“Sales enablement” is a term that has been tossed around so much in recent years, it’s accepted without being completely understood. Ask 10 managers what the term means and you may get 10 different answers. And is it sales managers you should ask or is it marketing managers? Who owns sales enablement?

There’s no reason to complicate matters with either question.

The term defines itself. Sales enablement is the process of providing sales reps with information, content, training or other tools that will help them close deals more effectively.

In terms of ownership, because both marketing and sales play vital roles in closing deals, it seems both teams should want a voice in what sales enablement looks like in their company.

A New Name for a Time-Tested Concept

Although sales enablement is a relatively new term, in many ways it is not a new idea. Sure, there is new technology (CRM, social marketing, on-demand training, etc.) that should be part of your sales enablement strategy. But a lot of what falls under the category of sales enablement existed decades ago.

I was reminded of this as I read “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band In History” by Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott. The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 and grew its loyal following for 30 years until the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia in August 1995. They knew a thing or two about building customer loyalty.

As notable Deadhead and NBA legend Bill Walton states in the book’s introduction, “In the band’s never-ending battle against the dire wolves of deceit and false prophets (and profits), the Grateful Dead…have been able to rise above the blinding madness with innovative promotional techniques, viral marketing, a commitment to plans, and a sense of community and team that was unheard of years ago, but is clearly now the standard new path to the promised land.”

Two Examples

The book is loaded with insights and tips that I would put in the sales enablement category. Here are two of them:

Be yourself. In an era when many bands were known for their outrageous costumes and slick onstage personas, the Grateful Dead stood out for being themselves. The band’s authenticity endeared them to their fans. Businesses can learn from this “don’t overthink it” approach. Customers, partners and employees appreciate authentic transparency more than ever.

One suggestion that Halligan and Meerman Scott offer for helping your company be itself: “Stop hiding your personality behind carefully scripted announcements, press releases and events. Encourage your CEO and employees to be themselves. Show more of who you are and what your company stands for. Rather than blocking employees from blogging and using social media tools, encourage them to use these tools. Your trust in them will be rewarded in spades as these employees will build their own followings, who will eventually buy your products.”

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment. The Grateful Dead experimented with musical forms and genres – both as a group and individually. Their improvisation resulted in mistakes. As guitarist Jerry Garcia once said, “You go diving for pearls every night, but sometimes you end up with clams.” The companies making the biggest breakthroughs today are taking risks and making mistakes. Marketing and sales teams should be freed up to experiment, learn from failure and experiment again.

Halligan and Meerman Scott suggest reframing your company’s planning cycle to monthly instead of six months or a year. Plan your activities in monthly “sprints.” Spend one day per month learning from the previous months’ projects. When you pick your projects for the next month, make sure at least 20 percent of them are experimental.

To learn more about how you can take ownership of your sales enablement initiatives, listen to the webinar: Sales Enablement: Making the Pain Worth the Gain.

Paul Nolan is editor of Sales and Marketing Magazine.


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