June 9, 2020
Updated: January 29, 2021

Centralizing or decentralizing sales enablement? Three factors to consider

Should you centralize sales enablement? If so, which parts should be centralized?

Since I’ve fielded these and similar questions over the last few weeks, I wanted to capture a few thoughts and experiences that can help organizations answer them, as well as provide a few criteria you can immediately apply and check for your organization.

Driving sales enablement impact requires the right set-up: strategic, formal and charter-based

No matter your definition of sales enablement, the data is straight forward. The more strategic and formal sales enablement is set up, the better the results you can achieve. Only 16% of organizations follow a formal, strategic and charter-based approach, according to CSO Insights’ “Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Study.” However, their win rates for forecast deals are 55%, compared to only 39% for organizations that run sales enablement in an ad hoc, one-off project manner.

What does this mean regarding the question of centralization versus decentralization? 

Knowing that a strategic and charter-based approach to sales enablement makes a huge difference, it seems like a signal to centralize sales enablement, right? It depends. Let’s continue and see what criteria you should consider.

Context matters. If, for example, sales enablement is currently established in one of four business divisions, the question of centralization has a different context compared to an organization that has sales enablement implemented across all business units. 

In one case we’re talking about centralizing sales enablement within a division, and in the other we could discuss centralizing certain aspects of sales enablement across divisions.

That’s why we should rethink the question we’re asking. Instead of asking whether we should centralize or decentralize, we should ask: What parts of sales enablement should be centralized and which aspects should be decentralized and managed locally?

And, yes, the answer depends on your organizational context. 

Let me discuss a few guiding principles using different scenarios to illustrate. Ultimately, I’d like to empower you to find the best approach for your organization that allows you to achieve your goals as quickly as possible.

1: Sales enablement strategy and governance should be as centralized as possible

Guiding principle: Develop your sales enablement strategy and charter to be as centralized as possible and localize as necessary.

Your sales enablement strategy and charter should be the engine that drives the required transformation and achieves the desired outcomes of your organization. That’s always something that should be set up at the top of the organization, therefore sales enablement should be set up there as well. Let’s look at two examples to see what it means.

Example 1: independent business unit within corporation

Let’s say you are the executive sponsor for sales enablement in one of four different business units that operate independently. The umbrella above these business units is a corporate headquarters that is focused on consolidating and providing shared services. Within your business unit, you have three different product lines that represent your division. 

In that situation, the most strategic approach you can take is to set up and run sales enablement centralized for your business unit (the one out of four), and decentralize all localization efforts that are necessary to adjust the enablement services to the three different product lines. That’s as centralized as possible, and the benefit is that there is one strategy, one shared goal and one approach, all based on one framework. Certain enablement services, such as content to drive adoption and reinforcement, can be adjusted and localized in a decentralized manner given the circumstances and selling challenges for each product line.

Example 2: global marketing for large, global organization

Let’s say you own sales enablement within a global marketing organization that’s worked relatively decentralized so far. Let’s also assume sales enablement is a new concept and you want to make sure that you set it up as effectively as possible right from the beginning.

A typical challenge here is that your buyer roles are different across regions or countries, and it’s crucial to communicate to these buyers in a targeted, tailored and localized way. Often, this necessity leads to a rather decentralized marketing approach. The smaller the central guidance, the more differing approaches will be created.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, brand consistency and content management synergies may suffer due to a decentralized approach.

In this case, I’d recommend setting up a centralized sales enablement strategy and charter that works for the entire organization. In practical terms, the charter would include a global sales enablement strategy, a global collaboration model, global production processes and, most importantly, a global content strategy and content management framework. 

These global frameworks ensure everyone is on the same page and speaks the same language based on one foundation and future vision of success. Then, the regions can localize their enablement services based on the global framework. If necessary, they can also create specific content for related regions, but always based on the same centralized, global frameworks and principles. 

This means you establish shared terminology when it comes to content. You name and define content types, such as white papers, the same way on a global basis. What will change locally is, for instance, how colors are used, what images are included and how the messaging is adjusted. These types of localization efforts should always be included in the production process and collaboration model.

2: Adoption and reinforcement efforts should be as decentralized as possible

Guiding principle: Develop your sales enablement adoption and reinforcement initiatives to be as decentralized as possible, but based on central frameworks.

How to drive engagement, adoption and reinforcement in different regions and countries? That’s not something that can be done using a centralized, headquarters-based approach. Centralized strategies are the guidelines for adoption and reinforcement, but they have to be shaped to serve local constraints and challenges.

Driving adoption is an often hidden key to increasing productivity and performance. Research shows that adoption rates that are greater than 75% lead to remarkable improvements for quota attainment and win rates, as well as revenue plan attainment, according to CSO Insights. 

How can adoption be increased? This is where sales managers come into play no matter the scenario. Driving adoption without frontline sales managers is not going to happen. It’s as simple as that. Any implementation in a sales force requires frontline sales managers to be fully on board with the implementation strategy itself and regular coaching to reinforce initial enablement investments and ensure adoption to achieve desired outcomes.

But another aspect is also key to success. The guidance you can receive from frontline sales managers regarding your enablement strategy is often more impactful than that of the CSO or CRO when it comes to practical terms and details. While the sales leaders set strategic priorities, you will always require the on-the-ground wisdom and insights of the frontline sales managers in the field to create impactful enablement services that can move the needle.

3: Culture and company size impact your enablement set-up

Guiding principle: Take your organization’s culture and size into account when developing your sales enablement strategy.

This helps you understand to what degree the first and second principles will apply to your situation. 

As part of your cultural analysis, you should always factor in your stakeholders and how their functions are set up. In addition to the CSO/CRO and the CMO, think about the CHRO, where L&D usually resides, as well as the CIO/CTO and the CPO to integrate product management and development in addition to product marketing. However, how these functions are set up depends heavily on the organization’s overall culture, which is our focus here.

As an example, if your organizational culture is rather decentralized, then smaller steps toward a centralized sales enablement strategy might be perceived as too much and run into resistance. If so, you may want to implement a pilot first, develop a centralized strategy for it, and implement it. Based on the lessons learned, the degree of centralization versus decentralization can be adjusted moving forward.

Company size and structure matters a lot. As in the above example, in a structure with independent business units, sales enablement might be implemented individually per business unit first. Having a centralized strategy in that business unit may be the best choice.

However, if there is a headquarters that does more than consolidation, it might be worth it to think about a sales enablement strategy and charter on that level that will then be implemented and adjusted per business unit, as mentioned above.

If the company is a smaller or mid-sized organization with a few hundred people, even if distributed in different regions, a centralized sales enablement strategy usually makes sense to ensure guidance, clarity and alignment to the business strategy. Specific details can then be filled out in a decentralized manner.

Your enablement journey and maturity plays a role as well. If an organization runs sales enablement in a random or informal way, it probably won’t even discuss this question. Only if the ambition to set up sales enablement in a strategic, formal and charter-based manner exists will this blog post be relevant.

For more information on sales enablement maturity, check out Showpad’s “Sales Transformation Maturity Model.”

The Showpad Sales Transformation Maturity Model

The Showpad Sales Transformation Maturity Model

Do you understand the current state of your sales program? In order to help you transform and progress, we developed the Showpad Sales Transformation Maturity Model. Read now to determine your level of maturity and where to go from here.

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