Sales Best Practices

Sales Enablement Guide: The What, Why and How

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Joe Vignolo

Senior Content Managing Editor

You've probably been hearing a lot about "sales enablement" lately, especially if you're an Outreach customer or attending Unleash '19 in March.

Sometimes though, the jargon can get jumbled with other sales and marketing processes and it can be unclear what a sales enablement team really does, and if you need one in your company.

So what is sales enablement anyway? And how is it different from sales engagement? Or sales operations? What's the sales enablement process, and what technology supports this process?

Sit down, because we're about to answer all these questions in this guide!

What is sales enablement?

Sales enablement can be many things to different people. It may denote a technology that speeds up a sales team’s workflow, for example. Or it could refer to a method or training program that directly improves metrics such as sellers’ win rate. It can even refer to the organizational unit in charge of facilitating either or both outcomes.

While these functions vary, they share exactly the same goal: improve sales by actively supporting sales professionals (read: SDRs, Account Executives) and improving the way they perform their jobs.

Sales enablement definition

Simply put, the goal of every sales enablement process, technology, training, and team is to improve the performance and efficiency of sales representatives. You can think of each component of sales enablement like coaches for a football team - their sole job is to optimize your performance and help the team win more.

Many mature sales organizations have a dedicated sales enablement team tasked to plan, implement, measure, and evolve performance optimization programs. The aim is to help sales reps find and generate more high-quality sales opportunities, accelerate sales cycles, increase revenue, and keep customers positively engaged.

Why is sales enablement important?

As business shifts to a buyer-centric and digital environment, empowered consumers demand more value and attention and selling becomes even more challenging. In most cases, only sellers who are equally empowered — through sales enablement — can meet those demands.

Sales enablement impacts areas and success-critical metrics such as pipeline health, prospecting, sales velocity, closing deals, average deal size, and quota attainment. More importantly, it can begin a cultural shift and transform seller behavior. 

For many companies in the B2B market, sales enablement is no longer an optional upgrade but a baseline requirement for achieving positive business outcomes. Given this new reality, any sales strategy that doesn't leverage sales enablement misses valuable opportunities to develop the company’s sales force, systematize its messaging and knowledge base, build customer trust, and accelerate revenue growth.

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Sales enablement strategy

Successful sales enablement strategies have the following key characteristics:

  • Formed around the buyer's journey of the company’s target customers.
  • Sales training, processes, tools, and content not only address seller needs but also meet customer expectations.
  • Compels the active involvement and alignment of all customer-facing units such as sales, marketing, customer success, and customer service, plus leadership (C-suite).
  • Specific and measurable goals that are known to all stakeholders.
  • Clear methods and metrics for measuring performance and success.
  • Long-term perspective on technology/platform adoptions.    
  • Open to continuous iteration and improvement.
  • Goes beyond modification of sellers’ behavior towards full cultural transformation.

The sales enablement process  

Sales enablement unifies cross-functional efforts to lift seller performance and reinforce buyer engagement. As such, sales enablement consists of different but related processes:

  1. Sales on-boarding/training/coaching
  2. Content (i.e., sales and marketing communications) development, standardization, and optimization
  3. Technology adoption (such as email automations and those that optimize CRM usage and value)
  4. Sales performance monitoring, analytics, and optimization
  5. Continuous assessment of and improvements in process efficiencies

Sales enablement best practices   

Even with good intentions, sales enablement efforts do not always turn out as planned. Here are some best practices to ensure everything is on the right track:

  1. Establish clear accountability. Form a team and assign leaders to execute the sales enablement strategy and assume responsibility for delivering the expected results.
  2. Ensure and sustain sales-marketing alignment. Sales enablement efforts will fail until every gap in this inter-departmental relationship has been thoroughly addressed.
  3. Promote full adoption of tools, workflows, and processes. Train sellers in how to optimize all sales enablement software and resources.    
  4. Enforce customer-centricity. Aim for delivering excellent customer experiences at all touchpoints in the buyer journey.
  5. Determine the best metrics to track. Monitor the right indicators and identify opportunities for performance improvement.

Sales enablement metrics & KPIs

Depending on your industry, organization, or strategic goals, determine the performance indicators you need to measure and improve. Some of the more common metrics used in sales enablement include:

  • sales cycle/velocity 
  • average deal size
  • time spent selling
  • number of prospects engaged per day
  • close rate
  • content usage/effectivity
  • quota attainment rate

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Who owns sales enablement?

Because its core functions often intersect with those of other departments, the relatively new field of sales enablement has operated under different units such as the overall sales organization, sales operations, marketing, and even human resources. But whichever parent department it reports to, the sales enablement team must be held accountable for planning, implementing, and monitoring sales enablement programs. More importantly, it should be responsible for achieving clear and measurable goals.

Sales, marketing, and executive leadership must be involved as active stakeholders in sales enablement. It is also imperative to have one or more technically-proficient staff on the team who are well versed in sales enablement platforms or feel comfortable working with large volumes of data.

What is a sales enablement manager?

In coordination with others in sales management, the sales enablement manager leads concerted efforts at improving the capabilities of sellers and propelling their sales performance. In small or less mature companies, this function may be assigned to either the sales or marketing leader. But in larger enterprises, the function is becoming a standard role that requires a dedicated professional to fill. 

Among other duties, a sales enablement manager usually owns strategy planning, sales on-boarding, talent development, sales communications, performance assessment, and policy formulation.

Sales Operations vs. Sales Enablement

While Sales Ops and Sales Enablement sound very similar, they have distinct functions and are treated differently among sophisticated sales organizations. 

As a rule of thumb, the Sales Ops domain covers the entire sales organization including administrative, compensation, day-to-day management, and other high-level non-selling functions. In contrast, Sales Enablement focuses on the continuous improvement of seller performance and customer engagement. It is not unusual for Sales Enablement to function as a team under Sales Ops.  

Sales enablement aligns sales and marketing

One prominent and frequent outcome of adopting sales enablement is the alignment of sales and marketing. While not automatic, this happens mainly because buyer engagement is a priority for both teams. Personalized messaging and targeted communications — two core marketing functions — become powerful revenue-driving tools in the hands of sales enablement. 

In mature sales organizations, marketers collaborate with sellers to 

  1. identify touch points where customers interact with their brand, and 
  2. craft different types of content to generate value for customers in different contexts.   

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What is a sales enablement platform?

The tools that support sales enablement come in many forms. Some, like Content Management Systems (CMS), help teams organize messaging and communications assets. Other solutions provide crucial sales intelligence, automate marketing tasks, or qualify leads. Many solutions use AI and machine learning to analyze data and generate useful, sales-bolstering insight. The most powerful products are end-to-end solutions commonly referred to as sales enablement platforms. 

What are the best sales enablement tools for outbound sales?  

A high-quality sales enablement solution improves sellers’ performance or extends their capabilities. As mentioned, there are many types of sales enablement software focusing on different aspects of selling. Here are some of the leading sales enablement tools for outbound teams:

  1. Sales Communication/Engagement: Gong, Nextiva, Outreach
  2. Team Collaboration: Chorus, SharePoint, Velocify
  3. Content Management System: Docurated, DocSend, PandaDoc
  4. Analytics: Tableau, SiSense  
  5. Market Intelligence/Lead Generation: LinkedIn Sales Navigator, DiscoverOrg, ZoomInfo
  6. Performance Management: Altify, Ambition, Factor 8
  7. Email Management: Rapportive, Yesware
  8. Customer Relationship Management: Agile CRM, Close.io, PipeDrive, Salesforce
  9. End-to-end Sales Engagement Platforms: Seismic, HighSpot, KnowledgeTree, ClearSlide, HubSpot

How to choose a sales enablement platform

There are many excellent sales enablement solutions you on the market, but not all may fit your industry, sales process, or team structure. That means you have to do some prior research and conduct trials before making a final decision. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when evaluating solutions:

  1. Clarify your core reasons and goals for adopting a sales enablement platform
  2. Create a short list of solutions based on your requirements, industry, line of business, operational structure, sales process, competitor adoption, customer reviews and testimonials, etc. 
  3. Take advantage of free trial periods to make reasonable assessments of available solutions
  4. Assess (a) compatabilty/integration with your existing technology stack; (b) difficulty of adoption/learning curve; (c) scalability; and (d) multichannel capabilities
  5. Conduct cost-benefit analysis with focus on ROI. (Many vendors promise XX improvements in specific metrics)
  6. Don’t use sales enablement platforms to compensate for a bad strategy or workflow!

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Sales enablement challenges & benefits  

Sales enablement adoption comes with its own set of challenges. You should expect to hit a couple bumps in the road when implementing a sales enablement initiative, including initial resistance to full adoption, incomplete feature set, scalability issues, and budget constraints. 

The key to reaping the enormous benefits of sales enablement is to isolate and resolve the tough challenges while keeping in mind that sales enablement simply has to happen because it has become a strategic imperative.  

What are the main challenges for sales enablement?   

Some of the obstacles that can delay complete adoption or undermine expected business outcomes include:

  1. Sales and marketing disconnect
  2. Difficulties in finding talent for a new sales enablement team (i.e., some members should have strong technical skills such as data analysis)
  3. Teams that are strongly attached to legacy practices and tools
  4. Cost of the most powerful and desirable solutions
  5. Difficulties in justifying ROI to top management
  6. The logistics of the training required to accelerate usage and adoption

Sales enablement benefits

The business case for sales enablement has long been established, so much so that there are already hundreds of thousands of professionals on LinkedIn who use the term “sales enablement” as a keyword in their profile.

Among other benefits, sales enablement can:

  • Improve productivity, efficiency, and revenue-related metrics
  • Enable “average” sales professionals to perform better, allowing more people to replicate sales success
  • Expand the company’s trove of process, customer, and performance data
  • Accelerate sales cycles
  • Achieve true Sales-Marketing alignment
  • Enhance customer engagement and loyalty
  • Transform seller behavior and mindset
  • Future-proof your sales organization

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