A Beginner’s Guide to Sales Enablement

September 27.2021  5 minutes


What does a hip nightclub have to do with Sales Enablement?


Are you calling yourself an Enablement team when you're in fact a Marketing team?


What does success look like in Sales Enablement?


Melissa Madian, founder of TMM Enablement Services and author of Enabler? I Hardly Know Her. How to Make the Sales Experience Not Suck joined us on Cuppa Press recently to answer all of this and more.  Hit the play button below or dig into the abridged transcript!



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Time Stamp


00.46 - Sales enablement as an everyday concept

02.37 - The sales enablement equation

04.34 - Key traits of a sales enablement leader

07.32 - Sales enablement in an SMB vs an enterprise

09.03 - The need for a dedicated sales enablement team

10.54 - Getting started with sales enablement and the three pillars of sales enablement

12.38 - Common mistakes in sales enablement

14.37 - What success looks like in sales enablement

17.56 - A common misconception about sales enablement

19.11 - Helpful sales enablement resources


Equate sales enablement to an everyday concept


If I were to take it completely out of business context, sales enablement is like the bouncer to a really fantastic nightclub, where everyone in the nightclub is a revenue-generating function. So it's sales, it’s account managers, and they're all having a great time talking with clients and talking with prospective customers in the nightclub. 


Sales enablement is the bouncer that stops just anyone from entering the nightclub and says, “Hold on. Why do you want to enter this club? Are you delivering some sort of training?


Are you providing information that will help us, the revenue-generating functions inside the club, have a really great discussion with the prospective clients? And is it packaged in a way that's going to make sense?” 



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So, you know, like the bouncers usually say, I can't let you in because you're not wearing the appropriate attire. So go change your attire, come back, and then I'll let you in.


So that's essentially what sales enablement is. It's the process tools, training for revenue-generating functions, to close more business faster, while also creating a really great customer experience. 

Is it right to say that sales enablement is the trinity of content, tools, and training? 


Yep, that, and I would also add process to the mix. If you’re selling something that is considered a purchase—we're not talking about selling toothbrushes.


You don't need enablement to sell a toothbrush; you don't even need much—think business to business, complicated software solutions, massive office furniture, construction pods, that sort of thing, chances are you have a revenue-generating function.


So you have someone responsible for selling or keeping the current customers or growing the customer base. What the sales enablement function does is just empower those folks. 



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Because if you leave it up to them, you'll have seven different responses to the question, “what do you do?” What sales enablement does is, it's that sort of one-stop-shop of the process, training, tools, and behaviours. It ensures that the revenue function is exhibiting the right behaviours and provides coaching to those right behaviours.


It encompasses all of those things with the intended goal of helping those folks who are talking to customers and prospective customers with what they need to close more business faster, while also making sure that the customers are having a great experience along the way.


Also Consider Reading - B2B Sales Enablement Collateral: What is It and Why it's Important


What are the key traits a sales enablement leader should possess to perform this function well?


I find it is helpful, not required, but definitely helpful, if the sales enablement person has had sales experience. Now, I'm biased because I was a quota-carrying sales rep for many, many years.


But I find that it helps come from a place of experience. And it helps to lend credibility when you're out there talking to salespeople, you understand you've been in their shoes. 


That's not to say that a really great sales enablement leader can't come from Marketing, they absolutely can. But always keeping in mind who is your end customer and your end customer when you're in sales enablement is the revenue-generating function. It's the salespeople and account managers.


So the really good enablement leaders are the ones that always keep in mind that the end consumer of your training and your content is the revenue-generating person and not necessarily the end customer. Sales enablement leaders always consider that. 


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And they’re the ones that are always willing to listen. So listen and actually see how the sellers are experiencing their day to day lives and the problems they face. So really great enablement professionals are problem solvers that can actually see and identify things that are not necessarily working in a sales cycle.


And suggest fixes on how to correct anything that might be going south in the sales cycle.


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Is there any downside when marketers transition to sales enablement?


There's no downside other than if you've never done the sales role before, it's just harder to understand when you're trying to enable a salesperson how to go about doing it. So from my perspective, and again, I'm biased because I was a salesperson, I just find it a lot easier to understand my audience, because I've had that experience. 


But from a Marketing standpoint, if again, if you're a good listener, problem solver, and you're actively interested in how salespeople and account managers are going to market and interact with customers, and if you’re genuinely interested in making sure that those folks have what they need in order to be successful, there's no reason why someone can't come from Marketing to do that. 


Would you say sales enablement looks different in an SMB setup and in an enterprise setup? 

When I worked at a large 15,000 salesperson organization, there was a much larger enablement team to support all of those folks, versus when I worked at a small startup, it was just me for you know, 20 salespeople, so the size changes, but the mandate is always the same.


The function of enablement in both places is to provide the process, the tools, and the training for the folks who are responsible for interacting with customers, for the purpose of creating new customers, keeping those customers, and growing the existing customer base. 

In smaller organisations, Marketing is often disguised as an enablement team, when in reality, all they do is marketing. So when do you know if you need a dedicated sales enablement team?


I love Marketing. And quite often, Marketing has to do enablement because there's nobody else in the organization. The main difference is that Marketing is coming at it from a brand and content perspective primarily. 


They ask questions like “Are potential clients interacting with the content? Are they finding the content of value?”


Whereas enablement, they acknowledge that the content is interesting, but they also ask “Are the skills of the Sales team translated in the content?”


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Marketing doesn't necessarily focus on the skills of the sales organization—they may have an opinion, but their mandate as a marketing organization is not to improve the sales skills of the sales team. 


So what enablement can do is actually ask “What are the skills that are needed for the sales team to be successful at this organization? And when I look across all of those sellers, are they exhibiting the right skills and behaviours?


Or do we need to do something here - either a process change or some training or some coaching to help sales professionals be successful at the organization?”.


Marketing has a different mandate than sales. There is a bridge between the two, but you can't rely on Marketing to do everything for the sales organization. Sales actually has to do some stuff too! 


After you’ve realized you need a dedicated sales enablement team, how do you go ahead with setting it up?


Start with the three pillars of enablement. There's processes, skills and behaviours, and there's knowledge. Knowledge here means knowing what you’re selling, what you sellers are selling and to whom, and how they go about selling it. 


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So just start simple, and make sure you have everything you need in order to get this information across to the sales organization. And if you’re hiring a lot of salespeople, you need to make sure they're on board really quickly and know everything there is to know about the product and the sales process.  


So if you think about it—and I wrote a book on sales enablement—so I write about this in my book, there's really just sort of three major things that enablement needs to think about. 


And as long as you wrap everything that you deliver around those three main pillars, you'll always know exactly where you are in your plan and how to execute your plan.


Where do teams go wrong while executing a plan based on these three pillars?


Trying to do too much. I see that all the time. When you're an enablement person or a team, you want to enable your sales force and want them to be successful. So your natural tendency is to say yes to everything. Yes, I'll do this training. Yes, I'll fix this thing. Yes, I'll buy this tool. 


The problem is every time you say, yes, it starts to take you off your plan because now you're just handling random acts of sales enablement versus having a plan and seeing if those requests actually fit into the plan that you've created. 


So I tell a lot of up and coming enablers, it's okay to say no if it doesn't make sense and doesn't fit into the key plan that you've developed with your sales leadership team. 


And that's the key too - Enablement has to develop the enablement plan with Sales leadership's buy-in because if you don't have sales leadership behind you, doesn't matter what you develop, sales leadership is never going to roll it out, and will never coach or hold their teams accountable to it. 


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So the biggest two mistakes - one is saying yes to too much and not sticking to the plan. And the second is not getting your plan agreed upon and held in partnership with your sales leadership.


What does success look like in the first 30,60, and 90 days of setting up a sales enablement team? 


So the first is just to come in and assess what your current organization is doing for enablement. 


The first thing you need to figure out is if there are folks in the organization doing enablement activities, and they're just not called enablement. Marketing is usually a good one to look at because typically Marketing is doing a lot of enablement work, but not actually called enablement.


So just take a look at what exists, what training have folks had, what kind of tools people are using. 


So in your first 30 days, you can just get a sense of what's out there, what is happening, where are all the acts of enablement occurring within the organization. 


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And then once you do that, you can start to create a plan and consolidate and determine. 


“Okay, sales leadership has determined that these three things are what we're going to focus on in 2021. I'm going to make sure that all of my enablement aligns with those things that sales leadership cares about”.


And when you’re heading towards the 90-day mark, you’ve to make sure you’re actually executing your plan. 


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But certainly, for the first 30 days, just spend time figuring out the lay of the land. That's really all you can do in your first 30 days because there's probably stuff happening that nobody knows about that needs to be either have a plan or retire gracefully because it's not helping anybody. 


Also Consider Reading - Striking Gold with Sales Enablement


In the grand scheme of things, what does success look like for enablement teams?


It'll depend on the organization. So some organizations have certain training milestones that you need to hit. While for other organizations that are scaling really rapidly, there might be some onboarding metrics that you want to hold yourself accountable to.


But essentially, enablement’s purpose is to help the sales team close a lot of business and close it quickly. 


So I would take a look at metrics around:


Are deals accelerating through the pipeline since the enablement function came into place? 


If enablement was rolling out a new product to the sales team, are you actually tracking more opportunities related to that product after enablement has done their job and rolled that out to the sales team?


If you’re a really large organisation with quotas for your sales team and enablement is just a smaller subset of the sales team, is that sales team hitting quota as a function of enablement doing their job? 


And is the sales team hitting quota consistently? 


So again, depending on the size of your organization, the enablement team may need to hold themselves accountable to different things that are important to the organization.


What’s a common belief about enablement a lot of people believe to be true, but you know for the fact that it isn't?


That enablement is training. And that's it. I hear that all the time. Enablement is just another word for training. And that's not it!


I even get clients coming to me, saying, “Can you put in a training program?” 


And my question is, “What problem are you trying to solve that you think you need training for?” 


Quite often, the answer isn't “I need training”, the answer is “I need to actually do a fundamental change in how my sellers go to market or I need to help my managers coach my sellers because that's where the break is”. 


So to me, one of the most common misconceptions of enablement is it's just another word for sales training. And that's only a tiny, tiny part of what enablement actually does.


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What are some resources that you will point beginners towards when it comes here?


Yeah, so the first resource I would point you to is, so I wrote a book on sales enablement, it's called Enabler? I Hardly Know Her. How to Make the Sales Experience Not Suck. It’s available wherever you buy books online. 


I wrote it with the intent of ‘if I've never done enablement before and I picked up this book, I want to understand how to put in an enablement function in my organization’. Or maybe I want to just understand what enablement is. Maybe I'm a sales leader and I'm trying to figure this enablement thing out. 


It's a great resource that says here's what enablement is and here's why you should care. Shameless self promotion, but my book is a great resource for that. 

An image of sales enablement in a blog post by Paperflite


There's also lots of great stuff on analyst reports, like the Forresters and the Gartners and Sirius Decisions and all those folks, Sales Enablement Collective. There are lots of great groups and websites out there that are independent. They do the research and have lots of really great information and feedback on sales enablement.


Parting words for people who’re still not sure about kickstarting their sales enablement efforts


Yeah. If you have a group of folks in your organization that are responsible for bringing in new business or keeping the business that you have or growing the existing customer base, you probably need someone to help those folks out so that they're saying the right things, talking to the right people, and augmenting your corporate culture in a way that's positive and creates a really great experience.


Also Consider Reading - Sales Enablement: What Businesses are Missing Out On


Previously on Cuppa Press



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