If you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day, but if you teach a person to fish, you’ll feed them for a lifetime. It’s an age-old proverb that ignores the fact that learning to fish well enough to consistently feed yourself is really hard. That’s why most of us just buy our Filet ‘O Fish and leave the actual fishing alone.
Of course, for your sales team that isn’t really an option. They need to consistently reel in new business and it’s in your organization’s best interest to make that as easy, efficient, and enjoyable as possible. Sales enablement is the collection of relevant content, tools, and knowledge you can use to make that possible.
Why Is Sales Enablement Important?
Your team isn’t closing 100% of the deals that enter their pipeline, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. That means you have an opportunity to generate more revenue by investing in some form of sales enablement platform and many B2B organizations find that those investments will net positive ROI with only a handful of additional closed deals.
So, what does that investment look like? That’s where your sales enablement strategy gets interesting. For some organizations it’s updated sales resources, like a demo instance for a software product or a VR tour for a commercial builder. For others it’s automation to reach out to lost deals 30 days after they close to see if the opportunity is actually dead.
Those are just a handful of examples, but the central tenant of sales enablement is that spending money to close more of your existing pipeline will boost sales productivity by driving higher, faster ROI than spending that same money to pull more into the pipeline.
Who Owns Sales Enablement?
In my experience, nobody. And everybody. Except that one guy who’s been doing this for 25 years and thinks things are fine just the way they are. What I’m trying to say is sales enablement rarely falls squarely on one person's shoulders.
By its very nature, sales enablement typically spans both sales and marketing. The sales team has needs and wants, but generally lacks the creative or technical resources to make changes on their own. The marketing team has the resources, but they’re removed from the day-to-day workings of the sales operation so their efforts can feel disconnected from what the sales team needs and wants.
Where I’ve seen the most success is a setup where the marketing team owns the sales enablement process but collaborates closely with 2-3 key decision-makers or stakeholders. That setup recognizes that marketing is already tasked with creating many of the sales enablement tools and that many of the lead generation processes start with the marketing team. However, it also pulls in strong voices from the sales organization to make sure what marketing is doing aligns with the real-world needs.
It's also interesting to note that the sales team often closes deals generated by their own prospecting at a higher rate than those fed to them by marketing. So, the marketing leads are generally those that benefit most from the boost provided by a sales enablement program. That means marketing has an opportunity to increase revenue overall, while driving up win rates on their established efforts.
Step 1: Begin with Analyzing
Standardize You Reporting
What gets measured gets done and every machine is perfectly designed for the output it produces. They’re not new sentiments, but they’re true. The metrics you’re choosing to report on will determine which actions get prioritized by sales and marketing. So, if you’re looking for places to start your sales enablement journey, those gaps are your best starting point.
If your team is measured on close rate, they’ll let unqualified leads stay in the funnel rather than close them. If they’re measured on the number of activities, they’ll make sure they track every email to their Grandma so you don’t ask why there are 10 Leads with no contact in the last month.
And if you don’t have a standard set of metrics everyone on the team is living by? Well, you’ll be stuck with anecdotes and edge cases as the focus of your sales enablement efforts.
Define Goals and KPIs
Based on your reports, you should have a sense of the areas of your sales cycle you want to improve and, as with most improvement projects, the next step is to define what success looks like. Do you want to reduce the initial response time for leads? Do you want to reduce the volume of unqualified Leads? Or do you want to get more quotes accepted?
Each of those goals will involve different approaches to sales enablement. Generating more sales conversations will likely involve a new approach to prospecting. Reducing lead volumes means adjusting forms or the lead scoring model. Getting more quotes accepted might involve a new quote template.
Regardless of your objective, putting some concrete goals around it will both shape your initial approach and put you on the path to successful sales enablement.
Review Your Sales Process
This can mean two different, but complementary, things.
- Review your sales process with your sales team.
- Review your sales process from an operational perspective.
The former is important because you would be astonished how often the root of an issue with the sales process is simply that the people involved didn’t understand the process. You’ll also likely uncover elements to the process—either official or not—that will help you with the operational review.
That operational review is what most people think of when they talk about reviewing the sales process. It involves identifying the pathways that a prospect can take into your funnel, be it website conversion, referrals and prospecting, event registrations or otherwise, and mapping out the ideal methodology they should follow to eventually become a customer.
Of course, there are some realities that often get glossed over when talking about a sales process. The first is that it’s more commonly plural: sales processes. Whether you have multiple products with separate sales processes or you have renewals as well as net new sales, or you simply have salespeople that all manage things a little differently, there’s rarely a single, definitive sales process to review.
Another often neglected element of sales process review is what happens to all the potential customers that don’t convert. After all, when talking about effective sales enablement strategy, we’re most interested in the deals that didn’t convert because turning some of those losses into wins is what’s going to make it all worth the effort. So, even if you’ve got a good handle on the ideal buyer experience, make sure you identify the common points where people drop off so you can plan to pick them up.
Qualify Your Leads
A fundamental truth of sales enablement is that not all leads are created equal. Leads from ideal customer personas with an immediate need and an unlimited budget will rarely need anyone’s help to get across the finish line. It’s the leads that require a little extra attention that, unfortunately, often get lost in the wilds of the buying process. One of the basic sales enablement best practices is to identify those leads so they can get the extra attention before it’s too late. So, how do you do that?
First, you need to recognize that there are two common steps in the process where leads can be effectively bucketed.
- After initial conversion.
- After initial sales engagement.
When someone makes their initial conversion on your website (or event, or trade show, etc.) you get your first insight into that lead. Typically, you’ll learn their job title, their company name, their location and, if you’re doing things correctly, a few other key data points. Based on that you should be able to do some initial qualification of that lead.
Are they in your ideal territory? Does their job title match your ideal customer persona? Is the company or your target account list? You don’t need a full-blown lead scoring system set up to get a sense for which leads warrant the most—and the least—attention from your team.
For example, maybe anyone with a job title of ‘President’ or ‘CEO’ gets flagged for manual follow-up, but everyone else gets an automated email that offers the Calendly link for one of your BDRs.
Of course, no matter how good your initial lead qualification is, there will always be people that look great on paper but don’t live up to expectations once the conversation starts. This is the second common point where you can, and should, have a system for flagging leads that warrant a different approach.
This is often something as simple as a status, step, or stage like ‘unqualified’ in your sales funnel. However, the secret is recognizing that it doesn't need to be the end of the road for those leads. Simply by adding a little more context to those options you can create a different customer experience for leads that may have been written off because they were unresponsive, or their timeline was too far out.
You’ve probably noticed by now that all of the initiatives I’m talking about are going to be challenging without a CRM. That’s true and, while it’s not impossible, it’s going to be much easier to manage your leads and effectively qualify them without enablement technology to do it.
Ideally, your platform will have the native ability to do lead scoring—so you can automatically assign points based on information your leads provide and what they do on your site before converting—and enough automation features to categorize, assign and notify the relevant team members. In my experience, most major customer relationship management platforms will tick these boxes, but we've taken time to research the top 10 CRM software to help you choose.
Step 2: Optimize Your Sales Content
Organize Your Content
Sales teams have a voracious appetite for enablement content. To start, they need templates for presentations and quotes, product overviews, price lists, spec sheets, and much more. Furthermore, since they’re the ones on the hook for the accuracy and quality of what’s being communicated, they’re both vigilant and sensitive when it comes to keeping that content accurate and current. In fact, according to a study, 31% of a sales rep’s time is spent looking for or creating content.
That means there’s a huge opportunity to make your team more effective by simply changing your approach to content management. It’s not a revolutionary tactic—and people might give you a sidelong glance when you propose it as part of your sales enablement strategy—but it’s a great place to start.
At the simple end of the spectrum is a full content inventory and changes to how you name the folders in your shared drive or on your intranet. At the complicated end of the spectrum, it can mean launching features like HubSpot’s Documents, which allow your sales enablement team to maintain a library of approved content and roll out new versions without breaking the existing links to that content.
Regardless of which path you take, an important first step is to ask your sales enablement leaders to identify which resources they’re currently using and what they find themselves creating repeatedly. This may feel a little bit like checking prisoners for contraband, but I promise you they’ve all got their own stash of templates or documents.
Use Case Studies for Sales Training
Case studies are a tried-and-true marketing tool. Grab your highest profile customers, unpack their customer journey, and demonstrate the concrete ways your product made an impact. But have you ever shared your case studies with your sales team?
I’m sure they have access to them—and probably even sent them to their prospects—but have they read them? Have you ever walked the team through how you identified the issues your product solved? Or how the leader of that sale identified the pain points that allowed them to close the deal? There’s so much great information packed into a quality case study that it only makes sense to use them as a sales training resource.
Also, your team is sending those case studies out as a means of credentialing your company or product, but the impact that has is much larger when it’s shared with some context instead of just being sent along as a PDF with the price list.
Create Email Templates
The humble email template is one of the most effective tools in your sales enablement playbook, especially if you’ve got frontline reps doing prospecting. They’re also critical for using some of the outbound sales automation tools and for handling some of the inbound automation we talked about earlier.
Templates come if two common flavors:
- Automated email actions.
- Manual form emails.
Automated email actions are what happens when someone submits a form and gets an email response with a link to the eBook they downloaded. They are triggered by specific actions, don’t require any intervention from a sales rep and have limited customization potential. They’re typically used in outbound prospecting sequences or lead nurture campaigns for leads that aren’t immediately ready to convert.
Manual form emails aren’t triggered automatically, but they can still save your team a lot of time. These are templates for common scenarios—things like approaching renewal dates or questions to prep for a demo—that they’d be sending anyway. The gain here is twofold, since a template will both make those emails quicker to send and can help your team standardize processes.
This is another opportunity for the marketing team to work with key sales stakeholders to identify the requirements, then elevate the experience for the customer by turning run-of-the-mill interactions into meaningful brand touches.
Ensure All Salespeople Have Access
This might seem obvious, but it’s another common hurdle that trips up the best laid sales enablement plans. If you’re using a shared drive or intranet, people can have permission or licensing issues. If you’ve re-organized your content, old links can stop working. Or, most commonly, nobody showed the new person where to find the awesome library of content you’ve prepared.
One easy way to tackle this is with a survey. Make a Google Survey that includes links to the sales resources and a few simple questions:
- Can you access all the links listed above?
- Were you aware of all the resources above?
- Is there anything else we should add to the list above?
Send that survey out to all the reps and don’t stop hassling them until you’ve got answers from everyone.
Step 3: Adopt Automation and Technology
Create Email Sequences
In the section on email templates, I mentioned outbound prospecting sequences. This is a broad umbrella that refers to platforms like HubSpot Sequences, Outreach.io or YesWare which allow you to set up a series of automated emails and tasks which you can enroll individuals into.
Over the last few years these tools have become a common tool for business development reps. Each one has different strengths and features, but they all share the same DNA. The goal of using a platform like this isn’t to fully automate your interaction with your prospects. It’s to automate the initial outreach so that your team can focus their energy on the prospects that are ready to take the next step on the buyer’s journey.
Try Direct Messaging
A few years ago, social selling was in vogue. The idea was that prospects pay more attention to their own social media channels so they’re more likely to engage with messages on that channel. The next evolution of that idea is leveraging direct messaging. After all, what better time to contact someone than when you can see they’re online and available?
A simple example of this is LinkedIn. When you’re connected to someone, you can start up a chat and see whether that person is online. Instead of sending an email at a time that’s convenient for you, keep an eye on their status and drop a real-time message when they’re online.
Also, as shared communities like Discord have become more common, the opportunities for joining shared digital spaces are multiplying and many of those spaces have some sort of presence indicator for the people online. Instead of dropping into those spaces and blasting out your message, try to engage on a one-to-one basis with direct messaging.
Use Sales Enablement Software
We’ve published a guide to our favorite sales enablement software for different applications, but the Cliff Notes version of that guide is that sales enablement software is any that helps sales reps to sell more products. It does this by providing them with the tools and resources they need to close more deals.
Sometimes you’ll find everything you need in a single platform. More likely, you’ll find yourself using a few different applications to meet your specific needs. Both are valid sales enablement strategies. You just need to be intentional about the tools you choose because every additional tool you bring into your tech stack complicates the sales process.
Step 4: Empower Your Sales Team
Sales enablement is all about empowering your sales team to be more effective and more efficient. In an ideal world, it’s mutually beneficial. You get to boost the bottom line with higher ROI from the opportunities coming into the funnel and the sales team gets the tools they need to hit targets and earn bonuses. However, as with any change, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it scenario and you’ll likely encounter some friction when getting started.
The first thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that every rep has a different appetite and capacity to manage change. You’ll want to start your sales enablement journey by empowering key members of your sales and marketing teams to lead the efforts and advocate for the needs of their respective teams.
Next, you need to recognize that software alone won’t solve organizational problems. The most common reason sales enablement strategies go off the rails is because of insufficient and ineffective training programs. Typically, this is because organizations make two key mistakes:
- Rolling out new processes before sharing the desired outcomes.
- Training on complicated processes in marathon sessions.
If you make either of those mistakes, you’ll end up with teams of confused and frustrated people that aren’t equipped to realize your sales enablement objectives. Remember, you’re building a shared vision of the future and asking people to change the processes that have got them to where they are today. You need them to buy in and you need to support them over the long haul.
Finally, make sure you’re giving new people joining your organization the same support you give to your existing team. It’s easy to forget how complicated your processes are and if you’re not onboarding people correctly, you no longer have a consistent process.
Sales enablement is a combination of technology, strategy, and operations, which means it has both huge potential for improving your organization and huge challenges that go along with its effective implementation. Just remember when you start your sales enablement journey, you don’t need to aim for perfection right out of the gate.
Start by drafting some templates, updating the sales templates, and organizing the sales resources. Once you’ve started to demonstrate some value, you’ll find it’s much easier to bring people on side for more radical changes. Then, before you know it, you’ll be launching sequences, hosting bi-weekly process improvement sessions with your key stakeholders, and watching your close rates climb.