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.'[i]
In simpler terms, 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. 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.
The need for sales enablement
B2B sales is more complex than ever before. According to Biznology, today’s sales process takes 22% longer than five years ago.[ii] Also, a large part of the sales process takes place virtually with minimum face-to-face interaction between the buyer and the seller. Consider this. More than 70% of B2B buyers fully define their needs before engaging with a sales representative, and almost half identify specific solutions before reaching out to the seller.[iii] With customers doing their research extensively online on their own, they are better informed and more knowledgeable than before when they meet with the seller. In their sales conversations, buyers expect sellers to have an intimate understanding of their industry and their business needs and demonstrate strong knowledge of the solutions that they have to offer. Buyers 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. As a result, sales reps require a whole different skillset today than they did a few years ago.
A Forrester B2B Playbook, ‘Turn B2B Marketing Into A Customer-Obsessed Organization’, 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’.[iv] 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 is here that sales enablement comes into play. It can help salespeople adapt their selling methods to the way people buy today. It can equip them with new inbound selling knowledge, best practices, and sales strategies, which will 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.
Importance of sales enablement
With sales processes growing more complex and less within sellers' control, sales enablement helps sales reps be more effective through every step of the sales conversation and achieve better results. According to a recent survey, for instance, having a dedicated sales enablement person, program or function contributes to a 4% increase in win rates, 8% increase in quota attainment, and a 9% increase in customer retention.[v]
Sales enablement achieves these results by:
Optimizing sales interactions at every touchpoint:
Sales enablement provides reps with insights into what buyers seek at each stage of the sales conversation, as well as the most relevant and appropriate content to maximize value.
Personalizing sales conversations to build more trust and value:
Sales enablement helps the sales rep address specific pain points and business needs of the customer instead of inundating buyers with unnecessary feature hype.
Focusing sellers on actually selling:
Estimates show that sales reps often spend less than 30% of their time actually selling,[vi] struggling with data entry, quote generation, and other tasks a majority of the time that take them away from customers. Sales enablement tools can automate or simplify many of these tasks to increase selling time.
Increasing deal velocity:
Gartner’s research shows that successful purchase decisions hinge on customers’ ability to navigate complex purchase processes and buyers value suppliers that make it easier for them to navigate the process. In fact, the research found that customers who perceived the information they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.[vii] By aiding sales reps with information that is specifically designed to address customer objections at every stage, sales enablement helps increase deal velocity.
Improving rep productivity:
Significantly, sales enablement not only impacts customer experience but also improves employee experience through superior onboarding, training, coaching, and assessment. As a result, sales reps go into each sales conversation feeling more confident and capable, achieve higher results, and gain greater job satisfaction. Thus, sales enablement plays a major role in also improving rep productivity and morale and reducing rep turnover.
What is a sales enablement tool?
Given the broad ambit of sales enablement, there are many different ways to achieve its goals, thus also resulting in a variety of tools with different focuses. In the simplest terms, a sales enablement tool is any technology that helps make the sales process more efficient or effective. Some of the basic types of sales enablement tools include:
- Sales content management: Sales content management involves creating, managing, and leveraging the right content assets to add value to sales conversations. This includes easy ways to create, categorize, and access content, assess customer engagement with different content assets, and guide sellers on the use of content.
- Sales engagement: Sales engagement refers to the tracking, analysis, and optimization of different methods of outreach (email, phone, social, etc.) to determine the best frequency, tone, and content of all such outreach.
- Sales intelligence: Sales intelligence involves gaining contextual insights into prospects or customers based on their company profile, job roles, purchase history, buying signals, and so on.
- Customer relationship management: This involves managing and organizing all information related to customer relationships and interactions in order to have a single source of truth regarding the customer lifecycle.
- Sales readiness: Sales readiness addresses the human factor in sales processes, onboarding and training sales reps to equip them with the necessary knowledge, strategies, and skills, and coaching them to practice and perfect their behavior and capabilities in every sales conversation.
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 improve its own competence internally. 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:[viii]
- It is 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 is cross-functional. Sales enablement entails orchestrating a range of tasks and processes, chiefly across sales, marketing, and product teams.
- It is 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 is 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
Enabling 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 sales enablement is automating many of the more repetitive administrative tasks that 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.
Supporting continuous training and skill development:
An AI-enabled sales readiness platform would allow reps to record and share practice pitches and roleplays with managers and receive unbiased feedback and sales coaching on which specific skills to improve and how. This would enable reps to perfect their sales pitch before entering into a sales conversation with customers. Such regular pitch analyses and sales coaching inputs by managers ensure that sales reps are sales ready at all times in a dynamic and ever-changing environment.
Optimizing the onboarding process:
One of the biggest challenges that sales managers face is devising methods to ramp new hires so they can start closing deals quickly. With the implementation of a sales enablement tool, one should ideally see a decrease in the overall ramp 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.
Key sales enablement terms
Sales training: Sales training refers to the process of development of skills and techniques for creating and exploring sales opportunities and closing sales deals. Typically, sales training is divided into product knowledge, tools, methodology/strategy, and skills training. While sales training has traditionally been provided in classroom settings, newer continuous learning methodologies involving short, easily digestible, micro-learning modules have become increasingly popular for better learning and retention. Modern theories on training also emphasize the importance of experiential learning, which is learning by doing.
Sales coaching: Sales coaching refers to one-on-one learning interactions between reps and managers to facilitate reps in improving and perfecting their sales skills and performance. Coaching helps to reinforce and optimize the foundational knowledge and skills imparted during training by analyzing their use in actual sales performance. Newer coaching tools leverage the power of video for easy recording and assessment of practice pitches and roleplays.
Sales onboarding: Sales onboarding involves providing reps with the knowledge, values, strategies, skills, and tools needed to begin selling effectively and perform their role within the broader sales organization. Effective onboarding ensures that reps don't waste precious time trying to find their own way through foundational resources and information and creates the necessary ground for further training and coaching. Effective onboarding promotes a faster ramp to full productivity, improves rep effectiveness, prevents rep turnover, and increases retention.
Sales readiness: Sales readiness not only involves providing sales reps with the skills and knowledge needed for sales conversations but also continuously assessing whether reps are able to apply such knowledge and skills effectively. Thus, sales readiness is a broader concept that encompasses onboarding, training, and coaching, along with the regular assessment of knowledge and skills through activities that involve regular pitch practice, roleplays, quizzes, and games. Modern sales readiness platforms allow sales reps to practice, perfect and record their sales pitches on video and share them with their managers. Using AI technologies, these platforms can evaluate rep pitches at scale across several critical dimensions and provide unbiased and immediate feedback on which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps require more coaching and training.
Sales enablement tools: As discussed above, sales enablement tools encompass a range of technologies designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of sales processes. Internally focused tools that aim to make sales reps more effective include sales readiness and sales management tools. On the other hand, externally focused tools designed to improve customer experience and optimize the sales process include sales content management, sales intelligence, and sales engagement and customer relationship management tools.
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:
According to a comprehensive survey by Quark Software, ‘learning and coaching’ is one of the top two investment priorities of sales organizations.[ix] 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, which include analyzing and prioritizing leads quickly and accurately, a better understanding of the customer's journey, increased personalization of content, and more effective onboarding, training, and coaching.
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. Today, many companies are taking a more formal approach to sales enablement and creating a separate department that owns sales enablement, including publishing a charter with strategy and goals. Such organizations have seen the best results.
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 can help reduce the iterative human interventions required to effectively implement the sales process. This will afford the salesperson time to focus on more critical sales-related activities like connecting with clients, interacting over social media, or collaborating with marketing to create customized content. Further, in relation to onboarding, training, and coaching, AI-enabled solutions bring the benefits of regular pitch practice and assessment into the learning process.
- 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 Boston Consulting Group report, mobile drives or influences an average of over 40% of revenue in leading B2B organizations.[x]
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 go 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 a large number of 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: The future looks increasingly complex for sales teams, with growing diversity in technologies and processes and a shrinking share of buyers' attention. To be effective in such an environment, sales reps must be able to consistently deliver value in every sales interaction. This requires a solution that not only provides training and coaching of knowledge and skills but also supports the application of such knowledge and skills to real-world sales situations through regular practice and assessment.
- 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.
[i] What Is “Sales Enablement” And How Did Forrester Go About Defining It?’, www.blogs.forrester.com