Sales organizations often fail to recognize their back office is the engine that helps high-performing companies drive revenue and profitability. Its primary purpose is to drive sales outcomes and change that is needed to meet the growth objectives of the sales organization. The function leads a range of roles, which may include performance analytics, sales process definition, customer relationship management development, sales tool design, sales compensation design, training, technology pricing, and proposal management, among other key areas.
That’s why we think the term “sales enablement” is a better descriptor of those functions than more common names such as sales operations, sales support, sales effectiveness, and sales strategy and operations. Realizing sales enablement’s role can help it prevent it from becoming the dumping group for tasks and roles that sales doesn’t want, weakening the team’s ability to drive growth.
Based on our research and client work, the top five challenges sales leaders report their sales enablement organizations face are:
- Competing Priorities
- Internal Conflict Between Business Units/Leadership
- Investment in Sales Enablement
- Systems Integration
- Forecast Accuracy
These challenges should be addressed quickly and effectively. Otherwise, it risks the sales enablement team becoming lost in minutiae or caught up in putting out fires while losing focus on growth. To avoid this fate, we’ve defined six imperatives that sales leaders should follow. These are compiled from our 2018 survey of 58 major companies, with one-third of responding organizations in technology, a quarter in manufacturing, and the balance across industries.
Imperatives for Successful Sales Enablement
Sales enablement organizations with the highest productivity do the following:
- Determine the Mission of Sales Enablement
While it’s tempting to ask sales enablement to handle practically anything that comes along, the true purpose of the organization is to enable the productivity of the sales team. Set a clear mission for sales enablement and position it in a way that reflects its importance to the organization. To do that, sales leaders must understand who their internal customers are, what they need, what they are currently getting, and what defines success in the future. Companies without a clear mission or charter struggle with competing priorities of multiple division sales leaders because they don’t understand who their customer is or are shouldering the burden of multiple noncritical administrative roles because they don’t know what defines success.
- Define Roles That Align with the Mission
Sales enablement roles should flow from the mission of the organization and define not only what sales enablement will do but also what it will not do. Whether you’re improving how your organization works or building your sales enablement team, prioritize the roles and projects that have a well-defined revenue or profit impact. To potentially save years of trial and error, consider partnering to outsource areas that require specific expertise for ongoing support while your team builds its capabilities.
- Build a Center of Excellence Close to the Field
Sales enablement needs to respond to the customer and the sales organization. Housing the team just at the home office can separate it from the needs of the organization. Creating a center of excellence that is connected to sales leadership but also operates in the field can help the sales enablement team concentrate its knowledge base while being responsive at the front line.
- Drive High-Impact Projects
Sales enablement identifies the biggest productivity-driving projects for the year and engages the organization to build and implement improved practices from these projects. Be sure your sales enablement team is involved in these types of projects from the beginning planning stage.
- Manage to the Metrics and Publicize Success
Ill-defined measures of success can leave the performance of sales enablement subject to the interpretations of the organization. Set measurable objectives for sales enablement and develop a dashboard that can be tracked on a regular basis. Publicize sales enablement successes broadly to the organization to support its mission and value to the business. Be brave when defining and demonstrating your ROI, because it can be a clear demonstration of value to the company. For each project, generate a statement of costs, expected returns and timeframes.
- Invest in Sales Enablement
Sales and sales enablement should work as a team. If the sales organization plays the quarterback, running backs, and receivers, then sales enablement plays the offensive line that enables the sales stars to perform. Many would-be all-star sales organizations have been weakened by a lack of investment in this supporting cast. Know what you expect from sales enablement and make the investment to get it.
Focusing efforts on these six imperatives will put your sales enablement on the right path to achieve what it's supposed to do: drive revenue and profitability.
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