What is Sales Enablement?


What is sales enablement? It’s almost impossible to put your finger on an exact sales enablement definition. This is largely because of two reasons, one: the market is relatively new, and each player tends to define sales enablement in their own way, and, two: enablement isn’t actually a real word (yet), as I’ve come to realize through composing my written content on Microsoft Word.

This week we take a stab at defining sales enablement by combining and analyzing a number of external definitions. We also examine why we need sales enablement as it relates to current trends, and whether the current model is mitigating challenges, or chasing symptoms.

What is Sales Enablement?

It wouldn’t be fair to simply tell you what I think about sales enablement solutions, so I ‘took to the streets’ so to speak, and compiled a moderate list of equally valid definitions, descriptions, and so on.

Summarizing the above Definitions

If you read through the above definitions, all of these are actually quite similar, I can see essentially two basic deliverables:

1) To enable the ability to have valuable conversations with the buyer

Described as any of the following:

2) To enhance the selling process

That about sums it up, and I would be inclined to agree with each and every one of those. I think the definitions worth noting the most are from Oracle and The Pedowitz Group, specifically the areas of buyer motivation insights and aligning marketing. Those actually stand our as very top-of-mind achievables for me, with respect to real sales enablement.

Before I get into our definition, I want to outline some of the specific issues that these sales enablement definitions address.

The Challenges Addressed by Sales Enablement

I’m sure that everyone in the industry will have their own spin on the challenges being addressed, but going purely based on the available definitions for sales enablement, here are the applicable challenges.

1) Content is missing the mark

Missing the mark is a number of specific issues regarding poor distribution of content, poor application of content, and a general lack of desired content.

Content is distributed to Sales Reps in a number of ways, in a smaller number of cases (16%) the content is found in an online portal, and is organized by industry and solution. 49% of the respondents indicated that their content is distributed by email, 25% say it’s on a portal and organized by product or service, the remainder is a mix of other, through podcasts, in the CRM system, and etc. (Source: IDC, 2009)

The application of content is largely product centric on average, with respondents indicating that 56% of their library is purely product centric. Just 10% of the content libraries consist of content tailored to sales cycle stages. Others included industry specific content (21%) and customer specific (16%). (Source: IDC, 2009)

A lack of desired content is likely the most significant issue among the three, with the top four reasons that Reps avoid marketing content being: (Firebrick Consulting, 2012)

The reason a lack of desired content is so significant is two-fold. One: the content may very well exist, as content marketing is quickly maturing, and, two: If Sales Reps don’t see value in the content, they wont search through it, they’ll just go and create their own.

Sales Enablement, under the above definitions, mitigates these by equipping the right content to the right Sales Reps for the buyer in question. This enhances the ability to have a valuable conversation.

2) Sales Reps are spending less time selling

That third point about a lack of desired content directly leads to this issue; many Reps have just given up looking for content and now create their own. The above stat suggests that it could be as high as 36% of a given sales force.

In 2009, an IDC study posed the question of time spend during any given week for various tasks.

They found that Reps spend up to:

That’s roughly half of their day.

In 2014, ROInnovations released their own set of findings for how a Rep spends their time.

I’d love to see the specific details of those studies, but it looks like the numbers are steadily growing, or staying roughly the same, either way, it needs fixing.

These results corroborate the findings that a 25% drop of time spent selling has been experienced between the years of 1998 and 2013. With 47% of a Sales Reps day spent in direct selling activities in 1998, and down to just 35% of their day in 2013.

By the above definitions, enhancing the sales process is directly meant to mitigate these negative trends in ROI, productivity, and etc.

3) Buyers are seeing Sales Reps as less relevant or useful

Along this same line of issues, Sales Reps are being seen as less effective at their primary roles; selling. The immediately obvious issue is that Sales Reps are trying to address the challenge by investing more time in non-selling activities, the problem is that it isn’t having much of an impact.

(Source: The Sales Way, 2014)

These findings are similar across the board, the IDC shared these results about buyer opinions.

This last issue is addressed by both of the above defined sales enablement criteria.

Our Definition of Sales Enablement

I actually believe that each of the examples for a definition are accurate, most of them address the three issues, and when they’re all put together, it makes a solid case for Sales Enablement as a crucial solution.

At Skura, we define Sales Enablement as:

A cross functional discipline that links corporate business strategy and goals to tactical execution in the field. Simply put, it’s a system that helps drive value at the critical point of interaction. It should improve:

So, what’s the point here?

I want to refer again to the two definitions above that point out “marketing alignment” and “motivation insights”.

The established definition of sales enablement does address the challenges, but there is still a disconnect that isn’t being adequately addressed by the available definitions. Two of them touch on it, which is why I bolded them.

The disconnect has to do with trends that aren’t being addressed by the current framing of the term.

Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about.

Trends Impacting Sales and Marketing

The empowered and fragmented buyer

It is generally accepted that buyers are progressing their own decision journey, and buyers now enter the sales cycle at any point of their respective decision journey. Adding to this, the number of devices being used by buyers is steadily increasing, which complicates the process of having an ongoing discussion with one person.

The established sales enablement definitions say nothing, or, very little, about addressing the fact that buyers are being influenced by content far outside the boundaries of your internal content marketing. Sales Reps need an insightful way to adapt, in real time, to any number of unknown buying criteria, some of which could actually counter your available content.

This is why I bolded the “insights into buyer motivation, behavior, and activity” from Oracle.

Continued growth of content marketing creation with outdated thinking

Because of the continued growth in content marketing, and a general misdirection in the application of content, many B2B buyers feel that vendor papers are the least trusted source for information, behind professional associations, industry groups, product reviews, and etc.

This is due to traditional advertising thinking being applied to content marketing, not because vendors are insincere, but because this field is relatively new, and the wrong insights are often being applied.

It no longer matters that you can deliver the right content to buyers, because your buyers are growing in complexity and unpredictability. You need to be able to adapt quickly, and create the right content, and this is near impossible without the insights that sellers can bring to the table.

Adaptive Sales Enablement

So, the definitions aren’t wrong, they just don’t fully address every variable impacting the need for sales enablement. Sales Reps and Marketers are becoming more intertwined in their roles, and sales enablement must be able to help them adapt to unpredictable and changing situations.

This varies heavily by industry, but it's why I use the term adaptive sales enablement, because it’s not enough to just deliver the right content, you need to be able to adapt your content creation and distribution to unpredictability.

Seeing Oracle and The Pedowitz Group apply buyer behavioural insights and marketing alignment to their definition is a sign that the trends are impacting sales enablement, but for the sake of current views, let’s see exactly what entails adaptive sales enablement.

What does Adaptive Sales Enablement… Enable?

There are four key priorities for this kind of real sales enablement, they are:

1) Sales and Marketing Alignment

Hats off to the one definition I found that specifically mentions this. Aligning these two teams is one of the most effective strategies available for optimizing front-line communications. Sales Reps know what the buyer wants to know in order to buy, and Marketing teams create all the customer-facing communication pieces.

A sales enablement tool must go further than just being sales rep software for digital content management. It must enable stronger alignment of both departments for content creation that always adds value to the conversation.

The best way to do this is to have end-of-funnel consumption insights always feed back into the marketing automation platform, this way, marketers always know what content matters, and Reps are confident that their voice is heard.

2) Multichannel Engagement

The buyer is fragmented, and while marketers can leverage an automation system to streamline a communications cadence, Sales Reps are often trapped using traditional mediums like email and phone calls.

But email and phone calls don’t allow a Rep to use all their content, furthermore, it risks a Rep losing points of contact and key communications. Sales enablement must allow a Rep to adapt to the device the buyer is using.

That means that you must be able to have the same discussion with the same content, in real time, through whichever device the buyer happens to be using. Whether they have an older android device, or, are in a café somewhere without internet access, the sales enablement tool must empower a seller to have the same impactful discussion, with no loss of consumption data.

This is 2015, and the digital age calls for nothing less than real and powerful omni-channel interactions.

3) Digital Content Management

I know I’ve already reiterated that content management is a primary function of sales enablement, but ensuing that all Reps have access to their content is an out dated expectation.

Now, it’s about having it available, and pre-set for buyer personas and decision journeys. Just as the Sales Rep has less time available for selling, the buyer has less free time for buying, and committing to a presentation that doesn’t address their needs in an instant.

The Sales Rep must be able to adapt on the fly, immediately access content that enhances the buyer’s decision journey, and always adds value.

4) Predictive Analytics and Sales Performance Management

The final key component revolves around buyer behavioural insights more specifically. With the abundance of content and fog of multi-channel communication, it can be exceptionally difficult for a Rep to know what content impacted which buyer, and in what way.

What Reps need is the ability to adapt, in real time, to the things which motivate the buyer, based on their behavior.

Predictive insights allow a seller the ability to target conversations and maximize selling time with effective sales presentations, not exploratory discussion and disappointment.

Sales Enablement on car dealership

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