As more consumers make purchases without the help of salespeople (think of either online purchases or walking out of a physical Amazon Go store without talking to a cashier), it’s no surprise to see the self-serve experience continue to replace traditional interactions in the B2B buying space. When you consider the fact that Alibaba sells complex industrial machinery to business buyers without engaging in any live interactions, a world without B2B salespeople doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

But is that what business buyers want?

Perhaps. Although business buyers are not overly negative in their view of salespeople, over time, they have come to think of the salespeople they interact with as “meeting” expectations, but not offering the kind of value that helps solve business problems. As a result, buyers make many key purchasing decisions (priority of needs, scope of problem, possible solutions) prior to engaging sales resources. By the time sales reps arrive on the scene, buyers are well down their buying path, limiting sellers’ ability to get creative and offer alternative solutions or shape the opportunity. And, at the end of the process, buyers feel like there is limited difference among sellers.

This vicious cycle — sellers not being perceived as business problems-solvers, sellers not getting invited to participate in the early phases of the sales cycle, sellers not providing enough value to differentiate themselves and be seen as problem-solvers — makes it imperative that sales organizations significantly change the way they sell.

This growing gap between buyers and sellers is driving annual declines in quota attainment, conversion rates and more. It’s not a pretty picture. But, there is good news as well: Buyers are still open to having value-based relationships with sellers who consistently demonstrate the highest levels of sales competence.

It is no coincidence then, that recent years have seen explosive growth in sales enablement. This emerging discipline is uniquely positioned to address this problem head on by bringing together methodology, process, content, coaching and more to change how sellers acquire, grow and retain customers.

Yet, sales enablement isn’t the answer in and of itself. Still a relatively new concept, sales enablement must evolve beyond its nascent stages to become a more connected, more formalized, more scalable endeavor.

At this year’s Miller Heiman Group conference, Elevate 2018: Innovation in Action, Seleste Lunsford, managing director of CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group, will review this buyer preferences research in more depth and share her view of the future of sales enablement. Here’s a preview of her session.

Enablement can be the catalyst for sales change, but not in its usual form

Sales enablement, now found in almost 60 percent of sales organizations, holds the promise to be a catalyst for dramatically changing how sellers engage to meet and exceed increasing buyer expectations.

Unfortunately, there is still tremendous confusion in the marketplace about exactly what sales enablement is and what it should do. As a result, sales enablement has mixed results in many organizations.

CSO Insights research reveals several key factors that drive enablement success:

  • The customer buying path is the core design point for sales enablement. There are ways to engage early with B2B buyers and differentiate by adding perspective and insights.
  • The audience for sales enablement isn’t just sellers. Managers, channel partners, service providers and more are critical to customer engagement across the full customer path.
  • All enablement should start by creating a charter and enlisting executive sponsorship to formally put a stake in the ground and commit to a purpose, milestones and measures.
  • The services that enablement offers to its stakeholders should ultimately (though usually not at first) include a full complement of integrated training, content and coaching.
  • Enablement can’t and shouldn’t own it all. Unlike most traditional sales functions (leadership, sales operations, training, marketing), sales enablement is an orchestrator of services.
  • Sales enablement must become a strong influencer of the sales technology stack. Sales technology, when well-chosen and well-integrated, can notably increase the time available for sales reps to sell.
  • After enablement meets its initial goals and is ready to evolve into the next level of maturity, it must become scalable and expand its reach. Leaders must create an infrastructure that defines replicable ways to create services, collect metrics, and establish a governance structure to navigate the complexities of an enterprise trying to change.

To learn more about what B2B decision-makers really want and how sales enablement can help your organization adapt to changing buyer preferences, you need to hear Seleste’s presentation in person. Register now for Elevate 2018: Innovation in Action from April 16-17 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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