When we studied sales enablement by surveying sales leaders and engaging them in deep discussions, we confirmed that today’s sales enablement teams do a lot. No big surprise there. But are they doing the right things to optimize salespeople’s selling time? Thanks to enhancements in data and technology—think CRM, analytics, iPads, web-conferencing, SPM—they have more to work with and more ways to support sales functions than ever before. But unfortunately, not every sales enablement organization is structured to effectively drive sales. It’s not that they should be doing more, but that they should be focused on different things.
If your sales enablement organization is spending a lot of time supporting human resources and finance and too little time measurably driving sales ROI, it may be time to retool the sales enablement function.
Most important, we learned that successful sales enablement organizations are laser-focused on the functions that drive the most revenue for the sales teams. They’re designed to excel at identifying and using the processes and applications with the most impact to free up salespeople to go out and sell. The ability to support the sales functions that drive the most revenue differentiates highly successful sales enablement organizations from the rest.
Well-Defined Mission, Roles, ActivitiesSpecifically, proactive sales enablement teams (often referred to as “sales operations” and “sales support”) with defined roles and a clear mission drive revenue by enabling sales teams to spend more time selling and less time responding to RFPs, sitting in meetings, tinkering with sales tools, reporting to management, doing admin work, or running analytics.
As we analyzed survey data and spoke with sales leaders across a wide range of industries, we saw some patterns emerge. And we also began to spot hazards for sales organizations with sales enablement functions that are less aligned with revenue generation. Here are six potential pitfalls:
Muddled mission. It’s always tempting to ask sales enablement to pick up whatever slips through the cracks as the sales team goes about making its number. But we find that organizations where salespeople are actually increasing their customer-facing time tend to be those that also provide sales enablement with a clearly defined, proactive mission. When setting sales enablement’s mission, look to the organization’s strategy and its sales strategy. Instead of defining itself as “We’ll do whatever it takes,” the mission should align with opportunities for sales to produce revenue.
Undefined roles. If you don’t think about the organization’s mission when you assign roles to your sales enablement team, how can you expect the team to see itself as a driver of sales? Again, begin by looking at the organization’s mission to identify and assign roles in sales enablement. As you build your sales team, fine-tune sales enablement’s roles and responsibilities. Start with the work that historically leads to the most revenues. Look at each role in sales, and each role in sales enablement. Do they complement one another? Is there overlap? Are there redundancies? For every non-selling aspect of the sales organization as a whole, is there a role for sales enablement? If not, you may find that your salespeople are filling in when they could be selling!
Home-team disadvantage. According to our survey, successful sales organizations keep their sales enablement teams in the field. That’s why we recommend establishing a Center of Excellence close to the field. Sales enablement means responding to the needs of the sales team and sometimes the customers as well. Sure, there are always back-office functions to be handled. But put some of your sales enablement organization at the front line, too.
Attention to low-impact projects. Enablement teams can get sucked into low-impact projects. Some of this activity will be necessary, but be sure to keep your eye—and a big part of your enablement team—on the high-revenue-impact work where they can make a bigger difference.
Reluctantly publicizing success. Poorly defined measures of success can leave sales enablement’s performance up to interpretation. That can lead to misunderstandings and disappointment. Instead, develop a dashboard to set and track measurable objectives for sales enablement. And don’t neglect to publicize sales enablement’s successes. Make sure everyone sees the group’s value to the organization.
Giving sales enablement a back seat. Successful sales organizations see sales and sales enablement as a team. Sure, you may see your top salespeople as your team’s aces, but don’t forget that without strong support in the field and at the plate, even the greatest starting pitchers can’t win ballgames. Many would-be all-star sales organizations have been weakened by a lack of investment in supporting players.
Building an effective, leading sales enablement team requires detailed planning that should be based on in-depth conversations around the purpose of sales enablement and how to position it in the organization. Which functions will it lead? How is the team organized? What kind of talent does it demand? And what sorts of projects and initiatives will it take on?
Having these discussions will help to ensure that your sales enablement team reflects the organization’s mission and focuses on the functions that drive sales.