Why is Sales Enablement Growing in Importance? Experts Weigh In

August 13, 2019

Sales Enablement

Editor's Note: As 2020 approaches, we're looking back at some of 2019's most popular posts on the LinkedIn Sales Blog. This guest post, which was contributed by John Moore, Vice President, Bigtincan, ranked No. 14.

Sales Enablement has been around since cavepeople tried to sell fire to the Neanderthal family at the top of the hill. Sales Enablement is not a new topic, of course, but it’s one that has become all the more important in the last decade. This post will explore why.

Before we dive right in, however, let’s take a minute to level-set on our definition of Sales Enablement. Here’s how I define it:

Sales Enablement is the process of helping sales efficiently move prospects to the point where they can make a favorable buying decision.

In this article, I will first share with you why I see Sales Enablement as growing in importance. I have also asked several other thought leaders and practitioners for their opinions on this subject and included their thinking as well.

According to the Demand Gen Survey of B2B Buyers from 2018:

  • The majority of B2B buyers have a buying committee of 1-6 people with 8% of those surveyed have more than 10 people involved. 
  • 65% of buyers are using peer recommendations and review sites as part of their research for solutions.
  • More than 60% of respondents noted the importance of sellers to demonstrate the following knowledge: a) of the industry and the problems typically arising in the industry, b) 0f the company and insights into their business problems.

Salespeople cannot afford only to demonstrate their products and show off the fantastic feature sets. They must bring insights and advice to their prospects to help them to understand their business problems in the context of their industries. 

They must help the customers fully explore their company’s issues, consulting as they go, to guide them towards the right solutions. These solutions may require integrations between multiple systems, which only adds to the complexity of their tasks.

Compounding those challenges, salespeople are spending less than 40% of their time selling; they are spending the rest of it on prospecting and administrative tasks (according to the LinkedIn State of Sales report). It's little wonder, therefore, that  57% of salespeople fail to achieve quota (according to Salesforce data published in 2018).

In this environment, Sales Enablement — which focuses on identifying and fixing gaps in your sales cycle, which delivers training for salespeople, which provides the right content to the salesperson at the right time — is only growing in importance. 

Buyers are expecting more from sellers and sellers have to be able to access knowledge just-in-time, online or offline, to be that on-demand expert.

Sellers are spending far too little selling.  We must eliminate, or at least reduce, the impact of non-selling activities.

Sales Enablement, done right, can help businesses overcome these ever-increasing challenges. Here’s why experts in the field believe Sales Enablement is growing more crucial.

Tamara Schenk (CSO Insights)

There are a couple of reasons, internal and external reasons. The main driving force is external in nature, the rise of technology, the modern buyers, and their constantly changing buying behaviors and preferences. The modern buyers’ four preferences define one of the reasons for sales enablement’s growing importance. They expect sellers to be prepared, to be excellent on all communication channels, and they expect sellers to provide insights and perspective that help them to solve their problems, and they also expect them to focus on post-sale.

These continually changing buying behaviors require a complete rethink of existing selling models. Rather than “pitching” products or solutions, modern buyers expect salespeople to understand the business problem they want to solve, and that requires a problem-focused discovery and a “therapy to cure the disease” approach which is providing insights and perspectives that help them solve their problems and achieve their goals. Very different from product-oriented selling approaches.

The main internal reason is that almost every function wants to help sales to sell better. However, what they do is provide lots of stuff for the sales force, but designed from their functional perspective. And marketing, product management, sales ops, sales management, IT, L&D, legal, etc. do this, in parallel, every single day. Imagine what that means for salespeople? Confusion. Inconsistency. Craziness. What they get is inconsistent in nature and not designed to engage, equip, and empower them to be more effective.

That’s the main reason why sales enablement is growing in importance: because it’s defined and set up as a collaborative discipline to drive predictable sales results, to orchestrate ALL enablement services along the customer’s path to engage, equip and empower customer-facing professionals and their managers to be valuable, relevant and differentiating in every buyer interaction.

Mike Kunkle (SPASIGMA)

I believe the potential future of sales enablement is tremendous and I remain a hopeful fan. The function of sales enablement has grown rapidly, in my opinion, because the sales profession, in general, and the revenue generation machine in most organizations is simply not optimized and does not operate at full capacity. (And that’s being polite.)

Context reigns, and there are exemplars and exceptions, of course (at the far right of the bell curve), but speaking in generalities of the middle:

  • Marketing and sales departments are often misaligned
  • There is a preponderance of product pitching and seller-oriented behavior
  • Truly buyer-centric sellers or sales forces are relatively rare, on the far right on the bell curve
  • Qualification practices are poorly implemented, if used at all
  • Forecasting is a dice roll or guessing game
  • Sales process is loosely managed, and often doesn’t align to buying process (which is its own mess, but we can still manage to exit criteria)
  • Executive buyers say sellers know their own products, usually, but do not possess business acumen, or understand their roles, their goals, or their businesses
  • About half of sellers meet their quota, while most organizations do make their number (meaning: top producers carry the company).

I could go on, but the point is, in most companies, there is an opportunity for radically better sales performance. That’s why Sales Enablement has grown, and hopefully, will continue to grow in importance. To get there, though, we’re going to need to take a more methodical, systems approach, and build on the many performance improvement disciplines that have come before us, rather than reinventing the wheel. It may also require a gradual shift in sales leadership, as the old guard – who grew up in a very different era of selling – segues. But that’s the answer to an entirely different question.

Heather Cole (SiriusDecisions)

In concept, good sales enablement is a no-brainer — it takes all of the well-meaning intentions for improving sales productivity from across the organization and structures these efforts to bring them to fruition. Unfortunately, in many situations it can often feel more like herding cats than a well-orchestrated  symphony. Organizations who do it well have likely been enabling for years but have come to realize that the function of enablement is more like a ring leader that defines requirements, interprets information into sales usable formats and does not try to control and own all aspects — they just make it work for the sales teams and their daily reality.

But, let’s face it, enabling reps is not actually something new — many functions within companies have been “enabling” reps for well over 100 years. In 1887 NCR basically wrote the first sales playbook to better enable reps to do their jobs in the field… in July 1916 the inaugural World’s Salesmanship Congress was held in Detroit and drew over 3,000 people, including business leaders such as Henry Ford and the keynote speaker-the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. No, enabling sales is definitely not a new concept and its importance has long been recognized. 

So why does it seem that we are hearing about it so much more today? 

Maybe it is because companies are starting to recognize that they need to move beyond mere random acts of enablement inflicted on reps from a variety of sources and that it needs to be a comprehensive strategy that delivers exactly what sales teams need, at the time of need based on the expectations of the role and the reality of the environment that they work in. In other words, moving from the little e — enablement (random acts from different sources) — to the big E- Enablement (the function). 

Bernie Borges (Vengreso)

My first sales B2B role was in the 1980s. What hasn’t changed in three decades is the need for sales reps to have good listening skills. But, how we listen has changed a lot.

Another sales skill that hasn’t changed in 30 years is presenting our solutions to prospects and customers relative to our competition.

But, how we present and for that matter how we communicate with our prospects and customers has changed a lot. (I don’t remember the last time I sent a fax, for instance).

In my view Sales Enablement is leadership’s answer to Einstein’s definition of insanity. Simply stated sales leaders cannot equip their sales teams for success the same way I was equipped for sales success in the 80s, 90s or even 10 years ago.

The modern buyer needs a modern seller. Trust remains a high bar to achieve with buyers. I argue it’s harder than ever to establish trust with buyers because of the all the noise. The way modern sellers earn trust now requires an enablement strategy that aligns with the modern buyer’s behavior.

Sales enablement is the practice of equipping sales teams with the skills, tools, content, practices, processes and mindset to be a modern seller for the modern buyer. Einstein would’ve coined the Sales Enablement phrase first if he was still walking among us.

Spencer Wixom (Challenger)

Smart Sales Enablement will become significantly more important as the environment where sellers operate grows more complex and competition for customer attention and loyalty increases. Has anyone in sales seen things move in an opposite direction recently?  

Psychologist Linda Hogarth described wicked learning environments as ‘Martian tennis’ — or a game where you’re not fully aware of all the rules and those you know constantly change. I’ve found no better description of the modern complex sales environment.  

When and how customers engage with sellers is uncertain and changing; same for the number of stakeholders involved in a purchase; same for the types of solutions and experience customers look for. No individual seller has the knowledge, experience and energy to manage this. Technology-centered enablement; that is well designed, executed and measured by enablement professionals, has the promise of turning ordinary sellers into Sales Centaurs. They are much stronger, jump higher and run faster than anyone with a pair of regular legs could ever dream. That’s the future I see, and I’m looking forward to it.

Bob Britton (Sales Enablement Sherpas, LLC)

First, we need to understand that every company in existence enables its sales function. If you onboard your sellers, that's enabling them. Product training — enabling. Marketing — enabling. Legal & contracting — enabling. This is absolutely nothing new.

What is new is the coining of the phrase "Sales Enablement," and even as I type the word "enablement" here in this editor it's still got a squiggly red line under it because it's not recognized by whatever dictionary the spell check tool this online platform is using. So, in one sense, people are getting a little distracted by the term, instead of looking under the hood and seeing what it's doing.

Under that hood, I feel the reason for an increasing focus on Sales Enablement is a growing frustration with lackluster sales performance in an age where technology is enabling everything to move at near light speed. Sales has never been easy for a lot of reasons, but the expectations of today's businesses that sales should be getting easier, based on all the promises made by technology vendors, are not aligned with this simple reality: Sales is still very much a human endeavor, and hyper-efficiencies created by technology are not translating into hyper-effectiveness. Complexity and complication are increasing rapidly due to the advent of technology. There's so much noise in the system that it's becoming difficult to find the right notes that resonate with sellers and buyers, and businesses are turning their attention to Sales Enablement as a means of wrangling that complexity and complication.

* * * * *

Thanks to Bernie Borges, Bob Britton, Heather Cole, Mike Kunkle, Tamara Schenk, and Spencer Wixom for sharing their wisdom on Sales Enablement. While there are slight differences of opinions as to why sales enablement is growing in importance, there are no disagreements amongst this group that it is becoming more critical to the success of today's businesses.

Buyers are more sophisticated and better educated than ever before. The pace of technological change is not slowing. Communities of buyers can self-educate in ways they could not have dreamt of before.

You must continue to ensure your sales teams are well educated about your solutions; this is not changing. However, it is even more critical that they can collaborate with customers and prospects in a consultative manner that understands the business problems they are encountering, that can provide advice as to how others are overcoming these challenges. 

Companies that leverage a consultative selling approach, enabled by modern sales enablement approaches, will be the winners in this ever-changing marketplace.

To keep pace with the latest thinking in sales, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Blog today