Sales enablement is booming. According to a 2017 survey of sales organizations conducted by CSO Insights, 59.2% of the respondents had a dedicated sales enablement function. This is up from only 19.3% in 2013.
Sales enablement is a catch-all term applied to any practice that attempts to increase sales productivity. It’s not uncommon to find sales enablement departments responsible for a plethora of disciplines such as strategy, sales processes, analytics and reporting, lead generation, training, tool selection, and content management.
One of the key drivers of this heightened focus on sales enablement is the declining cost of sales technology. Sales organizations can now choose from a wide variety of new technologies that can do everything from predictive lead scoring to automated proposal creation. Even the phone, the quintessential sales tool, is now typically deployed by sales organizations as a cloud-based service with a stunningly robust feature set that would make any “old school” sales rep green with envy.
Another driver, according to Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, is that sales represents the next major opportunity to reduce expense. Cespedes notes that since the early 2000s, selling, general, and administrative costs have not decreased. But this begs the question: Are these new sales enablement technologies failing to deliver real improvements, or are we just early in the adoption cycle?
The data so far has been mixed.
In its sales enablement survey, CSO Insights found that the top three sales enablement goals were to increase revenues, improve margins, and grow new account acquisition — no surprise here. But according to the same survey, only 1/3 of these sales organizations were achieving most of their sales enablement objectives.
According to Gartner, sellers working in organizations with complex sales enablement systems, on average, experience a lower conversion rate than those who don’t. That’s likely because these systems tend to be difficult to use and take time away from key selling activities. Gartner also found that as a company moves from low to high internal complexity, the burden on sellers increases by as much as 62%.
At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, here are few factors to consider before you automate a sales process or acquire a new sales enablement technology:
Have you defined, refined, and mastered the basics? Who is your target customer? Do you understand how your customers make purchase decisions (the buyer’s journey)? Do you have a defined sales process that is aligned with your buyer’s journey? Do you know what activity levels you need from your reps to achieve your sales goals? Do your reps have the requisite selling skills to have an impactful sales interaction with a buyer? Many sales enablement solutions can deliver more sales interactions, but not necessarily better interactions. It’s essential that your team masters processes and skills before you automate. How much additional administrative work will the new sales enablement tool create for your sales team? Many new tools seem great in theory, but in practice come with a high “total cost of ownership” regarding rep and management time needed to implement, input data, and manage. All of this takes time away from your team’s core function of having high-quality sales conversations.
The potential payoff for increasing sales productivity is so significant that sales enablement will continue its rapid growth. Nevertheless, sales leaders should exercise caution before adopting new sales enablement technologies for their own sake, or risk getting blinded by the next new shiny object.