First published in Training Industry’s “Expert Opinions on Sales Enablement.”
Sales enablement is a nebulous, often undefined term. Since no single definition of sales enablement exists, companies and industry organizations are defining sales enablement on their own terms. One example is Forrester’s definition: “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.”
Whew! In fewer words, sales enablement is simply the process of investing in improved sales execution. However, knowing what enablement is doesn’t necessarily mean knowing how to accomplish it. Many sales leaders do not always know how to operationalize it on a daily basis. Fortunately, research reveals that the “how” of sales enablement boils down to six high-impact activities:
The first two elements, structuring the sales force and recruiting/hiring, focus on building the proper foundation of the sales force. The last four elements (training, coaching, equipping and assessing) focus on the continuous improvement of the sales force’s capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at each element individually and review the activities that are necessary to effectively operationalize sales enablement
1. Structuring the Salesforce
An organization’s structure directly impacts the productivity of its sales force. By taking a step back and evaluating your organization’s structure, you can spot areas that might be hindering your sales force. For instance, how many reps are assigned to each manager, and how accessible are the managers to those reps? If your managers are overwhelmed by a large team, or if they manage a team that is spread out geographically, sales team performance can suffer. Also, how much access do your sellers have to internal resources such as technical engineers or specialists? If access to these resources is not readily available, sales teams will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to improving performance.
2. Recruiting and Hiring
Recruiting and hiring the right number of sellers directly impacts sales force performance. When an organization has enough sellers to sufficiently cover the market, it can maximize sales performance by capturing all its market opportunity. However, the right market coverage is not enough; sellers must also have the skill and talent to succeed in their roles. Hiring mediocre salespeople results in greater effort with fewer results. Furthermore, sellers must be a fit for your sales organization’s culture. If any of these elements is misaligned or missing, sales performance will suffer from a lack of sufficient talent.
Sales training is, of course, a well-known component of sales enablement, and it remains one of the most powerful means of developing a sales force. While sales training almost needs no explanation, it is worth noting that there is a blind spot in a majority of sales training agendas: training sales managers. While most frontline sellers receive lavish training investment, sales managers are a neglected lot who mostly receive generic coaching and leadership training. If there is one area of sales enablement that research reveals as both high-impact and lacking, sales management training is it. Without question, training both salespeople and sales managers in critical skills and knowledge is a recipe for long-term sales success.
When it comes to sales enablement, individual coaching of salespeople is perhaps the most valuable activity in developing a sales force. However, coaching is also difficult to get right. Effective sales coaching doesn’t just happen during everyday conversations or in sporadic meetings; it must be intentional, purposeful and structured. As you think about how to enable your own organization’s sales coaching activities, give particular attention to the rigor with which it takes place. In addition to providing guidance on how to do sales coaching, you might also need to set expectations for why coaching is critical, how often it should take place, where the coaching interactions will be held and what content should be covered during meetings.
Sales enablement is heavily dependent on equipping sales forces with the right tools and resources for people to do their jobs. Tools range from sales presentations to proposal templates to communication devices and customer relationship management (CRM) tools. But there is a catch: More is not always better when it comes to sales tools. Sales tools must be robust enough to enable consistent sales performance but not so over-engineered as to inhibit their adoption. Give salespeople and their managers what they need to get the job done, but don’t overwhelm them with tools that don’t directly support their efforts. Tools must be operationalized into the sales manager and salesperson’s daily workflow. Don’t expect your sales force to figure out how to incorporate tool usage.
You cannot know if your sales force is developing and improving if you don’t measure and assess its progress. Assessment must be built into your sales enablement process – both to determine which initiatives will have the greatest impact and to measure progress toward your stated objectives. Consider choosing a few key metrics at the individual seller, sales management and organizational levels so you have a complete and balanced view of your sales enablement outcomes.
In the end, sales enablement is simply the process of investing in improved sales execution. If you focus your efforts on the six high-impact areas described above, it would be impossible for your sales force not to improve. And, after all, that’s what sales enablement is all about.