Training Industry


  • 4 Steps Sales Enablement Can Take to Drive Sales Performance

Recently, there has been growing energy around the sales enablement function. New sales enablement groups are forming and growing at a rapid pace, prompting increased attention and some interesting questions, including:

  • What is sales enablement?
  • How is sales enablement different from, or the same as, sales training? Sales operations? Sales effectiveness?
  • What should sales enablement professionals deliver to the business, and how is success defined?
  • How can/should sales enablement affect selling now and in the future?

In the space provided here, there is no possible way to touch on, let alone answer, each of these questions. However, we can provide a framework by which sales enablement professionals can begin to shape their roles and drive exceptional sales performance.

The sales profession continues to evolve away from simple product pitching toward more collaborative interactions with buyers. The continuing shift in the role of the seller and the increased complexity of many solutions will drive a massive change in how sales professionals are developed and how performance is managed.

For many organizations, this change will in turn elevate sales enablement to one of the most critical roles in the entire company, not just in sales. The role of sales enablement will be to equip the sales team with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to leverage the company’s solutions to the benefit of prospects and customers and win in the marketplace. In order to play this role successfully, sales enablement professionals should follow four key steps.

1. Define your selling and coaching models.

Selling in the future cannot be a black art. The key behaviors that allow sellers to outperform the competition must be identified so that each member of the team can continue to develop their ability to execute with ever-improving effectiveness. At a minimum, these models should include:

  • Customer engagement: models for interacting, including learning about their business, developing criteria, presenting solutions and handling concerns
  • Opportunity management: a clear model for what information is needed to work and how opportunities are evaluated
  • Pipeline management: a common framework for developing sales success plans and evaluating pipeline health
  • Account planning: a clearly defined model for developing and executing plans for teams that have an account management strategy
  • Distributor/partner management: a clearly defined approach for teams that sell through distribution
  • Sales coaching: a clearly defined and effectively implemented program, which is necessary for the team to develop full proficiency with any of the other models

If you’re starting from scratch with sales enablement, simply defining these models can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are a number of partners in the sales training space who have developed highly effective models in these areas, so for many companies, it may simply be a matter of selecting the best partner.

2. Implement the models.

This process typically means introducing the models to the team, generally through some form of sales training. There are two potential pitfalls to avoid. The first is not allowing the team to evaluate the models and come to their own conclusions about their validity. Any developed or sourced model should be so clearly defined and undeniably logical that 100 percent of the team will agree that executing the model will produce the best possible performance. The second pitfall is assuming that training people on the models is adequate to prepare them to use them.

3. Operationalize the models.

Since training alone generally results in less than 30-percent adoption of key behaviors, it is essential that sales enablement work closely with leadership and sales operations to embed the models into existing systems and processes. This collaboration extends beyond creating fields on opportunity screens or mirroring the stages in the CRM to the training. The systems must actually help improve sales professionals’ ability to execute these behaviors more effectively and consistently. This process involves both supporting functions and accountability functions tied to the specific models being employed.

4. Finally, continuously measure and improve.

Once the selling and coaching models have been defined, implemented and operationalized, sales enablement must report on the degree of adoption and proficiency in the organization. This reporting cannot rely on self-reported, anonymized survey data about what the sales people and managers think they are doing.

The models should have execution artifacts that allow sales enablement to measure the entire chain of rep development and execution, from the characteristics of the sellers the company hires, to the specific coaching and corresponding learning for each person, to the impact this learning has on their selling behaviors and sales performance. You can then use this information to intervene with struggling reps and teams and improve the models as well as the means by which they are implemented and operationalized. As illustrated in the diagram below, this continuous approach delivers dramatically better results than traditional training events.

For companies whose products are best sold through sales professionals, the sales enablement position will prove indispensable in the future. Beyond training, sales enablement will help define the companies’ models and ensure that the sales teams are equipped to outperform the competition through continuous improvement that leads to consistently better execution. For these companies, sales enablement is the key to a sustainable competitive advantage.

Bob Sanders has more than 25 years of experience in sales, sales management and marketing. As CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development, Bob and his team are elevating the sales profession by transforming how people sell, learn and coach.

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