Sales Enablement Grows Up. But Not Fast Enough.

Sales Enablement Grows Up. But Not Fast Enough.

Sales enablement is on the rise, no doubt. At CSO Insights, we have seen a very fast growing discipline over the last six years. In 2013, only 19.3% of organizations reported having sales enablement established in their organization. This “enablement rate” increased to 32.7% in 2016 and to 59.2% in 2017. Now, in 2018, the data of our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study (requires membership) shows a leveling off in growth, with 61.0% of organizations having a sales enablement team.

This 2018 number, 61.0%, is less than we expected because in 2017, 8.4% of organizations said that they planned to implement sales enablement within the next twelve months. That was apparently not the case. Instead, sales enablement seems to have arrived at a certain plateau. It is now maturing and thriving in particular niches.

Sales enablement is more relevant in larger organizations; it is found in up to 89.3% of organizations > $1B in annual revenues

The nature of sales enablement is to design, orchestrate, implement, and measure enablement services (content, training, tools, and coaching) across various functions to keep them consistent and effective for the sales force. That is one of the reasons why sales enablement is more established in larger organizations.

In organizations with annual revenues between $50M-$250M, over two-thirds (71.6%) of our study participants had sales enablement. This number increased up to 89.3% for organizations larger than $1B.

Organizations with sales enablement reported two-digit improvements for quota attainment and win rates compared to those organizations without enablement.

Yes, there is a business case for sales enablement. We compared key sales performance metrics, such as the percentage of salespeople achieving quota and win rates for forecasted deals, with the presence and absence of sales enablement:

  • The percentage of salespeople achieving quota improved by 10.6 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 22.7%.
  • The win rates for forecast deals improved by 6.6 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 14.5%.

Are all enablement teams equally successful? No. Only 34.4% of those with sales enablement met all or the majority of their expectations and achieved significantly better results.

The problem is the big group of enablement teams (61.2%) that met some of their expectations but ended up with only average performance results. That’s a difficult situation.

Almost two-thirds (61.2%) of organizations invest in sales enablement without seeing significantly better results. This could lead senior leadership to question the need for a dedicated enablement function.

In our Sales Enablement Grows Up: The 4th Annual Sales Enablement Report, we analyzed the research findings to show how to set up your sales enablement function for sustainable success. These foundational practices make a huge difference:

  • Follow a formal approach with a charter:
    This is the most critical practice, but too often ignored. It makes a huge difference if you run sales enablement as just another program, or if you have a strategic sales enablement approach that’s aligned to the business and the sales strategy, and connected to the strategic initiatives and goals of your senior executive sponsors. Only 9.2% do that, but this small group of organizations achieved 19.2% better win rates compared to all study respondents. To put that into perspective, the group with a formal approach but no charter could improve their win rates only by 3.4%. And those with informal and ad hoc approaches couldn’t even achieve average performance. So, a charter really matters. Check out my blog post series over at csoinsights.com/blog for details.
  • Make the customers and their customer’s path your primary design point for sales enablement:
    Sales enablement services cannot exist in a vacuum. A solid process framework, powered by technology, is essential. In the age of the customer, your internal selling process must reflect all steps and gates your buyers go through to make decisions. That’s what we call aligning your internal selling processes to the customer’s path, ideally in a dynamic way that allows you to make necessary adjustments as fast as possible. Only 20.7% of organizations do that, but this one-fifth improved quota attainment by 8.9%.
  • Align your enablement services to the different phases of the customer’s path:
    Some skills and methodologies are relevant throughout the customer’s path, such as value messaging. Others are more relevant in specific areas, such as prospecting or negotiation skills. It’s even more important with content. Content that helps to co-create a shared vision of success with a prospect is very different from content that supports detailed conversations with different buyer roles at the end of the buying phase. Interestingly, 42.0% of organizations reported that they do that, and they saw much better win rates: 53.5% vs. 42.0% for those that reported not applying this practice.
  • Build your enablement backbone: Implement a production process and mechanisms to measure enablement success:
    Only 25.0% have an enablement production process in place, but this one-quarter saw 5% better win rates. Only with a process can you provide scalable, consistent and effective enablement services. Less than 20% know how to measure sales enablement success, but those that follow a dashboard approach with leading and lagging indicators and ROI models achieved 5 percentage points better win rates compared to all. Measurement provides evidence of what works.

Sales enablement grows up; that’s good news. But not fast enough. Enablement leaders should take the time and focus on HOW they approach their enablement efforts before simply adding new “stuff” for the sales force.

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, the December edition.

Photograph: Shutterstock 299846063

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