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How to Manage Your Sales Enablement Stakeholders

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As a sales enablement professional, you’re in a unique position in the organization. Odds are, you have stakeholders that span the company from marketing to sales to ops, and even the C-suite.

However, managing stakeholder deliverables and expectations can be challenging – especially when each have different areas of expertise, key responsibilities, and vantage points into organizational priorities. In order to establish effective working relationships with core stakeholders, it is essential for sales enablement to have a deep understanding of the responsibilities of common stakeholders and the nuances of how to best work with each unique group.

Marketing

The marketing team crafts the company’s value proposition, overall brand and product messages, and creates demand. It’s marketing’s job to position the company and its executives thought leaders, and they own creating the resources and key messages that are delivered to customers.

Example outputs include:

  • Messaging and positioning guidance
  • Websites
  • Product collateral
  • Event presence
  • Social and SEO/SEM
  • External and internal communications

Working with marketing:

Historically speaking, sales and marketing departments can struggle to work together within an organization due to the overlapping nature of some of their responsibilities.

“There are a lot of responsibilities that straddle the line between demand generation and sales enablement,” said Jen Spencer, vice president of sales and marketing at SmartBug Media. “Both functions support the entire marketing and sales cycles to increase the success of a company’s interactions with potential buyers.”

However, sales enablement should strive for a symbiotic relationship with marketing precisely because of these overlapping responsibilities. This is a workplace scenario that can shift from “frenemies” to “better together” with a little effort and clearly- defined roles and responsibilities.

Challenges to overcome:

The most common issues between marketing and sales enablement stem from marketing’s lack of access to data points that are critical for sales and/or a lack of understanding of the sales culture of the organization. In order to provide materials that meet the needs of the sales team, the marketing team needs a solid understanding of how the sales process works and the types of situations the sales team often encounters.

What you can do:

Inclusion is the key word when it comes to overcoming traditional challenges working with marketing. The better informed and included they are, the better they will understand the needs of the sales team, and the better and more relevant materials they can provide. For example:

  • Bring marketing leaders into work streams and provide them access to data that helps them understand the sales cycle
  • Provide call recordings so they can hear customer questions verbatim and better understand the types of hurdles sales reps face, which will help inform marketing’s brand positioning and content strategy
  • Tell them what works and what doesn’t, with specific customer examples to remove any emotion from sharing feedback

By developing a mutually beneficial relationship with marketing, they will be able to help you create materials that help sales get ahead of key questions from prospects and customers, deliver more tailored pitches, and cut out wasted time hunting for one-off answers.

Sales Operations

Sales operations is responsible for analytics and strategic planning, looking for opportunities to improve the sales process, leading and lagging indicators, and where future revenue streams might exist. In short, they’re responsible for sales processes and practices.

Example outputs include:

  • Data and reports that reflect sales performance and the sales pipeline
  • Forecasting
  • RFP responses
  • Process documentation
  • Sales technology stack ownership

Working with sales operations:

Think of sales operations as the architect of the sales plan, whereas sales enablement is the construction crew. Sales operations provides the framework by which to capture and analyze sales performance data, and sales enablement builds the programs to turn those insights into action. By working together and adjusting over time, both teams can provide informed guidance that translates to tangible business results.

“Sales enablement tends to be more plugged into the day-to-day selling environment,” said Imogen McCourt, co-founder and chief executive at AndGrow.io. “We can bring this to life and execute on the things that sales ops might have spotted that need fixing.”

Challenges to overcome:

In a world where data is readily available and can be sliced in a plethora of different ways, sales ops leaders can easily get obsessed with real-time data. Sales leaders, on the other hand, often feel like they’re in data- and insight-overload, which can result in ignoring the insights altogether.

What you can do:

Work with operations leaders to help streamline the data and insights they want to share so that sales leaders can better consume it and act on it through sales enablement. By acting as a data coach, sales enablement can help their sales leaders understand the data and create programs that utilize the data and change its outcomes. For example:

  • Regularly review key metrics with sales operations to keep tabs on core areas where sales enablement programs can have impact
  • Bring those metrics where there is high potential for impact to sales leaders to help design programs around those
  • Consistently work with sales operations to track progress and adjust methods as needed

Balance between analysis and action is key so both functions can do what they’re best at in a sustainable, repeatable way.

Sales

Sales is on the front lines for the organization, responsible for driving real and repeatable revenue, quarter after quarter. Sales can be thought of as the heartbeat of the organization, because without a healthy sales organization, most companies simply cannot live.

Example outputs include:

  • Sales quotas and forecasts
  • Revenue results
  • Product and feature requests
  • Customer feedback

Working with sales

By its very nature, the sales organization is often sales enablement’s closest business partner. In fact, sales enablement has historically reported directly into sales, as the State of Sales Enablement 2019 report found that 35% of sales enablement functions report to a senior sales leader. Through onboarding, training, coaching, content, guidance, behavior change, and more, sales enablement brings corporate initiatives to life among the sales teams. Sales needs sales enablement, and the inverse is also true: sales enablement needs sales.

Challenges to overcome:

When working with sales leaders, there are two obstacles to overcome: Time and alignment.

Time is a scarce commodity for most sales leaders, who are often under extreme pressure and weary of distractions or further demands on their time. When it comes to alignment, it’s important to understand both what sales leaders want to impact (revenue, rep ramp time, deal size, etc.), and how they want to influence the impact across their sales reps.

What you can do:

It’s important to prove that sales enablement isn’t just one more thing on their to-do list, but rather, can actually help them close deals, faster. Providing insights on what sales enablement is doing to make the job of selling easier goes a long way to gaining trust from sales leadership.

“It has to be a strong partnership with your sales leadership, it can’t just be sales enablement alone,” said Peter Chun, VP of sales at Lucidchart. “There needs to be tight efforts there, a synchronized, collaborative relationship. I’m really big on this idea of closing the loop, even if it’s a small thing we’re implementing like just taking one word out [of a script]. You need constant mechanisms in place to close the loop and make sure that behavior is changing.”

For example:

  • Push sales leaders for clear guidance on the activities they want to produce
  • When designing programs to produce those activities, do so only after receiving commitment from sales leaders that they will hold reps accountable to those activities

Clear and open two-way communication channel is critical to success when working with sales leaders. With both in agreement on the scope, goals, and methods of sales enablement efforts, programs are better positioned to succeed.

CEO and C-Suite

The C-suite is a unique audience because they are generally the most passionate about the success of the company, including top-line growth, margins, and the customer experience. The CEO is often the company’s visionary, with an eye on the company’s future and what needs to be done to get there.

Example outputs include:

  • Company mission and vision
  • Strategy direction for corporate initiatives
  • Growth plans
  • Product roadmap

Working with the C-suite:

Since sales enablement is charged with creating and enabling initiatives to empower the sales organization to meet business goals, it’s critical that they have a deep understanding of the purpose behind those goals, which come from the top-down. Alignment and visibility with the C-suite can help make sales enablement more effective, drive efficiencies, and improve the sales cycle for buyers, sellers, and marketers.

Challenges to overcome:

More than any other group, the C-suite makes decisions grounded in data. When asking for a time, monetary, or resource investment, be prepared to provide realistic ROI information and data-based projections.

What you can do:

By demonstrating potential business impact grounded in the organization’s overall strategy, you can gain trust and leadership’s confidence faster, building the relationship for the current ask as well as future asks. For example:

  • Sales enablement leaders should aim to have a seat at the table on the executive leadership team, providing two-way visibility into company goals and objectives
  • When asking for resources, provide realistic results expectations, and report results regularly
  • Target your messaging to the executive’s interests: The CFO will care more about sales reps ability to increase revenue, whereas the CMO will likely care more about a return on demand and content investments and the CEO will probably care most about profitability and retention rates

When it comes down to it, working with the C-suite is all about demonstrating how sales enablement efforts are directly tied to their top priorities for the business. Take the time to learn what their short-term goals are that you can support with quick wins, but more importantly, position sales enablement as a growth partner by laddering sales enablement initiatives to long-term impact.

“You need to have a full understanding of your exec team’s long-term vision,” said Marcela Piñeros, senior director of sales enablement at New Relic. “So, you need to know what they are hoping to achieve in their one, two, five-year mark. And you want to invest your cycles on programs that are going to support that vision.”

In Summary

In many ways, sales enablement professionals are the glue that holds disparate organizations together, as they are often in the middle of many different priorities and projects at once with a common goal of improving sales productivity, performance, and proficiency. By knowing your audience and working with different stakeholders in the ways that matter most to them, you can be more effective in a sales enablement role.