Solving the Mystery of Successful Sales Enablement

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Solving the Mystery of Successful Sales Enablement

This post originally appeared here in’s blog Quotable.

There’s no question about it: Sales enablement is a difficult task that is compounded by an enormous amount of confusion. To clear the smoke and bring some much-needed clarity to this function, it’s important to take a look at what sales enablement actually is and how to tackle it for greater success within your sales organization.

What exactly is sales enablement?

Sales enablement has varying definitions across the industry. But our research, conducted with Florida State University, led to what we see as a much more useful definition of sales enablement: “Sales enablement equips salespeople to offer the right solution, at the right time, using the right strategy, the right sales message, and the right sales tools in the different situations they face.”

While some definitions may refer to a buyer and a buying process, our definition notes, critically:

  • Salespeople face a variety of buyers
  • Within a variety of buying processes
  • That form the various buying situations they must address

Selling is not a one-size-fits-all affair. It never has been, and it never will be. High-performing salespeople know this intuitively, while their lower-performing peers are eager to learn the one best way to sell. It doesn’t exist.

No single sales methodology exists.

Our research with the Florida State Sales Institute revealed that any single sales approach or methodology is only effective between 20%–25% of the time. High-performing salespeople are often the least likely to formally adopt a single methodology. We also discovered that buyers believe salespeople struggle to adapt to their unique buying situations. In fact, these buyers told us that only 12% percent of salespeople they deal with on a regular basis effectively adapt to their situation. Yet 81% of the same buyers say that the salesperson’s ability to align selling tactics to their particular buying situation played a major role in their decision to proceed with a purchase. What are these buyers saying? If your sellers are trying to use a single methodology, they’re not going to buy from you.

The news for sales enablement professionals is not all bad. Most sales enablement efforts effectively equip salespeople to align products and services to customer needs, as well as to build fundamental sales skills. Where enablement efforts go awry is in the last part of our definition, two simple words that have dramatic implications: using the right sales tools in different situations.

No single situation exists either.

The implications for sales enablement professionals are clear. There is neither a single buying situation, nor is there a single approach that works across all situations. To enable salespeople in a way that ensures effectiveness, salespeople must be equipped to accomplish three things:

Identify the various situations they face

Select the best sales strategy for that situation

Execute that strategy effectively

There are four-to-six unique buying situations per solution sold.

Our research found that most salespeople face between four and six unique buying situations for the solutions they sell. In order to be effective, they must first be able to properly categorize a particular opportunity into a specific situation. We call this first important skill situational awareness. It is the first and most important skill salespeople must have in order to align their approach with the buyer’s situation. It is important for your salespeople to properly identify the target if they have any chance of hitting it.

The second important skill is the ability to select the best sales approach to use for a given buying situation, or what we call situational readiness. Our study of more than 3,000 high-performing salespeople identified four patterns of behavior that are employed across a variety of sales situations. That’s right. Four patterns of behavior, or sales approaches, not one.

So, which of the four approaches should a salesperson select for a given buying situation? Well, let data be your guide. It is possible to glean not only the situations your sellers face, but also to tease out the specific approaches your highest performers use to win in those different situations. Studying your own historical sales performance can take the guesswork out of the enablement task.

The future of successful sales enablement.

The success of your company’s sales enablement lies in leveraging company analytics. Use it to determine how your particular buyers buy and to identify which sales approaches work in each unique situation. The third and final element to effectively enabling your salespeople: ensuring that they can execute different sales strategies proficiently. Salespeople need skills training and reinforcement to help improve their ability to adjust their selling approach to each specific situation. Without constant practice, the situational insights are dead on arrival.

So that’s it really. Three simple activities (identify, select, execute) address the two oft-ignored words in sales enablement (“different situations”). Do this and you’ll be a sales enablement winner.