Columnist Mary Wallace explains the ins and outs of sales enablement and how it can help you improve the customer experience and increase sales productivity.
Driven by the internet and mobile device proliferation, buyers are now in control of knowledge consumption. They are self-educating — gobbling mass amounts of content that’s helping them make their decisions.
As a result, salespeople are no longer the sole providers of information for buyers. In fact, they’re now the second provider of information within a company. Sales trails behind marketing in fulfilling the buyer’s knowledge demand with case studies, benefits and solutions in a variety of formats and almost unlimited communication channels.
The ripple effect is that customers know more than ever before. So, when they do reach out to a sales person, their questions and concerns are ever-more sophisticated. To be prepared, sales people must increase their product or services knowledge beyond that of their uber-informed prospects, and they must respond to very specific information requests.
Enter sales enablement. Brainshark defines sales enablement as a “systematic approach to increasing sales productivity, by supporting reps with the content, training and analytics they need to have more successful sales conversations.”
It’s an old concept that’s rapidly becoming more sophisticated. This evolution is thanks in part to the rise of new technologies — and, at the same time, changes in the buyer’s journey.
Understanding Sales Enablement
Sales enablement increases sales productivity. Wearing many hats, it is client-facing content; education and analysis; and fast and easy access to the right content and knowledge so salespeople can focus on providing value and fostering relationships during client conversations.
This function encompasses a laundry list of things: coaching, training, buyer’s insight, content creation, guidelines for using sales assets, sales automation, technology for finding and accessing the right content and so on. But what it all boils down to is optimizing the effectiveness of the sales effort.
An August 2015 survey by Highspot and Heinz Marketing of more than 400 B2B sales and marketing professionals showed that 57 percent of respondents with a sales enablement function ranked their sales efforts as “effective” or “very effective.”
And according to Aberdeen Group, organizations that have a strong sales enablement function see as much as a 50 percent increase in sales team quota attainment (reaching sales goals), 9 percent year-to-year revenue growth over average companies and significant improvement in average selling price.
Clearly, this is why spending on sales enablement tools has increased 69 percent between 2012 and 2014. But implementing a tool is never a silver bullet.
Change in an organization’s mindset is necessary to take full advantage of that tool.
Sales and Marketing Alignment
More often than not, sales and marketing organizations are at each other’s throats. Marketing doesn’t generate enough leads, or the lead quality is poor. Sales wastes the leads that they’re given.
The truth is that the two need to unite and be responsible for revenue. Together they build trust with their buyers.
When communicating with a single voice, marketing and sales teams provide an optimal customer experience. For example, by using nurture campaigns and send-on-behalf-of personalization embedded in most marketing automation solutions, marketers help increase familiarity between sales and customers.
Additionally, marketing’s use of digital body language to react to a prospect’s actions contains a wealth of knowledge when shared with the sales organization. With these rich insights into buyers, their companies and their territories, sales can better prioritize their efforts.
Leads must flow smoothly from the initial buying stages with marketing to the latter buying stages when the lead is ready to speak to sales.
Without marketing data, sales pros are flying blind. As a result, they miss opportunities, or worse, fail to communicate the right message and create a poor customer experience.
This is especially critical because the handoff between marketing and sales takes place later than ever in the buying cycle. A no-longer-linear buying process exacerbates the need for integrated systems.
With integrated systems, marketing data provides sales organizations with a fundamental understanding of the customer. This intel helps the sales organization execute the right follow-up communications and shrink the buying cycle.
Change is never easy. Implementing a new process or solution — whether it’s a content management tool or a lead management application — is still painful.
C-level sponsorship of a sales enablement solution emphasizes the strategic value of the initiative and ensures stakeholder commitment. The sponsorship is best if it comes from both the marketing and sales leadership.
Communication of that support, the benefits realized, and an implementation schedule go a long way in reducing the friction caused by change. Sharing examples of early wins and the time and energy saved solidifies success.
Today’s buyers are far more educated than ever before. They crave content — good content.
When the sales organization cannot easily access content or must recreate it, they’re wasting time. Not understanding what content the buyer needs can result in the loss of a sale.
By combining sales enablement solutions with a commitment to good content and a tighter alignment between sales and marketing, organizations can optimize the customer experience, improve sales conversion rates and drive sales productivity.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)