I wrote a whole chapter about the origin of sales enablement in my book, Effective Sales Enablement. I’d highly recommend checking that out, but I’ll give a summary here.
Where did the term “Sales Enablement” come from?
For a long time, up until the Industrial Revolution, selling goods and services was not complicated because our lives were not complicated.
Then, the invention of the steam engine changed everything.
People started building complicated machines using steam engines to automate things and make our lives more efficient. Slowly, we started building more and more complicated devices and machines on top of complex devices and machines.
For example, we used steam engines that were already pretty complicated to build trains, which were even more complicated.
We also used automated assembly lines that were involved and sophisticated to build Model-T cars, which were also complicated.
All the various parts and components required detailed explanations from the people selling them to demonstrate how everything worked together, which in turn required training.
And selling devices and machines got even more complicated when the computer was invented.
Imagine you were an IBM sales representative who needed to sell an enclosed box to the government or various enterprises. What would you say as your pitch?
Therefore, in the early ’80s, IBM coined the term sales enablement.
The term refers to the process of training sales so that they understand the complicated products they are selling, allowing them to explain things in a way that buyers can comprehend.
Initially, sales enablement was really about sales training and onboarding.
Even since, the term has expanded to encompass everything we need to arm sales with so that they can do their jobs.
It could include creating content they need, using account-based marketing to complement their sales approach, etc.
Here is my expanded definition of sales enablement:
Deliver a positive customer experience by equipping sales with knowledge, skills, processes, and tools through cross-functional collaboration to increase sales velocity, sales attention, and productivity.
Should you have a sales enablement team?
It depends. The answer to this question has a lot to do with the vision of sales executives and how the sales organization is being supported, especially in B2B marketing efforts.
I have seen sales organizations with a proper sales enablement framework. I have also seen organizations that don’t have sales enablement planning groups. But rather have parsed the functions out to different groups such as sales ops, marketing, field marketing ops, the product team, IT, and even HR.
Sales ops and IT both manage tools. Marketing does sales-centric content and vets leads.
Marketing ops work with sales ops and IT to ensure marketing and sales tools talk to each other.
The product team takes on messaging and sales training. HR works on talent acquisition and hiring.
The vision of sales executives is vital. Their insights will guide sales enablement functions and determine whether or not a dedicated team is needed for sales support.
In general, if the sales team is not getting the support they need from various groups, the likelihood of forming a sales enablement team is much higher.
In addition, it’s a headcount and budget discussion.
Where should the team reside?
I have seen sales enablement as part of product teams or business units.
I’ve also worked with sales enablement teams as independent groups within sales organizations.
In some cases, sales enablement is part of marketing; this is especially true when marketing is actively involved in lead generation, content creation, and even sales messaging training.
I have also witnessed sales enablement as part of HR; in this case, the key function of sales enablement is more about sales onboarding and training.
Sales executives need to look at their whole organization structure and sales enablement function to determine where the group resides.
What trends do a sales enablement (or marketing) team need to comprehend to support sales teams better?
In my book, I mentioned twelve trends that sales executives need to be aware of to make necessary changes in sales organizations and stay competitive.
For example, millennials joining the salesforce; training gen X (born 1965-1981) and Gen Y (born 1982-1994) is much different than training a Baby Boomer (born 1945-1964).
Sales organizations and sales teams, on the whole, need to continue to evolve due to the changes in product, technology, and buyers.
Training is essential for selling complicated products. Gen X, Y, and Z will likely need to be trained differently than a Baby Boomer.
For Baby Boomers, you can use long-form and classroom training materials. Gen X, Y, and Z may prefer short-form and digital online training.
They do different types of show-and-tell as well.
To support sales on training, you need to consider how everyone consumes content.
The evolution of sales has much to do with technological evolution.
Many sales technology platforms help sales become more effective and efficient.
To support sales on technology selections, you need to consider what tools sales need.
Sales generally don’t like to change or take time to learn new tools.
You need to think through what tools you want sales to spend time learning to use.
Don’t implement too many tools at once. Roll them out in phases.
Check out Gong’s list of five of the best sales enablement tools.
The Internet, digital media, and even the pandemic have impacted how buyers purchase or behave. Therefore, it massively impacts how salespeople engage with customers.
For a long time, sales have visited their clients several times to close deals. With the prevalence of virtual meetings, how will sales engage with clients in the future?
The switch to mostly virtual communications also has an impact on sales hiring. Do we need to hire people near our client base anymore?
How will sales enablement evolve in the next several years?
I am not fond of making predictions. Selling, especially regarding technology, is going to get complicated. That’s just a fact!
The biggest challenge moving forward is finding a way to explain a complex idea or product in simple terms that your buyers can understand.
The age-old messaging, such as what to say and how to say it, will continue to challenge sales, product, and marketing teams. Many companies continue to struggle with that. Check out my messaging framework if you need help.
With buyers’ attention spans getting shorter and shorter, we need to think about the types of content and outreach communications that will get their heads turning. What can we do so that it’s not creepy?
Content needs on the sales side will continue to amp up. The key is not more content; it’s the quality and delivery of the content. I wrote a blog post about reusing, repurposing and refreshing content. Check it out.
Technology will continue to play a critical role in helping sales unravel buyer intent.
Sales professionals and marketing teams will continue to evaluate new tools and incorporate their findings into the sales stages.
Sales professionals will need to continue to learn new platforms and tools. Salespeople hate that. Getting sales teams motivated to learn new tools will be another big challenge.
There is no dull moment if you are supporting sales.
How to measure sales enablement success?
One question you need to answer: how does sales enablement measure its success by working closely with sales?
Does it depend on what your sales enablement does in your company? As I said, the function of sales enablement is different from company to company.
If increasing sales velocity is important, then you need to ensure that’s part of the success metrics.
The way to measure sales velocity is to make sure that you can see sales enablement’s contribution to shortening the sales conversion rate or however you define sales velocity.
Then, work with the team to set a process to measure that.
Is the content created by sales enablement helping to accelerate sales engagement? Are training and onboarding helping sales to get ready to sell new products? Will sales feedback answer the questions?
Finding ways to quantify your contribution is super-critical as part of sales enablement.
Then, you need to define the processes to track your metrics. Setting a process to measure success takes time and resources. Make sure you proactively set it up when you finalize your success metrics.
How do you think sales enablement will continue to mature and evolve in the next few years?
I believe it is vital for each company to look inward to evaluate its processes.
There are things that salespeople always complain about, especially when they are not getting enough support.
For example, the number one reason is that they can’t find the right content at the right time and place.
Can you ensure that all the sales-centric content and training are properly tagged with the right keywords, detailed descriptions, product names, product families, content owners, even expiration dates, etc. so that salespeople can find them whenever they need them?
Here is the key – the maturity of your sales enablement function comes down to how well your sales team’s challenges are being addressed.
That’s how you need to evolve by addressing their challenges.
I’ll be cheering you on as you continue supporting your sales team!
Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have questions or want to work through a specific challenge you’re experiencing.