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What is sales enablement and how it can improve the sales process

Understanding sales enablement

What is sales enablement? According to Forrester, ‘Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have valuable conversations with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system’.1

Sales enablement delivers a compelling benefit – it allows a large number of salespeople to achieve their sales quota in a scalable, predictable and repeatable fashion. Sales enablement plays a key role in scaling the sales organization beyond a handful of overachievers. It provides all salespeople with the best practices, knowledge, tools and resources required to be successful.2

The need for sales enablement

With the market in constant flux, a customer’s buying pattern is no longer linear; most of them follow non-sequential processes to make purchases, which is drastically different from the traditional way of completing a deal. As customers go back and forth in their buying process, sales organizations need to play the role of a guide in helping them decide. Gartner’s research shows that ‘organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers’.3

However, buyers are becoming more aware and demanding at the same time. They want personalized treatment. They demand more self-service capabilities when it comes to product research and trial. They demand easy access to information – not brand talk or marketing push, but actual research-backed product details. Case studies and use cases all add value for the target audience. Since these buyers have a greater depth of technical knowledge and expertise, they expect you, as the solution or service provider, to offer data and information that matches their depth of knowledge and need for information.

A Forrester B2B Playbook, ‘Turn B2B Marketing Into A Customer-Obsessed Organisation’, says, ‘The next wave of competitive advantage for B2B companies will come from taking swift action based on deepening customer knowledge and delivering what their customers want before their competitors do’.4 Since every customer context is unique, you need a strategy that addresses individual customer needs. B2B buyers want to buy from a seller who understands a buyer’s business journey and offers not a product, but a solution. The buyers want fluidity in their interactions with sales teams and a consistent buyer experience. This puts a big onus on the sales team to be updated on every aspect of the buyer’s journey. This has become so crucial for business success today that many organizations are in the process of reorganizing their sales strategies and teams around the buyer’s journey.

It’s here that sales enablement comes into play. It can help salespeople adapt their selling method to the way people buy today. It can equip them with new inbound selling knowledge, best practices and sales strategies, which will actually work in the present context. It will help them connect with today’s buyers, so they can engage with them meaningfully, gain their trust and close the deal.

Attributes of sales enablement

Sales enablement is less about selling and more about the customer. It starts with a deep understanding of who the customers are and what they want. It provides sales with resources to sell more effectively. Part of these resources enables sales to engage target customers with the information they want when making a buying decision. The other resources – a variety of content and performance-related tools, knowledge assets and training material – help sales to internally improve its own competence. As must be evident by now, sales enablement is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing process that businesses need to commit to.

Here are some key attributes of sales enablement that need to be kept in mind:5

  • It’s strategic. Sales enablement is done by design. It’s deliberate. It’s a discipline. It’s governed by rules that are framed to elicit – through training – desired sales behaviors in a continuous, ongoing manner.
  • It’s cross-functional. Sales enablement entails orchestrating a range of tasks and processes, chiefly across sales, marketing and product teams.
  • It’s sales- and productivity- focused. The tangibles in sales enablement are quantitative performance metrics. Sales enablement’s structural framework includes assessment and tracking.
  • It provides content for achieving quotas, training and coaching. Content is sales enablement’s key currency.
  • Its primary target groups are frontline sales teams. Sales enablement orchestrates the interaction between sales and customers.
  • It’s powered by technology. Sales enablement is tool-based and data driven, and should ideally be integrated with CRM and other customer facing software within the enterprise.

How sales enablement can improve the sales process

  • Better content management -  Content is the prime asset in sales enablement. It bridges the gap between marketing strategy and sales execution.
  • Aligning sales with the customer journey - The quality and relevance of content will determine how well B2B buyers engage with you. A sales enablement tool can help deliver the right kind of content to each prospect based on their buying journey.
  • Automating the admin function - One of the potential uses of digital technology within the field of sales enablement is in automating many of the more repetitive administrative tasks which do not necessarily require human involvement. This reduces the time spent by the sales reps on non-sales activities, so that they can spend more time on the actual selling process. In this, artificial intelligence is emerging as an effective solution.
  • Improving team skills - Sales enablement tools can help increase the effectiveness of a sales training program. The use of voice recognition software and other methods of collecting behavioral data are becoming popular amongst corporate trainers. They help trainers understand the specific strengths and weaknesses of individual sales team members, so coaching modules can be personalized to suit each member in terms of content and duration.
  • Easing the onboarding process - One of the biggest challenges that sales managers face is devising methods to quickly ramp up new hires so they can start closing deals. With the implementation of a sales enablement tool, one should ideally see a decrease in the overall ramp-up time of a salesperson. Using the tool, you can create your own onboarding plan and set objectives for the new sales team based on different milestones.

Factors fueling the growth of sales enablement

  • A more personalized approach to selling In today’s highly competitive business environment, companies are turning to account-based selling to increase revenues. Account-based selling helps salespeople have more personalized conversations with customers.
  • The need for continuous training -  Using AI and analytics to deliver better-qualified leads According to a comprehensive survey by Quark Software, ‘learning and coaching’ is one of the top two investment priorities of sales organizations over the next 12 months. Businesses are waking up to the fact that learning and training programs are an overlooked aspect of sales organizations. Salespeople are having to acquire new skills and fine-tune skillsets that were not so important in the past
  • The rise in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) - AI and ML have transformed virtually every industry, including sales enablement. Most sales enablement platforms today utilize some form of AI and ML, and the benefits that these technologies offer are many.

  • A maturing sales enablement industry -  As more companies realize the benefits of sales enablement, the user base has shifted from tech enthusiasts and early adopters to the mainstream. Many companies are taking a more formal approach to sales enablement today and creating a separate department that owns sales enablement, including publishing a charter with strategy and goals. Such organizations have seen the best results. CSO Insights found that, without a charter, sales enablement “often lacks executive sponsorship” and isn’t seen as being truly transformational.

Technologies powering sales enablement

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning - Artificial intelligence and machine learning have come together to play a significant role in driving sales enablement technologies to the next level. Artificial intelligence, along with speech recognition, can help reduce the iterative human interventions that are required to get the sales process implemented effectively. This will afford the salesperson time to focus on more important sales-related activities like connecting with clients, interacting over social media or collaborating with marketing to create customized content.
  • Analytics -  Big data analytics can help the sales enablement efforts of B2B seller organizations with meaningful insights. It can be used to track the success of various interactive and social selling initiatives that a sales team might have started. It can be used to understand which initiatives have worked and which haven’t. Data collected from such sources can further help the organization develop its customer engagement approach.
  • Mobile technology -  Mobile is no longer merely a B2C platform; even B2B buyers are increasingly making use of it. They now access content as much on their desktops as on their mobiles. According to a 2017 Boston Consulting Group report, mobile drives or influences an average of over 40% of revenue in leading B2B organizations.6

Evaluating a sales enablement solution

According to various studies, businesses that have implemented a sales enablement solution have seen an increase in content usage, conversions, revenue generated and deal size. However, deploying a sales enablement solution is more complicated than picking the one that appears to have the best features and implementing it. The wrong solution can cost the business time and money, and have a negative impact in the long run.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when evaluating a sales enablement solution:

  • Determine organization readiness - Sales enablement solutions have wide-reaching effects that goes beyond the sales team. While this is essentially a ‘sales’ technology solution, other departments need to weigh in on it in order to make it a success. Marketing, customer support, IT and product departments play a significant role in making a sales enablement solution work. There are other departments, such as HR and strategy, which are a bit more removed from the situation, but will nevertheless still be impacted by a sales enablement platform
  • Research the vendor market - There are approximately 200 vendors in the sales enablement industry, each with their own unique niche offering. Due diligence must be done to ensure that the vendors being identified are stable companies, not businesses that are here today and gone tomorrow. Buying a solution is an investment for the long haul. Businesses will benefit from aligning themselves with vendors who are innovative and hungry enough to not only survive, but thrive in the industry. Once the research is done, businesses can make a shortlist of those vendors they want to reach out to during their RFP process.
  • Determine features that are non-negotiable - There are many modules in a sales enablement platform, not all of which may be important to all businesses. Companies must identify which areas they need the most help with and ensure that they select a platform that caters to that specific area well.
    • Content - Content repository and authoring tools are perhaps the biggest draw for businesses when looking at sales enablement platforms. Ideally, the platform should be able to store all sales documentation in a manner that is easy to access via search or through predictive analytics. The platform should also have all the features of a document management system with authoring abilities, versioning and more. It should be equipped with analytics to determine usage across all content artifacts, so that marketing can determine what type of content is working and what is not.
    • Onboarding and training - With customers educating themselves, salespeople have a different role to play. In the past, salespeople carried a brochure and a company presentation, and that was sufficient. Today, the landscape is different and more demanding. Salespeople must do more than just educate customers on the features or the benefits of their offering; they must provide solutions. This requires that salespeople are onboarded differently and that they have access to continuous learning.
    • Integration - The most critical aspect of sales enablement platforms is their ability to consolidate data from multiple disparate sources. Depending on the business’ technology stack, sales enablement platforms may need to integrate with email, CRM, marketing, customer support, product development platforms and more. One problem with businesses today is that there are too many tools and platforms at play. Sales organizations desperately need a platform that provides single unified access to all the data sources and other tools available.
    • User experience - The platform must be easy to use and intuitive in every way. Salespeople are not necessarily technology savvy, and the platform must be in keeping with gestures and navigation elements that are familiar. No matter how robust the platform may be, if the user experience of it is challenging to use, sales staff will not use it, or worse, can get lost for hours in trying to do something that should take only a couple of minutes.
    • Customization - Any platform requires a level of customization for it to be adaptable to the business and its processes. Most vendors offer a broad framework upon which companies can build what they need.
    • Security - The safety of customer data and proprietary business data is paramount in today’s GDPR world. Businesses must ensure that none of their systems are vulnerable to being hacked through open protocols and that their data remains secure. Given the nature of remote working, businesses must have safeguards in place to protect their most sensitive data, such as session timeouts, biometric passwords and more.
    • Analytics and reporting - Real-time usage analytics will help users determine which content collaterals are the most effective for sales reps and which ones the least. Determining the ROI of any system becomes easier when the platform has a robust reporting feature

General FAQ

What is sales enablement?

Sales enablement is a process that helps salespeople sell more effectively to customers by providing them with relevant content and tools to compellingly address the individual needs of their customers at different stages in the buyer cycle.

What generated the need for sales enablement?

With the market in constant flux, a customer’s buying pattern is no longer linear; most of them follow non-sequential processes to make purchases, which is drastically different from the traditional way of completing a deal. As customers go back and forth in their buying process, sales organizations need to play the role of a guide in helping them decide. Gartner’s research shows that ‘organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers’

What are the attributes of sales enablement?

Sales enablement is less about selling and more about the customer. It starts with a deep understanding of who the customers are and what they want. It provides sales with resources to sell more effectively. The other resources – a variety of content and performance-related tools, knowledge assets and training material – help sales to internally improve its own competence.

What are the categories of sales enablement?

The Aberdeen Group has identified three categories of sales enablement: Content-based sales enablement: Providing sellers with targeted collateral and sales assets that enable effective sales conversations with buyers.

Technology-based sales enablement: Providing sales reps with tools and technology that enable improved sales performance.

Training/education-based sales enablement: A process whereby sales reps are trained, educated or given access to knowledge that enables them to sell more effectively.

Reference:

  1. ‘What Is “Sales Enablement” And How Did Forrester Go About Defining It?’, www.blogs. forrester. Com
  2. https://blog.topohq.com/sales-enablement-who-what-how-when-why/
  3. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-keynote-the-new-imperative-for-b2b-sales-and-marketing-leaders/
  4. https://www.forrester.com/report/Turn+B2B+Marketing+Into+A+CustomerObsessed+Organiza-tion/-/E-RES136117
  5. https://www.highspot.com/success-stories/concur/
  6. https://www.gomodus.com/case-study-caterpillar?__hstc=80530888.6debd92f-b9eb4edf0df9ba31e4bdb2af.1553427972308.1553427972308.1553427972308.1&hs

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