What is sales enablement?

Answering the question “what is sales enablement?” is a tricky proposition. Sales enablement is a complex, cross-functional discipline, one that is constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing requirements of today’s sales organizations. There are lots of different ways to define sales enablement, and all of them are valid.

Let’s start with Forrester’s sales enablement definition:

“Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.”

The key takeaways from this sales enablement definition are:

    1. Strategic – sales enablement is a high-level undertaking. It requires planning, forecasting, and a deep understanding of your potential customers and the problems that they need to solve.
    2. Ongoing – sales enablement is never “done.” Product positioning changes. Content that may have helped close deals three months ago may no longer be relevant. A fundamental function of sales enablement is ensuring that sales teams are empowered with the most up-to-date information, content, and tools to sell effectively.
    3. Consistent and systematic – when we talk about sales enablement, we are talking about driving uniformity of delivery across the go-to-market organization. By applying best practices across training, content management, and sales processes, you provide a winning framework that drives greater sales effectiveness.
    4. Valuable conversations – Sales enablement has been a driver of the shift from transactional sales interactions to consultative sales conversations. Buyers are more informed than ever, with access to huge amounts of research on you and your competitors. Sales reps are no longer experts by default; they now need to be experts on merit. This is where a well-oiled sales enablement machine can be the difference maker.

What other definitions of sales enablement are out there?

SiriusDecisions also has a nice definition of sales enablement:

  • The goal of sales enablement is to ensure sales reps have the right knowledge, skills and process to maximize every buyer interaction
  • Sales enablement should improve the lifetime revenue contribution of reps
  • The key to sales enablement success is methodical prioritization, defined execution strategy and aligned structure

Of particular value here is the focus on “aligned structure,” specifically the alignment of sales and marketing to facilitate better buyer conversations.

Bridging the gap between sales and marketing should be a top priority of any sales enablement function. As savvy buyers grow weary of static, cookie-cutter presentations, the importance of arming your sales reps with relevant, personalized, dynamic content is hard to overstate. The statistics tell their own story:

  • 66% of buyers want more relevant content (IDG)
  • 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online and on their own (Forrester)
  • 80% of B2B buyers report that meetings with sales pros do not meet their specific needs (Forrester)

Keeping prospects engaged requires an understanding of their problems as well as your solutions. It also means accepting that the conversation that your prospect wants might not be exactly the one you prepared for – and ensuring that you have the flexibility and tools to deal with that.

What does sales enablement success look like?

Measuring success in your newly minted sales enablement strategy means defining some key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect your sales enablement goals. What are you trying to achieve? What constitutes success?

Lead-to-conversion rate

The number one goal for any sales organization is to close more deals. From a sales enablement perspective, the key indicator of a successful program will be your sales team converting a higher percentage of leads into closed business. Naturally there will be some external factors that influence this number, such as changes in go-to-market strategy or wider market conditions, but a positive trend in conversion rate is a good sign that your sales enablement strategy is empowering your sales team to make the most of the opportunities that are being generated.

Sales velocity

As this excellent Marketo primer on sales velocity spells out, “sales velocity plays a huge role in your business’ ability to thrive and grow. The less time it takes for prospects to move through your pipeline, the faster you can close more deals.”

One focus of your sales enablement strategy should be to increase your organization’s sales velocity through improvements in product training, lead nurturing, and sales process optimizations. Are there any bottlenecks in your sales cycle? Are prospects taking too long to move down the funnel? These are things that a good sales enablement function will be able to identify and remedy, permitting a smoother transition from lead to closed business.

As with most KPIs, sales velocity is impacted by many factors. For example, your average deal size may increase meaning that your sales cycle becomes more complex, leading to your sales velocity slowing down. Knowing this, you can leverage sales enablement strategies to optimize your sales process, or factor in this slower velocity for more accurate, actionable sales forecasting.

Content usage

High-quality content is absolutely paramount to any effective sales team. Buyers want to see relevant, compelling content that addresses their own individual pain points and provides them with the data they need to make an informed buying decision.

Marketing teams are producing more and more content, but do you know which content is actually effective for your sales team? Gaining insight into the efficacy of your sales content is the first step in providing key content recommendations to your sales reps. KPIs to consider here include:

  • Email opens
  • Content downloads
  • Video views
  • Content shares

By evaluating how content is shared and engaged with by different prospects at different stages of the sales cycle, you can ensure that the right content is shared at the right time to move things forward.

How do I get started with sales enablement?

Starting out on a sales enablement strategy can seem intimidating. As mentioned above, sales enablement is a cross-functional discipline with many moving parts. One of the most common questions we see around sales enablement is “how do I get started?”

To answer this question, we’ve created a free ebook ebook – How to Build a Sales Enablement Strategy: First Steps. In this guide, we’ll share our key insights and provide you with the foundational framework to build a killer sales enablement strategy.

Sales enablement is the path to sales effectiveness. By focusing on content usage later in the sales cycle, sales and marketing teams can continually improve the content, messaging and methods businesses need to convert and close deals.

Download the ebook to find out how a focus on enablement, not just productivity, can deliver:

  • More accurate internal sales forecasts
  • Shortened sales cycles
  • Insight into content ROI