New Trends in Sales Enablement Org Structures

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Should your sales enablement team report to the CEO?

There’s no question that we live in a time of incomparable change in the workplace. From the speed of technology development, to how and when people work, to the types of roles that exist today, we’re working in an environment of constant assessment and optimization. Never before have organizations been so micro-focused on being as efficient as possible, and while this is generally a great thing, it can also lead to confusion on the best way to go about the business of business.

As companies of all sizes are adjusting to emerging trends to drive efficiency, a common discussion point has been about organizational structure and where sales enablement fits into the mix.

A burgeoning function within many organizations, the reporting structure for sales enablement roles varies wildly from company to company. After all, it’s a relatively new approach to impacting sales results, and organizations are figuring out what works best for them in real time. In its early days, sales enablement was often slotted under sales operations, marketing, or even the front-facing sales organization.

As time has gone on and responsibilities and roles have become clearer, with enablement teams becoming more mature and sophisticated in their approaches, organizations are starting to understand sales enablement doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of traditional structures.

One of the most unique roles in any organization, sales enablement is charged with helping sales, marketing, and even product teams be more effective while helping direct content and materials that support the buyer’s journey. The conduit between all these functions and the customer, sales enablement often touches more areas of the business than any other group—a heavy and important responsibility. With that in mind, having it report to any of these groups can cause imbalance and a muddled understanding of roles and responsibilities.

As a result, the industry is starting to see a shift in reporting structures to the executive level, especially among larger companies. According to the 2019 State of Sales Enablement report, 35% of sales enablement reported directly into a sales leader. There is also an increasing trend where 26% reports directly into an executive leader. This trend shows no signs of stopping, as organizations are shifting the way sales enablement is approached from a focus on productivity to impacting sales performance.

What’s more, because of its broad reach and cross-company impact, new thinking suggests the most efficient reporting structure may be for sales enablement to report directly to the CEO. Many organizations are finding success with this approach.

“I think you’ll see organizations that have a safer org structure achieve better results because the CEO can be more connected to the transformation that you’re driving,” said Cameron Tanner, sales effectiveness manager at Amazon Web Services. “I’m a firm believer that the practitioner has to report to the CEO.”

However, before making broad changes to reporting structures, it’s important to assess your individual business needs. Daniel Korten developed a three-step process that can help you think more about where sales enablement belongs in your organization. In this process, you consider key organizational strategies for sales, marketing, operations, and product teams. Understanding these teams’ strategies is crucial to defining sales enablement roles because sales enablement is charged with making them more effective.

Once the strategies are defined, sales enablement is then aligned to those strategies across dimensions like initiatives, processes, modalities, tactics, and resources. At this point, you can start to figure out how many people are needed to do what, and where those resources should report for optimum effectiveness.

In some cases, this may mean changing reporting structures. In some, it may not. But it’s worth doing the homework to find out, because studies show sales enablement teams that report to executive management in large, world-class organizations meet revenue goals 91% of the time versus 87% for organizations where they don’t report to executive management. The advantage of such a structure is that it ensures sales enablement doesn’t become siloed to one department and its goals.

“Somebody who oversees an entire organization can make sure that your activities and interests represent the whole,” said Christopher Kingman, director of international enablement for TransUnion.

This may not hold true for small- and medium-sized businesses, so take the time to find out what’s strategically right for your business.

Developing an organizational structure is just as much art as it is science. Sales enablement teams can be effective in any manner of structures, depending on the culture and communication of the company as a whole. So, when you’re considering where to place sales enablement, take a hard look at why you have a sales enablement team, what you want them to achieve, and how you will empower them to succeed. By giving sales enablement an active voice through clear objectives and open collaboration through best-in-class tools, you’ll set them up to succeed, no matter where they report.

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