Sales enablement has only begun to emerge as a standalone function within a company’s greater sales organization in the last decade.
In 2008, corporate research firm Forrester became the first to formally define sales enablement. Here’s what they had to say:
“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 of investment of the selling system.”
In the ten years since, the role of sales enablement has grown and evolved significantly. So too has its definition, to the point where it’s never really defined properly at any company.
Nowadays, with prospects and customers demanding more attention and personalization than ever, it’s important to draw a clear line in the sand.
Is sales enablement just another buzzword you’ll forget about in a few years? Or is it a vital function of a modern sales force that delivers real value and tangible results for your business?
Let’s start with an attempt to pin a definition on the slippery term of sales enablement as it relates to SaaS businesses.
What is sales enablement?
Sales enablement is the process of equipping your sellers with the tools, content, and training they need to sell more efficiently.
It is a strategic function with the purpose of ensuring consistency within the sales team as they communicate with prospective buyers.
This consistency is maintained by providing reps with not only great resources, but the knowledge of how to strategically deploy them as they interact with prospects at each stage of the sales cycle.
Sales enablement has become an integral component of a successful SaaS sales process. This is, in large part, thanks to the unique position it occupies within a company.
In many ways, sales enablement sits at the intersection of marketing, product, customer success, sales, and any other customer-facing departments. They mediate between every department that has a say in how the value of your product or service is articulated to your customers.
Sales enablement processes occupy the right hemisphere of the collective sales brain. They are concerned with the ‘soft’ skills of selling—like emotional and inspirational intelligence and the ability to empathize and communicate effectively.
For instance, when we hired Daniel Hebert, our first sales enablement manager at Proposify and now the director of sales (and my guest for this week’s podcast), one of the first things he did was ask me if he could include the story of how I started the company in the intro deck.
He understood how to harness the power of that narrative and use it to establish a human connection with a prospective buyer right off the cuff.
Leveraging the founder’s narrative in sales collateral is an example that illustrates one of the central functions of sales enablement; aligning the output of various departments with the purpose of giving the sales team the tools they need to best articulate your company’s value to prospective buyers.
But that’s not all that falls under the sales enablement umbrella.
The main functions of sales enablement
The core functions of sales enablement can be just as tricky to nail down as an overarching definition. They vary depending on the focus of the company, but they can generally be distilled down to a few focus areas.
I’ve already touched on the importance of sales enablement content.
Sales content differs from marketing content. The main purpose of sales content is persuading prospects and convincing them to buy. Marketing content is, generally, broader in purpose and targeted at stages higher up in the buyer journey—its general function is to generate awareness and interest.
Sales content is a key component of a rep’s arsenal. A solid enablement strategy involves ensuring reps are equipped with material that corresponds with a specific point of the buyer journey. Alongside intro decks, this includes:
- Customer case studies
- Whitepapers and eBooks
- Email templates and sequences
- Sell sheets
- Demo decks and scripts
- Use-case blog articles
Content development is tied to an intimate knowledge of the ideal buyer and each step of their journey from lead to close.
Reps need to know their prospects inside-out. They must understand their prospect’s motivations, pain points, objections, and questions, and always have the right answer ready to go.
On top of that, they need to articulate your solution in a language their prospects comprehend. After all, if you don’t understand your audience, how do you hope to effectively communicate with them?
Recruitment, onboarding, and training of new sales reps also fall into the scope of sales enablement. The main enablement goal with recruiting and training is to reduce the time from hire to full productivity.
Recruitment and onboarding provide the opportunity to get the right people on the selling floor and get new recruits excited about your product or service. Proper onboarding enables new reps to take that emotional investment in your company and instill it in their prospects.
Training and coaching reps is perhaps the most essential component of a sales enablement strategy. Providing an easily accessible bag of relevant sales collateral and tactics is important; making sure reps know exactly when to deploy the right content at the right time is crucial.
Sales enablement owns a significant stake in the sales playbook and high-level process. Aligning the sales process with the buyer journey is an ongoing function; essentially, this where sales enablement strategies tie into the sales machine as a whole.
What is the difference between sales enablement and sales operations?
Sales enablement and sales operations (ops) are two sides of the same coin, yet they have distinct focuses.
If sales enablement occupies the right hemisphere of the sales brain, ops sits firmly on the left—they are all about the numbers and analytics.
Ops own the sales process because they’ve been instrumental in designing it. As such, they’re responsible for its optimal execution. They identify potential pain points or any bottlenecks hindering a smooth workflow.
Sales operations oversee the day-to-day functioning of the entire sales process. Tasks like territory management, compensation, and general streamlining of admin and operational tasks make up the focus of the ops strategy.
Sales enablement, while ever-cognizant of the day-to-day, focuses on optimization tasks that generally see results in the mid- to long-term. The focus of the enablement strategy is the ongoing fine-tuning of the sales team’s performance and the customer experience.
Who owns sales enablement?
Up until this point, I’ve been cautious to pin sales enablement on a specific individual or group within the company. There’s a good reason for this.
Just like marketing, customer success, or product management, sales enablement is not the function of one person as much as it’s a function of the company as a whole.
That function may sit with one person—the sales enablement manager. Or it may sit with a team of salespeople who make up an enablement department within the greater sales organization.
In a smaller company, sales enablement may manifest as a portion of the role of the VP or director of sales. That person will juggle the sales enablement role alongside sales ops duties: recruiting, coaching, and overseeing the sales process.
Your sales enablement strategy depends entirely on the sales maturity of your company.
As your sales process starts to evolve and you solidify a repeatable model, you want your sales leader—be it a VP or director—concentrating on setting high-level targets. They can’t be distracted by the miniscule details.
Sales enablement ensures the ongoing operation of the sales department fits into the big picture and leads towards the big metrics you want to hit.
How does a sales enablement strategy fit in a SaaS company?
Sales enablement taps into almost every other department in a company.
A good enablement plan leans on the work of various departments to make sure the strategy is consistent with the main goals of the company. Input from marketing will inform how the enablement strategy coaches the sales reps to best communicate with prospective customers.
The product department determines which features and aspects of your software need to be emphasized. Customer success and support know exactly what keeps a customer happy, and, conversely, what is sure to piss them off.
The executives make sure the enablement plan is consistent with the direction they want the company to go. And, of course, the sales leader is ultimately the one who decides whether or not to execute that plan.
Whether sales enablement is owned by one person or an entire department, the strategy is essentially coordinating each department that informs the enablement plan and ensures everything is working seamlessly.
It’s a function that’s purely based on influence, both internal and external. Just like you need to persuade prospects to see the value in, and ultimately spend money on, your product, you need to convince the stakeholders in the company to buy in and help you execute your plan.
Strategic communication makes the difference between an enablement plan that is effective and one that isn’t.
Diplomacy, by necessity, comes with the territory. Sales enablement is a conduit between every department in the company that has a say in how your product and mission is articulated to your buyers.
What is sales enablement software?
The sales enablement process centres around providing a sales rep with the tools they need to be successful. There are a multitude of software options out there to facilitate that goal.
The customer relationship management (CRM) platform is the pillar around which you branch off your major sales enablement tools. Anything that focuses on coaching and training, content management, identifying new markets, prospecting, call recording; it all helps with streamlining and executing a sales enablement plan.
It’s a vehicle for delivering branded, compelling, audience-specific communications to your prospects, often at the most critical point of the sales cycle—the close.
The best sales tools at our disposal lend themselves to everything the sales enablement strategy sets out to achieve. Shorter sales cycles, greater brand credibility (which leads to higher customer retention), and a scalable, predictable sales process.
Sales enablement technology provides an abundance of data with which to generate ever more accurate insights into understanding how best to personalize communication to your buyer personas.
Sales enablement has evolved from an obscure byproduct of other sales roles into a fully-fledged function in its own right. As the B2B marketplace continues to evolve, and the demand for personalization grows, the need for a solid sales enablement strategy will only solidify in importance.
So, when should you start implementing a sales enablement strategy in your company? The answer: right away.
Whether you bring someone on who’s solely focused on enablement implementation, or you distribute the enablement function among your existing sales team, getting a plan in place is an imperative part of getting ahead.
Be sure to stay tuned: In next week’s post, I’ll discuss just who you want to hire to design and execute a sales enablement strategy depending on the unique needs of your organization.