Getting Zen about Sales Enablement


When you put the word “sales” and “enablement” together – it sure can mean a lot of different things – to a lot of different people. 

As the Research Director on Forrester’s Sales Enablement team – it’s a problem I see every day. 

What’s entertaining about this (or aggravating, if you are a sales enablement professional inside a large company) is that not only do many people view those two combined words differently – many of those people are extremely confident their own perspective is the right one.  Given what we publish, the number of presentations we give, all of the cross-functional group settings we run into – you might imagine we’ve heard our fair share of strong opinions.

Here are a few highlights of my favorite “certainties:”

·         Sales enablement is just lipstick on a knowledge management pig.

·         Sales enablement is the new label for sales training.

·         Product marketers have been enabling sellers for years, what’s the big deal?

·         Sales people should be enabling themselves with all of the resources we provide them.

·         Marketing should own sales enablement, because it is clearly a content issue, and the sales force doesn’t have access to good content.

·         Sales should own sales enablement because it’s clearly a about training and sales force development.

·         Sales enablement is about providing sales people what they need to be successful.

·         Sales enablement is about creating the right conditions where sales people can thrive – it’s the sales manager’s responsibility to look after individual reps.

·         Sales enablement is yet another term that gives me a headache.

To be honest, that last point really resonates with me.  Having been briefed by many suppliers (over 100!) who have raised the “sales enablement” shingle on their storefronts, when I hear the term uttered without context, or scoped to a set of common business problems – I too get a headache.  This is what happens when you get into word games of “noun polishing” rather than trying to pick a set of words that give an identity to a set of common problems.

At Forrester, we try to keep our research away from “noun polishing” exercises, but at the end of the day we do use those two words.  So, how do we go about talking about it?   For us, it really gets down into asking two simple questions (this is what I call getting Zen about sales enablement)….

1)      By “Sales” what do you mean?  

a.       Individual sales people? 

b.      The sales organization? 

c.       Specific sales of products or services? 

d.      Increasing overall top line sales?

2)      “Enable” what specifically to happen?

a.       Individual sales people – to do what exactly?

b.      The sales organization – to do what, or how – exactly?

c.       Specific sales of products or services – by doing what specifically and impacting whom, why?

d.      Increasing overall top line sales – by doing what specifically?

When you start answering these questions you can quickly see why there are so many different random acts of sales support out there.  What is our lens?

How’s this for a Zen-like answer: They are all important, but not all are equally important

At Forrester, we look at “Sales” to mean – the top line.  It’s all about revenue streams first and foremost.  However, we need to be a little more specific – what definition of revenue really matters? 

·         Aggregate revenue of all your products and services that is reflected in your firm’s income statement?

·         Revenue targets from business units?

·         Revenue from specific products?

·         Revenue generated from all of the quota carrying sales force?

·         The legal definition of revenue (i.e. when it can be recognized) or the less precise term that is used interchangeably by some to mean “sales” or “bookings?”

·         Revenue by accounts?

·         The value of the revenue? (For example – revenue from software license sales is more leveraged than consulting –so not every dollar is equal)

I know, I know – you can’t be an analyst without being anal, but unfortunately these details matter.

In our “do more with less” economy – your executive leadership is focused on increasing returns on the investments it makes to drive top line revenue.  On your income statement that is your selling, general and administrative costs (SG&A), less the GA costs.  Simply put – it’s your sales and marketing investments.  Unfortunately, for 10 years – overall SG&A have been growing faster than the top line revenue.

If you are involved, in any way, with “doing something to help sales” – it’s imperative you understand a) exactly what kinds of transactions are in scope of your activities; b) who is responsible for doing what tasks in that value stream and c) whether there are common definitions in place, so your contribution can be accurately measured.  Absent this, how will you be able to articulate the specific value you are contributing to your organization?

For example, if you do a training program and 100% of the sales force enrolled and provides solid net promoter scores – but the overall sales force did not meet its number; how would you reconcile that?   Or, let’s say you created a sales playbook for a new product launch that has a relatively high number of downloads on your system – but the overall revenue objectives of the product launch were not met – was this a useful investment in time and energy?

I am not making a value judgment here either way.   What I am merely pointing out that in the absence of some of the definitional details I mentioned above – it can be awfully hard to articulate the contribution you or your team made in terms of driving overall revenue.

This is one of the more challenging issues facing sales enablement professionals.   One the one hand, they are often told by an executive sponsor (either a CMO, VP Sales – yes, even CEO) to “go do something;” on the other – the specific objective of that “something” isn’t defined, nor is there discussion about how to measure the results.  Six months later (after you’ve completed your assignment) you are in the uncomfortable situation of defending the investments and providing the evidence of return on investment of YOUR initiative.  (Notice how six months ago it was someone else’s idea and now it’s YOUR program.)

Understanding these details is important to creating the right kind of measurement strategy for your work.  This is one of the reasons we’ve asked our CEO, George Colony, and our CFO, Mike Doyle, to present at our upcoming Sales Enablement Forum and share with you what motivates them.  Simply speaking - a huge amount of the activity you and other people in your company are doing to “help sales” is coming from your CEO – so, it makes a lot of sense to try to understand how your CEO views the world.  I think you will be surprised. 

On the other hand, CFO’s are the ones who (more or less) create the scorecards to determine if groups are spending money wisely.  We thought it would be invaluable to hear directly from them what in their concerns about investments make to support sales and how they thing about it. 

I am in a fortunate spot to get to work with many different people.  What I see: there is a huge disconnect between what people think is required to move the needle in profitable revenue growth and how to track results – and it’s widening.  Unfortunately, if you are not the CEO or CFO – chances are the deck is stacked against you. 

For example, a Chief Sales Officer is responsible for the sales force – but a common compliant I hear from them is “I feel like I am trying to mount a value selling engine on a product selling chassis.” In other words, many don’t feel they are totally in control of their success. 

Conversely, from CMO’s I often hear “we create all of these wonderful executive level thought leadership programs that map directly to our corporate strategy, but sales people don’t follow up the right way, and we get blamed for the failure of the effort.”

Our goal in March is to help illuminate this gap, to provide some clear ways to get everyone rowing in the right direction, and provide some examples of your peers who have started building these relationships across the executive team.   We’ve designed the agenda specifically to help you a) turn the directives coming from CEO’s into highly focused initiatives that b) will hold up to the scrutiny that will inevitably follow from finance. 

If you join us in Phoenix, you will get to engage in highly energized conversations with peers in your community who are all struggling with issues similar to yours.  Our job for our keynotes is to really challenge you and our audience and create an environment of thought-provoking discussion with your peers.  Don’t worry, we’ve also got a great balance of track sessions about tactical things you can do that can add value immediately.   

So, if you feel like you are currently the “VP of Broken Things” in your organization and feel there is a better way – you should strongly consider joining us in Phoenix March 4-5.  


This phrase jumps out at me:

This phrase jumps out at me: ‘there is a huge disconnect between what people think is required to move the needle in profitable revenue growth and how to track results – and it’s widening.’ Falling through this widening gap are individual sales people who are fighting an uphill battle to get one single meeting with an executive, and the cards are doubly stacked against them. Why doubly? This same complexity exists in the organizations they are trying to sell into, and they are living in the space where these two worlds meet.

This is not just a question of how executives in leadership, marketing and sales internally align to each other, but how they align to the buyers they are trying to provide value to.

“What buyers really want” is just one of the tracks at the Sales Enablement Forum in Phoenix in March. We will peel back the layers around business’ and IT executives’ expectations of the B2B organizations and sales people with whom they interact, and show what our fourth annual Buyer Insight survey says about how well those expectations are being met, and what executives tell Forrester works best to engage them in a sales conversations.

On the measurement strategy in sales enablement:

Scott: from what you've said here, measurement strategies are needed that reveal the cause-effect connections between investments and outcomes, because:

a/ it's hard to fix a problem that you can't see [requires metrics that cast a new light on how sales + marketing efforts impact buyer engagement in the lead-to-revenue process].

b/ it's hard to fix a problem on your own when you don't control the outcome [CSO's + CMO's need to find ways to improve the buyer influence of their teams' efforts]

c/ it's hard to own an outcome on your own when it's influenced by the effectiveness of others' actions [senior execs need to find ways to see more clearly each others' contributions to incremental outcomes]

Sounds like a recipe for accelerating revenue with faster learning cycles on how practices affect outcomes. Hear, Hear. Look forward to learning more. - John

Sales Enablement is

Sales Enablement is everybody’s problem and nobody’s problem. Most of the blame/praise when revenue targets aren’t/are achieved is given to sales. I believe this happens because as a baseball player’s batting average is calculated to 3 decimal places so it is with percentage of quota achievement. The other silos that are involved don’t have such direct accountability. Sales doesn’t have the luxury of “noun polishing” when numbers aren’t met.

The silos of finance, product development, marketing, product marketing and sales all should meet at the customer rather than offerings. This is far easier said than done. Most companies have rampant failures to communicate. There isn’t an agreed upon definition of sales enablement. Beyond that there isn’t a common vocabulary nor a working definition of intersection points between the silos and the deliverables each must be accountable to provide to allow better buying experiences.

There is a great deal at stake as the objective is to meet or exceed revenue targets.

Missing Link - Sales Management

Great blog post and discussion!
I agree with many thoughts that were shared here and I think, Scott, you listed almost all kinds of possible definitions and view points on the term "sales enablement".
I'm still missing one element, that's crucial, especially if we focus on people: That's the layer of the first and second line sales managers. And the understanding of sales enablement as a framework to drive not only performance, but also change and transformation.
Many reasons why front line enablement programs might be executed extremely well, but without the expected financial results, have their root cause within the sales foundation, the sales infrastructure.
What are the organizational drags and the comfort zone drags, that fight against your enablement strategy? How is the sales management process/framework and the sales managers aligned to the enablement programs for sales people? How do you enable the sales managers? How do you make sure that for instance their coaching map is based on the same framework and design points as your enablement initiatives?

Many thoughts, see you in Scottsdale!
My keynote will cover some of these questions!

Send 'em back "fixed"!

Scott, great post. Tagging onto Tamara’s comment, in my dozen plus years in SE work, I’ve found the attitude across most sales management teams is “Go on and give ‘em tools, train ‘em up, then send ‘em back.” In other words, YOU give them what they need, and I’LL watch the numbers. That all important “bit in the middle” is missing from most Sales Enablement programs and it is the point upon which real success hinges: coaching. Sales Management must be involved not only in the messaging, approach, and rollout of any Sales Enablement work, but they must be proficient in coaching that is aligned with it. Absent their active role in reinforcing behavior changes being asked of their teams, any rewards reaped after an initial rollout are short-lived.

Sales Enablement Tools vs. Technique

I might be off base here but I think the reason the term "sales enablement" is being used is because of the newer technologies that have come into the market place to create efficiencies around data collection/analytics, sales performance and customer engagement. I don't disagree that the enablement side of the this discussion still has to rely on good managers and front line coaching but I've seen a lot of tools enter into the market to help salespeople sell more efficiently - or enable them to work smarter not harder.

For example you have companies like SAVO who provide collaboration and business intelligence to aid sales people to not reinvent the wheel with customer proposals, demo decks etc. Then you have a lot of cloud based IVR companies who tracking Google analytics to provide quick insight as to what key words were used to motivate this person to call your company when they found you in an online search. Or what about companies like ours who are adding Speech enablement to a CRM so the sales person doesn't even have to be sitting at a computer or Smart phone to enter information into the CRM-- they can just phone it in. These are the types of ideas that pop into my head when I hear the word Sales Enablement. Anything that helps the sales person do their job more efficiently -- they key is investing in the right tools that make sense, ensuring they are properly executed and tracked for results. This is the hardest part of all of this because it usually requires people to change their behaviors. That's probably a topic for another blog.