The B2B sales process has become more complex than ever. Buyers are in complete control, and personalized sales interactions are now a necessity, not an advantage. As the sales excellence bar continues to raise, leading sales organizations are turning to sales enablement to better support their reps in these buyer-led sales interactions. But simply investing in a sales enablement solution will not cure an organization’s sales and marketing misalignment, inefficient content processes, or sales readiness issues; organizations need a highly developed sales enablement strategy for a successful sales enablement function. Sharon Little, a sales enablement expert and current Research Director for SiriusDecisions’ Sales Enablement Strategies team, takes a deep dive into how to create, implement, and maintain a successful sales enablement function in her book SalesCraft: The Enablement Advantage. The book is chock-full of valuable advice and insights that I couldn’t possibly boil down into a single blog post, but below are five practical takeaways for organizations looking to build a winning sales enablement strategy.
1. In the sales/buyer relationship, you can fight fire with fire.
Sharon states that “much of what has empowered buyers—especially knowledge, packaged and delivered in consumable formats—can produce the same results for sellers.” Buyers are in the driver’s seat because they have unlimited access to information, so salespeople are able to fight this fire with content of their own—content that is targeted and hyper-relevant to the specific buyer, down to their role, industry, and stage in the buying process. Sales enablement content helps salespeople identify buyers’ problems, questions and goals so they are able to provide information a buyer didn’t even know he or she needed.
2. Sales enablement requires a new type of advocate.
Sales enablement is such a new organizational function that it’s difficult to find individuals with extensive enablement experience. Some organizations may reflexively turn to those with a sales training or onboarding background, but according to Sharon, this is “the biggest mistake you can make in staffing your sales enablement team.” Enablement is so much more than sales training and readiness; its impact reaches further into the sales organization. Sharon says one of the best things to see on an enablement candidate’s resume is “quota carrier.” Understanding how sales operates is key, and possessing empathy and collaboration skills helps apply that understanding. Sharon also says to look for candidates that are problem solvers, strong writers and presenters, and are able to function at an executive level.
3. Sales enablement strategies require concerted, behind-the-scenes planning.
Before even building your sales enablement strategy, you must get both sales and marketing leaders on board. This requires tying sales enablement to both teams’ key initiatives and stressing reciprocity and joint ownership; you have to make sure both teams own sales enablement equally, and must create the right enablement team to facilitate it. You should also set a timeline for rolling out the sales enablement function, ideally when as many people are present as possible (such as at the annual sales kick-off). Other behind-the-scenes steps include drafting an enablement plan (which details ongoing initiatives, budget, goals, and how those goals relate to revenue), evaluating potential enablement vendors, and outlining enablement communications processes.
4. But sales enablement should be fun and flexible, too.
All of this planning and organization makes sales enablement sound dreadful, and hiring for these roles seems next to impossible. But finding ways to make sales enablement successful and valuable for salespeople—and ensuring that it sticks—is the most rewarding aspect of the entire function. Sharon suggests weighing every pillar of sales enablement (technology, governance, and process) against overarching goals of flexibility and fun as you go through the evaluation process. This includes ensuring any sales enablement solutions you invest in add value without disrupting the sales process, creating a partnership with any selected vendor, and aligning enablement with all sales methodologies in practice. Overall, your sales enablement function should be giving sales more time to sell, which will make sales enablement a much more welcomed function from the get-go.
5. Sales enablement execution is impossible without “the big three.”
Sharon says that the big three—communications, training, and content—are each worthy of their own book, and “if any one of these elements is separated from your sales enablement strategy, it will impact your ability to achieve significant results.”
- Communications is one of the most overlooked components of sales enablement, and is comprised of product news, company news, and competitive news. Sales enablement can ensure communications are properly disseminated by holding the field accountable for receiving them and ensuring that all communications are newsworthy, relevant and consumable.
- Training as a part of sales enablement should be thought of as an extension of continuous learning. Sharon says that we’ve historically failed our sales teams by providing ad hoc, disjointed training sessions that don’t foster learning, and we can fix this by ensuring that training is constant, measured, and aligned to company goals.
- Content rounds out this trifecta—and is the true make or break for many companies. In SalesCraft, Sharon says that “at most companies, content is a mess and creates major problems for salespeople and sales enablers alike.” The first step to solving the content problem is taking inventory and auditing existing content. This includes cataloguing, categorizing, segmenting and grading content based on usage or effectiveness if possible. The second step is to purge old or unused content. Finally, create new, relevant assets for both internal and external sales use cases, and ensure that these are separated to eliminate confusion.
Sharon ends her book by saying that “every sales leader is looking for an unfair advantage, and sales enablement is that advantage.” Sales enablement helps B2B organizations retain top performers, streamline new go-to-market strategies, and pull away from the competition. There have been colossal shifts in how and why people buy, and sales enablement is the ultimate solution to these shifts. SalesCraft is a must-have resource for any sales leader or sales enablement professional who is planning, evaluating or executing a sales enablement strategy, and these takeaways should help you get started right away.