What is Sales Enablement?
Sales enablement is the strategic, ongoing process of equipping sales teams with the content, training, and tools they need to increase sales. The foundation of sales enablement is to provide salespeople with what they need to consistently have valuable conversations at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Placing a focus on sales enablement makes sales teams more effective by:
- Connecting sales teams to the most relevant content for each opportunity in the buying cycle
- Providing flexible ways to present content to customers
- Delivering real-time visibility into whether or not customers find content engaging
- Applying advanced analytics so pitches and content can be optimized
- Enabling sellers to get the training they need and measuring how effectively that training delivers bottom line results
By thinking strategically and applying best practices in the critical areas of content management, training, playbooks and sales operations, sales enablement can drive astounding results and transform sales effectiveness.
How is Sales Enablement Defined?
If you think of the sales process as a funnel, with four basic stages, the upper half is owned by marketing and is focused on generating interest in the company’s products and services. That part of the sales cycle has been transformed by the advent of marketing automation software, which allows companies to reach out to a broad audience and nurture leads until they are ready to be engaged by the sales team.
The lower half is primarily owned by sales, and is focused on closing deals and generating revenue. It is being transformed by sales enablement software, which equips the sellers with the tools, skills, and assets they need to engage effectively with buyers and drive the maximum amount of revenue for the company.
Here are sales enablement definitions from the leading analyst firms:
“Sales enablement’s goal is to ensure that every seller has the required knowledge, skills, processes, and behaviors to optimize every interaction with buyers.”
Sales Enablement Society
“Sales enablement ensures buyers are engaged at the right time and place, and with the right assets, by well-trained client-facing staff to provide a world-class experience along the customer’s journey, while utilizing the right sales and performance management technologies in addition to synergizing cross-organizational collaboration. Sales enablement optimizes the selling motion in order to increase pipeline, move opportunities forward, and win bigger deals more efficiently to drive profitable growth.”
“Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return on investment of the selling system.”
“The delivery of the right information to the right person at the right time in the right format and in the right place to assist in moving a specific sales opportunity forward.”
“The activities, systems, processes, and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with client and prospects.”
“A strategic, cross-functional discipline designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training, and coaching services for salespeople and frontline sales managers along the entire customer’s journey powered by technology.”
Here’s how we at Highspot define sales enablement and the impact it can have. We’ve also included insights from sales enablement expert Nancy Nardin of Smart Selling Tools.
Fortunately, the above definitions are more similar than different, reflecting the growing maturity of the sales enablement space. Foundational to all of these sales enablement definitions is ensuring that sales teams have the right content and knowledge to have effective conversations with customers.
Why is Sales Enablement Important?
Sales enablement is a vital part of maintaining healthy, successful sales operations. With heightened competition due to lower entry barriers and more empowered buyers, sales enablement saves sales and marketing teams valuable time by keeping them aligned and in tune to content performance.
The need for sales enablement became apparent in the late 1990s, when sales conversation moved from physical to digital and content moved online. The “marketing closet” became a thing of the past as companies put their content onto websites and portals. Different teams often created their own sites; soon, content was scattered across many places.
The problem with these ad-hoc solutions is that they dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the sales team. Sellers don’t have time for scavenger hunts across many different systems every time they need something, so they gather a small set of content on their hard disks. A rep uses the files at hand as much as possible, even if they are out of date or ineffective at engaging customers. Sellers waste time hastily re-creating content that already exists because it is too much trouble to find the “official” version. Marketing also has virtually no visibility into what is really happening. The different content systems are isolated from one another and from every other part of the sales process.
To solve these problems, vendors began developing sales enablement solutions to give reps access to the content they need.
What is a Sales Enablement Tool?
A sales enablement tool is a platform or system that provides complete visibility across the lifecycle of sales content. With powerful search, scoring, and syncing capabilities, a sales enablement tool closes the loop between marketing, sales, and customers and helps teams track content performance from publication to pitch.
Sales enablement platforms did not always take the form that they do today. It took several iterations for the tools to evolve from centralized sales portals, to end-to-end sales solutions, and finally into the closed-loop system of today’s modern sales enablement platforms.
Centralized Sales Portals
The first approach to a dedicated solution for sales collateral was the centralized sales portal. It was typically a custom web site that relied on an enterprise content management system, or it was an extension of an existing CRM (customer relationship management) system. The idea was to create custom-built sales portals that would act as a single place where all of the sales content is stored and organized in a consistent way. In theory, they should make reps more efficient and provide a way to keep content fresh and up to date.
Unfortunately, centralized sales portals often fail to deliver the expected benefits. They generally require extensive IT resources to develop and customize. The sales portals are difficult and costly to update, so they rarely keep up with the rapidly changing needs and conditions of the business.
After a sales portal is deployed, there are often many teams within the company that are frustrated by a tool that doesn’t meet their needs, so they continue to create and rely on their own solutions. Sometimes they build their own sales portals, contributing to “sales portal sprawl.” Or they put content in simpler environments — cloud file systems like Box and Dropbox, communication tools like Yammer and Chatter, content areas in their CRM system like the Salesforce Content tab, and a dozen other places.
Reps continue to have the same issues as before, with content located in many different places. And marketing still doesn’t have visibility into what is happening with the content.
End-to-End Sales Enablement
The challenges with using a centralized sales portal led to the creation of the sales enablement platform. The first generation platforms provide an end-to-end solution to organize content and pitch it to customers. They provide ways to present the content over the web and to send it via email, notifying the rep when customers view the information. They have flexible content management and provide basic reporting on usage of content internally and externally. Marketers can now answer some key business questions about which content is being used by the sales teams and what is being shared with customers.
Closed-Loop Sales Enablement
Modern sales enablement platforms take the idea of end-to-end much farther and close the loop across marketing, sales, and the customer. For the first time, one system provides complete visibility into the entire lifecycle of sales content, tracking what happens to items from the moment they are published. Analytics answers all of the key business questions about the effectiveness of the content, showing which items are available, whether they are being found by the sales team, how the content is being used, which items are being sent to customers, and how customers engage with them. The system connects content usage with the performance of every deal, tracking which items are touched by every customer and when.
How to Choose a Sales Enablement and CRM Solution
To choose a solution for sales enablement and CRM, follow the steps on this checklist:
- Collect requirements: Gather team pain points and needs
- Inventory available options: Research available sales enablement tools
- Check testimonials: Pay special attention to stories from businesses like yours
- Assess compatibility: Check CRM and social selling integrations
- Ensure scalability: Plan for growth and compare pricing options
- Test content management: Organize content and confirm multimedia support
- Confirm cross-team workflows: Try out the sales and marketing collaboration features
- Inspect analytics: Examine the data you get from content tracking and measurement
- Review mobile experience: Audit ease of use across devices and on mobile vs. desktop
Now that data science and machine learning have become essential tools for building applications, it’s particularly important to assess the data science available in the sales enablement apps that you’re vetting. An effective closed-loop platform relies on the use of data science throughout the sales cycle:
Search That Works
The reason that search engines like Google are able to work so well is that they analyze billions of web pages and the results of billions of searches to see which results are the most likely to be interesting to each individual user. Those same techniques let reps quickly find the content they need across all of the information in the company. Instead of emailing a couple of friends and hoping somebody knows where to find a relevant document, reps can search for what they need and find it immediately.
Scoring and Recommendations
The system can score and recommend content based on what has been successfully used in the past. If a rep is selling to a manufacturing enterprise in Germany, and is in the discovery stage of the sales cycle, there is a set of content that has been successfully used for deals like that in the past. Every characteristic of the deal is analyzed – the region, the vertical, the company size, the stage of the sales cycle – to find the content that has performed the best. Based on what was used in deals that closed, and whether that content had a measurable impact on the likelihood and the velocity of the deal moving forward, the system shows the rep which items are the most likely to be effective for this customer.
At most companies, much of the content that reaches the customer through the sales team has been modified and repackaged. Sellers customize decks to be relevant to the customers they are engaged with, remixing slides from existing presentations and adding unique content relevant to the deal in play. Up to 80% of the content is modified in some way before it gets to the customer.
In the past, changing a single word in a presentation created a new file that looked entirely different from the original. If the analytics system can’t track the original content as it is modified and repackaged, most of the data about customer engagement will be lost. Data science uncovers those relationships and measures the true usage and performance statistics for the content that your company is creating.
Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement
This introduction to sales enablement is just the beginning. We’ve written a comprehensive guide for applying sales enablement to your business that provides a wealth of best practices, examples, reports, and online resources. Consider this your go-to resource as you design and deploy an effective solution for your team.
- Introduction: The Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement
- Chapter 1: Calculating ROI
- Chapter 2: Platform Capabilities
- Chapter 3: Maturity Model
- Chapter 4: Deployment Guide
- Chapter 5: Solution Design
- Chapter 6: Measuring Content Performance