Last week, I had the pleasure of leading an engaged discussion based on our latest research on buyer preferences and sales enablement with the Outcome Selling Advisory Board, a dynamic group I also am happy to be a member of.
After the event, one member sent me a LinkedIn message asking a question he thought was too basic to be asked on the actual call:
“I find the word enablement itself to be problematic. I completely agree that enablement is a discipline, not a department; however, sales enablement teams carry ‘enablement’ in their titles, which invariably causes confusion around who’s responsible for what, given that everything a company is doing to drive sales is now described as ‘enablement.’ How do you clear the fog that forms around the word enablement?”
This actually is not a basic or trivial question at all. It’s a foundational question sales enablement leaders should have answers for to keep their sales enablement strategies and scopes clear, focused and aligned to the business strategy. Not having answers to this question is one of the reasons why we see too many sales enablement initiatives set up the (wrong) tactical way only. Thanks a lot for addressing the question, Andrew!
Let’s first establish a sales enablement definition, which we developed and evolved over time:
Sales Force Enablement — A strategic, collaborative discipline, designed to increase predictable sales results by providing consistent, scalable enablement services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value in every customer interaction.
To be precise, we use the specific term sales force enablement to make it crystal clear that it’s more than sellers who have to be enabled—their managers have to be addressed as well. In other words, the target audience for sales enablement is all customer-facing roles that exist to generate business (including channels). And those are executing roles, not supporting roles.
I know many of you might say the definition is too long, which isn’t a criterion I’d ever accept. If anyone can express the same level of detail (even if you say the scope should be different!) in half the word count, let me know. Criteria that could be used to evaluate the quality of a definition could be, for instance, clarity, precision and defining without ambiguity. You get the point… even if you have a different understanding, hang on, and let’s clear the current fog.
Now, you also know why a definition that, for instance, tells in one headline that sales enablement is doing everything to helps sales to sell is of no value at all. In fact, those eye-catching headlines that are mistaken for definitions are actually creating the confusion and are one of the reasons why there is fog to be cleared in the first place.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let me discuss a few common misconceptions that create some of the fog around sales enablement.
Myth #1: Sales enablement is now doing everything that was previously done elsewhere (e.g., marketing, L&D, sales operations, etc.).
This is a key myth, especially if someone wants to build an empire and walks with a vacuum cleaner through the organization, hovering over everything that could look like “sales enablement.” That’s not sales enablement, that’s just building another empire (and threatening all other functions), which is not the intention of sales enablement at all. And it won’t be successful, either, because no single team can own all of the wisdom necessary to engage, equip and empower customer-facing professionals and their managers on various levels (e.g., skills, methods, processes, knowledge, expertise and the relevant fluency across all of these areas) along the entire customer’s path.
Instead, sales enablement is collaborative in nature and always has an orchestrating role in a world of constantly changing buyer behaviors and sellers who need to be engaged first. That’s what’s actually needed and one of the core reasons why sales enablement exists in the first place. Remember the issues in organizations without sales enablement. Everyone wants to help sales and pushes something they created—from their perspective—to the sales force. This includes content from marketing, content from product management, templates from legal, checklists and proposal templates from sales operations, and training services from sales training, L&D or the corporate academy. Imagine what that means for sellers. Would you like to be in their role? Probably not. All of these things that should help them are actually creating more confusion than value, because they are not consistent with each other and are often just thrown over the fence to sales and contain misleading messages. And those inconsistent services are not engaging sellers, which is the first hurdle to overcome if you want to equip and empower them.
Sales enablement at its core should orchestrate and provide all relevant enablement services (e.g., internal enablement content, customer-facing content and tools that cover all phases of the customer’s path) as well as all relevant training services (all kinds of skills, methodologies, processes, tools, customer’s path, industries, products, value justification, value messaging, etc.) and related sales coaching services (either direct coaching of sellers or coaching development for sales managers to coach their sellers) and sales tools. If that’s achieved, and the enablement services are provided and implemented with sellers and their managers (vs. against them), then the engagement hurdle is mastered, and actual “enablement” can take place.
Aligning all of these services to the customer’s path, buyer roles and business challenges requires a solid strategy ideally captured in a charter that connects the dots to the business and sales strategy. It requires a huge effort to formalize the cross-functional collaboration with all other teams involved and to set up processes that allow a scalable, efficient and effective production as well as defined analytics to measure success.
Myth #2: Sales enablement is the same as sales operations.
This is another misconception I hear a lot. Let’s not confuse apples with oranges. There is a fine but very important difference between sales operations and sales enablement. Sales operations and sales enablement are more and more considered two sides of the same coin.
Sales operations is responsible for the foundation of your selling system. Sales operations defines things such as the coverage plan, the territory model, the account segmentation, the compensation model and the forecast process. Sales operations is usually responsible for the sales process (ideally with an integrated methodology) and its variations and the related CRM implementation. Sales operations often is focused on all things technology within the sales organization. In a nutshell, sales operations is responsible for building the solid and robust foundation of your sales system so that the sales force (sellers and their managers) can be productive and effective.
Sales enablement builds on this sales operations platform and is focused on engaging, equipping and empowering customer-facing professionals and their managers to be relevant, valuable and differentiating in every buyer interaction. The better your sales operations colleagues are set up, the easier it is to speed up sales enablement—simply because sales enablement services cannot exist in a vacuum.
Myth #3: Sales enablement is another word for sales training/sales content or enablement technology.
That’s not sales enablement; that’s only relabeling an existing term without adjusting its scope. Don’t allow anyone to fool you. If an enablement initiative begins with either the content or the training space, that’s fine, but only if there is a bigger vision in place (and a strategy for how to get there) that connects the dots across all enablement services, to the business strategy, addressing the specific challenge of the sales force. If it doesn’t, you are only renaming an existing silo but not doing sales enablement.
I hope that I’ve cleared the fog around the term “sales enablement” at least a little bit. Please hit the comment button and share your experiences how you clear the fog regarding the term sales enablement.
If you haven’t already, take a look at our new book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of “how to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.
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