Why sales enablement needs to pull sales into the 2020s

By Billy Roberts

5 minute read

Sales enablement sounds very simple - it’s just a structured process aimed at improving the sales process. The problem is: because it’s so simple it’s easy to name drop in a learning initiative without actually considering what it means for your company. This isn’t to say it’s not popular, because it is: in the space of 2017, organisations with a sales enablement person, function, or initiative grew from 32.7% to 59.2%. The fact that it’s since plateaued at the 60% mark since means it’s not just a fad - people are getting results. In fact, companies with sales enablement already have, on average, 15% better win rates than those without it.

However, despite its prevalence, not all companies are yet aware of how important sales enablement has become. Time, effort and, most importantly, planning around sales enablement is nowhere near what it could be for most businesses because they’re not aware of how much money can be saved (and made). Companies are also unaware of how ineffective their shallow learning is: sales loses 80% of what they were trained on after one month of non-use - it’s got to run deep or not at all. 

But more than this, how customers and businesses interact is unrecognisable from 10 years ago. This means that the optimal sales process and the one most companies have right now are very different pictures. Customers want companies to match up to their expectations of experience. And if they don’t, that’s as far as the conversation will get.

New technology requires new methods

Think of how much money has been wasted on business technology in the past few years, and how much more will be in the future. That happens for two main reasons. Either, the wrong technology gets bought so nobody uses it; or, the right technology gets bought, but the training is ineffective, and nobody uses it. This is a particular issue for sales because of the sheer terrifying volume of available tech.

That’s not to say that sales doesn’t need all this new technology. Chatbots are becoming a standard part of the sales process - providing key information for the salesperson without resorting to unnatural, attention-draining forms, and engaging the customer early with the brand voice. Integrated data analysis is now unmissable - analysing ROI and buying behaviours can’t be the remit of marketing alone any more (more on that later) because customers now need value at every stage of the buying process. AI, as well, is beginning to play a part, informing the way sales qualifies and communicates with leads as well as the products they recommend.

Businesses that best enable their people to utilise the tech will be the most successful. The issue is only one of choice and application, both of which can be solved by a well structured and dedicated sales enablement programme. Firstly, a consistent and prolonged learning process is what’s needed to get all of sales on-board with new technology, and find out what’s working. Secondly, sales enablement generates deeper multi-level knowledge, a more universal consensus on collective challenges, and (if done right) a lot of internal data. This is the material that can inform the purchasing of technology so that it actually suits company goals, not just image expectations. 

And the internal data collected, of course, isn’t just going into purchasing. It’s an invaluable source of front line information on what does and doesn’t work for prospective customers - informing decisions from individual salespeople’s interactions to overall direction. 

Business Structure is Changing 

Companies can’t afford the inefficiencies of the past. This means that 1: everyone has to be aligned towards the same purpose and 2: the old barriers between teams can’t stay up. The sales/marketing divide is arguably the worst offender here. They’re basically two parts of the same job but there’s often a very hard border between them. In the age of digital selling this needs to come down: in B2B companies, sales-marketing alignments resulted in 24% faster revenue growth over three years and profit growth accelerated 27% in that same period. Sales enablement doesn’t need to meld the two professions together. Rather, it can bridge the gap between the two that countless leads have tended to fall through. 

Salespeople, with a formalised enablement program that aligns their goals with the company’s, will be able to utilise analytical and technical skills usually left to other departments. They’ll also, just as importantly, present a united front with the rest of the business on messaging and product.

But this extends to the other side. Just as a salesperson now has to have a hint of the marketer to them, so are other sections of the company becoming far more client facing. The sales process starts a lot earlier and goes on a lot longer than it used to, and it’s a far more complicated process. This means that a really effective sales enablement programme has to extend throughout your business to stay ahead of the curve on the client focus necessary in the digital age.

It’s not just how your business is structured that’s changing at the moment, it’s who’s in it. Job turnover had been increasing anyway before COVID-19, but that was nothing compared to now. And companies need to be prepared to onboard a lot of new people as quickly as possible and, to minimize the shock of that, keep whoever you can. A formalised sales enablement program can speed up ramp up times for sales even quicker than more generalised L&D because what “good” means for your company’s sales will be far more codified. This enablement can also stem the tide of turnover through increasing reps’ results. If you’re doing better, you’re more likely to stay with your company. It’s not complicated, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. 

How customers buy is changing

The customer journey is very different to what it was even 10 years ago. People have far more information and comparison on their purchasing decisions, take longer to make them, and place the value of trust a lot higher. The sales process should reflect this, but often doesn’t. Counter-intuitively, the new abundance of sales/marketing/customer technology has made the human aspect far more important.

Customers have many touchpoints with your business and brand before they convert. It’s likely they know a lot of the relevant information and the relative qualities of your competitors already. So, they don’t want an aggressive pitch or information overload; neither do they want just a bland, impersonal interaction.

Rather, prospective customers want someone they can trust to guide them through the purchasing process without dishonesty or complication. This is especially important given the increasing value of account-based selling. With endless competition abounding, it’s easier to retain customers than gain them. This is why a sales process based on trust and efficiency is becoming the new standard

Sales enablement is the fastest way to set a business standard reflecting the needs of the new customer base. And it’s just as important in aligning an agreed upon process, standard, and handover procedure with marketing before it and success afterwards.

Conclusions

Some industries are further ahead than others. Traditionally sales-heavy pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies are far more likely to be using sales enablement than oil and gas companies. The problem is, client interaction is a key part of almost every industry now so nobody can afford to rest on their laurels. As we speak about here, the utilities industry is having to grapple with a customer base with demands of responsiveness, accountability, and personalisation that it has never encountered before. And it’s not alone. The bar of customer experience has been universally raised; if you don’t rise up to meet it, someone else will.

However, even companies with sales engagement programmes are in danger of being too static, lost in larger initiatives, or simply out of touch. You need to ask yourself whether yours is formalised, aligned, and pointing at the future, not at what sales used to be.

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