Several weeks ago, on the eve of the new year, we polled several dozen senior sales leaders about sales enablement. The key takeaway: next year will be the year when the rubber meets the road for sales enablement.
So what does that mean? Sales organizations have really embraced sales enablement. In 2013 less than 20% of companies had a sales enablement function; five years later, the number grew closer to 60%. In the last 24 months alone, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in interest, including formal sales enablement associations and dedicated conferences. There’s been an explosion in sales enablement tech and millions of dollars committed to expanding the function.
It’s easy to understand the allure of sales enablement. More than ever, reps are struggling to remain relevant in the face of increasingly knowledgeable buyers. Economic uncertainty is rising. The pressure to hit the number is intensifying. The future of sales is here, bringing ever-changing dynamics and trends. This is the right time and right place for sales enablement to emerge as a true force in helping reps increase their win rates and deal sizes.
The senior leaders we spoke with offered four practical ways that sales enablement can improve their impact for next year:
1. Don’t wait to be asked. Be proactive in bringing ideas for helping reps sell faster and win bigger deals. If a sales leader has to ask for a new program or idea to help, you've missed a major opportunity. Have a point of view on the barriers to sales effectiveness. And be ready to demonstrate how your ideas will address a specific problem for the sales organization. A performance consultant mindset is critical here.
One of my favorite phrases from a mentor is, “Don't knock on the open door.” In other words, don’t wait for the invitation to the grown-up table. Sales enablement leaders should be confident and assertive when engaging sales leadership.
2. Focus on and measure the right KPIs. This one is easy. What is the most important metric for the sales leader? The number. He or she is on the line for that number, month by month, quarter after quarter. Sales enablement should know what metric is used to define the number in their organization. And they should always know what the current results look like.
We talk with sales enablement leaders nearly every day who lack basic awareness of the current state sales results. How can the function stay relevant when they aren't fully attuned to sales performance realities? With this knowledge, sales enablement is in a much better place to help their teams make the number. Sales enablement leaders must train themselves to think like a senior executive. They must constantly translate their activity into the metrics that matter – and those that truly impact performance.
3. Work beyond the formal org chart. Don't be resigned to the formal structure. Be an organizational integrator for the various functions that are important for sales. Proactively engage marketing, product, service teams – anyone and everyone who touches the sales teams. Help these functions 'see the forest', not just the trees and help them better coordinate their messages to the field.
It's easy for the various corporate functions to become silos. Any one idea or initiative might make sense in isolation. But when aggregated across the multiple functions, these items can come across as noise to the field. Sales enablement has the opportunity to help the organization integrate and synthesize things for reps and managers. They are key to creating context to multiple concepts so the field understands and actually adopts. Integrated thinking from regular cross-departmental engagement not only helps make the number, but proves sales enablement’s critical value to the company.
4. Spend more time in the field. The corporate office is cozy, but unfortunately it’s not always reality. Don't underestimate the insight gained from a ride-along or other eyeball-to-eyeball interaction with reps and managers. Experience the challenges of the field first-hand and gain a personal view of the changing buying and selling dynamics.
Field work can easily slip into the 'important, but not urgent' category of time management. Sales enablement teams must prioritize these activities on a weekly and monthly basis. With more field experience, sales enablement is even better equipped to bring those proactive solutions to leadership. Field time also keeps sales enablement programs grounded and practical.
Making a Difference
Sales enablement has grabbed the attention of sales leaders across industries. Now is time to show the organization what sales enablement can really do. As one CSO shared with us, “The very best sales enablement leaders are change agents that just make it happen." And we think that's a great summary of what sales enablement should look like: Proactive, savvy about buyers and markets, and partnering with the field to make a difference this year.
Contact us to learn more ways sales enablement can help you hit the number.
About The Author
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.