What is Sales Enablement? The question remains but the answer is evolving
When searching for “Sales Enablement” the most common response is “what is sales enablement?“. Even though the question of “what is sales enablement” has remained steady, the answer is rapidly evolving, from being viewed as sales tool training, sales content, or occasional sales effectiveness training to become a strategic function.
What was once the responsibility of product marketing, sales operations, or a single sales trainer, sales enablement is now supported by dedicated teams funded within the sales organization.
Sales enablement is a top-down, mission-critical initiative
The top factor of success is strong leadership support and buy-in, which was indicated by 39% of leaders (see Figure 1). Sales enablement is a top-down, mission-critical initiative. As a strategic function, sales enablement requires this buy-in and support for resources and equally important, empowerment from the top.
Documenting the sales design in a playbook and the sales process are also critical to the success of a sales program. This is another example of a bigger, more strategic point of view. Instead of just a singular training program, organizations ascribe their success to deliverables that cover the entire sales process, including what sales reps should do at every step. Enablement teams are not responsible for developing expertise; they are responsible for expertly executing the delivery and retention of playbook expertise, knowledge, and skills. Because of their importance, a third of respondents rank playbooks and processes as key to their success.
The modern sales enablement function is increasingly on-demand. Three out of 10 leaders say that sales enablement technology is a difference-maker. Automation is allowing sales enablement organizations to scale high retention training, coaching, and information sharing. Multiple categories occupy the stack from conversation intelligence, sales readiness, sales content management, real-time knowledge, and digital adoption platforms. Not surprisingly, sales enablement stack vendors have grown with the proliferation of strategic sales enablement programs.
Sales Enablement Factors of Success (Figure 1)
More sales enablement personnel supporting fewer sellers
The headcount data from TOPO’s survey highlighted a changing mindset. Normally, in challenging selling climates, support resources are downsized at companies. However, the value of sales enablement has been established enough that only 42% of companies plan to keep their headcount the same (see Figure 2). Forty-six percent of companies plan to add headcount within the next six months from a median team size of three.
Another encouraging sign is the improvement of sales enablement ratios (number of sellers to sales enablement resources). From 2017 to 2020 alone, the average organization went from 30:1 to 20:1. This positive data shows that the rapid rise of sales enablement is not a fad. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true; it is entrenched and growing. Even during the 2020 economic downturn, companies were hiring and relying on sales enablement to make rapid changes to messaging, virtual selling, and effectiveness strategies. Sales enablement earned a seat at the strategy table and will likely keep it.
Sales Enablement Headcount Change (Figure 2)
Sales enablement struggles to measure impact
Since sales teams are focused on their overall win rates, it is not surprising that 57% of sales enablement leaders measure their impact on win rates (see Figure 3). But there are many factors that can contribute to that number and as result, may not necessarily be attributed to the sales enablement program.
TOPO recommends tracking and reporting onboarding metrics, which measure the speed and effectiveness of the onboarding and training process. These metrics directly reflect the impact of sales enablement and have a direct effect on strategic metrics. Other metrics to track are time to first meaningful pitch or meeting, time to first deal, and time to quota.
Most concerning is the fact that 15% of respondents admit to not tracking any sales enablement-related metrics at all. While a small number may not track this because they assume that it is making a difference and the sales team is already measuring the overall sales performance, it is never advisable to ignore measurement completely.
With a fast-growing function that includes expenditures on people and technology, organizations must understand the impact to maintain or increase budget allocations to sales enablement.
Sales Enablement Metrics (Figure 3)
Following trends identified by TOPO analysts plus recommended metrics, sales enablement leaders can improve the running of their teams by gaining support for sales enablement from sales and executive leadership, investing in sales enablement technology early, measuring the impact of sales enablement and communicating it to the broader organization, creating an agile sales enablement function that can change with the organization’s go-to-market strategy, and improving retention and adoption with design-driven programs.