If You Build a Structure, Sales Enablement Will Come

There’s a lot of devalued sales jargon out there, but the phrase that makes me wince the most is “sales enablement.”

First, it’s misleading — there are lots of things that equip sales people to close deals, but when people say “sales enablement” they usually mean content, portals, playbooks and on-boarding. That only “enables” part of the sale.

Second, even when that limited scope is considered, most companies are abysmal at managing it. Too often, marketing provides content only when its absence starts to derail deals and cost money — but it fails to use any structure to manage that content. It ends up scattered throughout the organization in any number of repositories.

The problem is made worse by vendors pushing sales enablement point solutions that attack aspects of the problem without making any efforts to tie them to an underlying strategy. This reactionary approach provides sales with an incomplete set of tools, each working in isolation from the others, to minimal success.

Take a Step Back

Only one in 10 executives report getting value from meetings with salespeople, according to Forrester. Clearly, sales is going into these meetings lacking critical tools.

The average salesperson prospects for 6.25 hours to set each appointment, according to the Ovation Sales Group. That means that for every appointment a prospective customer finds valuable, salespeople have invested 62 hours and 15 minutes — more than three-quarters of a working week.

So, is “enable” really the right word? “Sabotage” seems more apropos.

It does not have to be this way. There’s a way to make sales enablement achieve what its name suggests. However, businesses have to back up and reassess what they need. Too many of them think the answer is more content.

That’s actually the problem in many cases: There’s too much content, and sales reps can’t find what they need when they need it. Others think the problem is the method of delivery and are worried about mobile interfaces. But if you can’t find something at your desk, why would you be able to find it on your phone?

The issue is one of structure and organization. The drive for more and more content has been disconnected from the need for a structure to sort, categorize and evaluate that content. The result is a growing haystack in which sales reps have to hunt for the needles they need.

Start at the Very Beginning

Imagine you were opening a library. Where would you start? Would you go out and get a mountain of books and pile them in the middle of your building? Probably not, because there would be no way for your patrons to find what they need. Would you create a checkout system first? No, because without a means for patrons to locate the books they needed, no one would be checking them out any time soon.

You’d begin with an organizational structure, starting with shelves and a system for locating books quickly in your library — the Dewey Decimal System, perhaps. Then, patrons could find what they need when they need it and check it out.

This is exactly the thing that’s needed in most sales enablement environments — a structure that organizes, sorts, and even suggests content based on its past effectiveness. Once that structure is in place — the virtual shelves and a system to categorize and find the right content — everything else starts to work itself out.

People can use your channels of distribution (portals, mobile, etc.) because they can locate what they need quickly. When they start working with the content and provide feedback through a structure, you can start to evaluate the quality of content — which content works, which is being ignored, and which doesn’t work and should be retired.

Beware of the sales enablement vendor who would rather drag you into a feature bake-off than explain the structure that enables those features. Without that underpinning, the result will be more of the same results you’re getting already: content created but inaccessible when sales reps need it; managers obsessing over methods of content delivery while ignoring the content itself; and sales enablement that doesn’t actually enable anyone.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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