Sales Enablement — Revisited

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I was on vacation when Gerhard’s blog came out on July 29 “Is Sales Enablement just Lipstick on a Knowledge Management Pig?” I just saw it this past weekend and feel compelled to comment now.

Having read the post numerous times I’m not sure what the primary point really is: to denigrate the label sales enablement (why?), to criticize the “hype” of systems vendors, or to question the integrity of the analysts? (“Do you trust what analysts are saying about this concept?”)

And what’s with the non sequitur about the “delay economy” and Twitter and the “real-time economy”? I like the concept, but how does that fit with a rant about sales enablement? I think the blog comments were more useful than the blog points. The premise of the post perpetuates the problem of an over pre-occupation with technology. Let me explain.

Gerhard’s comments exhibit a tool obsession. Isn’t that what “Sales 2.0” (web 2.0 metaphor applied somehow to sales) is about? Comparing technology vendors and asking about ROI examples and comparison for each vendor seems to me to completely miss the mark and to focus on the wrong things. ROI attends more to the initiative than a specific vendor. The real differences between products are about fit and preference rather than ROI. When I insert the names Mercedes, BMW and Lexus in place of the vendor names he tries to compare,the comments reveal a peculiar perspective.

Definitions Get at Thinking

Gerhard’s definition of the purpose of sales enablement: “to help sales organizations save time finding relevant information, create and organize sales content and create quick access to all experts across the enterprise.”

Let’s take a quick trip to the dictionary to be clear about the word “enable”: “to make able; to make possible or easy; to make ready; equip.” Interesting that “equip” is the third definition. But for Gerhard, sales enablement is mostly about knowledge management, becoming better prepared, and about technology. Pretty limited.

What of “the analysts” definitions?

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.”

IDC: “The delivery of the right information to the right person at the right time and in the right place, to assist moving a specific sales opportunity forward.”

Gartner: “[providing] the sales force with communications programs and tools to drive activity and enhanced productivity.”

Interesting. These definitions tell me it’s about process, equipping a valuable conversation to help solve customer’s problems. It’s about delivery of information to assist. And, it’s about providing the sales force with communication programs. These definitions are much more expansive and strategic.

I don’t see a technology focus in these definitions? Learning and preparation is clearly a part — it’s part of everything in life. These definitions focus much more on the improving the primary selling activity — communicating an organization’s value to help solve customer problems.

Vendor Assessment

Well, what of the vendors? Gerhard criticizes vendor messages. (Is the language provocative — a trendy concept these days — or antagonistic do you think?)

I actually like Savo‘s “Never sell alone!” Gerhard doesn’t know many lonely salespeople. Again, let’s take another trip to the dictionary regarding the word “alone”: “separate, apart, or isolated from others” For comparison, here’s “lonely”: “causing a depressing feeling of being alone; destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship.” I agree, few sales people are lonely.

But in fact, sales people often feel they are alone in their responsibilities. The are alone in their quota responsibilities, alone in the way a significant part of their compensation is based on a high variable component, alone in the clarity with which their performance is measured and known throughout the organization, alone in picking up the phone and performing the task few like to do, engaging strangers, alone in getting the right support (anyone heard of the “marketing and sales disconnect” that’s prompted all this activity) and often alone in figuring out how best to sell a product or service.

Actually, a significant part of sales enablement involves shifting the mindset of sales people from that of the “lone gunman” to the collaborative seller and manager of a process that involves multiple roles selling to buying committees.

I suspect if you ask the vendors what their biggest challenges are, top of the list would be customer’s lack of proper content, or even a process to create the right content, to take advantage of their systems.

Peter Senge has said, “structure drives behavior.” I think the vendors mentioned in this blog all help provide a better structure that changes not only their customer organizations but the industry that is now talking in a much different way than just a few years earlier.

Consider how we’ve:

  • moved past “sales process,” to conversation about “buying process”
  • stopped complaining about the marketing/sales disconnect and actually have agreement that it IS marketing’s job to help sales, and we have effective ways to make this change
  • discovered that vendor/product focused content won’t work with buyers today
  • acknowledged that the internet has indeed made a fundamental change in the way customers buy, even if it hasn’t yet changed the way we sell
  • getting a much higher appreciation for the importance of content that is tailored so it is relevant to buyers based upon their role, needs and interests, stage of the buying process, industry, and other factors
  • created sales guides and playbooks with less focus on intense product oriented information to better “how to sell” information with “ideal customer profiles”, sales ready messages, and more
  • started thinking about nurturing leads to “sales ready” status instead of taking every new contact and sending them to sales as a “lead,” usually demoralizing the sales force and wasting their time!

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Lee Levitt, “we’ve only scratched the surface with sales enablement,” especially with execution. But the knowledge of WHAT to do and the tools to help us do it are far better today than even five years ago.

Highlights from Blog Comments

Below are the comments posted to the blog by different individuals. I’ve extracted the sentences that provided value to me.

“Cohesive program that includes not only technology but sales assets, a common sales process, sales training and an accountability platform.
Moreover the content of those sales assets is both relevant and compelling to the target audience.
Highly differentiated message.”

Jay Mitchell

“Most sales people are overwhelmed with too much information (and too much difficulty finding what they need)”

Chuck Carey

“I hold the organizations they (sales enablement vendors) sell to more accountable”

Mike Berman

“We focus less on definition and more on execution”

Tim Lambert

“Not too many VPs of Sales care about content
Issue is how to scale a sales organization
Drive repeatable behavior
Surface best practices — activities, strategies and conversations that work
Have a sales enablement person spend one hour to save 1000 salespeople an hour”

Jeff Ernst

“Focus on enabling buyers to establish their desire to engage, and more a sales cycle along
New ways of thinking”

Michael Damphousse

“Too many companies lack the foundational work required to measure progress”

Trish Bertuzzi

“Sales enablement is a business process
Impact on new reps
ROI not as important as Competitive Advantage
We’ve only scratched the surface with sales enablement
Potential could be on the order of 30-50% or more
Net savings is substantial —
Higher sales productivity and lower cost”

Lee Levitt

My Perspective

I embrace the analyst definitions of sales enablement. I’m dismayed that so many people focus so heavily on technology instead of the much more important elements of a shift in thinking, strategy, process, sales messaging, content, the right investments and more.

I also think there is too much focus on “information” and not enough on “communication.”

Communication: “the act or process of communicating; the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

Information: “knowledge communicated or received; knowledge gained through study, communication”

The distinction IS important because the issues are quite different, and therefore the remedies are also different. We need both. But the way we define our problems sets us off in a particular direction looking for answers. (Look at Sharepoint pre-occupation with managing content rather than improving the delivery of relevant information to buyers, as the analyst definitions suggest.)

A sale’s person’s objective isn’t to make himself or his prospect “knowledgeable,” it is to motivate a buyer to make changes and take action to work with his company — preferably sooner rather than later.

Sales Enablement is an all encompassing label. The outcome we are after is to enable ALL sales people to conduct better conversations with prospects and customers, with relevant information (messages) for each stage of the customer’s buying process, to improve the customer’s business, and for the customer to understand how an organization can do that uniquely.