June 22, 2020
Updated: October 29, 2020

Sales enablement is your engine to drive digital transformation

It might come across as a bold statement — sales enablement is your engine to drive digital transformation. 

In this blog post, I will show you why sales enablement should be set up in a way that it becomes the engine and the driving force for your digital transformation efforts in sales. 

I will also make the case why you as an executive should personally care about this engine rather than delegating sales enablement away. You will learn why and how sales enablement should be designed and set up as a smooth engine to effectively drive your digital transformation efforts in sales.

Before we go into the sales enablement engine details, let’s make sure that we all have the same understanding of the term “digital transformation” — especially what it means for sales organizations.

Digital transformation is no longer a buzzword; it is now a necessity, heavily boosted by COVID19 

According to Wikipedia, digital transformation is the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems. It is about transforming processes that were non digital or manual to digital processes.”

Digital transformation must begin with the customer, not with your current processes — and this is where sales enablement comes into play 

What’s missing in that definition — and what’s crucial for sales, marketing and customer experience — is the need to begin any kind of digital transformation effort with the customer at the center. Why? Because we are not only living in the digital age, but also in the age of the customer. 

Your customers decide when and how to engage with your organization. They decide what’s valuable to them and when along their customer journey. And they continue to change their behaviors and preferences. The global pandemic that forced most of us to work from home, to engage prospects and customers entirely remotely, has amplified the need to get digital transformation right. And this is where sales enablement comes into play. 

Sales enablement, if set up strategically, has the potential to be the engine for your digital sales transformation

You may perceive sales enablement as a tactical program somewhere in your organization that provides what sellers need, when they need it. If that’s the case, you may want to check out my previous blog post that debunks sales enablement myths. Viewing sales enablement this way is what results in these myths. 

In a nutshell, proven by research such as the CSO Insights Fifth Annual Study, sales enablement must be set up in a strategic, formal, ideally charter-based way to ensure that it moves the needle. And, sales enablement must be closely aligned to their stakeholders’ goals to be able to meet their expectations. So, it’s how you leverage the concept of sales enablement that makes all the difference. Only the 16% of organizations that follow such a charter-based approach achieved, on average, win rates for forecast deals of 55%, compared to only 39% if sales enablement was set up in a project manner. And only 28% that met their stakeholders’ expectations were able to improve sales productivity by double-digit percentages. 

Engines: used to effect a specific purpose and produce a desirable result

Imagine how the engine of a hybrid car compares to the engine of a Boeing 777 or a F1 racing car. These engines are designed differently because each serves a different purpose. 

The purpose of a F1 race car engine is to enable its driver and the related team to win any F1 race on every circuit on the planet. The purpose of a Boeing 777 is almost the opposite, to bring up to 451 passengers to their desired destination as efficiently as possible. And the purpose of a hybrid car is to allow a small group of passengers to get to their desired destinations as efficiently and as climate-neutrally as possible.

Consider your sales enablement engine along the same lines. It should be designed to serve the intended purpose (empowering your sales team and supporting departments with the right resources and services) and produce your desired results (faster sales cycles, higher win rates, etc.). 

How should your sales enablement engine be designed to successfully drive your digital transformation efforts?

Let’s have a look at five guiding principles you can apply in your organization to make sure that your sales enablement engine drives your desired digital transformation results. One key success factor was already discussed above: setting sales enablement up in a strategic, formal, ideally charter-based way to move the performance needle.

#1: Align all selling processes to the customer journey(s)

Successful digital sales transformation requires a purposeful alignment of internal selling processes to the customer journey.

In the digital age, the customer journey(s) (how they approach a business challenge, how they want to buy and how they want to use, adopt and implement your products or services) is the determining factor.

Their buying experience (and we know that the best buying experience wins!) consists of a couple elements you can control. Think about the quality of every single interaction they have with your organization, starting with visiting your website, consuming content, having the first interactions and conversations with a customer-facing professional and up to buying from you and implementing your products and services.

As a consequence, your internal selling processes have to be purposefully aligned to the customer journey. That’s the often overlooked but very important foundation of effective sales enablement and digital transformation.

In practical terms, alignment here means that you want to make sure all the steps and gates your buyers have to go through to make a decision are a) well known and understood across your organization and b) properly mapped out and included in your selling processes. This way you avoid any kind of buyer/seller misalignment from the very beginning.

Only 19.0% of organizations purposefully align their internal processes to their buyer journey. But they improved their win rates by 17.9%

You may wonder where this mapping job resides in your organization and what it has to do with sales enablement. I hear you. First, the customer journey, and you may have a few of them to consider as you have different buying scenarios, can only be mapped out together, with customers, with CX, with marketing, with sales and with customer service and customer success personnel. 

Second, all sales enablement services you need for your sales force — the content, messaging or training services you may have in mind — cannot exist in a vacuum. Instead, these services have to be closely connected, tailored and mapped to the different phases of the customer journey. Enablement services that are not connected to the different phases of the customer journey will not move the needle.

#2: Align and integrate all processes along the customer journey(s)

Alignment is crucial and covers more than just aligning the selling processes to the customer journey. It also requires connecting and aligning all selling processes in an end-to-end manner internally. That’s what I mean when I use the word “integration” in this context. 

If you look at it from a digital transformation perspective, you want to make sure that your processes are based on the customer journey, as we just discussed. Then, you’ll want to make sure that your processes are aligned with each other, ideally integrated in a seamless way. The goal should be an end-to-end process chain without any friction along the entire customer journey. This work is vital to success and must be done before digitizing them. 

Be aware that a dysfunctional process remains dysfunctional, even if digitized. In fact, as more and more so-called artificial intelligence (that’s often not very intelligent at all) is used, every single mistake in your process design will be amplified with technology. That’s why these steps are absolutely mission critical.

#3: Your sales enablement engine has to be tailored to your context, the root causes of selling challenges and the state of your digital transformation

The sales enablement engine for the fast-growing start-up that’s entirely focused on revenue growth and market share is vastly different from the sales enablement engine for the leader in a saturated market fighting for the market position, better CX and a better profit margin.

While both sales enablement engines are designed differently to serve different challenges, the principles they are based on remain the same. And these principles are to be based in the business strategy, to focus on measurable goals and address the root causes of the selling challenges rather than treating symptoms.

If, for instance, you are transitioning from product to a more consultative selling approach, you want to focus on the new methodology and the related value messaging for your targeted buyer roles. And that requires an integrated content, training and coaching approach.

As another example, if your main issue is to transition from field selling to remote selling, your sales enablement engine will be set up differently, and you will focus on an integrated approach of new technology, additional required communication skills and transferring field practices to remote practices.

#4: Align all enablement efforts with marketing, sales and customer success managers and enable them to coach effectively

Driving successful digital transformation along the entire customer journey requires engaging all managers, not only sales managers, to coach their teams effectively. Of course, sales managers, especially those on the front lines, have a huge leverage effect and cover essential parts of the customer journey. But also marketing managers, especially those leading demand and lead generation teams, and often SDR teams, must be enabled to be effective frontline coaches. 

As a mirror to the customer journey, a seamless approach, based on the same coaching leadership style without any friction, should be the ambition. 

Effective coaching along the customer journey requires a coaching framework and process that mirrors the internal processes. Building coaching skills first is often overlooked but absolutely essential before you can scale coaching efforts and support with coaching technology. 

Always be aware that sales coaching is often misinterpreted. It is a structured, question-based approach to identify areas of improvement in a deal, in an account, in a territory or in the funnel, or regarding specific skills and behaviors. It is not activity management or telling people what to do.

#5: Ensure that all digital transformation engines are perfectly aligned

Any digital transformation initiative has to cover all aspects of the business to be successful. And, as outlined above, the design point of effective digital transformation has to be centered around your customers, especially their customer journey(s), and that covers at least marketing, sales and customer success and service.

Usually, there are more streams in an overall digital transformation initiative that covers the entire organization. Ideally, these streams are organized by end-to-end processes and not by functions.

So, you want to make sure that your sales enablement engine is also aligned to the digital transformation programs that are focused on manufacturing, delivery, finance or HR.

Whatever is not aligned, integrated and connected at this point, by design, will run into further separation once digitized. And that needs to be avoided at all costs. 

Excellent customer experience can only be achieved if the buyer experience is seamless across all processes and functions your customers come into contact with throughout their customer life cycle.

With all pieces of the puzzle — both internally and across the customer journey — in alignment, you can better leverage sales enablement and make it your engine to drive digital transformation. 

May you find the courage to uphold the vision and to implement it successfully, and be the change you want to see in your organization. 

For more guidance on how you can achieve sales enablement success for your organization, stay tuned for more blogs in this series for senior executives.

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Sales Enablement Platforms

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Sales Enablement Platforms

The best sales enablement strategies are supported by powerful technology. But how do you know which solution is the best for your organization? Read this guide to discover the factors to consider — and questions to ask — when vetting sales enablement platforms.

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