Over the last 5 months, I’ve been speaking with dozens of sales enablement practitioners. And in that time, I’ve noticed a few things about sales enablement technology.
But mostly, I’ve noticed that the sales enablement technology landscape is changing.
Right now, there are two types of applications in the sales enablement tools space that practitioners mainly use:
- Content Management Systems (CMS), which hold your sales assets
- Learning Management Systems (LMS), which hold your training modules
But there’s a third emerging category, which is the Sales Enablement Platform. We’ll discuss this a bit further in the article, and look at how Gartner is defining this type of vendor.
So, from having hundreds of conversations with enablement practitioners, and having read dozens of industry reports and opinions from analysts, here are my thoughts around the two main gaps I see with vendors in this space.
Content Management Systems Dominate Sales Enablement Technology
I firmly believe that analysts have been defining the sales enablement category incorrectly for almost a decade.
If you take a look at the Sales Enablement category on G2Crowd’s competitive grid, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the vendors are marketing platforms to store, deliver, and measure marketing/sales content you send to prospects.
This doesn’t cover the importance and responsibilities of sales enablement technology in its entirety.
There was a lot of chatter about this at the Sales Enablement Society conference in Dallas back in October 2017.
Many practitioners there didn't agree with the way the market is defined, highly driven by huge investments from venture-backed CMS platforms (over $260M in funding across the top four players) saturating the industry with their marketing message, eventually influencing the industry’s definition of sales enablement technology.
Content is only one component of the sales enablement technology story. There are many others that enablement practitioners deal with every day.
Because a CMS fundamentally does one thing: it solves the problem of marketing attribution to content, not sales enablement as a whole.
Damn these marketers always trying to steal credit! Don’t worry, I’m allowed to say this, I’m a marketer myself.
Gartner's sales enablement take:
Sales enablement technology is shifting to platforms
Gartner published an excellent report in 2017 titled Sales Enablement Technology Transforms the CRM Sales Landscape. They’ve mentioned that some sales enablement vendors have matured into platform solutions that are better suited for sales leaders. And a major shift in this maturation model is the deep integration into the CRM.
Take a look at how complex the sales enablement landscape has become, with CRM/API integrations being at the center of it.
If you’re not integrating your sales enablement programs into your CRM (e.g. spreadsheets and corporate LMS), you really can’t call it ‘enablement’ anymore. That is, if you’re not linking the programs you’re running to the revenue metrics that drive sales forward, you’re in the content delivery business, not the sales enablement business.
Now, let’s circle back to the sales CMS platforms that have been defining the sales enablement technology for a decade. When you look at this graph from Gartner, you see that a CMS doesn’t even scratch the surface of most capabilities a sales enablement platform needs today, not considering the capabilities that will be required by 2020.
Gartner recommends that leaders evaluate sales enablement vendors for their platform capabilities, particularly for the quality of API connection to SFA Systems or other enablement applications.
There’s a lot that goes into an enablement program that drives more and faster close. Education and training, certifications and assessments, content used, practice in the field, hitting milestones, etc. And while content management and attribution is a great start, it’s definitely not the whole story. Sales enablement technology needs to evolve to capture and tell that whole story to ultimately drive towards ROI.
Many Enablement Vendors Can’t Track ROI
To tee up this second observation, let’s look at the Kirkpatrick Model.
First, a quick review of the theory:
- Reaction: This is the basic first level of assessment. You’re measuring your reps’ initial reaction to the training. Did they like it? Did they find it useful? Was the material good? Did we use the right experts to run the programs? Etc.
- Learning: This is the second level of assessment. You’re measuring how much of the material was absorbed by your reps, and map it to the learning objective.
- Behaviour: This is the third level of assessment. You’re measuring how much your programs have influenced the behaviour of your reps and how they’re applying it in the field.
- Results: This is the fourth level of assessment. You’re measuring the impact your programs had at the business level, so revenue and pipeline growth in sales, and tying it back to the different parts of the program or individuals.
Even though this is a key concept for L&D practitioners (which I’m not saying is the same as sales enablement - it’s definitely not), it can be applied to program measurement on the sales side too.
Now, let’s look at how this applies to the two main sales enablement technology applications in use by practitioners today: CMS and LMS.
- Reaction: Both applications do this very well. Reps can leave feedback on most content/training modules, and enablers can track usage/completion of content, giving them a good idea of what’s resonating with the reps in the field.
- Learning: This is the key metric an LMS will measure. Certifications, assessments, quizzes, testing. They do this very well. The CMS side of sales enablement technology doesn’t track this.
- Behaviour: This is where it gets very interesting. Both LMS and CMS sales enablement technology platforms are bad at this. They’re not tying learning programs to real practice in the field. This is usually a manual process that requires a ton of time for enablement practitioners, especially if you’re not using an activity tracker in your CRM or conversation intelligence software.
- Results: Again, both CMS and LMS sales enablement technology platforms claim they do this, but most don’t. CMS will tie the content to pipeline and revenue, but it’s an influence metric (marketing attribution), not an outcome metric. LMS will make claims on training ROI, but when you look at what they offer in their analytics, they give you program completion metrics. It’s “% completion” not “% of additional revenue as a result of this program.”
So you can see, there’s still a long way to go in the sales enablement technology space when it comes to measurement. There’s some progress made with new and existing vendors building deeper relationships with Salesforce and other CRMs.
However, when a platform first starts off as an LMS or CMS and then wants to get into the sales enablement technology space (true enablement, start to finish), it becomes difficult for these vendors to really execute on their promise to enablement practitioners because of the gaps in functionality and reporting.
Do I Need a CMS, LMS, or Enablement Platform?
Here’s how to know what tool you need.
Do you have a content issue? Can reps find the right assets?
If so, then a CMS could be a great tool for you to add.
Do we have a training issue? Are reps not getting the right coaching?
If so, then an LMS could be a great tool for you to add.
However, I would suggest that you find vendors that focus on Sales LMS, not a general corporate LMS, or you’ll lose a lot of key functionality you need for sales enablement.
Do we need a robust enablement program across many functions? Do we need both content and training? Do we need to measure business outcomes of our programs?
If so, then LMS and CMS might not work well for you, even if you get both.
You’ll need a true enablement platform that’s deeply integrated with your CRM.
It’s important as enablement practitioners to understand what are the top priorities. Usually, in sales, it’s revenue growth - it’s the only priority I’ve seen stay constant across companies and industries, regardless of company size.
So if you want to be able to get a seat at the executive table, you need to be able to measure the impact of your programs on revenue growth. When evaluating vendors in the enablement space, make sure you address this.
And probe deep on the API/CRM integrations. Many vendors have one so they can check the box for you during your evaluation. But it doesn’t always do what you need it to do.
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