If you work in sales, you have sales enablement. You just may not be using it as effectively as possible.
Sales enablement is about giving your sales team information, content and tools they need to sell more effectively. It includes the processes, procedures, content, and training sales professionals need throughout the buying journey.
It’s the stuff most organizations already have but may not have it organized and optimized.
Get your sales enablement under one umbrella
If you have the content, tools, training and processes in place, you can adopt – or optimize – sales enablement to systematically get it all under one umbrella. That unifies and democratizes the sales cycle: Every salesperson can expertly access the right tools at the right time for a consistent, ongoing experience that moves the sale forward.
“It’s all about providing tools, systems, processes, training, coaching, and development that ‘enables’ sales to be more effective and efficient,” says Dave Brock, CEO, Partners in EXCELLENCE, author of The Sales Manager’s Survival Guide.
Where sales enablement came from
and where it’s headed
Larger organizations first dabbled with the idea of sales enablement in the early 2000s after SAVO partners Drew Larsen and John Aiello championed the idea. They felt too many salespeople weren’t effective because they spent too much time buried under red tape, clerical tasks and disorganized content – and they set out to change that.
In the late 2000s researchers at Forrester made it official, formally defining sales enablement:
A strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.
In the years that followed, some mid- and small-size organizations have been able to adopt the sales enablement concept (and sometimes the technology that helps organize and track its effectiveness).
And now? It’s good news.
Almost 60% of sales teams that adopt enablement tools and a formal program say their sales efforts are effective or very effective, according to research by Highspot and Heinz Marketing. Meanwhile, just 35% of sales teams not using sales enablement tools or a formal program consider themselves effective.
Sales enablement today is about content development, sales communications, training and coaching, engagement tools, and the technology to optimize it all. (Most organizations leave things such as territory planning, transaction management and compensation to Sales Operations).
Enablement content & tools must be customer-centric
Anyone involved in the sales process – and most especially, salespeople – are part of the sales enablement program. But they aren’t the center of it.
Customers are the foundation of sales enablement. Every piece of content, process and discussion should be mapped around what customers expect and want at each point in the buying journey.
Sales professionals want to align their customer-facing efforts and employee training with the customers’ definition of the buying experience – not the journey you think it should be.
Then the objective is to provide salespeople with customer-centric resources geared to help them communicate value in a clear, consistent and compelling way at the right time.
Note that sales enablement isn’t a one-and-done project to be reviewed in a few years. It’s a program that evolves as customers’ needs and wants change. The content, training, tools and approaches will evolve.
Increase prospect engagement with sales enablement
A solid sales enablement program – that links all the moving parts that previously may not have been linked together – will improve performance because it gives salespeople the most effective ways to engage customers at the right time.
If content, processes and training are backed by up-to-date data on customer expectations, salespeople are less likely to miss opportunities to engage.
They’ll have the right sales collateral at their fingertips the moment they need it. They’ll send email and post valuable, relevant content on social media at the right time. They’ll track conversations and build on what’s been covered. They’ll expertly present with ease and simplicity.
“Across all organizations, sales enablement is seen as a critical business function with meaningful impact on improving conversion rates, increasing sales productivity and improving ability to sell,” say authors Matt Heinz and Jeff Day in their State of Sales Enablement study. “These have direct impact on both top-line revenue and cost-per-sales which impacts margins.”
Fill sales enablement programs with quality content
No doubt, every organization already has content. It’s any information – in print or online – that builds your brand, explains your position, provides information or makes the customer experience better. It can also be what’s behind the scenes – the content that helps salespeople do their jobs better such as training material, best practices and collaboration tools (more on these in the Train and coach section below).
Content’s value is in quality, not quantity. A little useful information at the right time is more effective than a wealth of unclear information dumped all the time.
“Content is quickly becoming the force multiplier of most modern sales organizations,” says Scott Albro, CEO and founder of TOPO, a research and advisory firm. “In fact, good salespeople are now using content as a crutch, preferring to let high-quality content do the talking.”
Sales enablement content comes in many forms and needs to evolve with the industry, customers’ needs and the channel in which it’s delivered. It’s used more heavily in the later stages of the sales cycle (as opposed to marketing content, which usually attracts leads and converts them into prospects).
Here are seven kinds of sales enablement content and tips to make them high quality:
- Tip sheets. These one-page pieces should offer glimpses on a specific area of your product or service. They should highlight the benefits and how the product or service is an effective solution to the problems prospects face. Keep them in an easy-access space – such as your cloud solution – so salespeople can get to them quickly.
- Social media. Salespeople can use social media to engage meaningfully – not just socially – with prospects with the right content. Use it to share in-depth blog posts, previous social media content or short videos that are relevant to what prospects or you post.
- Email campaigns. Many email campaigns follow a sequence based on the information that should come next. Ideally, your content bank should include email messages that can be plucked and sent when it makes sense for those messages to reach individual prospects. That way, salespeople can pull the template that fits the prospect’s level of knowledge, interest and timing.
- Case studies. They can be created as video testimonials or written documents, and they should focus on the benefits customers gain from using your company’s products and services. A solid format: Explain a challenge that a customer faced, how you stepped up and made a positive difference (with service, an innovative solution or specific product) and the positive result.
- Blog posts. Quality blog posts have a long shelf life and can be used throughout the sales cycle. Long-form posts can be built to educate prospects. Salespeople, C-Suite executives, product specialists and service or technical experts can write (or contribute to them). They won’t replace salesperson expertise, but they’re a valuable go-to that can be accessed and referenced at any time. Longer posts can also be broken down into one-page references for times when easy-read is a better approach.
- White papers. You might use white papers or eBooks as gated content for early-stage prospects. But these in-depth content pieces can help continue conversations throughout the sales cycle. They need to be rooted in research and statistics that are practical. Avoid stilted language that often comes with research.
- Competitor research and analysis. It’s not just important to know what competitors are doing and offering. It’s important to show prospects in a professional way how you compare to that. Include how competitors connect and work with their customers – and what lacks. It’s up to you if you want salespeople to learn and share the information or show it to prospects.
With all that content, one question that comes up is, “When do we use it?” Unfortunately, there’s no research-proven system on the delivery of content. Yes, prospects might respond better to social media posts in the morning or email in the mid-morning, but those aren’t absolutes.
The key to timing is to keep content easily accessible so it’s ready when the time is right.
Arm salespeople with effective sales enablement tools
Whether you have a deep sea of content or are building a good-size pool of content, it’s your first sales enablement “tool.” Use your cloud, intranet or CRM system to create a content library and continue to fill it as quality content is created.
Other tools for sales enablement:
- Infographics. Some salespeople and prospects are visual learners. Everything from benefits and competitive comparisons to research stats and whitepaper highlights can be whittled down to infographics that can accompany other content or stand alone for quick reference.
- Videos. You can use anyone from salespeople and service pros to warehouse workers and the CEO to show your products in production. Have experts explain the processes behind your services. Get customers to share thoughts on the benefits. Keep videos short and easily accessible. Salespeople may not want to spend too much face-to-face time showing videos, but they’ll want them to include in social media and email.
- Webinars. If you have them, use them. Schedule a recurrence of an event that knocked it out of the park, so salespeople always have an upcoming webinar to invite prospects. Create a library of all webinars that worked well, and salespeople can tap them for social media content and email follow-up.
- Podcasts. Have your best-spoken salespeople talk with customers and/or in-house experts to create podcasts. Avoid super-prepared interviews, which result in unnatural, stilted conversations. Or hire professionals to create high-quality podcasts that include well-written scripting and audio effects.
- Presentations. If you your top salespeople or company executives presented at an industry or community event, record it. You can use the video to show expertise in the field and educate prospects (as long as it’s not a sales pitch).
- Apps. If you’ve had one created, consider it a tool that can be introduced at the right time in the sales cycle.
Train and coach to optimize sales enablement tools
Sales training is an always-on, continuous sales enablement effort. Having the content and tools is a major part of a program. But they’re useless if salespeople don’t know how to use them effectively.
“It is clear that quality content and knowledge transferred through training are critical activities that sales enablement teams must drive to reach their business objectives,” say Heinz and Day in their study.
Here are ideal times for training and coaching.
- Onboarding. New-hire training should include an emphasis on the critical role sales enablement plays in attaining quota. As they get familiar with the existing content and tools, new salespeople will recognize the ideal tone to use with customers. The more they understand and embrace the tools, the more likely they’ll use – and contribute to – them throughout their careers.
- Formal training. Most experts agree that annual training isn’t nearly enough (especially if it’s crammed into a yearly event that’s meant for fun, too). You want to incorporate monthly formal training that includes a look at new sales enablement content and tools, plus a review of what works best.
- Electronic hits. Send e-newsletters weekly with success stories. Send a daily email tip. Ask salespeople to share short success stories at least quarterly. Make it even easier by giving them an outline as simple as this: Problem. Solution. Result.
- Best practices. Invite salespeople to help create a library of their best practices. Give them an outline for this, too, so their best practices don’t turn into recorded war glory stories.
- Collaboration tools. Create and offer platforms where salespeople can share and learn from each other. Try chat rooms or conference calls with moderated, scheduled events monthly. Use internal social media for salespeople to post issues and concerns and get immediate colleague feedback.
Let technology aid, not lead, sales enablement
As with most things in sales, you probably want to track and measure the sales enablement effectiveness. Technology is good for that, as well as a springboard for success.
Best practices are usually built on well-founded processes, employee and leadership focus, rewards and consequences. Technology can only track and measure those are in place.
Here are some key metrics you’ll want to track with sales enablement technology that works best for you:
- Time to revenue. How much does your sales enablement program help reduce the time required to close a sale?
- Quota attainment. Are more salespeople reaching quota more often?
- Time spent actively selling. Does the sales enablement program help increase the time salespeople actively engage prospects?
- Content usage. How efficiently do salespeople and customers use the content – based on unique visits, time spent on the content and other quantifiable factors?
- Sales funnel transition rates. Does the use of content and tools reduce the time it takes salespeople to move from one stage in the funnel to the next?
- Average win rate. How much does the sales enablement program increase the ratio of closed won deals to the number of won and lost deals?
- Number of closed deals. How does the program affect the rate of closed deals in a specific timeframe?
- Product mix. How much does the sales enablement program increase the percentage of products/solutions included in a closed deal?