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How to Prioritize Sales Enablement Initiatives

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Having several projects underway may feel like the byproduct of a bustling and productive team environment, but it can also be a symptom of something more dubious: initiative overload. Initiative overload occurs when a team is inundated by a seemingly endless queue of unprioritized initiatives that all “feel” important.

When initiatives are left without proper management and prioritization, this can lead to poor quality of execution, costly productivity that leads to diminished ROI, and higher rates of employee turnover.

As a function that has at times struggled to overcome a “fixer of broken things” stereotype, it is particularly important for sales enablement to be wary about falling into a trap of unprioritized initiatives. A key part of leading an effective sales enablement strategy is ensuring that the efforts that have the greatest potential for impact become the highest priorities, while balancing the consideration of other key variables.

With that in mind, practitioners should solidify a systematic approach in prioritizing their sales enablement efforts in alignment with strategic corporate initiatives. Here are four steps to follow when determining how to prioritize initiatives in order to maximize impact.

Gauging Urgency

First, gain a clear understanding of the initiatives that require immediate action versus ones that do not. An urgent project, by definition, necessitates prioritization to keep the business staying on track toward its core goals, or to keep it running altogether.

Often stakeholders that are closely associated with a particular initiative are prone to branding it as urgent, even if it doesn’t fit within the aforementioned parameters. When everyone thinks their projects are the most important, it can be difficult to assess what truly needs to move forward first. In deciding which projects get pushed along and which are vetoed, a collaborative approach is key to maintaining credibility as a leader.

“When the requests are coming in, we look at them and prioritize them against what we might already be doing and determine if we have a need to shift priorities,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, sales enablement leader. “And obviously that’s not just my decision. I’d be working collaboratively with my manager and our extended team of content strategy members who would also weigh in on those decisions.”

It’s important for urgency to be rated on a spectrum, and for there to be multiple decision-makers involved in the process to remove any potential bias. In order to get a sense of where a given initiative falls on the urgency spectrum, consider the following questions to guide one’s thinking:

  • Will the initiative keep the business from screeching to a halt?
  • Will there be short- or long-term consequences for scaling back, delaying, or eliminating the initiative?
  • Is this a “band-aid” initiative — does it address the root cause of a problem, or is it a limited fit to a more significant initiative?

Once projects have been classified into their appropriate state of urgency, keep in mind that it might not be necessary to eliminate the ones that are less time-sensitive. In fact, oftentimes teams get caught up in prioritizing only the more urgent projects, and lose sight of the ones that may deliver strategic impact, but can afford to wait.

Gauging Effort

Next, identify how much effort is required for total execution, from start to finish. When this step is ignored, teams or individuals will often find themselves biting off more than they can chew, creating setbacks for other initiatives and, potentially, losing the ability to maintain control of the business as a whole.

When gauging the level of effort of your project or initiative, take into account all of the relevant inputs that it requires in order to assess appropriate resource capacity. Things like labor, facilities, and technology are some of the more obvious inputs, but there are also more nuanced criteria that should be considered. The Project Management Institute suggests using the following metrics to evaluate how manageable a project is:

Implementation Readiness: Availability of resources

  1. Requires only existing internal resources
  2. Requires more than 40% of external resources
  3. Requires more than 90% of external resources

Calendar Time to Implement: Time to market

  1. Doable within 6 months
  2. Doable within 1 year
  3. Doable in 18 months or longer

Processes/Technology Complexity: New vs. existing systems

  1. Mostly familiar
  2. Up to 50% new process or technology requirements
  3. New and uncertain

Implementation Leadership: Experienced leaders available to oversee the implementation

  1. Multiple candidates readily available
  2. Candidates available subject to reprioritization of other high impact initiatives
  3. No candidate available for at least three months

Gauging High vs. Low Impact

One of the most important criteria in the prioritization process is assessing the scope of impact that the initiative will create. By definition, an impactful project brings value to the business, which may be seen close to the event or years down the road. Ultimately, leaders should fixate primarily on initiatives that are high-impact and create lasting value for the organization, while using as little resources as possible in order to implement.

Focusing on the outputs of a project has inherent challenges, since value varies from role to role, and can take on a number of different forms. Sometimes the value-added towards one group’s goals can have neutral or opposing effects for another group, so it’s vital to be informed of the different types of value that sustain impact.

  • Strategic Value: Does it align with the mission of the organization, or echo the values of the company? Does it contribute to greater access to customers?
  • Competitive Value: Does it establish a competitive advantage, or eliminate a competitive disadvantage?
  • Financial Value: Does it increase sales, revenue, or ROI? Does it reduce costs now or in the future?
  • Business Value: Can it create efficiencies or optimize existing processes? Does it ensure regulatory compliance? Does it minimize business risk?
  • Human Value: Does it lead to an improvement in work culture, professional development of employees, or leadership quality? Does it increase employee retention and satisfaction?
  • Social Value: Does it contribute to the social perception of the company, or solve an existing problem in the industry?

When all of the different value types and how they interact with one another are considered in entirety, practitioners can better gauge whether an initiative will create high or low impact overall. Not only is this a key element to initiative prioritization, but it also demonstrates an objective, data-driven approach to managing projects.

“When it comes to that data-driven mindset, we have to find a way to quantify our impact – especially if one-third of our audience is feeling like they haven’t seen our impact yet,” said Kristen McCrae McMullan, world wide sales enablement manager at Amazon Web Services. “My challenge to every sales enablement practitioner is starting to think about what are you working on, how are you prioritizing it, and how are you measuring success to make sure that data-driven enablement has a seat at the table and is a highly respected field.”

The Prioritization Matrix

In addition to differentiating on high and low impact initiatives, sales enablement leaders can refine the scope of their projects with a helpful tool called a Prioritization Matrix, which was developed by Ben Cotton, director of sales enablement at Automation Anywhere.

This 2×2 matrix is specifically designed for sales enablement project prioritization, and is useful for narrowing down the relative impact of initiatives that seem equitable in priority or weight. When tools like this are used in the prioritization process, not only does it put into context how impact is measured differently, but it also is a useful conflict management and resolution mechanism when team members disagree over how priorities are selected.

“While people may be disappointed that their pet project is not being tackled, they are often accepting, albeit begrudgingly of the decision when it’s plotted on the grid,” said Cotton.

prioritization grid

The matrix represents two types of impact that are especially relevant for many sales enablement initiatives: the y-axis represents the initiative’s total impact on the business, and the x-axis represents the number of reps impacted by the initiative moving forward.

As the matrix shows, initiatives in the bottom quadrants — the ones that are low-impact to the org, regardless of how many sales reps it impacts — are deprioritized or eliminated. The first priority is given to initiatives that provide high, measurable impact in driving strategic importance to the organization, while simultaneously improving the effectiveness of a large number of reps.

Sales enablement cannot be the solution to every problem. In order to be effective in working towards its strategic goals, leaders should adopt a structured approach when prioritizing the initiatives that further their objectives. By sorting projects based on their urgency, assessing the scale of effort required, and then identifying the scope of impact for each given project, sales enablement can prevent the initiative overload that diminishes team efficacy and morale, while developing processes that contribute to organization-wide growth and maturity.