What is Sales Enablement?

Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips sales teams to have consistently effective engagements with prospects and customers throughout the buyer’s journey.

Placing a focus on sales enablement makes sales teams more effective by:

  • 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

By thinking strategically and holistically, and by applying best practices in the critical areas of content management, training, playbooks and sales processes, Sales Enablement can drive astounding results and transform sales effectiveness.  

Before diving into the Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement, we recommend taking a moment to hear from sales enablement luminaries such as Nancy Nardin, Jim Ninivaggi, and Peter Ostrow on how they define the term and the impact it can have. We add interviews each month so check back to watch new videos.

Highspot Luminary Series: Nancy Nardin
Sales Enablement with Jim Ninivaggi
Sales Enablement 2016: Unleashing the Power to Create Quota-Busting Sellers
SiriusDecisions Webinar: Enablement to Revenue
Highspot in Action: Overview

Table of Contents

Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement

This is a comprehensive guide for applying sales enablement to your business.  It provides a wealth of best practices, examples, reports, and online resources that will help you design and deploy an effective solution.

If you think of the sales process as a funnel, with four basic stages, the upper half is owned by marketing and is focused on generating interest in the company’s products and services. That part of the sales cycle has been transformed by the advent of marketing automation software, which allows companies to reach out to a broad audience and nurture leads until they are ready to be engaged by the sales team.

The lower half is primarily owned by sales, and is focused on closing deals and generating revenue. It is being transformed by sales enablement software, which equips the sellers with the tools, skills, and assets they need to engage effectively with buyers and drive the maximum revenue for the company.

 

Sales Enablement Definition

 

Here are sales enablement definitions from the leading analyst firms:

SiriusDecisions

“Sales enablement’s goal is to ensure that every seller has the required knowledge, skills, processes and behaviors to optimize every interaction with buyers.”

Forrester

“Sales enablement is 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.” 

IDC

“The delivery of the right information to the right person at the right time in the right format and in the right place to assist in moving a specific sales opportunity forward”

Gartner

“The activities, systems, processes and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with client and prospects.”

CSO Insights

“A strategic, cross-functional discipline designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training, and coaching services for salespeople an frontline sales managers along the entire customer’s journey powered by technology”

Fortunately, the above definitions are more similar than different, reflecting the growing maturity of the sales enablement space.  Foundational to all of these sales enablement definitions is ensuring that sales teams have the right content and knowledge to have effective conversations with customers.  

 

Evolution of Sales Enablement Solutions

Starting in the late 90’s, the sales conversation moved from physical to digital, and content moved online. The marketing closet became a thing of the past as companies put their content onto web sites and portals. Different teams often created their own sites, and soon the content was scattered across many places.

The problem with these ad hoc solutions is that they dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the sales team. Sellers don’t have time for scavenger hunts across many different systems every time they need something, so they gather a small set of content on their hard disks. A rep uses the files at hand as much as possible, even if they are out of date or ineffective at engaging customers. Sellers waste time hastily recreating content that already exists, because it is too much trouble to find the “official” version. Marketing also has virtually no visibility into what is really happening. The different content systems are isolated from one another and from every other part of the sales process.

To solve these problems, vendors began developing solutions for giving reps access to the content they need.

Sales Enablement Evolution

Centralized Sales Portals

The first approach to a dedicated solution for sales collateral was the centralized sales portal. It was typically a custom web site that relied on an enterprise content management system, or it was an extension of an existing CRM system. The idea was to create custom-built sales portals which would act as a single place where all of the sales content is stored and organized in a consistent way. In theory, they should make reps more efficient and provide a way to keep content fresh and up to date.

Unfortunately, centralized sales portals often fail to deliver the expected benefits. They generally require extensive IT resources to develop and customize. The sales portals are difficult and costly to update, so they rarely keep up with the rapidly changing needs and conditions of the business.

After a sales portal is deployed, there are often many teams within the company that are frustrated by a tool that doesn’t meet their needs, so they continue to create and rely on their own solutions. Sometimes they build their own sales portals, contributing to “sales portal sprawl”. Or they put content in simpler environments—cloud file systems like Box and Dropbox, communication tools like Yammer and Chatter, content areas in their CRM system like the Salesforce Content tab, and a dozen other places.

Reps continue to have the same issues as before, with content located in many different places. And marketing still doesn’t have visibility into what is happening with the content.

End to End Sales Enablement

The challenges with using a centralized sales portal led to the creation of the sales enablement platform. The first generation platforms provide an end to solution to organizing content and pitching it to customers. They provide ways to present the content over the web and to send it via email, notifying the rep when customers view the information. They have flexible content management and provide basic reporting on usage of content internally and externally. Marketers can now answer some key business questions about which content is being used by the sales teams and what is being shared with customers.

Sales Enablement Fix the Pipeline

Closed Loop Sales Enablement

Modern sales enablement platforms take the idea of end to end much farther and close the loop across marketing, sales, and the customer. For the first time, one system provides complete visibility into the entire lifecycle of sales content, tracking what happens to items from the moment they are published. Analytics answers all the key business questions about the effectiveness of the content, showing which items are available, whether they are being found by the sales team, how the content is being used, which items are being sent to customers, and how customers engage with them. The system connects content usage with the performance of every deal, tracking which items are touched by every customer and when.

Sales Enablement Optimize the Pipeline

Data Science

Data science and machine learning have become essential tools for building applications. By processing massive amounts of data to discover insights, they have made it possible to create applications like Google search, Facebook, and the mapping software on every smartphone.

An effective closed loop platform relies on the use of data science throughout the sales cycle:

Search that works

The reason that search engines like Google are able to work so well is that they analyze billions of web pages and the results of billions of searches to see which results are the most likely to be interesting to each individual user. Those same techniques let reps quickly find the content they need across all of the information in the company. Instead of emailing a couple of friends and hoping somebody knows where to find a relevant document, reps can search for what they need and find it immediately.

Scoring and Recommendations

The system can score and recommend content based on what has been successfully used in the past. If a rep is selling to a manufacturing enterprise in Germany, and is in the discovery stage of the sales cycle, there is a set of content that has been successfully used for deals like that in the past. Every characteristic of the deal is analyzed – the region, the vertical, the company size, the stage of the sales cycle – to find the content that has performed the best. Based on what was used in deals that closed, and whether that content had a measurable impact on the likelihood and the velocity of the deal moving forward, the system shows the rep which items are the most likely to be effective for this customer.

Similarity Analysis

At most companies, much of the content that reaches the customer through the sales team has been modified and repackaged. Sellers customize decks to be relevant to the customers they are engaged with, remixing slides from existing presentations and adding unique content relevant to the deal in play. Up to 80% of the content is modified in some way before it gets to the customer.

In the past, changing a single word in a presentation created a new file that looked entirely different from the original. If the analytics system can’t track the original content as it is modified and repackaged, most of the data about customer engagement will be lost. Data science uncovers those relationships and measures the true usage and performance statistics for the content that your company is creating.

This guides provides you with a wealth of best practices, examples, reports, and online resources that will help you apply sales enablement tools to your business.

Happy reading.