From its origin as an obscure offshoot of legacy sales roles, to a trendy nice-to-have among early-adopting companies, to now an essential function of a modern sales force, sales enablement has come a long way in the last decade.
In part one in this five-part series on sales strategies for SaaS, I chatted with Daniel Hebert, Proposify’s director of sales, about how a sales enablement strategy fits into a SaaS company and how getting it right can bring tangible results to the revenue your sales team brings in.
Dan joins me again this time around for part two as we discuss who you want to bring on board to help design and implement a successful enablement strategy.
Sales enablement takes many different forms and is far from a one-size-fits-all approach. The nature of an enablement strategy, therefore, depends entirely on the maturity of your company’s sales process and the bottlenecks your sales team are up against.
In a smaller company, where you’re pulling in say $1M ARR, sales enablement tasks will make up a portion of your VP or director of sale’s role. As your ARR starts to grow and your sales process starts to mature, you’ll want to think about bringing on an individual (and eventually even an entire team) dedicated to executing an enablement strategy.
But what does that person look like? What experience are they bringing to the table? And, most importantly, are they armed with the right skill set to effectively address the task at hand?
Just as every company is different, so too are the obstacles that prevent a sales team from hitting bigger numbers. No matter the situation, assistance from a specialist can go a long way.
Below are five common scenarios that benefit from vastly different approaches. If you’re serious about integrating a sales enablement strategy, think carefully about the skill set and background of the individual or group charged with putting it in place and how their expertise relates to the challenges you’re trying to solve.
1. Handling a Large Sales Team
Large or rapidly growing sales teams require an enablement strategy that focuses on getting new hires familiar with the company and the product or service they’re selling.
If you’re looking to hire and onboard 50 new reps next quarter, the person implementing the enablement strategy needs to know how best to get each rep up to speed and hitting quota as quickly as possible.
In this scenario, someone with a background in HR or learning & development is your best bet. Whether you’re bringing on a large cohort of reps all at once, or you anticipate a steady growth or high turnover in the sales team, someone with experience developing and running training programs or academies and relevant learning curriculums will be invaluable.
In part one, I discussed why proper onboarding for new sales reps is an integral part of a sales enablement strategy. Good recruitment and onboarding programs minimize the time it takes for new hires to reach full productivity. If these programs are to be successful, they need to be designed by someone with the appropriate background and expertise.
2. Simplifying a Complicated Product or Service
Just as onboarding is critical to getting new hires up to speed as fast as possible, ongoing support and coaching are essential to maintaining consistency across the sales team.
This is especially relevant if the product or service on offer is extremely complex. An intricate product can easily lead to variations and inconsistencies among the way reps communicate its value to potential customers.
Coaching is often an ongoing function of a sales enablement strategy. If a lack of consistency among the sales team is an issue, bringing in someone with a coaching background is one of the best ways to fix it.
Coaching often gets bundled together with management, but the two are separate functions with distinct purposes. A sales manager is responsible for the optimal performance of their sales team. Management is often a lot more clinical—assigning projects and deadlines and making sure the sales team is hitting quota.
Coaching, on the other hand, is more about leading your reps through processes and training programs designed to instill autonomy and independence. Sales coaches are more concerned with HOW to bring the best out of their sellers.
It’s around this point when founders or sales leaders can run into trouble by promoting a top-performing AE into an enablement role and assuming their skill set will transfer problem-free. Tied up in this is the assumption that new managers will be able to teach their reps the techniques and strategies that helped them succeed as a salesperson.
It’s easy to see when talk tracks, demo scripts, and email templates aren’t cutting it, or if individual sellers aren’t performing at their best. It’s far more difficult to overhaul sales assets and train underperforming reps to master new material or scripts quickly.
Coaching might be a function of management, but not all managers are good coaches. If the sales team has a clear coaching issue, you need to bring in someone with experience training and supporting salespeople to perform at the level at which they’re capable.
3. Generating and Maintaining Sales Content
Great content is a key indicator of success in all top performing SaaS companies. Yet there are certain industry niches where salespeople rely on a library of stellar, easily-accessible sales collateral more than others.
Among such companies, ensuring reps have access to the right content at the right time is a critical component of the sales process. If the value of your product or service is best articulated through content, you need to hire an enablement person who has a background in developing and deploying sales material.
Whether it’s marketing, design, communications, or a combination of the three, this skill set will prove invaluable when it comes to optimizing how the sales team talks to their customer.
Aligning marketing and sales can be like pushing the opposite ends of a magnet together. But for the enablement strategy to be effective, you need to forge a relationship between the two departments. A tight back-and-forth between sales and marketing can make the difference between closed deals and permanently cold leads.
Remember, sales enablement is about being diplomatic— after all, everyone’s all on the same side, and working together will be nothing but beneficial for both departments and the business as a whole in the long run.
Sales and marketing need to work together to create content that resonates with prospects at every stage of the buyer journey. Whether the enablement person has a say in what content is produced, or they themselves are generating content for the sales team, it’s up to them to make sure this material fits the messaging both departments are pushing. More importantly, they need to ensure their sales team knows exactly when in the buyer journey specific pieces of content need to be deployed.
4. Bridging the Technology Divide
Sales enablement is all about equipping reps with the resources they need to be better sellers. As such, deciding which of the thousands of tools at our disposal to put in place is a big part of a sales enablement strategy.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices on offer, especially by someone with limited experience in the area. I’ve spoken before about my costly mistake when deciding which customer success software to implement, an error which took us months to turn around.
If your sales process is stalling over either non-existent or inappropriate tools, consider bringing someone on who has experience in developing or implementing technology consistent with the needs of the sales team and the broader purpose of the company.
Never before has the sales machine been so decked out in bells and whistles. Countless CRM platforms, content management tools, call recording services, lead intelligence and buyer persona tools, to name a few, compete for our attention. Selecting the right tools to put in place, and, subsequently, which metrics to track, can make the difference between hitting targets and getting lost in an ocean of data.
If sales are slow because of a process that’s stuck in the past, someone intimate with sales tech can help you get your operation up to speed with the right tools for your company’s focuses.
5. Refining the Sales Process
While the overall daily operation of the sales process often falls to sales operations, sales enablement has a hand in ensuring its execution is aligned with the goals of other departments and the company as a whole.
In the instance your sales process needs some adjustment, especially if it’s a minor course correction that has larger impacts further down the road, an enablement person with a background in operations has the upper hand in this scenario.
Sales enablement is more focused on the mid- to long-term than sales operations, so minor tweaks to the sales process—things like adjusting the copy in a demo deck or identifying new potential territory for ops to explore—are the responsibility of whoever is implementing the enablement strategy.
If adjusting minor details of the sales process will be the focus of your sales enablement person’s role, someone with an intimate understanding of the sales cycle from a zoomed out, operations perspective will have a clearer picture of how their small changes affect the greater machine.
Understanding how small adjustments affect the functioning of the sales process ensures that these changes don’t disrupt the work of sales ops or the VP or director of sales who are often too busy and concerned with the big picture to be worried about minor details.
If alignment is off, and the sales machine contains some irregularities that need to be worked out, someone with a head for both the ‘science’ of sales ops and the ‘art’ of enablement is in a unique position to engineer a solution.
While Specialization is Important, Sales Fundamentals are Crucial
For a sales enablement strategy to be effective, the individual or team who’s tasked with its implementation must have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of selling.
After all, regardless of the nature of the challenges your sales team is up against, and the unique approach required to address them, sales enablement is, ultimately, a function of the sales department.
Specialization is important when it comes to getting your sellers out of a rut or optimizing the sales process to better execute specific functions, yet none of this is any good if a solid understanding of the basics of selling is absent.
Sales enablement is a unique function. It’s a collaborative effort between multiple departments that requires a great deal of inter-departmental diplomacy and cooperation. Whoever you hire to design, implement, and execute a sales enablement strategy acts as a facilitator; they are the conduit between everyone who has a say in how your business is portrayed to the world.
Before you bring on a sales enablement person, think carefully about which problems they need to solve to help the sales team become more efficient. The right background and expertise play a critical role in making sure the enablement strategy actually works.