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Correlating Sales Enablement’s Impact on Strategic Initiatives

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In sales enablement, proving impact on strategic initiatives is often perceived as somewhat of a Holy Grail. The “right” formula is highly sought after, yet it can seem elusive. However, practitioners who figure out how to measure sales enablement’s efforts and communicate their results are able to unlock the executive support and visibility necessary for long-term success.

By showing what sales enablement is capable of in terms of the strategic priorities of the business, practitioners build trust with stakeholders and prove that enablement is a necessary ingredient to achieve organizational goals.

As the State of Sales Enablement Report 2020 found, this is an area that many enablement teams struggle with. Teams are highly effective in collaboration and alignment, as 62% effectively collaborate cross-functionally to execute corporate initiatives and 59% effectively correlate sales enablement initiatives to sales goals. However, this effectiveness decreases significantly when moving beyond alignment and toward impact.

In fact, 50% of respondents say that sales enablement is either average or below average in its ability to use data to analyze the business impact of sales enablement efforts, and 48% are either average or below average in their ability to communicate sales enablement’s value to the business.

Practitioners work tirelessly to enable revenue-facing teams around the behaviors and processes that are needed to perform exceptionally in their jobs. While that impact might be clear to those on the enablement team, it cannot be assumed that other key stakeholders will inherently understand how sales enablement contributed to the collective results.

“A lot of my stakeholders…saw enablement programs as kind of periphery, like enablement was this nice-to-have thing,” said Vanessa Metcalf, head of revenue enablement at Top Hat. “I knew [enablement] was going to help us grow and succeed as an organization, lead to better retention and win rates, and all that good stuff. But I needed to make sure that everyone else felt that way, too.”

Here are four steps to begin proving sales enablement’s impact on strategic corporate initiatives, from breaking down the factors enablement can influence to communicating value to the rest of the organization.

Determining Enablement’s Influence

For every corporate initiative that sales enablement supports, leaders need to break down the collective goals into variables that enablement can directly influence. Practitioners often encounter one of two core challenges in measuring impact on business goals: either they take too much credit for large objectives and are not able to show the correlation of their work to that number, or they work in a silo and do not take enough credit for their work with stakeholders. This is why it is critical for practitioners to be able to connect the dots between sales enablement programs and business outcomes.

“You’re not really going to impress anyone by saying how many certifications you’ve run or how many pieces of content your team has produced, but if those things are connected to some other larger business challenge, then you want to make sure you’re shouting from the rooftops of what that connection is,” said Metcalf.

Determining this influence requires an introspective look at cause and effect. Peter Ostrow, vice president and principal analyst of sales enablement strategies at Forrester, explains enablement’s influence on potential business outcomes by proposing four potential approaches. Consider which of the below best describes when sales enablement has been successful:

  1. I have done significant work and activity.
  2. The revenue-facing reps have the skills, knowledge, and processes they need to competently do their jobs.
  3. The organization met its revenue target for the year.
  4. The organization’s stock price increased.

In terms of enablement’s cause and effect, the second option is the clearest indicator of sales enablement’s contribution to the business. The first option shows productivity, but it fails to acknowledge the quality, effectiveness, or impact of that activity. Additionally, while the third and fourth options are great indicators of a healthy revenue organization, sales enablement is not the sole indicator of success in those areas.

In identifying the metrics that sales enablement is responsible for in relation to large organizational goals, keep in mind that there is a difference between correlation and causation. While enablement cannot claim that a single program is the cause of an increase in total revenue, practitioners can show the relationship between a program and a change in behavior, which helped contribute to that outcome.

“Measuring sales enablement is more about figuring out the right relationship between the cause and the effect: what you do and the measurable outcomes behind it,” said Ostrow.

Identifying Metrics

In determining which metrics to prioritize, mindset is key. With the ultimate goal of proving impact, it can be easy to get distracted by vanity metrics – those that look good when taken at face value, but are not actually what moves the needle beneath the surface. Similarly, it can also be tempting to track too much in an effort to show all of the work that’s been done. However, this creates too much noise for stakeholders to cut through in order to decipher insights from the data.

“What I found super helpful was thinking about running my team and my own enablement initiative pipeline similar to how I would being an individual contributor or managing a sales team,” said Metcalf. “I think about all of the initiatives as I would ops in my pipeline. I think about my buyers as people internally…I think that just helps you to put things in perspective and into terms you already understand, which can help what often feels like unstructured and ambiguous work feel a little bit more structured.”

The exact metrics tracked will vary by initiative, but Ostrow suggests breaking these down into four primary categories.

  • Activity: Did the work get done? While metrics such as “the number of trainings delivered” are by no means the primary goals enablement should be held accountable to, it is important to keep track of how much work enablement is responsible for completing for a given initiative. Especially in resource-constrained organizations, sales enablement often gets added responsibility without an accompanying increase in resources. By closely tracking activity, sales enablement can use those numbers as a baseline to show what can be achieved with additional responsibilities and resources.

“Activity is never the goal,” said Ostrow. “It’s just the first step.”

  • Quality: Did the internal customers get what they need from the program or initiative? These can be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Similar to a customer satisfaction score that organizations determine for their external customers, the same can be done for enablement programs internally. Additionally, source direct feedback on initiatives through interviews or more formal programs such as a revenue advisory board, where members of various revenue-facing teams get together to share feedback, concerns, or ideas for improvement.
  • Adoption: Are revenue-facing teams active and engaged participants in enablement programs? Think of this beyond whether or not people are logging into an application or showing up to a training session. Rather, look deeper into correlations between adoption and performance or productivity. For example, perhaps a large percentage of reps are accessing assets in a centralized location, and therefore time previously spent searching for or creating assets is now redirected to producing more pipeline.
  • Impact: How does enablement’s work affect business outcomes? When working toward a collective goal for the organization as a whole, there are too many other factors involved for sales enablement to be solely accountable for those outcomes. Rather, sales enablement should strive to demonstrate the behavior change or productivity improvement that ladders up to a larger business goal. Then, practitioners must communicate that metric to stakeholders in terms of its monetary value. When stakeholders can clearly see the value of an investment rather than just the cost, they are more likely to support and protect that investment.

Analyzing Progress

Measuring impact is not something that practitioners should wait to do until the end of a program. In fact, it isn’t even a one-time occurrence. It is an evolutionary process that should take place in the lead-up to a program’s launch, throughout the duration, and upon completion. This gives practitioners insight into the state before enablement stepped in as well as any areas that might need refinement along the way if outcomes do not align with expectations. As part of this process, both quantitative data as well as qualitative feedback are key.

Quantitative Results

Partner with the sales operations team to gather data related to the productivity, performance, and proficiency of the revenue-facing teams. Once armed with this data, look for any trends or patterns that can tell a compelling story. Stakeholders don’t just want to see numbers in a spreadsheet, they want to see what those numbers mean in terms of the business challenges they care most about.

“I think of data as more of a torch that lights a dark cave,” said Metcalf. “That’s to say, it’s not going to be the only thing you need to make your way through that cave, but really, you’re not going to stand a chance without it.”

Qualitative Feedback

Sourcing feedback from enablement audiences, stakeholders, and partners is a key way for practitioners to assess effectiveness and identify areas for improvement that might not otherwise be revealed through the data. For example, revenue-facing reps can provide insights based on what they are hearing from customers and prospects, and frontline managers can share unique observations from coaching sessions or one-on-ones.

“Make sure that first of all, you are sourcing feedback, and also that when you’re getting it, you are actually implementing it,” said Metcalf. “It’s really important that enablement doesn’t feel like this siloed thing off to the side on an island.”

By assessing progress continuously and refining programs as needs arise, sales enablement will have deeper insights into what works and what doesn’t to help tell a compelling story when communicating impact to stakeholders.

Communicating Revenue Impact

Correlating sales enablement’s efforts to impact on strategic corporate initiatives doesn’t stop at tracking the right metrics. However, practitioners often overlook this critical, final step: articulating that impact back to key stakeholders in a way that they will understand and appreciate. To do so effectively, keep in mind three best practices:

  • Be proactive: Sales enablement is in a unique position as it is deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations of teams spanning the revenue organization. This means that often, practitioners can have unique insights they can take back to executives to inform their strategy.

“You’re in the position of understanding revenue challenges potentially before senior leadership even has started chatting about them,” said Metcalf. “When you’re proactive about bringing up these insights, that gains you a seat at the table.”

  • Lead with the business problem being solved: Tie all key findings and outcomes back to the strategic objective or challenge the executive team set out to solve. This will help communicate the connection between sales enablement’s programs and collective results.

“[My team] would talk about an enablement project and we knew the value of it, but unless we were leading with what the business problem was and what our anticipated ROI was, it was very hard for others in the organization to digest,” said Metcalf. “I find by leading with your impact statement – what is the problem we’re trying to solve, and what is the goal we’re trying to hit here – that puts it in terms that people can understand.”

  • Calculate the value: Executive leaders need to see the numbers that show whether an investment helps or hurts the business through monetary returns. To calculate this, estimate the monetary benefits and compare that to the total costs of the program in order to show the return on investment. For example, perhaps a training program cost $300,000 to deliver, and yielded $450,000 in benefits due to deals closed as a result of the training. The calculation, in that case, would be as follows:

ROI = (($450,000-$300,000)/$300,000) x 100 = 50%

Sales enablement is well-positioned to drive strategic initiatives forward across all of the revenue-facing teams it supports – but to do so, sales enablement needs a vibrant vision for what success looks like in terms of outcomes it can directly impact. By tracking those metrics consistently, through both quantitative and qualitative means, sales enablement practitioners can craft a holistic story for the value they created with the evidence to back it up.

When sales enablement can clearly communicate how it contributed to the priorities that executives care about, it helps build trust, demonstrate accountability, and prove capability. In turn, this can open the door for more responsibility, resourcing, and visibility within the organization, setting sales enablement up for long-term success.