Within sales organisations, sales enablement initiatives are becoming increasingly popular. Indeed, a recent Miller Heiman Group webinar included data showing that 32.7 percent of businesses had a sales enablement function in 2016, compared to less than 20 percent of businesses back in 2013.

Yet, some fundamental misunderstandings about sales enablement remain. In this article, with the help of the influential sales expert Thierry van Herwijnen, we take a more detailed look at the concept of sales enablement to define it, and explain why it could be the secret weapon that helps your organisation win the talent battle in today’s competitive environment.

What is Sales Enablement?

To understand sales enablement, we must first define it. CSO Insights, the research arm of Miller Heiman Group, defines sales enablement in the following way:

“Sales force enablement is a strategic, cross-functional discipline, designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training and coaching services for salespeople and sales managers along the entire customer’s journey, powered by technology.”

Nevertheless, there remains a prevalent attitude among sales leaders and management that sales enablement is a synonym for just training. In reality, while workforce development is an important aspect of sales enablement, the concept also encompasses other key elements like recruitment, onboarding, the creation and supply of content, and coaching.

Sales Enablement and Recruitment

One of the most important aspects of sales enablement actually occurs before salespeople join the organisation. By employing an effective talent acquisition policy, businesses can make better hires, resulting in more qualified staff, with a greater aptitude for the job.

“Sales enablement and onboarding need to be planned and should start before recruitment,” says Thierry van Herwijnen. “This includes: compiling the right job descriptions, developing the right recruitment process [and] onboarding. Onboarding should be based on a huge teaching drive, which needs to be continuous and consistent.”

In particular, van Herwijnen advocates a role-play element to your recruitment process, as this allows you to see how candidates react when confronted to real life scenarios.

“A big part of the recruitment process should include role-play…to understand how candidates address key situations, issues, objections etc.,” van Herwijnen says. He recommends this part should be a significant part of the interview.

Onboarding and Sales Enablement

In the CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, 60.7 percent of participants reported average ramp-up times of seven months or more. By comparison, 40.2 percent of participants in the 2003 version of the study reported the same. It is clear, therefore, that average ramp up times are increasing.

One possible explanation for this is that sales has become a more complicated role since 2003, thanks to increasingly sophisticated and savvy buyers and advances in technology. As a result, the sales skills needed for success take longer to develop. This, of course, only makes the onboarding portion of a sales enablement strategy even more crucial.

“Sales have become more sophisticated because roles are maturing [and] sales people need to be better informed,” van Herwijnen explains. “Sales staff are also more digitally savvy and need to engage in social selling, as well as build a personal brand.”

The aforementioned Sales Enablement Optimization Study found a direct correlation between the quality of onboarding and an organisation’s overall sales performance. Those companies that stated their onboarding training met or exceeded expectation improved their win rates by 14.7 percent over the study’s average. It is therefore a fact that the success of your onboarding strategy will have a significant impact on sales results as well as overall business objectives for the organisation.

“As part of developing new recruits to steer them in the right direction, implementing an on-going sales buddy system can provide great benefits”, says van Herwijnen

Other Sales Enablement Benefits

Sales enablement is also concerned with on-going training and coaching for reps and sales managers, so that teams are equipped with the necessary sales skills and have up-to-date knowledge of products, services and processes. This also includes the creation of content, which outlines processes, or allows staff to learn in their own time.

Another important component is the provision and use of relevant technology, such as the right CRM system for instance, which can help to make sales processes easier. In addition to enhanced sales results, benefits of successful sales enablement include more effective staff retention, improved morale and stronger relationships with clients.

So what are some of the key sales enablement success factors?

“A small team of senior managers with a background in sales, experienced individuals who have ‘T-Shape‘ skills and the right digital selling system, which is integrated with internal processes,” says van Herwijnen. Essentially, T-shaped employees will have expert knowledge, experience and the ability to collaborate with people in other fields.

The Final Word

Sales enablement initiatives are rapidly growing, but misconceptions about what the concept entails can hinder organisation’s attempts to implement it effectively. In addition to training and coaching, it is concerned with recruitment, onboarding and the effective use of technology to improve sales processes. When carried out properly, it can lead to improvements in sales results, staff retention and relationships with consumers.

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