Sales enablement is a broad term that covers a wide gamut of efforts, ultimately aimed at driving more revenue. This includes stuff like tools and processes, but also content, coaching frameworks, and practice spaces for sales to get better at their jobs.
In short, there’s a lot of stuff you can call ‘sales enablement programs’.
Which means that no matter your growth stage, you’re probably doing some enabling.
Fortunately you don’t have to wander through the woods wondering if you’re doing it right. We’ve seen enablement at tons of different orgs at lots of different growth stages, and what we’ve noticed is that sales enablement programs evolve in a predictable way.
There’s a roadmap to the evolution of the sales enablement function.
In this blog post, I’m going to run you through the common maturity levels, what defines each one, and what enablers should be focused. When you know what the road ahead looks like, you will be able to navigate each level with more aplomb and less arm-flailing.
This stage is common in young companies who are growing fast.
Enablement is a “by-the-way” kind of function, grown out of organic need, and focused on treating symptoms rather than causes.
The organization is learning a lot and making a lot of mistakes. Often, they struggle to provide sales reps with what they need, and there may or may not be a well-defined enablement role or single POC.
It might be an enabler, but could very possibly be a sales ops or product marketing manager. It’s possible that they weren’t told what enablement is, and is seen as simply a need the business has. If you are the designated enabler, then you have a great opportunity to turn this into a massive value-add function.
The focus is less on sales enablement programs and more on smoothing out the very rough go-to-market process. This will likely include:
At this stage, the main thrust of enablement does will depend largely on who's running it. An ops person might focus more on tools, PMMs would focus more on resources / content, etc.
At this stage, enablement is usually a side gig. Companies growing here usually don’t have enough need for a dedicated headcount to only enable reps.
Usually, enablement services end up shared across multiple functions, but it’s not owned and aggregated by anyone, so work stuff falls between the cracks while other projects are completed twice.
If sales enablement programs are executed, then success is often measured by whether a program was delivered or not. There's no effort to tie it to revenue or outcomes since the entire focus is on getting it out the door. As far as solving problems is concerned, it’s not even about putting out fires. It’s more ‘putting out the biggest fire, even if you know other stuff is burning.’
Nothing specific. Content is usually stored in a Google Drive / Sharepoint, there are often multiple content stores and no alignment between them. Program progress is tracked on spreadsheets (if it’s tracked at all). There is no tool for tying enablement to revenue outcomes (and if this isn’t addressed in later stages, then sales enablement will never be considered a strategic function in your organization).
OK, things are a bit all over the place. And that’s 100% fine for this stage. Maybe enablement isn’t even your core expertise, but it has landed in your lap. Here’s what you need to do to make the most of this opportunity:
At this stage, things are still bumpy but getting better. The sales tech stack has been smoothed out, allowing focus to be brought to fewer, critical domains. Enablement is focused on increasing productivity and trying to design out recurring challenges and hotspots in the sales process. They’re often owning sales onboarding at this point as well.
A single enabler, probably an enablement specialist / manager.
The major focus is shoring up the sales team. It’s full steam ahead with onboarding, with ongoing enablement creeping in if there’s time. This includes getting new reps set up on their technology and trained on the relevant content.
At this stage, enablers generally own the onboarding process and are responsible for improving it over time. Reps need to be made sales-ready quickly.
There’s less fire-fighting and more outcome-focused efforts, but the organization is still finding its feet with sales enablement. Managers will face issues with:
You’ve got more dedicated tools to help to track and deliver things better. You need to have a well-known “place of truth” for key content and delivery of sales enablement programs. You might be using something that was bought by other teams, like marketing, but it’s better than spreadsheets. This might include:
However, a lot of teams at this stage are still operating out of spreadsheets, project management tools, and calendars.
Proving the value of your role to sales leaders! Now that some things are in place, you need to lay the foundation for this. Start focusing on tying enablement efforts to outcomes. At this point, since the main thrust is onboarding, it makes sense to focus on ramp-up time for new hires. Mine your sales operations team for benchmarks before and after you started rolling out programs.
Track each cohort in a tool or a spreadsheet. Key sales enablement metrics should include:
Then, focus on improving on those benchmarks to prove the value of what you do. Remember: most sellers will eventually ramp regardless of what enablement they get. Your value is the time difference between what would happen naturally and what happens with you there.
At this stage, sales enablement has room to grow into a full-fledged department of its own, and should be able to prove its strategic worth to the organization.
To make the leap to this level, you need to have a clear vision, mission and purpose, and most importantly a structured approach to how you measure and prove your impact on revenue. Remember – if you want to move to a strategic role and grow your team, you need to say why you’re worth that extra cost.
A senior sales enabler, possibly a director, possibly with a team under them.
Still responsible for onboarding, but increasingly are responsible for ongoing enablement to improve existing sellers. At the growth stage this type of enablement enters the fray, there are usually enough sellers that it’s worth improving what you have (even incrementally) to significantly improve your bottom line. They own onboarding and its improvement outright, but are also responsible for corralling lots of other initiatives, including process changes, internal and external content production, and – critically – supporting managers with their coaching.
Processes are more mature now. One thing that doesn’t change, though, is enablers need to connect their efforts to behavior change and outcomes. Enablement data needs to be tied to revenue data in a way that senior leaders can understand.
Enablement needs to be prepared to prove it’s impact on virtually any revenue or business metric, including influenced revenue, deal conversion, sales velocity, cycle length, deal size, and ultimately, enablement ROI.
Enablers also need to constantly improve their sales enablement programs based on revenue outcomes, so that cohort after cohort gets better and better. Identify the key metrics required to improve in order to reach business goals, and design programs to address them.
Senior enablers also need to start approaching their sales leaders and managers and proactively identify what they need help with, and then design and roll out micro-sales enablement programs accordingly.
For example, if a manager is having a problem getting her BDRs’ meetings to convert to opportunities, then enablement’s job is to design a program to help BDRs have better discovery conversations. Then, they need to run a cohort through that program and see if it generates an uptick in pipeline.
Finally, enablers need to define what they own / don't own. Yes, you can say “no” at this stage. Otherwise, it's easy for enablement to become a dumping ground for any and all sales problems / ideas from management.
A full technology suite designed for delivery of training, testing reps, and tying enablement to outcomes:
Actively finding problems in your sales org, developing sales enablement programs to address them, and deploying these quickly to see what works and what doesn't.
Second, focus on sales coaching. Make it easier for sales managers to coach by providing a sales enablement framework, space, and programs, and scorecards to guide them, and help them identify which reps need coaching and what they need coaching on. Finally, enablement should be automating and streamlining as much as they can for sales managers to give them even more time to focus on coaching.
The goal of sales enablement is to optimize your sales process and make your reps more effective and efficient… all to the end of improving revenue.
This is necessarily an evolving effort. Don’t expect to fix everything with a one-time initiative. It will get more effective through a series of stages, each of which yields tangible benefits.
Obviously, every sales team will need to follow a different path. And the state of sales enablement for every team is bound to be specific to them (maybe sales enablement programs are effective, but content management is haphazard), so there can be no homogenous solution.
But I hope that having a view of the road ahead will help you to come to terms with what’s in store and to plan for it.
One thing that's proven true again and again is that just by having formalized sales enablement, you'll likely produce higher win rates and increase quota attainment. So no matter how discombobulated things seem now, sales enablement is and always will be a solid part of every sales org. It just takes time for the magic to work.
Image credit: Siora Photography via Unsplash
Spencer is the product marketing manager at LevelJump. He comes from the world of content and loves helping B2B SaaS companies find exactly the right people who love a product, and figuring out exactly how to tell that product story so it resonates and compels action. You can find him on LinkedIn.