September 1, 2016

Sales Enablement Isn’t a Buzzword — It’s Your Job

A lot of people in the B2B world are talking about “sales enablement” these days. Run a Google search, and you’ll get almost two million results. The conversation has been slowly building since the early 2000s, and in the past year or two, we’ve seen the inception of “sales enablement software,” which ostensibly helps businesses do sales enablement. 

The major think tanks have all published their definitions, the thought leaders have disseminated their thoughts, and the industry blogs, predictably, have churned out listicle after listicle imploring companies to hop the unstoppable train of this latest best practice. But, as is common in our industry, we have examined sales enablement from a safe distance, well-insulated by the methods we know as familiar. Don’t pretend you can’t relate.

According to new data from CSO Insights, we’ve spent a lot more time contemplating sales enablement than actually doing it. Their 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study, released at the beginning of August, found that only a third of U.S. companies have a dedicated sales enablement function, and only 31 percent said their sales enablement programs (whatever that means) have met original expectations.

You Are More Than a Marketer

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is from TechnologyAdvice, so he’s going to tell me to buy some kind of software.

No.

I mean, maybe. The right software can certainly make life easier, but technology is only one facet of sales enablement. The real question is not what new app you should install, but how you can start holding yourself (and your team) at least partially responsible for the growth of the business. You are more than just a marketer.

It’s great about that blog post that earned 500 shares, great that your subscriber list hit 10,000, but what metrics can you show that directly impact customer acquisition and revenue?

The notion that marketing should assist the efforts of their sales brethren is far from a new concept, especially in the B2B world. You’re probably familiar with the theory that marketing really is sales, just drawn out over a longer period of time. Now, in the digital era, we can prove it. Marketers can track and measure the success of what they do from first touch all the way to closed deal. That proof is a blessing, but it also puts more pressure on marketing teams to . . . not suck.

A Systemic Approach to Sales Enablement

According to Forrester, 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.”

That’s a fancy way of saying marketers should help the sales team sell. This is true for any marketing unit in any company with a commercial product — whether that be software, hardware, or billable services.

“Sales enablement” isn’t some newfangled theory whose destiny is blog fodder and $499 technical briefs. It’s been an essential part of our job all along. The key to taking it seriously is understanding how it affects nearly every aspect of your role as a marketer. It’s bigger than content, and it’s bigger than a conveniently-named software platform (as if software alone ever solved our problems).

Here are a few areas where marketers can start doing more to support the sales team, if you aren’t already:

Content

A lot of the sales enablement conversation has circled around content, and for good reason. Content can be a powerful tool throughout the buyer’s journey — both as a point of reference for salespeople and as a decision-making resource for potential buyers.

We don’t hesitate to create content for generating and nurturing leads before sales delivery. Why stop after? There are many different content assets marketing can create to help sales close deals. Among them:

  • Case studies
  • Emails and email templates
  • Slide decks
  • Product/service brochures
  • Implementation guides
  • Onboarding documents
  • ROI calculators
  • Whitepapers
  • Research guides
  • FAQs

Any of those sound familiar? Let’s I hope so.

Lead Generation/Nurturing

This is perhaps one of the most obvious areas where marketing should “enable” sales. Sure, they’ll find some opportunities on their own, but most sales teams rely on marketing to keep the pipeline moving and send over qualified leads.

ALSO READ: Why Drip Campaigns Work and How to Build a Good One

The plight of lukewarm MQLs is all too common among B2B organizations. For lead generation programs to be measurably beneficial, marketers need to align with sales on what criteria indicate true interest and intent, and what types of buyers are the best fit. It’s not a bad idea to loop in sales stakeholders during conversations about lead scoring. If you can’t generate enough leads or sufficiently qualified leads with your current resources, consider getting help from a third-party

Events

In-person events are another area where marketers can equip salespeople for success. For starters, you can help identify which events might be a good opportunity to meet prospects. You can also help arrange logistics to make sure sales reps who attend get the most out of their time.

That could be anything from creating a booth design and handout materials to leveraging a sponsorship for attendance privileges. Or say your SDRs meet some folks who are interested in your company, but not ready to buy. Time to do a little nurturing.

Revenue Goals

Before the advent of closed-loop reporting, many marketers gauged their success based strictly on reach and engagement. How big was their audience? How many times was a whitepaper downloaded? By the time leads made it to the sales team, the analytics went dark. But if these primitive metrics are several degrees removed from the actual creation of a customer, are they really a good indicator of success? Of course not.

Modern marketing departments can and should focus on aligning their goals with the goals of the sales team. Some organizations go so far as to draft a service-level agreement (SLA) holding both teams accountable. According to a study by 6sense, 70 percent of B2B marketers are now evaluated based on the amount of revenue they (help) generate.

Branding

You might not immediately identify branding as a sales enablement tool, but a strong brand can impact the way buyers discover your product and interact with your salespeople. CEB found in 2004 that a “strong brand connection” can boost a B2B company’s purchase rate by 59 percent, on average.

CEB study: impact of b2b brand connection

If you’ve spent the past several years building credibility and name recognition in your industry, the path to every new prospect conversation will be much smoother. Not to mention, brand awareness is one of the many intangible forces that drives top-of-the-funnel lead generation. The argument could be made: without a strong brand, you’ll never keep your pipeline full.

In addition to branding efforts for the company, you can help your SDRs and account managers establish credibility and create their own personal brands. That could mean lining up interview/podcasts with prominent industry blogs, inviting them to participate in a webinar, or helping them manage a few social media accounts. The impact of branding won’t be measurable in the same way that a lead nurturing program would, but it’s still an important component of sales enablement.

* * *

Keep in mind, sales enablement isn’t sales servitude. Collaboration goes both ways, and sales must be commensurately willing to assist with marketing projects, contributing not only data and direction but also their unique perspective. The same could be said for the customer success unit.

If you skimmed through all of those sections because you have better things to do than read an entire blog post, let me sum it up with one sentence. If everything you do — every campaign, every project, every piece of content — isn’t driving measurable results that help your company add customers and increase revenue, you’re doing it (marketing) wrong.

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