Published: August 7, 2017
Sales and marketing professionals are increasingly focusing on sales enablement as a way to grow their revenue.
It's the latest buzzy management strategy capturing the attention of executives, with 29 percent of companies saying it is their No. 1 marketing priority in the coming year, according to Hubspot's 2017 State of Inbound report on sales and marketing trends.
What is Sales Enablement?
Sales enablement is a system for managing your sales practices that affects not only your daily tasks, but also your organization’s sales culture, LinkedIn has said before. It’s the process of providing the people in your sales organization with the information and tools it needs to sell more effectively.
Key to that is ensuring that your sales team has the information, data, content and tools it needs at ALL points of the sales process at the time that it needs them, with a focus on the customer and his or her needs and wants.
Sales enablement is interdisciplinary. It crosses traditional organizational boundaries—sales, marketing, technology—to marshal all of the strengths of a company toward one goal: Improving revenue.
Sales enablement is measurable and iterative. Every step in the sales process can be tracked and the resultant data can identify pain points, dropped balls and opportunities for improvement.
And sales enablement is continual. Tech firm Highspot, which offers a sales enablement platform, describes it as an ongoing process:
Connecting sales teams to the most relevant content for each opportunity in the buying cycle
Providing flexible ways to present content to customers
Delivering real-time visibility into whether customers find content engaging
Applying advanced analytics so pitches and content can be optimized
Enabling sellers to get the training they need and measuring how effectively that training delivers bottom line results
The key elements of sales enablement can include the following:
- Customer focus
- Training and coaching
- Technology and tools
Let's break this down.
A successful sales enablement process begins with a company's strategic sales vision: What are its goals, what are its weaknesses, what are its strengths, how things can be changed. Here's how CSO Insight's Tamara Schenk puts it:
"Strategic means that the business strategy is mapped to sales execution to derive a specific enablement scope that’s tailored to addresses an organization’s weaknesses, gaps and strengths to execute the business strategy successfully."
Naturally, building a sales enablement strategy requires a clear sense of a company's existing sales process. And that means a comprehensive audit.
Hubspot calls it a sales process audit: an in-depth, data-backed analysis to discover areas where sales performance could be improved.
The most immediate way to derive valuable insights from business data is to agree on a set of standardized sales reports. Reporting needs vary from company to company, but some common reports are:
- Activities logged by salespeople
- Product demos delivered
- Deals won and lost
- Leads generated / worked
As an example, an audit may reveal that a sales team performs many demos a month, very few of which result in a closed deal. If that is so, it suggests that the demo may be flawed and need revision.
KnowledgeTree advises mapping the full sales process: "Not just leads to revenue. It’s before leads. It’s post-sale. It’s contracting. It’s support. It’s every engagement a customer has with your company that matters. Every interaction that influences their decision to spend money with you."
There are several ways to conduct a sales process audit. But no sales enablement plan can succeed without one.
"The key to sales enablement success is methodical prioritization, defined execution strategy and aligned structure," according to SiriusDecisions.
CSO Insight's Schenk says this is simple: "What separates world-class performers from all others is their ability to make the customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders their main design point."
That means knowing whether a lead is a good fit for your company, knowing where that prospect is in the buying process and tailoring messaging and content to suit that customer's needs at the time she needs them.
And that's an information problem that can be solved, TOPO said: "Provide sales with the resources the buyer wants."
Of course, it helps if you know who your customers—and potential customers—are.
Savvy companies ascribe scores to assess their contacts and prospects based on data about how good a lead fits their business.
A company with a local reach would rate leads in its region as having greater weight than those in other states or nations, for example.
A company that best serves small businesses would similarly give a higher score to a prospective customer with fewer than 20 employees compared with one with more than 100, say.
All of this information can inform a company's customer relations management software to help prioritize customer contacts.
Content and information are at the heart of the sales enablement enterprise. That encompasses your company's customer case studies, whitepapers and eBooks, demo decks, pricing and discount information and competitive intelligence briefs, Hubspot says.
It also includes all of your company's internal best practices, research and tools, which are used by your sales and marketing teams, TOPO says.
The first step in creating a sales enablement content strategy is a full content audit to assess the quantity, quality and effectiveness of that content.
Key to a successful sales enablement strategy is literally getting everyone on the same page.
Brainshark describes it this way:
"The more assets reps have at their disposal, the more prepared they’ll be to effectively engage with prospects and customers. Once again, video can be a powerful tool for nurturing opportunities and on-demand communications, but whitepapers, data sheets and other content types are also useful. Similarly, approved and compliant PowerPoint presentations or product demonstrations are especially critical for live and in-person conversations."
Finally, sales enablement best practices recommend rigorous testing and iteration of content initiatives. KnowledgeTree says seasoned sales enablement teams test marketing content in the top of the funnel to determine what resonates with prospects: "Campaigns driven by email or social, for example, can be tightly focused on particular messages. The results can then be measured and tuned."
Training and coaching are crucial in ensuring that sales enablement programs are implemented and effective. "Sales people must know how to use the resources you provide to them," TOPO advises.
KnowledgeTree says that customer-facing teams—the primary point of contact between your customers and the company—need to be knowledgeable about your products, their value, cost, challenges, success stories and other key elements.
That requires training and ongoing reinforcement of those lessons. "It’s not enough to simply have an onboarding session and hope that the team will remember," KnowledgeTree says:
"Stats show that the bulk of training is forgotten mere weeks after training happened. Instead, it’s significantly more effective to push training material to reps as they need it—based on the sales context they are in. When sales training material is pushed to reps and other customer-facing employees 'just in time,' they are much more likely to use it, and it’s more likely to be valuable. And as you build up sales enablement training, focusing on practical elements more than esoteric elements can further reinforce its use."
Brainshark recommends multimedia training. "Whether you are onboarding new hires or providing resources for existing reps to access on the go, you need to create content that's engaging and promotes learner retention. For example, since people are generally better at retaining information they can both see and hear, our customers have found on-demand video to be a valuable training asset when used along with other in-person and traditional learning formats."
Technology and Tools
"Technology is not the savior for your sales enablement efforts," KnowledgeTree says. "But it can be a critical way to reinforce or rapidly extend the impact of your sales enablement plan. That’s because tooling by its very nature focuses on repeatable steps and the elimination of actions that add little value or require higher-level thinking."
Hubspot observes that sales was a heavily manual business only a decade ago, but now, "many processes that used to be entirely manual can be automated for the salesperson, enabling them to sell better and faster."
Here are some ways to use technology and tools to facilitate your sales enablement strategy, according to Hubspot:
· Create Email Sequences. Sales enablement professionals can craft follow up email sequences that automatically trigger if a prospect has not responded to the salesperson in a set amount of time. Using personalization tokens for contact and company details in email sequences tailors the message to the specific prospect. Sales reps often send dozens of follow up emails per day. Automating the follow-up process with "set it and forget it" sequences saves the rep hours of unnecessary work.
· Automate Prospecting. Automated prospecting is a set of emails sent in a salesperson’s name that include direct links to his or her calendar. Prospects who are ready to buy can schedule a conversation with the salesperson using the calendar link. Sales reps open their calendar every morning to find multiple meetings with qualified buyers, saving them hours of prospecting time.
· Implement Direct Messaging. There is no better time to chat with a prospect than when they are already on your website. Setting up live chat on a website allows sales reps the opportunity to engage and close interested contacts in real time. To avoid wasting reps’ time with bad fit contacts, sales enablement professionals should use filtering criteria to ensure that live chat boxes are only surfaced to high-quality leads.
The best sales enablement programs track and enforce whether resources are being used across the sales organization, TOPO advises. Some of the more meaningful sales enablement metrics that you should track include average sales cycle length, number of reps achieving quota, and average deal size.
Sales Enablement Tools
There are several off-the-shelf tools available to companies interested in booting up their own sales enablement process. Business2Community recently ran down a few of the better ones.
Before implementing a new enablement tool, B2C recommends asking these questions:
- How well does this tool fit into our existing sales process?
- How will this tool help us better understand our customers?
- Will this tool provide the data our team needs to succeed?
- Are there proven case studies featuring this tool?
Here are some of the new sales enablement software available to your teams:
Allbound: The company offers a Partner Sales Acceleration tool that allows companies to register deals, organize leads, and generate personal landing pages for each prospect, as well as tailor marketing content to each lead. Its specialty is enabling channel partner programs.
Attach: This tool allows a sales team to gather data on how prospects interact with sales content: Did they open it? Did they share it within their company? Did the content affect the buying decision? The tool also offers insights into how to modify content to improve sales and allows all members of a sales team access to access your content through a central hub.
Chorus: This tool uses AI to break down sales calls and generate actionable data to improve them. It records, transcribes and analyzes each call in real time and reveals what works and what doesn't. The analyses can then be used to coordinate best practices across the team and stand as examples for future training.
Social Port from rFactr: This tool gives your sales team a way to leverage social media to share your content across platforms at the appropriate time for your clients. "Sales teams can easily find and share content optimized to impact the buyer’s journey, attract new leads, and grow key accounts," rFactr says. "It is the one place marketing and sales can work together and track results to the places that matter most – like your CRM."
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