October 2020
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TD Magazine

Sales Managers Are Key to an Enablement Program’s Outcomes

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Partner with them to deliver value that in turn will pull in the sales team to enablement initiatives.

In your sales enablement role, have you ever tried to convince a group of sellers to try something new, something you are convinced will benefit them and the business? What were the results? Did they make time to engage? Did they take advantage of your solution or ideas? While a few may have, most of them likely did not.


According to an InsideSales.com Labs study, the average salesperson only spends about 37 percent of their working time on selling activities, so sellers don't need more interruptions—and enablement professionals probably look and sound like an interruption.

If you continue to work with individual sellers, the adoption of your solutions, ideas, content, and training will be minimal, as will the impact sales enablement provides for the business.

What if you instead invest that time with the sales managers? With each sales manager you convince, you achieve scale for your program and multiply the value of your efforts to the business.

Consider this simple example: A company has five sales managers, each with a team of 10 salespeople. Is it easier for a sales enablement professional to listen, engage, convince, and support 50 salespeople and five managers than to focus energy on the five managers? Of course not. For every sales manager you partner with, you will get them—and their 10 salespeople—on board with your program. That is how to achieve scale.

Keep in mind that sales managers, especially first-time, frontline managers, likely were successful sellers prior to being promoted to their current role. Unfortunately, they often have not received any training on how to be a leader, sales coach, or strategist, much less how to be a people manager. Their focus remains on closing deals, not on growing a successful team.

Combine that with the fact that sales managers are bombarded by all sides—increasing quotas, challenged salespeople, incomplete products, and messaging—and it's clear they need an ally and collaborator. That help can come from you.

Creating and nurturing the sales manager relationship

Sales managers likely won't quickly embrace your efforts, because many of them are skeptical about enablement and your ability to help them. In talking to many sales leaders, I've learned that those opinions stem from these lines of thinking:

  • If you have not been in sales, I don't want you telling me what to do.
  • Please don't waste my time with your metrics; help me achieve mine, and don't bother me with yours.
  • Stop throwing content at me. Find out what I need, make it easy to find, customize, and help my buyers move forward in their buying process.
  • Make training a value-add. I don't have enough time to sell as it is, so don't waste my time.
  • Please help me be a better coach.

To begin building a relationship with sales managers, schedule regular meetings with each—either weekly or bimonthly. It may take time for some sales managers to buy into this, however. If they do not immediately embrace the meetings, consider conversing over lunch or stopping by their office for a couple of minutes. Ease into it.

Your goal for these meetings is not to become best friends. Rather, it is to understand their goals, learn what's preventing them from achieving those goals, and formulate a joint plan to help them and their teams. Follow a meeting structure along these lines:

  1. Understand business goals.
  2. Define how you will work together.
  3. Review priorities.
  4. Provide updates.
  5. Review metrics.

At Bigtincan, business units are set up for each industry the company sells into—for example, retail, life sciences, manufacturing, and financial services. Each unit is managed by a sales leader whom the sales enablement team partners with and supports to achieve that unit's goals.

The enablement team meets with each of the business units quarterly to review business goals and make any adjustments necessary to work together. That meeting enables us to adjust tactics used to achieve the business goals.

Within each quarter, we meet with each business unit's sales leader to review current priorities, share updates, and examine how the team is progressing toward the quarterly goals. Following that consistent cadence, all teams remain aligned and on track toward achieving the business goals.

Keep multiple feedback channels open

The twice-monthly meetings are essential to a sales enablement program's success, but note three points: Requests will arise between those meetings, requests will come from people other than the sales leaders, and some of the requests will be time-sensitive.

For example, the sales enablement team often hears from individual sellers or customer success team members with requests for training on topics coming from customers. When the enablement team receives numerous similar requests, we share that information with leadership and reorganize our schedules to address them.

When the sellers or customer success team members gather feedback, we encourage them to share it with us in as much detail as possible, including:

  • For what topic do you need additional information or training?
  • Is this a result of a conversation with a customer? If yes, which one(s)?
  • When is it needed?
  • What is the reason for that timing?

As you grow your understanding of each manager's goals, probe more in depth, ask open-ended questions, and peel back the onion layers.

What is the minimum set of skills and knowledge their salespeople need to have to begin selling the company's products and solutions successfully? Those capabilities can take time to uncover, so be patient. Once you understand the essentials, continue to explore.

You cannot improve that which you cannot measure. Through these efforts, you will create value for the individual managers and their teams while moving the business forward.

Driving enablement adoption

If you create the best program in the world and no one uses it, does it matter? One of the most critical components of program success is the level of adoption achieved, and the level of adoption you achieve is directly related to the highest level of management support the sales enablement team obtains.

That is why you must initially tie your efforts to the sales managers. By gaining their support, you achieve three things:

  • You multiply your influence and impact on the organization. Instead of helping a single seller, partnering with the sales managers enables you to support them and their entire teams.
  • You provide proof of value with sales managers' leaders. If you demonstrate that you can create value for one group, you attract awareness and attention from those higher in the organization. This positive attention earns you the right to support more significant portions of the organization.
  • You provide proof of value with sales managers' peers. Once you help one sales team be successful, others will want to partner with you.

Bigtincan's top go-to-market executive supports the enablement team's efforts and encourages all the customer-facing leaders, managers, and individual contributors to use what the enablement team creates. That encouragement ensures we achieve nearly 100 percent program adoption.

Great experiences

It's not enough to deliver the best content and training; you also must focus on delivering it all as part of a great experience. As you consider your work, keep the following in mind.

Sales representatives need the right content at the right time in the context of their current workflow. The sales enablement team must ensure that content is available at the point of need, whether that's within Salesforce, Outlook, the enablement system, or elsewhere. Making content easy to find and then customizing it when appropriate to do so drives up adoption rates.

Our sales enablement team uses two tactics to ascertain how to meet this need best:

  • With content and training requests, we ask how the salespeople should use the content and how they should surface it.
  • We review data from the sales enablement platform, showing which content the sales team is using, when, and where.

Customer-facing teams are often seeking information with a customer physically or virtually right in front of them. The content must be easy to find and quick to consume so the salesperson can return to helping the customer.


We make the content easy to find using a few approaches:

  • We attempt to make it available at the time and place of need, as noted above.
  • Our content governance model enforces a consistent taxonomy, making it easier for salespeople to know where to locate the information needed in the sales enablement system.
  • We use a sales enablement platform that uses a powerful, Google-esque search that is capable of searching within all content in the system, not just the metadata, and quickly and accurately returning what is needed.
  • When all else fails, we have a Slack channel open to provide responses at the time of need.

Provide the information in the right manner for the content. I still see organizations creating weeklong onboarding sessions, hours-long learning management system training courses, and other equally lousy delivery methods. In some cases, they can be helpful, but in most cases, with most audiences, briefer courses with reinforcement built in will garner better results.

Enablement for sales managers

Many sales managers were great individual sales contributors before they earned a promotion. Few of them receive sufficient management training; fewer still receive training on how to be great coaches. According to CSO Insights, sales coaching remains the activity that has the most significant impact on win rates and quota attainment. To improve coaching for your sales managers, first recognize what makes a great sales coach:

  • They are great teachers.
  • They not only understand critical sales skills; they can demonstrate and teach others how to improve their skills and explain why those improvements matter.
  • They are demanding.
  • They expect their students to listen, learn, practice, and improve their skills. While they have empathy, they expect results from those with whom they work.
  • They embrace new tools and skills.

If you have qualified sales coaches in your company, partner with them on the appropriate structure, process, and supporting content. If you do not have sales coaching talent in your business, partner with a sales coaching organization with a proven track record to develop and deliver it.

Sales coaching is an area where far too many believe they are experts and too few genuinely are expert practitioners. If you try to develop the program without support outside your organization, using capable sales coaches, your plan will fail.

Companies that don't have a formalized sales coaching program need one. If your company has one, you need to determine whether the program is having a positive impact on your business. Begin measuring the coaching program's effectiveness by baselining these metrics:

  • Win rate
  • Deal velocity
  • Discount percentage
  • Churn
  • Upsell and cross-sell revenue

Each quarter, review the team's performance against the baseline metrics gathered. Are the metrics improving each quarter? If yes, the coaching program may be on track. Remember also to survey sellers and sales managers to get feedback on the effectiveness of the coaching they are receiving. Often, sales managers have a different perception of coaching than those who receive it.

Multifaceted role

There are plenty of opportunities to improve sales enablement—in partnership with the sales managers—leveraging better collaboration and communication.

You will need to be part project manager, part trainer, part strategic advisor, and part guide. You will sit at the center of the organization in a unique location to have a positive impact on the entire sales organization. You must guide from the inside, not orchestrate from the outside, and move forward in lockstep with the sales managers to ensure your enablement efforts are a success.

Enablement Project Management

If you work in a smaller organization, with a single sales team, your project prioritization process likely is streamlined. However, to ensure the sales enablement team is best serving the business and individual teams' and sellers' needs, be clear about what work can get done, in what order, and at what time. Failing to do so will erode trust and confidence in the enablement team and result in groups enabling themselves—further eating away at their selling time and ending your enablement efforts.

Bigtincan's enablement team works using an Agile approach for planning, scheduling, and reviewing the work across blocks of times referred to as sprints. While an Agile sprint can be of any length, we use a two-week cadence because it works best for our efforts.

At the beginning of each sprint, we invite stakeholders from sales and customer success to review the backlog and agree on the sprint priorities. The sales enablement team sizes each item and commits to completing the prioritized items they are comfortable will fit in the two-week window, building in time for unplanned work, which always comes in.

Further note that our charter provides clarity to standard service-level agreements for ad hoc requests, providing us with sufficient buffers to meet urgent needs and complete work previously committed (in most cases).

About the Author

John Moore is vice president of revenue enablement at Bigtincan; [email protected].

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