July 7, 2020
Updated: October 29, 2020

The top three sales enablement success factors and why alignment is the key to all of them

Welcome to the second post of this blog series for executives. 

In this edition, I’ll be discussing the three most critical success factors when it comes to sales enablement.

Did sales enablement success factors change during COVID-19? 

The COVID-19 crisis has challenged all areas of our lives; not only in business. There are almost no comfort zones any longer. If we just zoom in on the impact of COVID-19 in business, we can make a few observations. 

One observation is that all the challenges businesses experienced over the last couple of years, such as stagnating sales productivity and performance and a lack of organic growth, were covered up by a good economy. Then, COVID-19 hit us and the growing economy came to an end — some would say to a full stop. Although we are starting to recover in some areas, the revenue holes were deep and still hurt a lot.

Think about this for a moment: 57% of salespeople didn’t make their quota last year, according to a Salesforce study. Win rates for forecast deals have been below the win rate of gambling in Las Vegas for years. This means that organizations achieved their growth targets by acquisitions (buying revenue) or by hiring more people with average or below average performance. Or, the revenue came from other sources. Think about the selling potential of customer service and success teams, and think about the growing number of online shops, product and checkout pages also in the B2B space.

The essence is: Even if organizations achieved or grew their top level numbers, how these numbers were achieved did not improve. 

COVID-19 brought the underlying challenges that already existed to the surface.

What happened is that the need to flatten the curve and for entire sales organizations  to work completely remotely shed a spotlight on these challenges and their root causes.

One of the root causes of all productivity and performance challenges is a lack of alignment

Now, with many companies scrambling to maintain effective collaboration between remote employees, a lack of alignment is becoming a bigger problem every day. 

Alignment is a term that’s used all the time but rarely defined. As a former analyst, I’m a big fan of defining the terms I use to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Alignment, according to Merriam Webster, is “the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other,” and “an arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another.”

In fact, a lack of alignment regarding vision, strategy and goals can be seen as the number one root cause of other issues. Based on a lack of alignment, other existing issues are either created or worsened. Think about ineffective sales processes, inconsistent messaging, insufficient customer experiences and the need for strategic integration. 

A strategic sales enablement business function — based on a smart strategy, effectively aligned to business goals and challenges and empowered by state-of-the-art technology — is the foundation and engine to solve your alignment challenges along the entire customer journey.

There is horizontal alignment and there is vertical alignment. Effective sales enablement requires both.

“Adjustment of parts in relation to each other” is the key here. Let’s explore this a bit. 

Horizontal alignment is about the positioning and adjustment of teams, functions and processes in relation to each other.

“In relation to each other” brings us to the idea to align horizontally, on the same level, with other functions such as with marketing, marketing with product management, sales with customer experience, and all of them to each other.

Horizontal alignment refers to aligning on a cross-functional level, a prerequisite for effective collaboration. This is the form of alignment I’d expect any sales enablement leader to be focused on. And if they don’t, it’s your responsibility as an executive to coach them in this direction. 

Many sales enablement leaders already focus on horizontal alignment because they want the cross-functional collaboration  to be more effective. They try to solve the issue on an operational level, and that’s not working. The reason there are so many enablement teams still collaborating with other teams on an adhoc basis and in an informal manner, unable to scale their efforts, is the absence of vertical alignment.

Vertical alignment is about the adjustment of enablement to the customer, the business strategy, other strategic initiatives and executive stakeholders and sponsors. 

This form of alignment is often underestimated and most of the time much harder to achieve as it requires different skills and takes a lot of time. However, it’s absolutely essential if you want your enablement initiative to move the performance needle. 

Vertical alignment has three facets of alignment: to the customer, to the strategy and other strategic initiatives and to senior executive stakeholders and sponsors. 

Sales enablement cannot exist in a vacuum. It always has to be aligned and connected to certain entities, such as the customer journey, other strategic initiatives as well as the objectives of senior executive stakeholders and sponsors.

Now, I invite you to join me in looking at alignment in more detail, and then to analyze the three critical sales enablement success factors through the lens of alignment.

#1: Effective sales enablement requires customer journey alignment 

This is about vertical and horizontal alignment. Let’s begin with customer-centricity and the whole idea of making customers the primary design point for sales enablement.

Solving selling challenges can only be effective if addressed through the lens of how the customer journey is aligned to the internal selling processes.

Customer journey alignment refers to how well your internal selling processes, from marketing, to sales, to customer success, are coordinated with the customer journey (vertical alignment) and each other (horizontal alignment). It is vital that the customer journeys for the most relevant selling and buying scenarios have been mapped out with customers, assisted by CX, marketing, sales and customer success.

You want to make sure that these journeys are defined on a high level for new customers, for existing customers (renewal and up- and cross-sell scenarios) for all relevant offerings you are selling. Then, it’s about making sure that the steps your buyers go through are adequately reflected in your selling processes. How it is done and why it matters is detailed here. The essence of it is this:

Only 19.0% of organisations purposefully align their internal selling processes to their buyer journey. But these 19% moved their win rates by 17.9%. 

The reason for such a big impact on sales effectiveness is this: The more and the better your processes are aligned to how your customers want to buy, the lower the risk is that your salespeople will ever run into any kind of buyer/seller misalignment. 

This success factor requires both qualities of alignment: vertical alignment from the outside (customer) to the inside (marketing, sales, service). Then, the internal processes have to be aligned to the customer journey (vertical) and to each other (horizontal).

These levels of alignment cannot always be achieved by the sales enablement leader alone. Ideally, their sponsors and senior executive stakeholders make this a top priority and lead accordingly via the sales enablement advisory board or steering committee. And that leads us directly to the second critical success factor.

#2: Effective sales enablement requires strategic alignment to business strategies and other initiatives 

How you run sales enablement should be strategic, formal and ideally charter-based. Again, sales enablement cannot exist in a vacuum. Being aligned to the organization’s business and sales strategy isn’t an option; it’s mandatory if you want your enablement team to drive results.

As discussed two weeks ago, sales enablement as the engine to drive your digital transformation efforts has to be closely connected and aligned to the business strategy and additional strategic initiatives. Only then can your enablement engine deliver on business and sales strategies’ main goals.

The evidence is very clear: Organizations that get this right (only 16%!) have significantly better sales performance results, such as win rates for forecast deals of 55% compared to organizations that run sales enablement in a tactical and project manner that only achieve win rates for forecast deals of, on average, 39%. For more details, check out CSO Insights’ Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Study for all the steps that need to be taken and the impact you can expect.

In a nutshell: Strategic alignment is the secret sauce to sales enablement success.

Let me add a few thoughts on how to get aligned with other strategic initiatives. Usually, there are multiple strategic initiatives underway on senior executives’ list of top priorities. One way to achieve strategic alignment is to get sales enablement under the umbrella of an already existing strategic initiative (vertical alignment). 

This method is only beneficial if the umbrella initiative is a company-wide, leading initiative, like global digital transformation. However, this method is not recommended if the umbrella would be the current CRM initiative only. In that case, it’s important to get horizontally aligned with the CRM program. 

If there is a company-wide strategic CX initiative, sales enablement can either align or integrate. But the latter only makes sense if this CX initiative covers the entire customer journey. If that’s not the case, both initiatives should be positioned and aligned in parallel (horizontal alignment).  

#3: Effective sales enablement requires senior executive and stakeholder alignment

This type of vertical alignment is absolutely crucial; it means executives deeply understand their role, their goals and the challenges they are trying to solve. 

This success factor requires having the previous one in place. Only if you understand the business strategy and specific goals can you prioritize initiatives. 

The biggest challenges enablement leaders face is not getting aligned to their senior executives’ expectations and delivering on their expectations. It’s getting access to them. That requires specific skills — professional selling skills to be precise. 

So, when your enablement leader wants to check in with you, allow it to happen, even if they didn’t use the best technique to get on your calendar. The work they do could significantly impact the metrics you want to achieve. Helping them actually means helping yourself to succeed.

Explain the background of each metric you care about and what it means in practical terms. If you need 10% growth in a certain market, make crystal clear what last year’s number was and what the actual numbers are. In other words, set your goals and desired results in the context they need to help you achieve them.

If your goals are more specific, such as average deal size or a certain percentage of net new business, sit together with your enablement leader to create a target strategy and implementation plan to get there, designing an approach that covers everything including messaging, content, training and coaching. 

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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