Subscribe to The Art & Science of Complex Sales

    What Exactly Is Sales Enablement?

    New Call-to-action

    Sales Enablement is a hot buzzword bingo term these days. The problem is, were you to ask 10 companies what Sales Enablement is, you’d probably get 13 different answers. Let’s see if we can’t clear up the confusion a bit with a high-level working definition that fits everyone’s situation:

    “Sales Enablement is the mitigation of friction which impedes sales.”

    Sounds straightforward enough, but let’s unpack this a bit:

    • Sales: The word “sales” has been seriously conflated with revenue generation. Sales is a very specific type of revenue generation, just as marketing can generate revenue, investments can generate revenue, liquidation can generate revenue… To engage in Sales Enablement, we need to first define what we mean by “sales”. And sometimes “sales” doesn’t mean revenue generation at all; consider, for example, how a seller has to “sell” their deal internally to obtain the resources they need just to move their deal forward.
    • Enablement: Interestingly, this can have either a positive or negative connotation: Positive: The process of making someone able to do something or making something possible; the process of providing a particular type of equipment or technology, or the necessary or correct system, device, or arrangement to use it [i]. Negative: Dysfunctional behavior approaches that are intended to help resolve a specific problem but in fact may perpetuate or exacerbate the problem [ii].
    Think of Sales Enablement not as diets, but the lifestyle changes you’ll be implementing so the improvements are real and lasting.
    Bob Britton

    While our intentions are positive, quite often our attempts as Sales Enablement become negative. Also, note that Enablement does not mean attainment, it means making somebody able to do something. This should cause us to examine how we actually measure enablement efforts, which might not be directly tied to revenue generation but rather to if a person or system is better able to generate that revenue. We need a more granular KPI than the lagging indicators of deals won and total contract values.

    • Mitigation: No mystery here, it simply means to lessen.
    • Friction: Essentially, friction means resistance (to sales), which can exist anywhere inside, or outside, an organization. Friction can be systemic in nature (incorrect internal processes, for example) or personal, as in the clashing between two persons or parties of opposed views [iii]. Internally, that friction can reside in marketing, sales ops, sales management, L&D, IT, finance, legal, facilities, procurement, product management, project management, the C-suite… Externally, we’re talking about market trends, how the customer wishes to engage with us, geopolitics, technological advancements… Internally, we should be able to proactively address the friction, whereas externally we frequently find ourselves being completely reactionary – probably because we’re focusing myopically.
    • Impede: To interfere with or slow the progress of [iv].

    The point is this: Most people undertake a Sales Enablement initiative without thoroughly understanding what it means. Sales Enablement requires, first and foremost, a strategic understanding of why your sales aren’t where you’d like them to be. Many organizations grasp for a tactical intervention, engaging in random acts of uncoordinated Sales Enablement such as implementing a new sales methodology, increasing leadership development efforts, getting a dynamic coaching program started, putting more sellers on the phones or on the streets, reshuffling or changing out people, all of which may be appropriate – when they’re part of an overarching sales improvement strategy. However, without addressing the systemic changes necessary to support those tactical efforts, any realized improvements are likely to be short-lived and unsustainable. As Geary Rummler stated, “Put a good performer in a bad system, and the system wins every time.”

    To put it another way, if you suddenly realize you need to drop 40 pounds (or improve your sales in this case), you’re likely to go try a diet, lose some weight, then bounce right back up to where you were before you started. Why? Because what got you to 40 pounds overweight probably isn’t something that happened three months ago, it’s likely habits that were adopted five years ago, which requires an overhaul of your lifestyle to realize sustainable change. So, think of Sales Enablement not as the diets you’ll put your organization on, but the lifestyle changes you’ll be implementing so the improvements are real and lasting.

    We've only peeled back the first layer of the Sales Enablement onion here

    Getting to the core of this onion requires a dedicated focus to the ever-changing landscape of sales and a proactive approach to getting ahead of those changes - a focus many sales organizations lack because they're living reactively, quarter-to-quarter, chasing quotas and solving the financial crisis du jour. What's required is a dedicated function within organizations, thinking strategically and understanding the nuanced internal workings of its sales engine, empowered to make the numerous cross-functional tactical changes necessary to keep that sales engine well-oiled and as frictionless as possible. This goes beyond the typical corporate strategy team, which may be focused on larger market dynamics. There's a void in most organizations which needs to be filled, especially given the ever-increasing speed at which our customers are moving. What's required is a team of Sales Enablement professionals.

    Article originally published Published on August 3rd, 2018 on
    Bob Britton's LinkedIn Page
    Bob Britton
    Published August 19, 2018
    By Bob Britton

    Bob has been in sales and training for more than 20 years. He approaches corporate training through the lens of an MBA, understanding the dynamics of complex services, manufacturing, and sales environments, while simplifying it all so stakeholders across an organization communicate effectively. Bob leverages his military and corporate experience to build and lead teams which focus on cross-functional knowledge management, performance improvement, and paradigm alignment. Importantly, Bob understands how the field of training must adapt to the changes in marketplace, and how training must transform from a traditional information delivery function to a trusted business partner, which directly and measurably impacts behaviors to move the business needles.

    Find out more about Bob Britton on LinkedIn