As a marketing professional, successfully supporting sales takes tact, experience, perseverance, conviction, and imagination.

I learned that lesson early in my corporate career at Intel during my first encounter with sales.

In one of my various marketing roles, I worked very closely with the sales team, even though I reported to the marketing group.

Since I was neither in the sales operations, sales enablement nor sales solutions team, I asked my manager at the time what was expected of me in my role.

He said succinctly: “Enable sales to do their jobs, but don’t do their jobs for them.”

I’ve designed this guide to support your sales enablement:

  • What is sales enablement?
  • What are the benefits of sales enablement?
  • What is the difference between sales operations and sales enablement?
  • Who owns sales enablement?
  • What are the elements of sales enablement?
  • How to build a sales enablement strategy
  • How is a sales enablement team structured?
  • What is sales training?
  • What is channel partner marketing?
  • How does channel marketing impact sales enablement?
  • Sales enablement tools
  • How to measure sales enablement
  • Final words

What is sales enablement?

Even though sales enablement is situational and evolving, it’s still important to define sales enablement for the context of this guide.

After extensive discussions with senior executives and vendors, Forrester defines sales enablement as ‘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 return on investment of the selling system.’

This definition focuses on setting up a systematic process to assist sales, so they can have productive conversations with relevant prospects and existing customers.

It also highlights the central theme of enabling the sales team with a consistent message and value proposition that connects across the entire sales cycle.

CSO Insights, a research company specializing in sales research articulated a definition that is widely recognized and accepted in the sales enablement field:

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

This definition centers on providing essential technology-based training, organizational socialization (on-boarding), and coaching as well as relevant and effective content.

What are the benefits of sales enablement?

When it comes to increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your sales team, sales enablement can be a highly effective strategy.

By equipping sales with strong onboarding programs, high-quality content, regular training, and at-their-fingertips resources your sales team will have more impactful conversations with qualified leads in their pipeline.

Providing sales with prospect buying patterns, personas, motivators, and pain points, helps them target ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and shape more productive conversations once connections have been established.

Time is a salesperson’s most valuable asset. Through managing and curating key buyer intelligence and insights, sales enablement helps sales remain competitive, responsive, and supportive so they can respond to buyers' questions and concerns through the purchasing cycle.

What is the difference between sales operations and sales enablement?

Who should present trends to the sales team? Sales enablement, in essence, aids and supports sales, but so do sales operations.

Sales support structures come in different shapes and forms, depending on the size of companies, budget, resources, organization structure, the maturity of the sales organization, and even senior management’s preferences.

Given that sales enablement is fairly a new term and sales operations have been around for a long time, you’ll see different definitions of sales operations and sales enablement.

In some organizations, sales enablement is part of sales operations. In others, there are two different groups.

I have seen companies that have no official sales enablement group, but the enablement work was done by the product marketing teams in business units.

It doesn’t matter what the structure is and who does the job, they are all unsung heroes behind the scenes, taking care of everything.

Who owns sales enablement?

In addition to the similarities and overlapping responsibilities of sales enablement and sales operations, there are different opinions on where sales enablement should reside.

Should sales enablement be part of the sales team, the marketing team or even the business unit/product group?

In general, the verdict is that placing sales enablement in the sales team offers the greatest advantage.

The primary advantage of placing sales enablement in marketing is to motivate marketing to align with sales at an earlier stage of planning.

The sales enablement function varied from business unit to business unit when I worked at Intel.

Some business units owned sales enablement. Other business units had their sales teams manage the sales enablement efforts.

Some newly formed groups may not have a sales enablement team per se.

However, the responsibilities for product content creation, sales training, and subject matter support are handled by different individuals through divisions of labor.

Salespeople are getting the support they need one way or another.

What are the elements of sales enablement?

The purpose of sales enablement is to enhance salespeople’s knowledge or change their behavior.

Let’s review my own definition of effective sales enablement:

Deliver a positive customer experience by equipping sales with knowledge, skills, processes, and tools through cross-functional collaboration in order to increase sales velocity, sales retention, and productivity.

The end goal for enablement is to arm the sales team with relevant knowledge, essential skills, and tools to facilitate conversation at each stage of the sale.

Content and training are merely some of the means, in addition to practicing pitches, reading, peer-to-peer conversations, coaching, and more.

Training

In general, when sales teams define training, it means onboarding or continuous training related to knowledge and skills that supports their job functions.

Content

Content not only covers sales training but also assets needed to support sales tactics during the sales processes and as part of customer outreach, both on and offline.

If salespeople need content to further engage with customers or prospects on social media channels, it would be great to have targeted content readily available for them to curate and share.

Coaching

Through online and in-person facilitation, coaching helps sales teams become better prepared to facilitate conversations with prospects through the sales stages.

Generally, it’s not marketing’s job to create training and development. However, marketing can easily influence and provide value in this area.

I’ve seen some companies make marketing responsible for sales’ product and tool training; this is especially true when marketing is responsible for product messaging, or for turning product management reports into marketing.

Given marketing is responsible for external-facing content creation, they can certainly provide input and help in sales-focused content.

If marketing sits in sales opportunity review meetings or is part of an account-based selling team, they can provide insights to sales regarding the marketing side of account-based engagements. Marketing can provide value-add to training, content, and coaching.

How to build a sales enablement strategy

A team or group should have a specific charter related to a company’s business goals and objectives.

If you want to create a team, you first need to tie your team’s mission to your company’s goals.

After all, any group’s contribution to a company should directly or indirectly support the overall business goals.

For a sales enablement team, you not only need to articulate business goals but also deeply understand how to deeply understand how those relate to the overall sales strategy and the ability to achieve sales targets. Most companies' sales strategies will touch on the following:

  • Penetrate new target markets, geographies, verticals, or a combination
  • Launch new products or services
  • Identify how to upsell and cross-sell against an existing product portfolio
  • Limit customer churn and increase sales in existing markets or accounts
  • Improve customer support and services to maintain customer relationships and drive better customer satisfaction

Defining your business goals and sales strategies will give you a context for discussing your proposed team structure with your senior management team in a way that makes benefits clear.

How is a sales enablement team structured?

If you are starting conversations around how to structure your sales enablement team or are wondering how yours matches up, here’s a list of potential roles that may shape your sales and marketing structure.

These examples typically encompass what an enterprise sales enablement team structure looks like. If you are a mid-size or smaller organization your team structure may start at the director or manager level.

While your organization may have an in-house content or marketing specialist, you may work with an external partner to develop learning and development content that is typically architected by an instructional designer.

Enterprise organizations typically have learning and development teams that support ongoing training of both their sales force, as well as their internal employees.

  • Chief Enablement Officer
  • VP of Sales Enablement
  • Director of Sales Enablement
  • Sales Enablement Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Channel Manager
  • Enablement Data Scientist
  • Instructional Designer
  • Content or Marketing Specialist
  • Sales Coach

What is sales training?

The main function of sales enablement is rooted in training and development.

Although we are all very quick to relate training to onboarding and regular product and skills training, it’s important to take the time to create a sales training plan.

Map knowledge and skills with sales processes, sales tactics, and sales career tracks. Different knowledge and skills are required for different sales functions and career paths.

Inside salespeople need strong verbal communication skills with high-level product knowledge to either schedule meetings with outside sales or close sales on the phone or via email.

Sellers need to quickly assess opportunities, conduct research, and present business cases to induce prospects to meet with salespeople or make a purchase.

You can also slice and dice training plans by product, job function, or even based on sales process and methodology.

There are many ways to approach training. Devise a sales training strategy, then apply training and development and learning objectives.

You also need to take into account the learning environments, such as classroom, training, multi-media, or short spurt micro-training.

You need to also consider the types of devices (laptop vs. tablet vs mobile vs. digital watch or other form factors) that sales personnel will use to consume content.

Designing an effective sales training program really boils down to one question: Will it create long-term change in the behavior of the salespeople, leading to positive results?

What is channel partner marketing?

A channel partner is an individual or business that sells products or services on behalf of technology or service providers, manufacturers, and hardware or software vendors.

While they are part of the sales force, they are not involved in the direct sales and instead form part of the indirect sales team for companies.

Examples of channel partners are distributors, value-added resellers, system integrators, managed service providers, and even retailers.

Some consider channel partner marketing to be another form of partner marketing. To some extent, it is.

However, partner marketing tends to be strategic and both partners are on equal footing.

Marketing and sales are a two-way relationship. Channel partners rely heavily on technology or service providers to extend marketing and sales support, provide MDF, relevant product content and, in some cases, share leads. The support is more one-way from technology to channel partners.

Traditionally, direct sales and indirect sales don’t talk to each other frequently. Occasionally, they will run into each other chasing the same accounts.

So who owns the account?

There is no right or wrong answer. The best approach is to address issues up-front to minimize channel conflict.

How does channel marketing impact sales enablement?

When the term sales enablement is discussed people tend to focus on supporting the sales team.

Bob Meindl, Head of Americas Field Marketing at MathWorks, pointed out that sales enablement on the direct side should also apply to the indirect side.

He said, “Whatever we do to train direct sales to sell the products, you have to do the same for the partners.”

It’s important to also provide similar support to the indirect sales team. Sales training, sales collateral, or marketing materials used by a company’s direct sales force can also be used to support the sales force of its channel partners.

In supplier-seller relationships, conflict may arise due to both parties wanting to maximize sales. This can be resolved in open discussions between the direct and indirect sales teams.

For direct sales, channel partners may come to the rescue when there is a deal that may require third-party support.

In this situation, direct sales may involve a channel partner as part of the deal to ensure customer success.

In some situations, direct sales can also do matchmaking and refer leads to channel partners.

It’s not about direct sales vs. indirect sales. It’s about motivating both sales forces and creating a mutually beneficial relationship that grows both businesses.

Sales enablement tools

Sales enablement software provides a platform to house marketing collateral, graphics, email templates, and playbooks.

It supplies your sales team with content that decreases the amount of time they need to prepare productive conversations with prospects and track engagement during the selling cycle.

Many organizations build customized sales enablement platforms for their sales teams in which sales have the ability to customize content within the platform.

They may also utilize solutions that provide sales enablement learning and development tools that support onboarding, training, and coaching.

How to measure sales enablement

Timely training and onboarding are key to your sales team’s success.

Equip them with knowledge, skills, processes, and tools to get them ready to win over customers. With tablets, smartphones, and wearables training managers can track key performance indicators related to sales and training materials.

With big data and advanced analytics, it’s possible to extract valuable information from the sales team by studying their learning patterns and behaviors.

The key is to establish both quantitative and qualitative digital training dashboards. A feedback loop needs to be in place to optimize and improve the quality of training content.

Another consideration is that training needs to be scaled to devices that the sales team uses. Design and user interface are critical factors to consider.

With digital, everything is trackable. Establish a process to monitor and track downloads and usage. Create a process to gather feedback from the sales team through interviews and online surveys.

Use advanced sales enablement platforms, software, and tools to integrate intuitive and user-friendly design into training.

It’s easier said than done, but it’s important to frequently review different training platforms. Design and user-friendly interface are critical for continuous and offline learning.

Final words

Today there is no longer a clear boundary between the sales enablement function and other departments — it can also belong to several departments.

It’s reasonable to decide that the sales enablement training methodology and platform should be scaled to company-wide onboarding efforts.

The sales team can argue that sales enablement has unique requirements and therefore the sales function should retain ownership of the entire effort.

The marketing team can make the case that a large chunk of sales training content comes from marketing, therefore it should be part of marketing.

Organizational structures, roles, and responsibilities will continue to morph as markets, customers, buying habits and technology continue to evolve.

Close collaboration across many departments and redefined roles and responsibilities have to be addressed in order for companies to be successful.

Remember, you can be a trailblazer that shapes your company’s sales enablement activities. At the end of the day, sales enablement is about making the sales team efficient and effective so they can close deals.

Today, an increasing number of sales organizations have adopted an account-based approach for managing prospects through the buyer’s journey and purchasing cycle.

This requires a team of sales, marketing, sales enablement, and other functions to have a shared understanding of the firm’s strategy, value propositions, sales tasks, and corresponding selling behaviors.

With technology as an enabler and a forcing function, these teams need to be more tightly integrated than ever before.

Along the journey, you may step on each other’s toes when the team is moving fast. That is okay as long as everyone is on the same page and ultimately works together to achieve the same goals.


Pam's article was originally published on medium.com.