Is your sales organization struggling? If it's any consolation, you're not alone. Over the past five years, the percentage of sales reps making quota fell by 10 percent and the percentage of companies achieving revenue dropped by four percent, according to CSO Insights, a division of Miller Heiman Group.

Buyers' expectations are evolving faster than sales professionals can adapt. In today's marketplace, buyers now require more than product information from sales reps and they expect those sales reps to help solve their problems by turning solutions into business value. At the same time, sales cycles are longer with more people involved in the decision-making process than ever before.

In response to these challenges, we're seeing an increased focus on sales enablement. In 2013, less than 40% of organization brought on sales enablement; by 2017, 59 percent of companies now employ a dedicated sales enablement function. But too often, organizations aren't achieving the desired results from their sales enablement investments.

Why the disconnect? In many cases, organizations lack a clear understanding about what defines the sales enablement function; they struggle to even get the practice off the ground; and if they do launch - few have identified clear goals and outcomes designed to actually help sales reps.

Make no mistake – sales enablement will play a key role in the future of selling. But to get results, organizations need to gain a better understanding of the sales enablement function and design enablement practices that add real value to the sales process.

Understanding Sales Enablement

I'm a big believer in the potential sales enablement holds for improving sales performance. But I'm also committed to the notion that effective enablement starts with a solid understanding of what sales enablement is – and what it's not. I recently co-authored a book on sales enablement and here's how we defined the enablement function:

Sales enablement is a strategic, collaborative discipline designed to increase predictable sales results by providing consistent, scalable enablement services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value in every customer interaction.

When sales enablement practices fail to deliver results, it's usually because key stakeholders failed to properly clarify enablement's role in the organization. Based on this definition, there are several things all sales organizations need to understand about sales enablement.

  • Sales enablement is a collaborative discipline. Sales enablement is a strategic function that exists apart from other functions in the organization. The enablement practice's primary task is to orchestrate the cross-functional people and resources it takes to deliver enablement services (i.e., content, training and coaching) at various stages of the customer journey.
  • Sales enablement services need to be consistent. Consistency matters in the delivery of sales enablement services. Enablement services need to align with product and marketing messages – and that requires the development of value messaging that covers the entire customer journey.
  • Sales enablement is an added value. When working properly, sales enablement allows organizations to engage in perspective selling – the next stage in the evolution of solution selling. In perspective selling, sales reps combine knowledge of customer challenges and desired outcomes with insights they have gained from similar customers and their expertise with potential solutions. Research, thought leadership and subject matter experts support the process and help sales teams bring new perspectives to customers' most important challenges and opportunities.

A Model for Sales Enablement Success

Sales enablement isn't a single activity. Although your business needs a dedicated enablement practice, sales enablement is a multi-faceted discipline that touches a variety of functions across the organization.

At my company, we use the Sales Force Enablement Clarity Model to describe the many facets and outcomes of a successful enablement practice. Key facets of a robust sales enablement model include:

  1. The customer – Sales enablement begins with the customer. Every aspect of your enablement practice, including enablement services, must consider customers' needs and the customer journey.
  2. Customer-facing professionals and managers – Sales teams (i.e., sales reps and managers) are the primary beneficiaries of enablement services. The enablement function equips sales teams with the tools and insights to bring added perspective to customer interactions.
  3. Formalized collaboration – Successful enablement practices formalize collaborative processes between departments and orchestrate the delivery of services across functions to ensure consistency.
  4. Integrated enablement technology – The right technology increases the impact of your enablement practice. Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), advanced technologies aggregate data and use it suggest specific actions sales reps can take to improve the likelihood of a sale.
  5. Enablement services –Enablement services empower sales teams with tools and insights to improve sales performance. Mature enablement practices typically offer a range of services, including coaching, training and content.
  6. Efficient enablement operations – From an operational standpoint, it's important to develop a production process and governance model. Without these pieces of the puzzle, it can be difficult to establish enablement as an efficient and strategic discipline.
  7. Strategy and sponsorship – Effective enablement disciplines feature strategies supported by executive sponsors. Executive sponsorship must be ongoing to support the enablement practice as it matures.

Byron Matthews, President and CEO, Miller Heiman Group