Solopreneur Diaries: What is Sales Enablement anyway, and do you need to invest in it?
No matter how small your company is, the answer is yes.
For those who already have a background in sales and marketing, and especially for those who have had sales leadership positions, sales enablement comes easy. We sit in on a couple of sales meetings, listen to a few discovery calls and demos, and instinctively know where the gaps are, even before we look at the sales metrics.
But, those are not the only solopreneurs out there. In my startup communities, I meet wonderful entrepreneurs and solopreneurs with great ideas and solid business plans, whose sales just aren't where they should be. They've got the marketing end right (usually because you can outsource it, particularly at the start), but they're struggling to meet their sales targets, and their sales rep churn is much higher than it should be.
The problem? Almost always, gaps in sales enablement. It is in the service of those entrepreneurs that I'm writing this post.
So, what is sales enablement anyway?
Chances are, when you first read anything about sales enablement, probably looked something like the following:
"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.”
What a mouthful!
Of course, that's a very specific, very accurate definition of sales enablement. I believe it is also unnecessarily daunting. Let's break it down.
"A strategic, ongoing process"
Where you're at in the maturity of your sales changes the form that sales enablement takes. For a company that's just starting out, sales enablement could be the right training, templates, and scripts. For an organization that is further along, it could mean tools that act as multipliers: demo automation software, email marketing tools, LMS, and so on. For large enterprise organizations that are struggling with consistent messaging, tools like CRM, content management, and LMS backed with the right training interventions and changes to the sales process might be the right fit.
That's the strategic part. You start where your shoes are.
Sales enablement also has to be continuous. What was working yesterday, may need tweaking today. This is where you're on the lookout for new technology enablers, and new strategies, and are keeping a close eye on your competitor landscape while having an ear to the ground with your sales teams: what are they complaining about now? What are their pet peeves? These usually point to friction in your process.
"that equips all client-facing employees"
Yep, sales enablement isn't for sales alone. When done right, sales enablement crosses over into marketing (of course), customer service and support, and even product development. Everything is data for you:
What's driving customer complaints? (Service and support) How can we fix that so as to be a differentiator? (Product Development)
What are the key marketing messages customers are responding to? (Marketing) How can we echo those in our sales messaging? (Sales Ops) And in our product experience? (CX)
… And so on. Broadly speaking, if you're creating an organization that espouses value selling, your sales enablement strategy and your customer experience strategy should have serious overlaps.
To do that, you need to have processes and systems to capture, analyze and distribute this data. Moreover, you need a culture of continuous improvement, that allows this data to be put into action in terms of process improvements, templates, scripts, automation, and so on.
"consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation"
Once again, this is about having the right processes and tools in place. Think about what you need to create consistency in messaging and information. In my mind, that translates into training and content management solutions, CRM tools, and also scripts, templates, and frameworks. It needs to be easy for everyone from your marketing folks to your customer service reps to your retention teams to find the data they need at the moment they need it, the product training to deliver it in context, and the soft skills training to deliver it with efficacy.
If you're building a value selling framework, this involves a broader set of tools as well as data that your sales and marketing teams can dip into, when communicating with prospects and customers at various stages of your sales cycle.
Sales involve using a lot of data and doing so wisely. You need to review industry best practices: what data do most companies in your cohort use? Where do they source it and how do they use it? What sort of customer and competitive research are they undertaking? How are they delivering value to the prospect at each stage? How are they baking it into their processes, so sales folks can do so? How do they continue to deliver value, over and above their core offering, to customers?
"with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle"
Do you have the right processes and frameworks in place for both outbound and inbound interactions? What are the ways in which your customers reach you? Do they have clear escalation channels?
If you aren't generating a steady stream of inbound prospects, your content marketing needs work, as does your social media strategy, and your website content.
If your salespeople are struggling to generate leads, your lead generation framework needs work. And you need to explore Sales Intelligence tools.
If your salespeople are spending the bulk of their time on poorly qualified leads, your qualification process needs work.
If your Customer Lifetime Value is declining, and you aren't hearing complaints that correspond to that phenomenon, your customer experience processes need work.
And so on.
This aspect of sales enablement is about creating lines of communication, with the right people, at the right stage. Depending on your product and offering, the more channels you have open, the more you learn about how customers use your products and services, the more in sync you are with changing customer preferences, and the less likely to be taken by surprise by customer churn.
In doing so, you'll also gain valuable insight into how best to position yourself at various stages of the sales cycle, to different stakeholder groups, by industry, business size, and even by use case.
"to optimize the return of investment of the selling system"
And that's the aim, isn't it? We want to onboard customers quickly, painlessly, and cost-effectively. We want to keep them happy and engaged, interested in new offerings, and with us for a long, long time. When it comes to customer experience and customer preferences, everything changes all the time.
So, to stay ahead of the curve, we use metrics. Sales performance metrics like sales cycle length, average deal size, lead to opportunity conversion, customer lifetime value (CLV), customer acquisition cost (CAC), and monthly recurring revenue (MRR) give us a measure of the health of our sales organization and how well our sales enablement program is going.
As with all data, you need to design systems and processes that give you the right intelligence at the right time. That could mean something as basic as designing the right dashboards in spreadsheets, or something as tech involved as AI-powered analytics. Do what works for you.
In a nutshell
What is sales enablement? Sales enablement is a collection of tools, processes, information, and sales collateral your sales teams can use to help them build stronger relationships with clients and convert more leads into customers. That's it. See? Not so daunting now. :)
Do you need a dedicated sales enablement person? Depends on the scale. Also depends on your ability to understand sales data and sales processes, and whether you have an experienced sales leader on board.
For the most part, however, getting sales enablement right is about listening to your stakeholders and fixing what isn't working for them. Every organization is unique, and there is no one size fits all solution, or we'd all be using it.
Having said that, it's good to be aware of some common pitfalls and mistakes that you could be making, as well as some best practices that most of us sales old-timers swear by. It is also a really great practice to reach out to your startup communities, and to your mentors.
The good news is, you're already doing sales enablement in some form, even if you aren't calling it that. As with everything else on this entrepreneurship journey, you'll learn. The important thing today is to make a start.
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