Core Pillars of Sales Productivity
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Sales enablement’s responsibilities are often loosely defined and widely debated within any given organization. Unlike other business functions such as marketing or accounting that have concrete and consistent duties from company to company, sales enablement often operates in a grey area.
The one constant though is sales enablement’s responsibility to improving sales productivity.
The exact responsibilities will vary based on the team size, scope, and structure. However, there are four areas where sales enablement often is heavily involved or oversees in order to drive sales rep productivity: process and methodology, sales readiness, sales content and guidance, and buyer engagement.
Download the Sales Productivity Pillars tool at the bottom of the page and continue reading for insight into key responsibilities for enablement practitioners within each of these productivity pillars and their evolution as the enablement team matures.
Pillar One: Process and Methodology
Every company has a sales process but not all have a cohesive methodology sustaining them. Sales enablement practitioners are responsible for ensuring that the sales process in place is effective and making any necessary changes to optimize the sales process or methodology.
“Sales process and methodology is the way you account plan and think about winning customers for life,” said John Dougan, director of global sales and productivity at Workday. “The way you manage opportunities in terms of always adding value, always adding insight, understanding the goals, pressures, initiatives, obstacles of the organization you are selling into.”
Understanding the effectiveness of the sales process begins with having sales empathy. Even if they don’t come from a sales background, all sales enablement practitioners should understand what the daily workflow is like for a sales rep — their pain points, and potential obstacles to productivity.
This base knowledge is necessary for practitioners to dig into the sales process and understand what works, what doesn’t, and what needs adjustment.
Taking this a step further, more advanced sales enablement practitioners will be able to evaluate and secure executive buy-in for any changes to the sales process or methodology in order to optimize sales efficiency and effectiveness.
There is a great deal of change management involved in deploying a new process or methodology, so sales enablement professionals must be trusted agents of change. To drive adoption among sales reps, they should partner closely with sales leadership and frontline managers.
Implementing a new sales process or methodology is a heavy lift in terms of investment of both time and money — and change definitely doesn’t happen overnight. Advanced sales enablement practitioners should be able to prove value on a company’s investment in the recommended change in order to demonstrate why it is essential.
Expert sales enablement practitioners should keep up with emerging trends in sales processes and potential changes in the market landscape that might impact the effectiveness of the sales methodology.
To become truly embedded in the company’s goals and vision for the future, it is critical for sales enablement to have a seat at the table in executive leadership syncs. Beyond just the executive and sales organizations, sales enablement practitioners need to draw upon knowledge from across the company to understand how broader go-to-market processes can be improved.
“There is so much mutual benefit to a well-oiled enablement organization when it comes to product, the marketing teams, and the sales leadership,” said Heidi Castagna, senior director of global sales enablement at NVIDIA. “Having shared accountability for the success of enablement out in the field drives a lot of engagement and a lot of collaboration cross-functionally.”
Pillar Two: Sales Readiness
Developing and sharpening sales skills is core to enabling reps to effectively engage buyers, making sales readiness a necessary component to improving sales productivity. When sales reps are better prepared to handle all selling scenarios, overall sales performance improves.
“From a revenue standpoint, if our salespeople aren’t selling, enablement is not doing their job,” said Hillary Anderson, sales enablement manager for mid-market and sales development at Slack. “So, we need to give them the tools, give them the content, give them the training that allows them to do their job right, as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Competency requirements for sales reps will differ depending on factors such as role, experience, or target market. Just as companies need defined personas for their buyers, sales enablement practitioners need to define personas for their internal customers: the sales reps. In doing so, sales enablement can better deliver information and training to sales reps across verticals and segments so that they are prepared to offer valuable insights to customers.
As such, sales enablement practitioners need not only an understanding of the skills each sales rep should have for each role but also the intersections and differences between the various types of reps. Then, they should be able to tailor readiness programs and delivery to match the specific needs of various sales personas.
Readiness programs — onboarding, sales training, coaching — can often become a firehose of information, lacking the structure and formality to make knowledge stick long-term. In designing readiness programs, advanced sales enablement practitioners will integrate adult learning best practices to help structure information in a way that is easiest for reps to digest.
To ensure there is consistency in the way the information is deployed in the field, sales enablement practitioners should also be involved in the certification process, ensuring the certification requirements match what is being taught and emphasized in training.
“Make sure that you have things in place like certifications to make sure that there is standardization,” said Anderson. “Everyone has a standard talk track, they have a standard way that they message, a standard way that they demo, and then standard resources to help them be efficient and effective.”
The most impactful sales readiness initiatives do not just teach skills, they actually change behaviors. That is how sales enablement can truly move the needle when it comes to sales performance.
“Fundamentally for me, I boil sales enablement down to one thing and that is changing sales behaviors,” said Patrick Merritt, director of sales enablement at Puppet. “If you don’t change sales behaviors, then you don’t get different outcomes.”
Sales enablement experts have mechanisms to assess the impact of training programs, analyze gaps in sales performance, and connect both to identify opportunities for behavior change. They are then able to articulate the “why” behind the change and design programs that will break down the status quo and improve sales productivity.
Pillar Three: Content and Guidance
Content that offers unique insights helps sellers better connect with buyers. But if reps are unable to find content when they need it or do not know when to use it, quality content can get lost in the shuffle and go under-utilized. Sales enablement professionals have a responsibility to guide sales reps to the information that will bring the most value to their customer interactions.
“We’re all creating content for a purpose to be consumed, but we really need to start thinking about how that content is going to move the sales process along,” said Michelle Kanan, director of sales enablement at Gong.io. “We want to make sure that when we create content, we are doing so not just thoughtfully, but that we are actually thinking about where it is going to live within our sales cycle.”
All sales enablement professionals should have a solid understanding of the sales processes and what sales materials are needed to guide the seller and buyer though the journey. This requires cross-functional collaboration with teams such as marketing, sales, and product management in order to understand the content currently available, the gaps in content, and the methods for sharing content with the sales team.
At the most basic level, practitioners should know where all content repositories exist and the purposes for each and be able to help project manage across teams to ensure proper use of these repositories.
More advanced sales enablement practitioners will utilize the information gleaned from conducting routine content audits to manage and organize sales materials, including guidelines for other departments on creating content for sales consumption and for sales reps on how to use each piece.
Practitioners at this stage should be equipped to drive the strategy behind content that will be used by the sales team by clearly identifying the intended use case. A priority initiative for sales enablement practitioners at this level should be to create guidance for all of the material that sales reps will need for common selling situations they will encounter.
In order to accelerate the velocity of the sales pipeline, expert sales enablement practitioners will weave sales content and guidance into the sales process based on buyer personas.
“That’s what is really important to us: to make sure that we have congruence between how our buyers buy and how we’re helping them by adding value throughout the entire buying process,” said Tieg Herman, director of product marketing and sales enablement at Deluxe Corporation.
Then, practitioners should also pay close attention to the usage and consumption of sales content, tracking how certain types of content perform both qualitatively and quantitatively to continuously refine the strategy for sales content and guidance to ensure a solid return on investment.
Pillar Four: Buyer Engagement
Sellers need to meet buyers where they are in the buyer’s journey in order to be successful in sales today. In fact, helping sellers engage buyers more effectively is where much of the need for sales enablement stems from — and it should remain a key pillar to sales productivity.
“We can’t forget that salespeople need to understand their buyers, their buyer personas, and what’s important to the folks who are going to hopefully become their customers over time,” said Peter Ostrow, senior research director at SiriusDecisions.
First, sales enablement practitioners need to have a deep understanding of who the buyer is and package this information into well-defined buyer personas for sales reps.
To truly connect to buyer pain and provide value in the buyer’s journey, these buyer personas need to be aligned closely to the sales process. In creating that alignment, sales enablement will provide guidance to sales reps on not only what to say and show, but also when to do so.
As more people are involved in a purchase decision, the likelihood that the group will come to a consensus that results in a purchase decreases significantly. For example, when one person is responsible for a purchase decision, they have an 81% chance of taking action, but there is just a 55% chance when a second person is involved.
Due to this complexity, sellers need to be able to multi-thread — to sell to multiple personas involved in a deal. Advanced sales enablement practitioners will be able to equip sellers with what to know, what to say, and what to show buyers throughout each stage of the sales cycle when there are multiple stakeholders involved in a purchase decision.
As an expert, sales enablement practitioners are proactive in gathering data on buyer engagement thus far and connecting that to sales performance to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. This includes both quantitative analysis of when and how buyers have been engaged as well as qualitative feedback on what has worked well with similar buyers in the past.
With this insight, sales enablement practitioners can understand tactics to effectively engage buyers throughout their journey and provide that intelligence to sales reps. Using data to guide sales reps on how to approach the buyer given where they are in the sales cycle will decrease the time it takes to make a buying decision, ultimately increasing sales velocity.
By focusing on developing skills around the productivity responsibilities outlined in this tool, practitioners can ensure they have not just the tactical skills to improve seller efficiency and effectiveness, but also the strategic vision to measure impact on sales productivity and continuously refine efforts.