training formats galore: Millennials are the fastest growing age group in the workforce. Sales enablement automation platforms let training developers create modules and entire courses in formats today’s workers consume in their everyday lives like video, audio and HTML5 apps.
Who’s Involved in Sales Enablement?
Sales Enablement Stakeholders
Sales Enablement Best Practices
Create a Sales Enablement Charter
Start by assessing the current state of your marketing efforts and sales operations and then create a vision for what they will look like after implementing sales enablement. In the charter, specify your revenue goal and sales objectives along with who is responsible for what.
- Target groups: Who do your sales channels and partners sell to today?
- Vision, mission and purpose: Define these three elements and jointly come up with an emotional tagline that captures the urgency and spirit of your efforts.
- Objectives, strategies and roadmap: Map your current state of Sales and Marketing and what the future state will look like with sales enablement.
- Services and metrics: What services do Sales and Marketing provide to each other, and how will you measure them?
To the above, we recommend including a shared process for determining which team members in Sales and Marketing are responsible for creating content. Ideally everyone in Sales and Marketing will have a hand in content development. Typically, content creation is a core skill in the toolkits of marketers. Today it’s imperative, though, to actively involve sales reps because every day they are talking to buyers and relying heavily on relevant content when selling to them.
Clearly define what sales reps’ role in the content creation will be, including:
- Building and continually refining their content creation skills via training and workshops
- Authoring their own content assets such as presentations, demo scripts and implementation roadmaps
- Reviewing material produced by SMEs from other areas such as Software Development, Field Engineering and Customer Support
- Committing to regular interviews with full-time creators to transfer information from the field
- Forging an agreement that specifies how often creators may accompany reps on sales calls or meetings to harvest real-world intel
After completing the first version of your charter, publish it and promote it throughout the company, and ensure it’s always top of mind for everybody in Sales and Marketing. Hold a company-wide kickoff to inspire enthusiasm. You don’t have to print slick T-shirts for the masses, but make the charter easy for any employee to access online and create handouts people can tack to their walls or tape to their systems.
To sustain momentum, regular team meetings between Sales and Marketing are a must. Give this joint committee an easy-to-remember name such as the Sales and Marketing, or SAM, team. In the first few months following kickoff, commit to weekly SAM meetings. As the relationship progresses, settle on a less frequent cadence, maybe once or twice a month. (Warning: Meeting less than once per month puts your initiative at risk of failure.)
Choose a Sales Enablement Manager
If you haven’t done so already, pick someone to be the sales enablement manager or lead. This can’t be the project sponsor or champion, though, because that person already oversees an important functional area. Ideally the sales enablement manager will have experience working in both Sales and Marketing. In which department that person makes his or her home is less important than his or her background, skills and passion for the role.
One of the greatest rewards of Sales and Marketing alignment is the joint production of engaging content. Informed by both departments, co-created content is a powerful tool in engaging buyers at every step of the sales process. Compelling, useful content forges a natural, powerful and beneficial connection among buyers, Sales and Marketing. Additionally, jointly developed content serves as the cornerstone of Account-Based Marketing (ABM). To further its ABM efforts, the SAM team shares customer data and intel to tailor hyper-personalized messages and campaigns to buyers in the highest value accounts within its
Develop Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are composites of actual buyers that bring the abstract nature of potential customers into sharper focus and serve as handy reference tools for marketers and sellers. Marketers usually begin developing personas by creating profiles that cover attributes like demographics, education, organizational role and job responsibilities.
To these profiles, they add a picture (often a stock photo) and invent a name, first and last, to breathe life into their characters. The objective is to paint portraits of your buyers that you’ll think of as real, flesh-and-blood people instead of generic buyers. If it helps, think of them as your new imaginary friends. The exercise of developing personas allows you to a walk a mile in your buyers’ shoes.
The best way to gain a deeper understanding of buyers’ motivations is to talk with buyers — not your paying customers. People who may be thinking about buying from you, those you think should be buying from you and those who bought from competitors. Some sales reps can be very protective of their contacts, so leverage the newfound cred you’ve gained by aligning Sales and Marketing. If you’re leading the persona charge, get together with your sales reps and agree on a process for interviewing buyers that won’t ruffle your reps’ feathers.
Composing personas is a creative, collaborative endeavor. While fun, it also can be labor-intensive and frustrating for your SAM team until you’ve done it enough to come up with a repeatable process. The effort’s well worth it, though: persona development informs and fuels the personalized, one-to-one buyer/seller relationships today’s connected, empowered buyers expect.
Think Strategically: Content Without Context is Fluff
Devising a content marketing strategy requires thorough research and planning and thoughtful implementation. It can be daunting if you haven’t developed a strategy yet. Fortunately, there is a wealth of online sources, including free tutorials, booklets and templates, that can that can guide you through this process. We recommend several excellent ones in our resources section.
Below are a few guidelines to help you think more strategically about content marketing:
- Know your buyer intimately: When creating new content or updating existing assets, draw heavily from your buyer personas, input from sale reps on buyers, especially those working in the field, and data from buyer activities captured via your marketing automation or CRM system. Use this information to help predict buyers’ wants, needs and pain points.
- Document what buyers need during each step of the journey: Consider your buyers in the context of each stage in the buying process. Anticipate the most important questions they will ask and make that the basis for developing every piece of content. As a prospect moves further down the funnel, make content increasingly more personalized.
- Pay close attention to buyers’ content consumption habits: Draw on your intel to ensure buyers can consume each content asset in the way they expect. If your reporting shows an upward trend in reading analyst reports on smartphones, make sure to optimize those reports for responsiveness on the widest range of mobile devices.
- Set a clear goal for your content marketing strategy: Clearly define the value and utility you want to provide to leads, prospects and opportunities through your organization’s content program.
What is a Sales Enablement Automation Platform?
Sales enablement automation platforms (SEAs) help companies implement, scale and execute their sales enablement strategies, which make salespeople more efficient along each stage of the buyer’s journey. They enable content management, including tasks such as the creation, updating and customization of content and the automation of its delivery. Increasingly SEA platforms are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend the most relevant content to salespeople and potential buyers based on the stage of the buyer’s journey. In addition to Sales and Marketing content, these platforms automate or streamline training, coaching, collaboration and onboarding. Some organizations are replacing their LMSes with SEAs, which also can import training material from the LMS or other third-party training creation programs and apps.
The best SEAs enable content developers to easily upload and store content created in
virtually any native format, by any third-party program. They also enable salespeople and marketers to edit assets
in their native format within the context of the SEA app. Formats include, but are not limited to, audio, video, HTML pages and forms, HTML5 apps, PowerPoint-style presentations, documents such as Word and Google Docs, PDFs, spreadsheets and animations.
When uploading content to the SEA, the user can tag assets with attributes that will
help deliver the most relevant content to the right user at the right time on any mobile device or desktop system. Tagging attributes are unlimited and informed by your sales enablement strategy. Common examples include user role, access permissions by role, buyer persona, stage of the customer’s journey, target device type, vertical (e.g., life sciences, banking, manufacturing, retail), regulations, compliance, geo and language. Advanced SEAs use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate tagging, sharply reducing manual tagging requirements.
Advanced SEAs leverage AI to recommend to salespeople and partners what content will be most relevant to them based on contextual variables like those described above as tagging attributes. Recommendations are a tremendous time-saver, freeing sales reps from endlessly searching for the most relevant content and enabling Marketing to push out the latest version of an asset to ensure its accuracy and applicability to the buyer or customer.
An SEA must include this powerful capability. Legacy solutions typically require reps to press a sync button or manually download content to their devices’ file systems. Leveraging AI, the SEA automatically pushes out the most relevant or recent version of an asset to sale reps and partners. Additionally, SEAs let marketers push out the most up-to-date assets manually.
SEAs enable content creators to precisely control access down to the individual asset. Permissions are based on such variables as role, level in sales organization (e.g., junior, senior, manager, partner), regulation and compliance concerns, vertical and target company.
Ideally the SEA can push content to any device, including mobile devices (e.g., smartphones and tablets), desktops, web browsers and email — in real time to support the rapidly changing needs of road warriors. Additionally, the SEA should provide both online and offline access to relevant content, as well as a seamless native experience on each device to that promotes SEA adoption by sales reps.
SEA apps must allow salespeople to modify content in its native format to respond immediately to change. For example, a rep may find out an hour before a presentation that a prospect’s director also will attend. The sales rep can quickly edit the presentation in PowerPoint or his or her chosen application to tailor it to the pain points of the additional attendee. The SEA must recognize these events and log the content changes and new version to the CMS via tagging powered by AI to prevent content duplication and confusion. Storing the data associated with this new version also allows AI to recommend and push that asset to other reps in similar selling situations.
Even with the AI recommendations and push publication, sales reps and partners still require fast and efficient browsing and search capabilities.
One of the most powerful content distribution methods combines AI recommendations and email templates. When a sales rep is interacting with a buyer, the SEA embeds recommended content in email messages to the buyer based on contextual variables. Additionally, the SEA can recommend to salespeople what to embed in their messages based on variables such as the buyer’s last action taken, vertical, role and stage in the journey.
SEAs must integrate seamlessly with the other technologies in the martech stack.
All buyer interactions with content must be logged to the CRM system to provide salespeople with a complete record of the buyer-seller relationship and journey. SEA platforms must integrate with marketing automations systems to trigger processes such as email nurturing campaigns. Finally, the SEA platform must work with the CMS to ensure that content is delivered immediately and accurately across the content delivery network and internet.
Data is Sales and Marketing’s best friend. All of a buyer or customer’s interactions with content must be recorded and saved to paint the most detailed picture of buyers and their activities and behaviors. Analyzing and reporting on this data provides Sales and Marketing previously unmatched insights into buyers, customers and accounts targeted via ABM programs. Additionally, this data is used by AI to make contextually based recommendation. Again, all this data must be logged to the CRM system to provide salespeople with a complete record of the buyer-seller relationship.