Succeeding with Sales Enablement: Definition, Tools, and Strategies
November 7, 2018
What is Sales Enablement?
As you read this, sales enablement is on the minds of sales managers and executives everywhere. In competitive markets, smoother sales enablement processes can be one of the single biggest differentiators when it comes to edging out alternative solutions and winning business.
Let’s take a look at what the phrase means today, and how companies are getting it right.
Sales Enablement Definition
At its core, the concept is simple: Sales enablement is equipping your sales team with strategic resources it needs to excel, from tools to technology to content and beyond.
Even the greatest golfers in the world can improve their scores and rankings with the help of better clubs, superior training, and more intel surrounding the courses they play. This same concept applies with sales enablement, because even an extremely talented rep stands to benefit from the right support and structure.
In the modern digital setting, B2B sales enablement solutions are often buyer-focused, with an underlying goal of helping sellers target the right buyers and engage them effectively throughout the customer journey. It’s about removing any barriers that might inhibit smooth interactions and a seamless buying process. And, it’s also about helping sales reps show expertise and credibility thanks to content and training.
Given that selling is now fraught with arguably more inherent barriers than ever before (have you answered a cold call or email this year?), it’s easy to see why sales enablement is being prioritized by organizations worldwide.
Pam Didner, marketing consultant, writer, speaker, and author of 2 books: Global Content Marketing and Effective Sales Enablement, shares her thoughts on why sales enablement is critical for every B2B company:
“Salespeople can't go it alone anymore in the digital era. Sales enablement is essential if the purchase cycle is long and the products and services require education and explanation. They need to be properly trained and equipped with relevant knowledge, tools, and processes from customer outreach through deal closing. This is especially true in B2B, technology or complex sales."
Sales Enablement Benefits
If we work under the base assumption that most salespeople are capable in their jobs, and that what they’re selling is valuable, then sales enablement offers the clearest avenue for teams to gain competitive advantage and tap unseen opportunities.
Here are some primary benefits yielded by a focus on sales enablement:
By uniformly equipping its sales reps with proven sales enablement tools, an organization becomes less reliant on traditional top performers to carry the load. This support helps laggards reach quotas, and propels sellers into the next tier.
Stronger Sales Data
With so much B2B commerce now taking place online, sales enablement technology has rapidly gained prominence, and many of these solutions specialize in data — collecting it, organizing it, and activating it for the sales team. Insights around buyer preferences, pain points, and personas help sellers reach prospects with a more tailored approach, which is crucial at a time where 64% of B2B decision makers say they won’t engage a salesperson if the communication is not personalized.
From some perspectives, this is the foremost objective for sales enablement initiatives and is certainly a desirable outcome. With better data and tools at their disposal, sales reps tend to have snappier access to what they need, and superior intel leads to more purposeful conversations. A study by Aberdeen a few years back found that sales reps were spending up to 43 hours per month researching, pointing to widespread room for improvement.
Alignment with Marketing = Sales Productivity
Optimal use of supporting content in the sales process is often a key component in the enablement equation. Salespeople are more successful when they can provide prospects and leads with the right materials at the right time. As such, strengthening the relationship and collaboration between sales and marketing is a major aspect of sales enablement — one with many branching benefits of its own.
Improved Seller Brand
Not only do positive digital interactions help your company’s brand, they help your sellers gain credibility as industry experts and thought leaders who clients want to engage for ideas. Savvy modern sellers attract clients.
Principles of Sales Enablement
The idea of giving a sales team what it needs to succeed is a broad and ambiguous one, but there are some overarching guidelines that can help you design a sales enablement strategy in our present landscape.
Focus on the Buyer’s Journey, Not the Sales Cycle
In a world where Uber and Netflix are conditioning people to expect tailored, on-demand experiences, adoption of the right sales enablement tools helps B2B companies align with the times. It’s no longer about pushing prospects through an archaic sales funnel. Enhancements to the sales process should focus on this fundamental shift.
As we’ve written here at LinkedIn in the past:
“Sales enablement recognizes that effective selling requires identifying key moments in the buyer’s journey, and building a strategy to reach the consumer with the right content at the right time. A best in class enablement solution helps organizations achieve this via targeted content with personalized sales messages.”
Provide Buyers with the Right Content at the Right Time
Borrowing a phrase from the excerpt above, B2B selling is really about being timely and opportunistic. Since purchase research is now more autonomous than ever, sales and marketing must work together to identify touchpoints and triggers, and then engage with a message that resonates.
Effective sales enablement isn’t only fueled by buyer data and insights, but also your company’s own internal data. This, in turn, allows you to improve and optimize by reinforcing what works and altering what doesn’t. Only 35% of sales teams track the effectiveness of their content. Sieze this opportunity by being a super star in that 35%.
Setting Up a Winning Sales Enablement Process
Most companies have some form of sales enablement in place. According to the 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Report, nearly 60% of companies now have a dedicated enablement person, program, or function. As recently as 2013, that number was lower than 20%.
But there’s always room to grow, and even organizations that emphasize this imperative miss out on important elements along the way.
Here’s a look at four vital steps to ensuring sales enablement success:
1. Imprint a Culture of Collaboration and Adoption
Yes, sales enablement software and tools are important, but the tools don’t matter much unless you get your people in order first. Take steps to maximize cross-functional collaboration, and make sure you’ve got the dedicated resources to train and acclimate your salespeople to any new solutions that might come into the fold.
2. Choose Your Sales Enablement Tools, Content, and Practices
You’ll find a multitude of options out there. Finding the right fit depends on your specific business type, industry, operational structure, and sales strategy. We’ll cover a few of the sales enablement solutions offered by LinkedIn later on, but generally speaking, these are the common categories:
Sales Intelligence Software
Content Management/Sharing Platforms
Customer Experience Management
Sales/Marketing Automation Software
AI and Predictive Analytics
3. Base it On a Foundation of Marketing and Sales Alignment
No discussion about sales enablement would be complete without touching upon marketing and sales alignment. Marketing and sales teams need to be intertwined to ensure your brand is delivering one seamless experience to your customers. Though sales enablement is not the same thing as marketing and sales alignment, alignment is crucial to enablement success. Poor alignment around goals, strategies, and measurement can derail sales enablement efforts, while strong alignment can dramatically impact the sales team’s productivity and outcomes.
4. Put a Team in Charge of Management and Oversight
As mentioned earlier, sales enablement solutions are only helpful if salespeople use them and understand how to get the most out of them. To this end, it’s beneficial to have dedicated people in place to keep things on track and running smoothly.
Sales Enablement Team
Building off of step three, let’s go over makeup of a sales enablement team. As Seismic has noted, “simply increasing sales rep headcount is no way to address sales enablement issues. But building the right team, a team that’s dedicated to the strategic elevation of the sales enablement organization, will.”
So, how might this team take shape? It’s advisable to incorporate the following roles:
Sales Enablement Manager
This individual takes charge of sales enablement initiatives, taking ultimate responsibility for successful implementation and ongoing management. As Shankar Ganapathy puts it, “A sales enablement manager takes the lead in creating a consistent sales onboarding and training experience that is rigorous and data driven.”
In some cases, this duty falls upon a sales leader in addition to their existing managerial duties. In larger companies, sales enablement manager can be its very own position.
Describing his experiences at HubSpot, Mark Roberge wrote that developing a modernized sales enablement process “requires an unprecedented level of sales and marketing alignment. We try to align every possible aspect of these two teams, so that our goals, pains, and processes are as similar as possible.”
To best facilitate such a collaborative environment, it’s helpful to have at least one marketing leader directly involved with your sales enablement team, serving as a conduit and voice to represent those goals, pains, and processes from the other end.
As with any major business initiative, it’s important to set the example from above. We recommend having at least one of your organization’s C-level executives on the sales enablement team, participating in meetings and reinforcing the urgency. Ideally this will be someone with experience and proficiency in both sales and marketing, so they’re able to understand and bridge both sides.
Salespeople and marketers don’t always have the time or expertise to pore over data and maximize its impact. Because of this, many companies will assign an analytics specialist to the sales enablement team.
Why is Sales Enablement Important for Marketing and Sales Alignment?
Think of sales enablement as the bridge between marketing and sales. While marketing plans and executes strategies to reach, engage and convert prospects, the sales team puts many of the marketing team’s tactics into play. The messages, content and offers that marketing creates enable sales to better do their jobs of engaging the right prospects at the right time.
Pam Didner sees the biggest mistake marketers make with sales enablement is a tunnel-vision focus on sales training and development. As she says:
“Sales enablement is about delivering a positive customer experience by equipping sales teams with knowledge, skills, processes, and tools through cross-functional collaboration in order to increase sales velocity and productivity. Many marketing elements such as email marketing, partner marketing, and even social media can be used to accelerate sales conversions and engagements.”
5 Steps to Improve Sales Enablement Through Marketing and Sales Alignment
Your organization can put in place a system of alignment that ultimately improves sales enablement. This system is built on five pillars that enable better marketing and sales orchestration, which in turn fuels sales enablement: Strategy, Technology, Process, Measurement and Communication.
Step 1: Partner on Data-Driven Decisions
The first step is for marketing and sales to create a joint strategy by partnering on internal and external data to inform their focus. Today companies can call upon more data than ever to drive smart targeting. The goal is to use this data to identify and isolate the best sales opportunities, and figure out where to focus marketing and sales efforts.
The teams should talk about:
- What customer types and geographies matter most
- What solutions matter most to these customer types in these geographies, and in what time frame
Without understanding these basics, marketing will run campaigns that aren’t aimed at sales’ target buyers and that don’t align with the conversations the sales team is having with prospective customers.
Step 2: Connect Marketing and Sales Automation
The next step is operationalizing that data using marketing and sales technology to reach the full buying committee. To get there, you need to connect your sales and marketing automation systems to create a unified database.
When marketing and sales technologies don’t talk to each other, marketing and sales prioritize different companies and people. In some cases, these audience focuses do not overlap. In other cases, they might even be in direct conflict. The ultimate objective is audience alignment.
Audience alignment enables a deeper partnership that yields the best results, because both sales and marketing are most engaged with the target audience. Agreeing up-front to strategy, and ensuring systems share a view of the target audience, gets marketing and sales closer to true alignment.
Sales can focus on the core of the buyer committee, being precise about talking to decision makers and key influencers. At the same time, marketing focuses on identifying and reaching additional people who might influence or somehow become part of the extended buying committee.
Step 3: Partner on ABM Tactics to Optimize the Buyer Journey
Strategy and technology go nowhere without the right processes in place. When it comes to sales enablement, marketing and sales wants to ensure they are aligned day in and day out through processes. Start by determining if the teams are aligned around these basics:
- Definitions: What is a marketing qualified lead? What is a sales ready lead?
- Routing: When should leads be sent back to marketing? Is sales informed on marketing content and offers?
- Feedback: How does marketing get feedback about leads from sales?
Even with these basics in place, it’s a mistake to view alignment as a simple handoff. Unfortunately, many companies focus their alignment efforts around efficient handoffs.
Your goal is a well orchestrated marketing and sales process aligned with the buyer journey. Partner on account based marketing (ABM) tactics to optimize the journey:
- Align on the audience: Who’s on the buying committee? Can marketing target a persona based on relevant titles and seniority, for instance?
- Create ABM lists: These lists will augment your buying committee targeting. Sales should identify the companies that marketing should prioritize in its outreach and engagement.
- Nurture engagers: Marketing should prioritize engagement by focusing on the buyers engaging most with your content, rather than just those who qualify as leads.
- Act on data signals: Lead form conversion isn’t the only indicator of interest. Seeing that multiple people within a single company engaged with 10 or 15 pieces of your content on LinkedIn is a sign that your sales team should reach out. Marketing should notice these data signals so it can trigger sales to reach out with relevance to engage the most promising buyers. At the same time, marketing can adjust its targeting on the front end by noticing who is engaging with content and offers.
Step 4: Align on Business Metrics That Truly Matter
One of the biggest points of marketing and sales friction beyond lead definition is a differing viewpoint on metrics. Since revenue is a shared responsibility, marketing and sales should align on the KPIs the business cares about, the metrics that are powering your business.
Here’s how Pam Didner sees it:
“Sales and marketing need to have clear objectives and metrics. At the end of the day, can you tie your sales enablement efforts to select sales metrics? The best way to convince executives to invest in sales enablement is to show that your sales enablement efforts have a positive impact on sales teams.”
Yes, marketing will still track engagement rates, cost per lead (CPL) and number of qualified leads. But the executive team cares about average deal size, cost per acquired customer and customer lifetime value (CLV). By discovering CLV in conjunction with your customer acquisition cost (CAC), you can surface a clear and compelling picture of ROI at a high level.
When marketing and sales are aligned in this way, they break down barriers by driving toward the same outcome. Aligning on measurement improves the day-to-day relationship between marketing and sales, and creates the combined power to ask the business for future support around sales enablement.
Step 5: Formally and Consistently Communicate
A regular cadence of communications impacts the success of sales and marketing alignment more than any other element. It builds rapport, makes room for qualitative discussions to validate insights, and provides an opportunity to change course as needed.
Communication must be an everyday, two-way street augmented with moments that matter – such as quarterly business reviews where marketing and sales discuss business performance together.
This regular communication helps marketing optimize investments. It also helps sales leadership understand how the sales team is engaging leads, which can then be used to direct coaching efforts aimed at improving performance. Through a feedback loop and working group sessions between marketing and sales to discuss issues – such as lead quality and engagement – you can surface issues like fake data on lead forms, etc. that help improve lead quality. You’ll also get the chance to share feedback on what works well so marketing can shift investments accordingly, such as redirecting funds to partners delivering high-quality long-term leads.
Outside of listening sessions and quarterly reviews, sales should involve marketing in forecast calls so they understand the pain points in the business and which sales teams are doing well. These insights can help marketing determine where to shift and prioritize investments so they can bolster flailing sales efforts.
Don’t underestimate the power of this communication. It’s essential for everyone to understand what both marketing and sales are doing to deliver more customers and higher average customer value over time.
Combined, these five pillars get marketing and sales speaking the same language and finding tactical ways to focus on same companies and contacts while improving each other’s efforts. Communication helps with sales enablement but it also helps validate measurement and inform future strategy, and gives sales the chance to raise concerns about the technology used to route leads and the process for handling those leads.
Sales Enablement Solutions on LinkedIn
At LinkedIn, we offer several solutions designed to power up today’s sales teams:
This is our flagship product for sellers. Sales Navigator helps your team access the full extent of LinkedIn as a platform for digital selling. Rated by users as a leader in sales intelligence software, Sales Navigator helps your team target the right prospects, understand buying committee structures, and engage decision makers with personalized outreach.
Equipping sellers with educational and persuasive content is central to sales enablement. PointDrive offers a better way to share such collateral with prospects and customers, allowing teams to build unique, personalized, branded content packages.
With PointDrive, sales reps can deliver select images, videos, presentations, and more without resorting to cumbersome email attachments that don’t get opened. Plus, you can track engagement with every piece of content. PointDrive is available as a built-in feature of Sales Navigator.
PointDrive is a visual product that words simply dont do justice. See for yourself how beautifully it can power your sales conversations.
A Comprehensive Sales Enablement Strategy
Recapping all of the information covered here, a fulfilling recipe for sales enablement should include the following ingredients:
- Shifting focus from the sales funnel to the buyer’s journey
- Aligning marketing and sales by connecting automation tools, partnering on ABM tactics, and consistently communicating
- A repeatable blueprint for delivering relevant content at each stage of this journey
- Deep measurement and a data-driven culture
- The right process for developing a robust sales enablement program: imprinting collaborative habits, choosing the right sales enablement software and tools, putting a team in place to coordinate
For the ultimate resource on how to align your sales and marketing efforts for a seamless customer experience, download The Art of Winning eBook.