Cloudely, Inc
Sales Enablement, a perspective
Its hard to say when the term Sales Enablement was cobbled up and how long it took for it assume its own importance. But a Forrester article talks of their first round table on Sales enablement in 2008 and a more meaningful definition in 2009. So perhaps its fair to assume Sales Enablement took importance at the turn of the century.

Going back to Forrester, Sales Enablement was defined as:

"Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer's problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system."

There are several other definitions you can find on similar and variant lines, if you spend a few minutes googling for it. Some include a 5-point definition, others 6 and some more 9-points to their meaning of this term. To some it is a business function, to others it is a process. But all agree that Sales Enablement is for Sales or the front-end customer-facing teams, with perhaps a layer of Marketing involved.

And today it is a buzz-word making a strong comeback. By the hour blogs, articles and white papers are constantly providing advice and expertise on Sales Enablement. And almost all circle around the same set of points that Forrester first put forth. Albeit in their own words.

Lets close the definition aspect with two more from similar research giants:

"The activities, systems, processes and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with client and prospects." – Gartner

"Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward." – IDC

So then what is Sales Enablement?

To put it simply – anything that makes it possible for customer facing staff to execute their roles and engage the customer. Lets break this down now in the context of modern selling.

  1. Customer Facing – today Sales is not the only function interacting with customers. Equally or more engaged are Service reps. Be it at the help desk/call center or the service specialist at the customer site. It also includes Sales Engineers, Legal and Accounting, all of whom during the life of a customer relationship engage and interact with customers, and in their own way further the corporation's product/service offerings.
  2. Make it possible – thats the simple definition of enabling. Making something possible is an act that requires someone to perform it. In a corporate sense that can translate into a process that is executed by one or several hands, that can be within or across more than one function.
  3. Execute & Engage – at the end of the day this is what is being enabled. A series of successful interactions with the customer that result in customer satisfaction with the interaction and the product/service sold. When "enabled" right, the customer facing staff will execute these interactions more efficiently, in a timely manner resolving the customer's needs (whether for a product or service, or for a support call, or just clearing up the extra charge on a bill) leading to an engagement with a satisfied customer. Which is why all of this is important anyway.

A lot of thought and voice about Sales Enablement has been evolved in the classic B2B scenario. Which by the way is dated and has changed with the advent of service and subscription based models. Not only do corporations want to resell, up-sell, cross-sell, they also want to ensure that recurring invoice of the past year gets renewed into the next.

And from a Sales Enablement point of view, that catches more relevance. If you were to think of Sales Enablement as an Objective not a process or a function, it puts things into a new light. So when you design a process one guiding metric or checkbox should now be – Does it enable sales? And extend this to any and all functions that have direct customer interactions.

Support that objective with 3 things:

Information

Anyone performing a role needs to know what they are doing and why. That starts the basic information trail. Support that with content on the product and offering, strengthen that with training leading to "enablement" on how to use the information.

In the context of customer engagement, information takes a broader meaning. Sales should be armed with anything that supports their interaction for the current offering. Apart from content on the offering and the how-to's, extend insight from vast trove of data collected on the same customer or like customers, their interactions. This can include past proposals, contracts, product installations, support ticket information among others that provide the sales user better perspective.

Tools to disseminate information

Very simply this translates to the right level of automation that captures and stores information relevant to your business. Filtering into a sales perspective, this will mean having content management systems, CRM, CPQ and contract management solutions where relevant. Integrated to back-office or ERP, they provide the deeper insight into real customer/transactional interactions that make meaningful content to the sales user.

The right level of automation will not only ensure the right information is available at the right point in a process flow, it also enables the sales user to execute the process in a timely and efficient manner leading to a successful customer engagement. Deviating mildly from the theme, the importance of modern cloud based sales execution tools like CPQ and CLM cannot be understated. They go further than the traditional definition of Sales Enablement in making it possible for sales reps to focus on the customer and execute the sales processes smoothly ending with a sale and a satisfied customer.

Governance to ensure the information is used correctly

This perhaps is the more challenging of the 3. A self-governing process, with just the right level of collaboration to ensure checks and balances, is a way to maintain required governance on the process. In an automated process execution more so; as the process ownership changes hands, automation will provide a visible trail into all previous actions thus bringing in a form of self-governance.

The other aspect of Governance, is to revisit both content and training from time to time. Ensuring content is updated and training is provided to refresh, upgrade or bring change is vital to staying current with your business needs.

Bottom-line – a good process with controls and governance, executed with automation assistance, both built with a solid foundation to include the thought of Sales Enablement, will go a long way in bettering customer engagement.

There's a lot of buzz around Sales Enablement. And rightfully so. But from its original thought to now, its still in evolution, experts and corporations are still trying to define and characterize it. Here's our perspective on the topic.