What Defines the Sales Enablement Category?
One of the key factors for sales success is an organization’s ability to enable sales by providing the required resources to sell effectively. The more fluid and effective a sales rep’s interactions with a buyer, the faster reps can close each deal. And the faster they can close, the more deals they can close. That’s where sales enablement technology comes into play.
Sales enablement is the process for providing the sales organization with the training, coaching, and content required to sell more effectively. An effective sales enablement tech stack makes it possible to deliver, manage, track, and optimize enablement. It supports all the functions that engage with customers, including sales, sales development, customer success, account management, and more.
The sales enablement stack is designed to cover all forms of engagement with buyers and to enable reps to deliver the highest quality engagement. The figure below represents the major segments of the optimal sales enablement stack (which sits on top of the CRM system): continuous training, sales content management, real-time knowledge, and conversation intelligence.
As sales reps interact with buyers via applications like Outreach and SalesLoft, for example, their engagement data is fed back into the platform. The platform continually determines what does and doesn’t work well to optimize recommended actions so reps can optimize their future engagements.
Core Elements of the Sales Enablement Stack
Let’s dive deeper into the core elements of the stack:
1. Continuous training – Provides always-on, digital access to onboarding (a program to provide new hires the proficiency required to succeed) and training (ongoing knowledge development and skill-based education content). Training materials include recordings (video and presentations), tools, exercises, and certifications.
2. Sales content management – Facilitates the creation, maintenance and delivery of, and access to, the most current, sanctioned sales collateral and customer-facing content materials. This includes presentations, templates, and educational content. By leveraging analysis of engagement data, users can customize content to optimize it for different sales situations.
3. Real-time knowledge – Provides reps with real-time answers and messaging directly into their email application or their collaboration applications such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. As new answers are created, they are added to the knowledge base. For example, if a rep asks a new, previously undocumented question and an internal subject matter expert answers, the information is then added and can be used as an answer to that question in the future.
4. Coaching (conversation intelligence) – The recording, cataloging, and analyzing of sales conversations to guide coaching. Ultimately, the market will provide more real-time recommendations for next steps versus enabling reactive coaching, which is the predominant use case today.
5. Engagement data – Data from the various interactions is captured and used to optimize the recommended actions. For example, engagement data might show that a 4-slide presentation is more effective than a 15-slide presentation. The engagement data becomes the basis for artificial intelligence-driven decisions that continually optimize the various components of the sales enablement stack.
6. Recommended actions – Delivers messaging and content recommendations (i.e., what reps should say and what content they should share) based on factors such as situation and buyer type. Recommendations are optimized over time.
The Evolving Approach to Sales Enablement
TOPO is seeing a major shift in philosophy on sales enablement. Organizations are investing in infrastructure to continually meet sales enablement needs. They are also looking to innovate how they enable their programs to make them more effective. Numerous trends are contributing to this shift.
- Mass commoditization and competition elevate the buyer’s sales experience from “necessary evil” to major point of differentiation. Commoditization makes it difficult for buyers to see the differences between products, messages, etc. This means the salesperson cannot just demo the product and win deals. More than ever, it is absolutely imperative that sales reps uncover a buyer’s needs and create value. This challenging selling environment requires effective sales enablement for reps to succeed, which is why sales leaders are putting a renewed emphasis on enablement.
- The increase in hiring for dedicated sales enablement resources. Sales enablement has evolved into its own functional department. A significant and telling change of mindset is happening with sales leaders. They are willing to forsake a bag-carrying sales rep to hire a sales enablement leader. This increase in resources for sales enablement has created a buying center for sales enablement technology. As more enablement organizations come online, they will want technology to manage, scale, and optimize their programs.
- Sales enablement investment is also coming from marketing. As marketing’s influence has extended across the entire buyer lifecycle, driven largely by the account based movement, marketing sees the importance in supporting and providing resources for sales enablement. In many cases, marketing is the main investor in sales enablement technology.
- A focus on the sales rep’s user experience is a key market growth driver. Using technology to enable sales isn’t new, but adoption is still challenging for most organizations. The market has made significant progress in driving higher adoption and rep satisfaction through three UX innovations. The first was providing access to knowledge in the technology interfaces reps already prefer such as email, collaboration apps (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams), and mobile. The second was easy-to-use platforms leveraging smaller learning modules and different modalities (e.g., video) to enable streamlined learning, eliminating tedious learning experiences such as reading a gigantic binder. The third innovation was simply the dependability of content and information. Sales reps trust that they can find the latest knowledge or content in one place.
- The rise of “learning as you go” has helped drive growth in the market. Classroom-style bootcamps and other training pull reps away from engaging with buyers. With today’s technology, organizations can avoid these disruptions while delivering learning in a way that sales reps prefer, which is ongoing and in real time. For example, field reps can access just-in-time learning modules on their mobile phones.
- Unprecedented ability to maintain, update, and deliver relevant, up-to-date content. One-and-done training alone isn’t able to keep pace with the rapid rate of change happening in organizations today–including new marketplace dynamics, evolving buyer needs, competitive product offerings, iterative messaging, etc. The sales enablement technology stacks allows the sales enablement team to reinforce the adoption of each new enablement tool, from messaging to content assets to templates and paperwork.
- The conversation intelligence segment has seen rapid adoption and filled a big gap in visibility—the phone conversation. In the second half of 2018, TOPO analysts identified significant buying activity in the conversation intelligence space. Because of constant time constraints, consistent call coaching had become non-existent. The vendors in the conversation intelligence space offer the ability to record, catalogue, and analyze calls providing the opportunity for “as-you-go” coaching.
- The ability to practice new skills went from non-existent to “whenever you have time.” Practice was traditionally limited to role plays or competitions squeezed in for short periods of time as part of training sessions. With self-empowered learning modules and the ability to submit recorded pitches or presentations for peer analysis, sales reps gain the unprecedented ability to actually practice new skills and get feedback.
- Tracking the effectiveness of sales enablement is finally a reality. The only way to track sales enablement in the past was by gathering rep feedback and monitoring for improvements in overall quota achievement. It was time-consuming and incredibly hard to prove the impact of sales engagement. Sales enablement platforms track whether or not reps are practicing and mastering specific concepts by certifying them on new skills and knowledge. This provides a far more accurate assessment of training engagement and effectiveness, which ultimately affects enablement staffing decisions.
- The breakthrough for real-time knowledge was integration with Slack. The core premise of real-time knowledge is compelling: provide sales reps with answers or content when they need it in real-time. The market started to see velocity when Guru created its integration with Slack. Real-time knowledge in Slack was an ideal use case and buying activity has taken off with Slack-centric organizations. The category will get an even bigger push as AI bots, such as Microsoft’s AI-assistant, begin to serve up answers for sales.
TOPO sees the market consolidating such that the four sales enablement segments become part of major platforms, whether via acquisition or via partnerships and APIs. This shift is in line with organizations wanting all four segments represented in their enablement stack.
In our next post, we will share more insights about the sales enablement market landscape—including our predictions for where it’s headed—and considerations when evaluating sales enablement technology.