I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Sales enablement is a nebulous, often undefined term in the world of sales. Since no single definition of sales enablement exists, companies and industry organizations are defining sales enablement on their own terms. One example is Forrester’s definition of sales enablement, which defines it as “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 lifecycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.”
Whew! In fewer words, sales enablement is simply the process of investing in improved sales execution. However, knowing what something is doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do something. Many sales leaders have a sense of what sales enablement is, but they do not always know how to operationalize it on a daily basis. Fortunately, a portion of the research Vantage Point Performance conducted for “Cracking the Sales Management Code” reveals that the “how” of sales enablement boils down to six high-impact activities.
The first two elements, structuring the sales force and recruiting/hiring, focus on building the proper foundation of the sales force. The last four elements (training, coaching, equipping, and assessing) focus on the continuous improvement of the sales force’s capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at each element individually and review the activities that are necessary to effectively operationalize sales enablement.
Structuring the Sales Force
How your organization is structured directly impacts the productivity of your sales force. By taking a step back and evaluating your organization’s structure, you can spot areas that might be hindering your sales force. For instance, how many reps are assigned to each manager, and how accessible are the managers to those reps? If your managers are overwhelmed with a large team, or if they manage a team that is spread out geographically, sales team performance will suffer. Also, how much access do your sellers have to internal resources, such as technical engineers or specialists? If access to these resources is not readily available, your team will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to improving performance.
Recruiting and Hiring
Recruiting and hiring the right number of sellers directly impacts sales force performance. When an organization has enough sellers to sufficiently cover the market, it can maximize sales performance by capturing all of its market opportunity. However, the right market coverage is not enough—sellers must also have the skill and talent to succeed in their roles. Hiring mediocre salespeople results in greater effort for fewer results. Furthermore, sellers must be a fit for your sales organization’s culture. If any of these elements are misaligned or missing, sales performance will suffer from a lack of sufficient talent.
Sales training is, of course, a well-known component of sales enablement, and it remains one of the most powerful means of developing a sales force. While sales training almost needs no explanation, it is worth noting that we do see a blind spot in most sales training agendas—training sales managers. While most frontline sellers receive lavish training investment, sales managers are a neglected lot that mostly receive generic coaching and leadership training. If there is one area of sales enablement that our research reveals as both high-impact AND lacking, sales management training would be it. Without question, training both salespeople and sales managers in critical skills and knowledge is a recipe for long-term sales success.
When it comes to sales enablement, individual coaching of salespeople is perhaps the most valuable activity in developing a sales force. However, coaching is also difficult to get right. Effective sales coaching doesn’t just happen during everyday conversations or in sporadic meetings; it must be intentional, purposeful, and structured. As you think about how to enable your own organization’s sales coaching activities, give particular attention to the rigor with which it is taking place. In addition to providing guidance on how to do sales coaching, you might also need to set expectations for why coaching is critical, how often it should take place, where the coaching interactions will be held, and what content should be covered during the meetings.
Sales enablement is heavily dependent upon equipping the sales force with the right tools and resources for its people to do their jobs. Tools range from sales presentations, to proposal templates, to communication devices and CRM. But there is a catch. More is not always better when it comes to sales tools. Sales tools must be robust enough to enable consistent sales performance, but not so over-engineered as to inhibit their adoption. Give salespeople and their managers what they need to get the job done, but don’t overwhelm them with tools that don’t directly support their efforts.
You cannot know if your sales force is developing and improving if you don’t measure and assess its progress. Assessment needs to be built into your sales enablement process—both to determine which initiatives will have the greatest impact and to measure progress toward your stated objectives. Consider choosing a few key assessments at the individual seller, sales management, and organizational levels, so you have a complete and balanced view of your sales enablement outcomes.
In the end, sales enablement is simply the process of investing in improved sales execution. If you focus your efforts on the six high-impact areas described above, it would be impossible for your sales force not to improve. And after all, that’s what sales enablement is all about.
Michelle Vazzana is a partner at Vantage Point Performance and co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code.” She has more than 28 years of sales and management experience in the major account environment.