Successful Sales Enablement

Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution

By Wendy Mack

(As seen on Selling Power blog)

In working with sales organizations around the globe, I have found that everyone wants a piece of the sales force. Internal functions such as marketing, training and development, R&D, and sales operations all have information they want to get out to sales. When these functions aren’t working together, the result tends to be costly chaos.

When working with companies, I ask three questions to help them assess whether this is an issue for them. Consider if any of the following are true for you:

  1. Are various internal functions competing for your salespeople’s time?
  2. Are your salespeople receiving conflicting messages from different sources?
  3. Is time being wasted in training that doesn’t drive sales?

A Better Way – Sales Enablement

As we have all seen over the past few years, more and more companies have sought to address the information overload problem by establishing sales enablement functions. The emphasis on sales enablement grew out of what Harvard Business Review calls “the notoriously fraught relationship between sales and marketing.” As companies sought solutions for aligning sales and marketing to drive better revenue results, people started to talk about how marketing and other functions could and should enable sales.

I have encountered numerous and varying definitions of sales enablement. We view sales enablement as:

An approach that bridges the gap between the sales strategy and execution and provides the sales force with all of the information and resources they need to generate revenue.

An effective sales enablement function allows you to be deliberate and strategic in managing how information is transmitted and accessed. Of course, it’s one thing to call a person or team “sales enablement” – it’s another to actually have a positive impact on sales performance.

What Enablement Isn’t

Sales enablement is a relatively new term and many companies make the mistake of applying the new term to old ways of doing things. They rename “sales training” to “sales enablement” or they decide to create more mobile or technology-assisted selling tools and call it sales enablement. The reality is that learning and technology are important to sales enablement, but they are only parts of the equation. Focusing on any one element in a vacuum is likely to produce limited results.

A Systems View of Sales Enablement

Based on our ongoing work in the arena of sales effectiveness, we have identified four elements that must be aligned and fully integrated for any sales enablement approach to be fully effective:

  1. Sales processes and systems
  2. Information and resources
  3. Learning strategy
  4. Leadership practices

When these elements are aligned in support of a clear go-to-market strategy and consistent vision for the customer experience, organizations can:

  • Speed time-to-productivity for new hires
  • Minimize disruption of both sales and sales support functions
  • Reduce time out of the field
  • Ensure consistent messages to the market, regardless of channel
  • Positively impact customers’ perception of their experience

Integrating these elements requires cross-functional dialogue, shared commitments, agreements, and accountability among multiple functions. Sales executives do not need to be experts in marketing, technology, and training. However, it is critical that they drive and facilitate alignment and coordination across all of the functions and people who support sales. We think Harvard’s Cespedes and Gartner’s Bova make the point well: “The cross-functional communication and coordination that is required to navigate this change is the job of leadership.”

Let Me Leave You with This

An effective sales enablement approach can yield increases in sales as well as cost savings. Done well, it will reduce redundancies, eliminate time spent searching for information and resources, and limit time spent out of the field. Done poorly, sales enablement is just another fad that will disappoint and then disappear.

Wendy Mack

Wendy Mack served as Director of Consulting Services for Wilson Learning Corporation. Wendy led the team that is responsible for diagnosing client needs and designing comprehensive solutions that result in sustained behavior change and performance improvement. Wendy’s work blended her expertise in learning and development with her extensive knowledge of human performance technology, change management, and communication. She was a popular speaker at national conferences and client events and has coauthored three books on the topics of learning, leadership, and change.