Sales Enablement is all the rage now; ten years ago I needed to explain the concept, now I am likely to be talking to a Sales Enablement Director. The growth in sales enablement hasn’t clarified the role, and there’s a bit of a ‘land grab’ with the new Sales Enablement function taking over some of the activities that belong to HR (training) or Marketing (lead generation).

My own view is that sales enablement should focus on enabling sales; providing salespeople with the information (and tools) that will help them sell. That sounds simple, but providing the right information to salespeople is a challenge, for several reasons:

  1. The information produced by Marketing and other departments is often of low value to salespeople due to their lack of understanding of the sales cycle and engagement process.
  2. Unstructured documentation makes it difficult to extract the relevant information, for example, generalised brochures lack detail whilst data sheets lack context. Alternatively, documentation is aligned to products rather than solutions, or to products rather than market segments – undermining good sales practice.
  3. Collaboration tools may provide answers to specific questions, but common queries are never consolidated so it’s difficult to find information via search or structured navigation.
  4. Good salespeople will know the answers to most questions and only require answers to exceptional questions which are, almost by definition, not readily available via existing documentation. They don’t use what’s available as it adds no value.
  5. Multiple silos make the task of finding information difficult and time-consuming. Email is used – a lazy shortcut that puts the work onto others.

It’s interesting to contrast (and learn from) how production operates in most factories. We don’t expect people to be running around looking for drawings nor for production to be regularly halted whilst people decide how to make a product; it just wouldn’t be acceptable, or economic. Why is it acceptable for Sales and Marketing?

What’s the Sales Enablement solution

This post was originally written in a response to an article suggesting that AI was the solution to enabling sales. There’s no doubt AI will help but it’s not the total solution and, like search, is a sticking plaster over the problem.

At the moment lots of content is produced by Sales, Marketing and Product Marketing. Creating all this ‘stuff’, both formal and ad-hoc, to enable salespeople is a huge investment, creating assets that should be fully exploited to win sales. These functions need to be helped to produce less stuff of higher quality.

In addition, the solution needs to encompass a set of rather basic information controls:

  • Structured repositories for information with some basic navigation which is aligned to sales i.e. markets and solutions, not products
  • Mandating that all materials are lodged in the repository (not sent by email)
  • Defining an information hierarchy i.e. from C-level to technical (or whatever works for your company, products and markets)
  • Defining and approving each entity before it’s produced – to minimise the investment and ensure every brochure, guide, datasheet etc has an objective in terms of supporting sales
  • Using version control so that information in the repository is up-to-date and old information is withdrawn
  • Ensuring that Q&A via collaboration tools are used to update and improve the documentation – so there’s a continual improvement cycle

A long list but it’s the essential work that’s needed to solve the sales enablement challenge. One of the advantages of the last point is that it can be used to improve strategy and product (via product management), not just improve the documentation!

The above actions are relatively low cost and easy to implement, although getting discipline into the process is the most difficult task! Finally, use search and AI to improve the speed of location of the information and the immediate responses to common questions!