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What is B2B Sales Enablement in 2017?

Written by Fes Askari

Jun 9 2017

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What is B2B sales enablement? We explore definitions, frameworks and best practice tips for sales and marketing teams.

What is Sales Enablement in 2017?


According to the 2017 HubSpot State of Inbound, ‘Closing more deals’ is the main priority for 71% of sales professionals for the next year.


But to achieve that goal, sales organisations need to get with the times. We know that the way customers purchase has changed in the last decade. B2B buyers today are informed (even over informed to the point of paralysis) when it comes to products, solutions and vendor selection.


With so much information available, forcing your brand and product message in front of new and existing customers, without relating to the customer’s needs, challenges and perspectives, isn’t going to cut it.


That's not to say selecting the right brand isn't important to customers. But your brand is not their priority. Instead, buyers are knee deep in the realities of their challenges and commercial objectives and finding the best ways to solve them.

Between 70-90% of today’s purchasing decisions start online, with buyers looking for the best solutions to their problems. This means your customers will be researching - reading articles, watching videos, speaking to peers - and forming opinions about your brand and solution well before your salesperson (or whatever you want to call them) even has that first conversation.   

Your buyers are often already searching for solutions to their challenges - solutions that they can have confidence in; that will give them the edge, both for commercial and career reasons. Are your sales and marketing teams aligned with the buyer’s journey and positioned to help?


Related: 7 Considerations For Your 2017 Sales Strategy

Sales enablement adoption is up 30% from 2013 but many sales enablement teams are still finding their footing. However, companies with a sales enablement solution increased win rates 28% and reduced ramp-up time 25% - Sales for Life

What Does Sales Enablement Mean for Sales AND Marketing Teams?

If your brand is to be active in the right spaces, with the right (buyer challenge focussed) messaging at the right times, your sales and marketing teams must be 100% aligned. Content creation, lead qualification, lead nurture - all of these actions and more must be founded on shared insight and collaboration for both teams to achieve their goals.


So how can alignment be achieved? Firstly, it’s important to begin by listening to the customer. It’s important to understand your best-fit buyers (the customers you want to attract) and develop a deep knowledge of who they are, what they want - and who is involved in making purchasing decisions. Both your sales and marketing teams must have a clear perspective of this buyer definition (outlined through data-backed, buyer persona research) and use it to inform their priorities and actions.


Secondly, true alignment means having regular, frank and documented internal discussions between both teams, developing actionable insights that drive toward a deeper understanding of your good-fit customer’s buying triggers.


In short, silos just won't cut it anymore. B2B sales and marketing (or revenue) teams must work together to build strategic alignment focused on the buyer journey; the buyer being the various individuals that make up the decision making unit within an account (of which there may be multiple units within a single account).


Related: Sales & Marketing Alignment For Account-Based Marketing Success

So What is B2B Sales Enablement?

I believe B2B sales enablement to be a framework of behaviours across sales and marketing that considers the buyer as its central pillar and aligns revenue teams to build deeper customer relationships built on insights, data, content and stakeholder management. It starts at pre-sales and extends throughout the customer lifecycle, going beyond sales into  renewal, referral and customer success.


Sales enablement is both a function and a process that is defined for a business by the needs of the customer.

Sales enablement is a function which is accelerating in relevance in parallel with the rapid pace of change characterised by the fourth industrial revolution: digitisation. This is creating an incredible set of demands on the sales person. That said, enablement means different things within different sales organisations. In an effort to represent this diverse functional scope, we’ve established the Sales Enablement Society which in only a year, has built a global membership of approaching 1300 professionals across the function. - Rebecca Bell, Co-President of the UK Chapter, Sales Enablement Society

Alternative Descriptions For Sales Enablement

‘Sales enablement’ will mean different things to different businesses. There are multiple flavours of sales enablement, such as a focus on; demand generation training, content, or operations. However, the truth is that every organisation has a different perspective and requirement, dependent on size, scale, complexity and maturity.

The size and maturity of the sales organisation is really important. Put simply, as a sales organisation grows, the sales enablement team must evolve alongside it. - Ben Cotton, Senior Marketing Manager, HubSpot 

Crucially, where sales enablement shines is in recognising the huge challenges that exist in making salespeople effective in environments experiencing a huge pace of change.


This might come in the form of removing some of the administrative load to allow for more selling time, it may be in recommending the right blend of sales incentives, and will inform onboarding, upskilling and training, sales collateral development and more.


So while defining sales enablement is a helpful task to remind practitioners of the potential scope, effort should go into sharing leading practices and evolving the function.

Sales enablement is the technology, processes, and content that empower sales teams to sell efficiently at a higher velocity. - HubSpot

Sales enablement is 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 the return of investment of the selling system. - Forrester 

Sales enablement is the process of providing the sales organization with the information, content, and tools that help salespeople sell more effectively. The foundation of sales enablement is to provide salespeople with what they need to successfully engage the buyer throughout the buying process.- TOPO

What’s clear, is that no two enablement roles are the same and relatively few roles encompass all sales enablement flavours, often because enablement inhabits a number of somewhat siloed corporate domains, perhaps working within or alongside HR, Operations or Marketing. The purpose of the Sales Enablement Society is to assist in the sharing of leading practices and networking to help to progress the function and its professionalism. - Rebecca Bell, Co-President of the UK Chapter, Sales Enablement Society

There are a few key behavioural traits which help teams see success with sales enablement: 


  1. Firstly, sales and marketing each make sure that data and insights drive actions,
  2. Retain a buyer-centric purpose,
  3. And maintain a customer value-focused approach, backed by training and education.  
  4. Thus teams become outcome led and consultative in their approach to prospect and customer engagement.


Of course, this framework (and definitions of sales enablement) will differ between organisations; frameworks evolve and change as a business grows and matures, and will shift in line with the demands of the buyer’s journey as the complexity of the sale increases.


Stakeholder management is both in terms of acquisitions of insights into the process to fuel sales campaigns, content and more, but also in terms of mapping stakeholders back to the sales and customer retention process - selling doesn’t just happen via the sales team.

What Does A Baseline Sales Enablement Framework Look Like?

As mentioned, your exact framework for sales enablement will differ depending on your focus. In a Demand Gen focused example, a sales enablement process may run as follows:

1.  Sales and Marketing agree an SLA for aligned insight

This incorporates:

  • A clear structure of integration between sales and marketing teams.
  • Agreement on who a good-fit customer is and why (often defined for each stage of sales process)
  • An agreement on shared revenue goals and related targets.
  • Understanding of the costs and benefits of both the sales and marketing technology stacks (Smartech).
  • The resources made available to each other - e.g. timely and comprehensive lead follow-up by sales, or responsive content development from marketing.
  • Shared stakeholder management.
  • Cross team training and sharing across the areas of technology, strategy, buyer behaviours and more.

2. Both teams build a process for reporting and measurement

It’s crucial to build a process for reporting and hold regular reviews on what's working and what's not, as well as monitoring the changing definitions on the above. Ultimately, reviews must assess how processes between sales and marketing (Smarketing) are impacting business performance and the bottom line - defining a set of KPIs and leading/ lagging measurement indicators is core to retaining business support. Too often enablement is hard to measure, so is under-supported by the wider business - to its detriment.

Some of the key conversations we’ve been having in the UK chapter [of the Sales Enablement Society] include how to measure the impact of different enablement efforts and activities. This is critical to prove the ROI of investments in enablement and to help understand what moves the needle and demonstrate to the c-suite the value of what is a relatively young function. - Rebecca Bell, Co-President of the UK Chapter, Sales Enablement Society

As a guide on what to measure, metrics to monitor include:

  • Sales funnel conversion metrics
  • Time spent selling
  • Win/ loss rates
  • Internal sales & marketing NPS
  • New rep onboarding time

3. Processes are documented to optimise sales enablement as a whole

It’s important to manage, document and audit the above in order to effectively analyse and optimise all stages of sales enablement process development (from SDR onboarding, to GTM playbooks and even Smarketing meeting agenda management). This is where a new ‘sales enablement’ role may be evolving between siloed sales and marketing organisations who each have existing remits and responsibilities. This may be an internal role or, in the initial stages, may be driven by an external party who can provide objective mediation and best practice development between Sales & Marketing leadership.

What Do the Outcomes of Sales Enablement Look Like?

Well let’s take an extreme example: me.


As Head of Inbound Sales at a full-service inbound and ABM agency, I’m fully plugged into our sales and marketing machine. I want to know when a high-value contact (prospect, customer or other) has engaged with our brand. So what does this mean at the practical level?


For inbound marketing, our agency sales and marketing team has built clearly defined triggers for engagement with key stakeholders in our buying process; defined by precise persona-based lead qualifications criteria.


These personas are then applied to contacts in our CRM for segmentation purposes. Our CRM has a mobile app, which is connected to my smartwatch. If contacts with certain lifecycle traits trigger an engagement alert, I'm notified with some recommended next actions we have designed.

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Image - HubSpot Sales CRM Sales tracking app: SQL marketing email open notification on Samsung Gear S2


I’m hungry for data (a behaviour) about the opportunities we are working on. By having  information available on demand (I can switch off notifications when I’m with family or in meetings) about key contacts and their engagement with our sales or marketing content, emails, tools, proposals or other, I can drive a more contextual sales process and stay in tune with our contact’s behaviours and opportunity progression.


Related: How Contextual Selling is Changing B2B inbound Lead Follow Up


This may be an extreme (and geeky) example, but it shows where sales and marketing alignment, technology and data can converge to aid the sales process and deliver opportunities for the digital salesperson.


Taking things further, once we see a high-value, good-fit account engage with our brand, we execute steps in a bespoke Account-Based Sales strategy. This involves leveraging our marketing team resources to deliver personalised, account-focused content to that account to increase engagement in a timely fashion. Co-ordinated effort of this type can only be delivered via pre-planning, mapping and agreeing processes between sales and marketing.


Since starting this activity, we’ve seen an increase in our ability to be included in some high-value opportunities, due to the fact that we’re better able to demonstrate a customer-centric response to a buying trigger. All activities are reported and tracked for process review.


Related: Why Sales Enablement is Key to an Account-Based Marketing Strategy


Bottom line (which is the real metric) here, Sales Enablement supports the business in acquiring deeper insights about its sales and marketing processes, assessing how these insights impact the buyer journey and then influences deal velocity, account value and customer relationship strength, whilst engaging key stakeholders (particularly sales and marketing teams) to deliver an overall better customer experience with a positive ROI.

What’s Next For Your Sales Enablement Strategy?

There are many views on what Sales Enablement means to individual businesses at a strategic and practical level.


At Strategic IC, we help clients create their own definitions of Sales Enablement, and help teams develop processes that align with their customer’s needs; focusing on empowering buyers through education, relevant content and insight, delivered via the right channels, with the right technology (smartwatch not included!).


In support of the wider sales enablement discussion, we have seen the development of the Sales Enablement Society - “a not-for-profit professional membership association established by volunteer Sales Enablement practitioners” whose vision is “to promote and elevate the role of sales enablement”.


For those interested to learn more, the next Sales Enablement Society Event is being held in London on the 21st of June, giving enablement professionals the chance to network and discuss key topics to develop the practice further.

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