The term sales enablement has been a hot topic for the past couple of years: reports from Forrester and SiriusDecisions talk about its importance, conferences are held in its honor and no sales executive wants to be caught not enabling their sales team. But what is everyone really talking about? What is sales enablement, and is it actually important?
Part of the struggle with the term sales enablement (besides the fact that enablement isn’t actually a word) is that its definition has been evolving over the past several years from the tactical to the strategic. Five years ago, most people would define sales enablement as providing sales reps with the materials they need to properly represent the product. A mid-level manager in product marketing delivered all of the sales enablement benefit that the company needed.
But five years ago, tablets didn’t exist. A salesperson didn’t use mobile technology for much more than email on a Blackberry (remember those?). Salespeople didn’t do things that much differently in 1999 vs. 2009.
But things are vastly different today. Almost every sales rep has a tablet, Internet connectivity wherever he or she goes and a vast trove of information about his or her prospects and customers thanks to technologies like CRM and marketing automation.
With that evolution, sales enablement has evolved from a product marketing function to a higher-order imperative. Borrowing a bit from Don Peppers, I define sales enablement as the ability, by any sales rep, to systematically deliver a one-on-one customer experience.
Given my definition, it’s not difficult to understand why sales enablement is of the utmost importance to any B2B company with a large sales team. Executing on sales enablement leads to increased revenue per sales rep. It leads to competitive differentiation. It leads to higher customer satisfaction and lower churn rates.
And because of this increasing importance, companies are beginning to take notice. Sales enablement isn’t just a multi-billion dollar technology category that ranges from training tools to mobile content management platforms, but it has also become a director-level job title.
Just recently, I met an individual with more than 20 years of experience in the sales operations department receive a promotion to this newly created role with departmental responsibilities that span from marketing, sales, sales ops and HR.
So where should executives begin when thinking about how to execute their own sales enablement strategy? I think of sales enablement in six categories.
- Rep onboarding: How quickly reps can be trained and begin full quota-carrying activities.
- Time efficiency: How reps can spend more selling. The average rep only spends 35 percent of their time actually selling.
- Continuing education: Ensuring reps are knowledgeable about new products and brand messaging.
- Customer knowledge: CRM software, the most popular being Salesforce, gives reps valuable insight into any customer account.
- Cycle acceleration: Activities that shorten the sales cycle, which can range from marketing automation to turnaround time on contracts.
- Content delivery: The lynchpin to sales enablement, being able to deliver the right sales materials at the right time on any device to ensure the one-on-one experience occurs in a repeatable way.
Due to the low adoption costs of many of these SaaS sales enablement solutions and the competitive advantage they offer, sales enablement is becoming a focus for a wide range of companies.
In 2009, businesses that invested in these tools and other resources to speed up the selling cycle saw a 51 percent improvement in lead conversion rates, according to the research group Aberdeen. About 54 percent saw an increase year-over-year in sales reps meeting quotas. If there was ever any question as to whether or not a sales enablement strategy is beneficial, these statistics answer it.
We’re witnessing a software arms race. The companies that figure out how to evaluate, implement and execute their sales enablement strategy will spend more time in front of customers, sell more effectively and have happier, more loyal customers. Sales enablement is still young – there’s plenty of time for it to grow, redefine itself and become a cornerstone of business operations. Your company can play a critical role in what it means to position sales team success.
Daniel Rodriguez is the VP of Marketing at Seismic, a sales enablement platform that allows sales teams to deliver the right message at the right time on any device. Daniel holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.