How Org Structures Impact the Effectiveness of Sales Enablement
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The question of who sales enablement practitioners should report to within an organization is a topic of debate in the sales enablement space. Enablement initially grew out of sales operations; however, more and more organizations are shifting toward giving sales enablement practitioners a seat at the executive table. In fact, the 2019 State of Sales Enablement report found that 26% of organizations have an org structure in which enablement reports directly to an executive leader, whereas only 13% are structured to report to sales operations.
While it’s clearly a growing trend, it’s important to examine why that shift is occurring. Here are four areas of friction that illustrate how org structures can impact enablement’s effectiveness.
Sales enablement professionals implement the infrastructure that can be critical to the long-term success of the organization. When it comes to leaders’ responsibilities, the CEO is primarily accountable to the overall health of the business. While sales leaders and sales operations have a stake in this as well, they are instead primarily accountable to annual revenue. Therefore, it is in the hands of the CEO to decide what infrastructure is critical to the strength of the sales organization.
For example, in the event of a downturn, sales leaders are more inclined to push performance and activity before design, infrastructure, and programming. If the enablement function is under the sales leader in such a situation, it becomes disposable compared to sales reps from their perspective. However, that same approach can be incredibly risky for a CEO that is concerned with building a sustainable business long-term because they need to maintain organizational productivity and effectiveness. This makes the enablement function invaluable to the CEO.
Due to the differences in what each is accountable to, sales enablement can vary in its level of priority to leaders across the organization, from executive management to sales and sales operations. This directly impacts how well enablement professionals can implement infrastructure, as generally functions that are of a higher priority for a leader will get more of their attention and resources.
In order for enablement to be most effective, practitioners need to be able to present results in a transparent manner so that solutions can be identified and implemented. Often, enablement teams will find ways that the sales leaders or operations leaders need to improve. For specialists, criticizing how the person in the position that oversees them does their job can be much more difficult and not as well received than if the conversation were to be approached from the other direction of the org chart.
The information enablement practitioners discover can be critical for CEOs and the executive team to know so that they can work together to find solutions to ensure the sales team is equipped to do their best work. Change starts at the top. If the enablement leader can’t reveal findings that could be interpreted as controversial, enablement is not able to fulfill its purpose because it will be held back from creating the infrastructure that is actually effective in bringing organizational change.
If sales enablement leaders are asked what holds them back the most from being successful, many will say they have a great strategy, but they lack enough sponsorship, resourcing or budget to truly transform the organization. Since sales leaders and operations leaders are accountable to annual revenue, they will prioritize putting more boots on the ground and resources on the sales team than in enablement. It’s common to hear sales enablement professionals say they are getting the leftover resources. By only allocating the budget and resources left to enablement, enablement leaders run into issues where they either can’t regulate or get subpar results.
On the other hand, at an organization where sales enablement reports to the CEO, the leadership is more connected and invested in the transformation that enablement is driving. By framing the activities of enablement as furthering the goals of both the CEO and the board, it’s easier for enablement to be viewed as an objective partner to sales rather than a unit within sales. With sponsorship for particular objectives at the top level, resources and budget to execute effectively are more readily available.
Sales operations leaders are data-driven. Their goal is to provide as much real-time data and insights to sales leaders as possible to help them manage their business. While insights are helpful in informing strategy, many sales leaders today are in data-overload. With too many data points presented to them, it can be hard to sift through the information to find what is truly groundbreaking for their business. They need help knowing what leaders and programs can actually help change the outcome of the data points they are seeing.
Sales operations leaders invest four times more in curating data than in enablement guidance for sales leaders to help them reach their goals. Enablement grew from within sales operations as a way to do just that, and yet sales operations still have four times the headcount of enablement practitioners. This lack of alignment on goal between sales operations and sales enablement can hold enablement back from its full potential if it sits within operations because, by nature, it would become more insight-driven than guidance-driven.
Meanwhile, the CEO has an overall goal of increasing productivity and effectiveness to create long-term success. Thus, they are likely to be more willing to support enablement’s prioritization of providing guidance to the sales team rather than more data.
Reporting structure has a direct impact on the ability of sales enablement to do its job effectively. Sales enablement professionals need adequate resources and transparency with leadership to be able to build programs that will yield tangible results. Without alignment on goals and priorities between enablement and the leader they report to, sales enablement will be handicapped in what it can create.
Since sales leaders and sales operations are accountable to different areas of the business than the CEO, goals, and priorities can differ greatly. Often, the former is more focused on micro activities to affect sales revenue while the latter has a macro view of overall health and longevity of the business. By reporting directly to executive leadership rather than sales or operations, sales enablement professionals can secure stakeholder buy-in at the top level and focus their energy on providing coaching and guidance to the sales team to help them reach their goals as an organization.