June 29, 2021
Updated: July 22, 2021

Showpad 2021 Modern Selling Study: Enablement Drives B2B Selling Behaviors

**This post is part of a series based on Showpad’s 2021 Modern Selling Study. To dig into all the data, visit the study homepage.

Showpad’s 2021 Modern Selling Study found that sales enablement has become more important since the start of the pandemic. More than 400 organizations from various industries and company sizes, covering the US, the UK and the DACH region answered questions on all things enablement, buying behaviors, selling challenges and what that means for the enablement profession.

As more companies evolve from sales enablement to revenue enablement, we often use the more general term “enablement” to ensure that we acknowledge the current state of your enablement journey, whether you are taking your initial step into sales enablement or are evolving to a comprehensive revenue enablement initiative.

Enablement for GTM teams becomes the engine to drive adaptive selling behaviors in a digital world

Showpad’s 2021 Modern Selling Study proves that enablement is more important than ever. In a post-pandemic, remote first world, enablement’s role, scope and maturity are growing rapidly.

This trend is the same globally. However, the study sees some differences between the US and Europe, and in Europe we also saw differences between the UK and the DACH region. In this study summary, we’ll focus on the global data.

Since the pandemic, the number of organizations with enablement grew by 17%

Prior to the pandemic, 64% of organizations reported having an enablement function, program or initiative. Since the pandemic, this percentage increased to 75%, a difference of 11 percentage points or an actual increase of 17%.

Additionally, for 60% of organizations, the scope and the responsibilities of enablement increased as well, while 30% said it is the same and only 10% reported a decrease.

Since the pandemic, 45% said that their enablement initiatives cover content, training and coaching. This is an encouraging trend. However, there are still 41% that only focus on one domain right now, on content or on training, and 13% report to only have some random acts of sales support that cannot even be called enablement.

Overall, the trend is straight forward: enablement, whether you currently focus on sales enablement or working already on a full blown revenue enablement initiative, is growing as a discipline, and the scope of enablement is growing as well.

Not all organizations grow at the same time and at the same pace. We found regional and industry specific differences. However, more and more organizations see the need to tackle how they enable, equip and empower their sales forces and all customer-facing employees in a different and better orchestrated way.

Now, why is enablement growing?

Enablement is getting more important than ever due to three reasons that are all connected with each other

Reason #1: Changing buyer behaviors

Enablement is becoming more prevalent than ever due to changing buyer behaviors. As in previous economic crises, buyers have adjusted their buying behaviors very quickly.

As the chart above shows, putting buying decisions on hold was the most important change (46%), followed by a reprioritization of their buying decisions (43%), and budget cuts and changed decision criteria (both 36%).

Reason #2: Existing B2B selling challenges were amplified and sales forces were not well prepared for remote-only selling scenarios.

These changing buyer behaviors were a huge challenge for many sales forces. And it’s not because we faced a lot of new selling challenges.

In fact, existing selling challenges and existing selling skill gaps were amplified with many sales forces not well prepared for remote-only selling scenarios. The more existing selling challenges a company had, the harder it was to cope with remote-only interactions.

The #1 selling challenge is the inability to access relevant content (29% versus 20% prior to the pandemic). That’s a challenge that enablement can solve with the right technology, the right content and the right content strategy and management approach.

The selling challenge #2 is the difficulty to drive engagement on remote sales calls, which increased from 19% up to 28% since the pandemic. That’s an increase of 9 percentage points or 47%. In the past, this challenge could be covered by a combination of various meeting formats, such as in-person meetings and remote calls.

Now, as only the remote option was available to most salespeople around the globe, the lack of existing foundational selling challenges made the challenge even worse. All the options that were available in the past such as informal pre-meeting conversations at the water cooler or coffee bar didn’t exist anymore. Also, dealing with body language and gestures is now limited to what’s visible on a video meeting.

The energy on video interactions is different, not necessarily lower or higher, just different. Customer-facing professionals with outstanding communication skills and lots of intuitive abilities were still able to tune into their prospects and clients. However, those with rather average communication skills experienced more limitations in their approaches.

The challenge #3 (not enough training to succeed with remote selling) and #4 (not having access to the technology needed) shows that many organizations didn’t focus enough to set up and implement digital transformation along the customer journey prior to the pandemic.

All these challenges can be addressed with a holistic and strategic enablement approach.

Reason #3: Lack of digital adoption

Everything is accelerated by a fast-pacing digital transformation that’s not well understood in various functions, requires a strategy and lots of cross-functional orchestration and alignment. In fact, 84% of organizations reported having been forced to undergo more significant digital transformation since the pandemic. That shows that many of them were not adequately prepared so far.

The majority of organizations, 85%, reported to rely more on digital tools for sales content management, sales training and coaching and collaboration since the pandemic. And 82% said that they had access to all required tools to engage buyers remotely. Now, that sounds like a lot, right? So these organizations must be fine and have the right tools in place? No. Not really.

From here, the data gets really interesting. On a more detailed question regarding the nature of these tools and technologies, 77% answered to currently use video meeting systems (such as Zoom, Teams, Webex, etc.) and only 40% said that they were using enablement content solutions.

Wait a moment, didn’t 82% say that they had access to the right tools and technologies to succeed in a remote only world?

Apparently, most organizations assumed that having access to video meeting systems and tools would be sufficient to engage prospects and customers effectively in a remote only world. 

That’s the only way to explain why 82% believe they have all they need with only having Zoom or Teams etc. in place. Not even half of these organizations, in fact only 40%, reported to have an enablement content solution in place.

Now, we’ve come full circle and have a better understanding of why the main selling challenge since the pandemic was the inability to access relevant content.

Opening the virtual door is important but not enough

Apparently, there is much education needed that video solutions alone do not provide any advantage when it comes to empowering sellers what to present and how to best measure engagement on remote-only sales calls. Let’s look at it this way:

Video conferencing systems open the door to remote customer conversations, but salespeople still need platforms to access relevant, valuable and differentiating content for that specific conversation. 

Salespeople also need adequate content in interactive scenarios to support their conversations in an engaging way. However, not having access to the right content in remote selling situations and having difficulties driving and measuring engagement on calls were reported to be the most relevant selling challenges since the start of the pandemic.

Check out our blog posts on sales content management, sales readiness, sales effectiveness and buyer engagement where we also provide more specific recommendations on modern, state-of-the-art enablement solutions to engage buyers effectively.  

And that’s exactly what enablement should be doing, with comprehensive sales content management and sales readiness strategies. This way, sales effectiveness and buyer engagement can thrive.

Challenges enablement leaders face since the pandemic – no, it’s not budget cuts

It doesn’t come as a surprise. Cross-functional collaboration became an even bigger challenge for enablement leaders since the pandemic (43%) compared to 34% before.

Onboarding struggles came in at the second position with 38% (and only 28% prior to the pandemic). Connecting the dots across all involved functions showed the biggest increase from 15% up to 33%.

And budget cuts? Budget cuts as a significant enablement challenge ended up on position #7 with only 18% (10% prior to the pandemic).

It does make sense, because enablement leaders often don’t own a lot of budget in the first place. Instead, they make decisions across all involved functions via a buying committee. And in those committees, even if the decision processes take longer, the decision criteria is based on business case and business value.

*Survey demographics

Showpad conducted the 2021 Modern Selling Study, a global survey at the end of 2020. More than 400 organizations were involved in the survey that covered the US (56%), the UK (23%) and the DACH regions (21%). Organizations came from various industries such as technology, manufacturing and finance. We interviewed sales (45%), marketing (38%) and enablement roles (17%). And also at a hierarchical level, our study participants covered practitioners (20%), manager and director level roles (63%) and executives (18%).

Visit our 2021 Modern Selling Study hub and discover how the pandemic has impacted every area of enablement.