Avoid the Self-inflicted Wounds of Sales Enablement

Brian Williams, PhD

Here’s a hard truth: sales enablement can be its own worst enemy. Data presented at last week’s Dreamforce claimed enablement can sometimes derail sales performance. Frankly, it’s a message we’ve delivered for some time. Sales enablement done poorly can be a massive distraction. And in some cases, it can actually hurt sales outcomes.

So, the crucial question becomes, How can sales enablement avoid self-inflicted wounds? We’ve seen and helped build world-class sales enablement strategies. One fundamental truth strikes us across these experiences. The most effective sales enablement teams balance the what with the how. 

In other words, great enablement leaders tackle positioning and process issues alongside specific program elements. High-performing sales enablers view themselves as integrators and change agents. They devote quality time to building their roadmap. They align to the broader organizational priorities. They have a strategic, consultant-like mindset. 

Less effective sales enablement has a different look and feel. Here’s our take on four far too common sales enablement missteps. Any one of these can be a mortal wound to the best-intentioned enablement plans:

1. No coalition of support – Creating consensus across diverse buying stakeholders is a new selling reality. Likewise, bad sales enablement is frequently linked to poor internal alignment or consensus. Enablement leaders must identify and develop a coalition of champions. These stakeholders should include individuals beyond sales – including finance, marketing, HR, product. Engage the corporate team, but don’t forget field or decentralized influencers. As a change agent, sales enablers will face resistance. A lack of alignment and too few advocates across the organization is a death sentence.

2. No line-of-sight between programs and company strategy – Too many sales enablement activities come across as “nice-to-haves.” We’ve seen CSOs and enablement leaders fall in love too easily with the idea du jour. We’re all for innovation, but always have a clear mapping to the company’s strategic agenda. Connect enablement activity to your company’s highest-level strategy – not just the sales strategy. Ask yourself: Could you confidently advocate your plans to the board of directors? Would they quickly grasp the business rationale for the investment? Is there a defined ROI that the CFO would care about? 

3. No externally driven case for change – Status quo is the number one hurdle in modern selling. And so too for sales enablement teams. As a new function, enablement should be pushing the envelope, discarding the old for something new. But, don’t fall into the trap of selling your programs on their benefits alone. Repeatedly message how your enablement efforts are responding to an external trigger. The external driver might be a change in market structure, new competitors, or different buyer demands. Too many leaders can’t see the forest for the trees. They fail to articulate how an external change is motivating their plans. It’s the difference between sales enablement being viewed as “interesting” vs. “mission-critical”.

4. No strategic sales enablement roadmap – This seems like such a basic requirement. But far too many sales enablement teams operate without a meaningful roadmap. A good roadmap is different than a list of this year’s planned activities. It’s also different than the request forms you provided to justify your budget. A roadmap is the Rosetta stone that translates the corporate strategy into a series of logical enablement actions. These actions will include new programs and tools. But more importantly, the roadmap communicates how enablement is a key lever to drive strategy. Good roadmaps also include the ROI metrics for each stage of the journey.

A world-class sales enablement strategy is complex and built logically over time. Positioning, sequencing, and aligning the activities correctly differentiates success and failure. We urge all sales leaders to devote the right strategic thinking to these elements. The investment spent on the how of sales enablement will ensure the best results from the what.

Don’t be your own worst enemy when it comes to sales enablement. We’d love to share more about our experiences building lasting enablement strategies. Contact us to learn more and review best practice sales enablement roadmaps. 

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Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.