You could go to one of the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, train with a master dessert chef, use the best ingredients and still produce a deflated mush of eggs, sugar, dark chocolate, butter, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. You could have even made the dessert perfectly three times in a row and still fail on the fourth try.

 

How’s this possible? In cooking, just as in sales, there are many variables that affect the final outcome other than the training you received. For instance, you might be using a stove that doesn’t heat evenly, or you might not have the proper ramekin in which to bake your puffy work of art. Your sous chef might not have beaten the egg whites sufficiently for liftoff. You could even produce the perfect soufflé only to discover that your intended diner was allergic to eggs.

 

To be a great salesperson, just like a great chef, takes not only the right training. It also takes the right tools, the right departmental and cross-departmental collaboration as well as the right research so that you’re selling the right person the right product at the right time.

 

Sales enablement is all about making your sales team effective—meaning it should produce higher sales numbers if it’s working properly. Using the soufflé analogy, the discipline can be viewed as what a company does to help its sales staff produce a fluffy masterpiece each time for a diner who is ready, willing and eager to partake. Viewing sales enablement in this light makes it clear that sales training, with which it is of- ten confused, is just one part of the enablement process, rather than its equivalent.

 

So what actually does sales enablement entail? The definitions of the activity are varied, but gradually a consensus is emerging. Whereas sales training takes place at a certain time on certain designated days, sales enablement should be an ongoing and evolving function. It reflects organizational attempts to address the disruption of the sales process and sales strategy from the accelerating pace of technology development and adoption, as well as the econom- ic upheaval from two recessions that have affected global markets since the turn of the millennium.Simply put, the point of sales enable-

 

Simply put, the point of sales enablement is to coach sales people individually with customized guidance appropriate to the situation through the successful completion of deals. The function should provide them with:

 

  • Sales Strategy - Win RateThe best and most current information. This might include demand generation and lead management or social prospecting.

     

  • Solutions—technological or practical—to overcome problems in the field as they develop

     

  • Tools appropriate to their needs and the needs of their clients, which ensure their maximum effectiveness at their jobs

     

  • Chief among the goals of any good sales enablement effort should be to get sales people knocking on the right doors to sell the right products at the right time. That requires in-depth and up-to-date research that, sadly, many sales teams can’t get their hands on expeditiously. Producing a steady stream of qualified leads, which may necessitate collaboration between sales and marketing, should contribute to a more effective process. Many salespeople also talk about the need for coaching in the field. While training sessions are great, they are almost always hy- pothetical. The sales team often runs into real-life snags that may require some coaching from more experienced hands to resolve. SBI research has uncovered three common gaps in sales enablement operations.

     

These three deficiencies interfere with an effective outcome:

  • Sales enablement efforts aren’t aligned with the needs of the buyers: This means that the sales enablement function doesn’t understand the objectives, obstacles and key metrics of the buyers. The key to making a sale must revolve around solving a problem or providing an opportunity for a buyer. Sometimes a buyer has to switch gears on strategy and a good sales team should adapt to help achieve the new objectives. A salesperson can’t do that without walking around in that buyer’s shoes for a while. Ultimately, sales training should aim to get sales people to think about the buyer’s needs and then sales enablement needs to provide them with sufficient information to take the proper actions.

     

  • Sales enablement is not aligned with the company’s product strategy: In this case, the sales enablement function isn’t producing the kind of collateral the sales team needs to sell the product. The last mile of a sale—that is, when the sales rep comes calling—can often vary greatly from rep to rep unless sales enablement provides easy-to-use material for the reps to use that’s consistent with the sales strategy. Failing to provide this can mean that a sales team may miss opportunities to sell to other divisions in the buyer’s company. Or the sales team could miss an opportunity to push a new product. For instance, when the company rolls out something new, there needs to be a defined strategy for selling it, a list of prospective clients, and material and presentations that support the effort. In the quest to meet numbers, teams often pick low-hanging fruit unless they’re provided a ladder.

     

  • Sales Enablement Business ObjectivesSales enablement fails to reflect the company’s overall corporate strategy: The best way to tell if this is a problem is to focus on the goals of various departments. Does marketing see things the same way as product development or field sales? If they don’t, there’s probably a communication problem within the organization

     

    Is there an ultimate structure for a sales enablement function? To be effective, it has to crisscross various departments, although there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

     

About the best an executive can do is to follow a checklist of behaviors that will ultimately lead to an effective structure:

 

  • Review sales, marketing and product strategies: Effective sales enablement must be connected with all three strategies to make any one of them successful.
  • Align your strategies and provide the necessary resources to be effective. This will involve reviewing initiatives, processes, modalities, tactics and resources, and seeing that each speaks to the strategies in a similar way.
  • Determine how many people are needed in sales enablement and which departments they should represent: Given that sales enablement involves so many daily interactions with sales and other departments, the team may need to be bigger than originally thought. Those assembling the functions need to also keep in mind the modes and channels being used to pursue the sales strategy. At the end of the day, improving and realigning your sales enablement efforts may be the most pivotal decision affecting growth you can make.

 

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Leading the Sales Team As CEO

This month, our cover story profiles Jack Lynch, the CEO of Renaissance Learning, the educational analytics company that counts Google Inc. among its investors and was acquired last year by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $1.1 billion. You’ll get a close-up look at how Lynch has worked to transform Renaissance’s sales operation and improve market penetration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Estrella

Helps clients grow by creating innovative go-to-market strategies.
Learn more about Eric Estrella >

Eric specializes in helping clients solve some of the most prevalent go-to-market problems in today’s complex selling world. He is an expert in many industries including software, telecommunications, ecommerce, manufacturing and technology. He helps them align strategies and develop go-to-market programs to lower the cost of customer acquisition and increase customer lifetime value.

 

Recently he developed corporate, product, marketing and sales strategies for an emerging telecommunications solution provider that resulted in a quadrupling of revenue and EBITA in two-year span.

 

Eric’s background in strategy, sales operations and enablement allows him to provide thought-leadership in emerging best practices in sales and marketing.

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