SALES ENABLEMENT: The missing link between sales and marketing?

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Maxine-Laurie Marshall investigates the hype around the new buzzword on everyone’s lips.

ales and enablement are the two new words in town causing confusion for B2B marketers. What is it? How do you achieve it? Should you even be worried about it?
Forrester introduced the world to sales enablement in 1999, saying: “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 optimise the return of investment of the selling system.”
I agree, but think it can be simplified. Sales enablement is helping sales understand and talk to customers. Andrew Yates, CEO at Artesian Solutions says: “Sales enablement provides customer-facing employees with information to help them do their jobs as effectively as possible.”

Benefits
The initial benefits of sales enablement practically jump off the page. By providing sales with the right information to engage customers, customers will look more favourably on the brand and in turn sales will see a greater return. In developing a better relationship with customers, sales will be able to learn more about their behaviours and preferences. This greater understanding of the customer can be fed back internally and new communications based around that feedback can be produced.

Ellen Valentine, product evangelist at Silverpop, also sees the business benefit in sales enablement: “In today’s evolving marketplace, where the buyer has more power than ever before, sales teams need all of the resources possible to ensure they are top-of-mind. Marketing and sales must work together to ensure this is possible. At the end of the day, the more sales that are made – both new and existing business – the happier the entire organisation will be.” 

Perhaps a less obvious benefit, but one that’s equally important, is the shared responsibility for sales enablement to be a success. As long as departments work in silos, it won’t work. So it could be a catalyst to breaking down internal barriers. Valentine thinks so: “Barriers between departments need to be broken down to give the customer the information they need, and help your sales force stay top-of-mind with prospects.”

Nick Toman, senior director at CEB agrees: “No isolated enablement team can arrive at a strong enough understanding of the customer, the market, their solution capabilities, etc to truly disrupt how a customer thinks about their business.”

So you know what it is and that it’s important, if pleasing customers is your thing that is, but how do you do it?

How is it achieved?
On the surface it seems as if sales enablement is all about marketing working to provide sales with the right materials. While this is definitely part of the solution, sales enablement success doesn’t rely 

solely on marketing. Lynn McBain, sales and marketing director at the CIM says: “There needs to be close relationships with other areas of the business such as finance, HR and IT.” And Valentine of Silverpop advises that the C-suite should be familiar with the end goals of a sales enablement strategy too.

However, the right support goes beyond departmental help. Training is an essential part of sales enablement. Toman says: “Sales enablement is organisationally-run sales support intended to improve sales’ professional performance through a mix of learning and development, tools, process, and other guidance.” McBain also sees sales enablement as going beyond a support network provided by marketing. She says: “While sales must have a close working relationship with marketing they must also ensure they have the right training, tools and the right leadership.”

An unexpected, but equally valuable, area of sales support can come from the very people they are reaching out to. Your businesses’ customers. Daniel Bausor, managing director at Famous4 Communications says: “We believe nurturing customers as advocates for your brand is a crucial element of sales enablement. Literally getting your customers to do the talking for your organisation.”

A client of Famous4 Communications, e-know.net, worked with the agency on a sales enablement campaign that utilised both customer advocacy and content marketing. It created a video on ‘top tips for cloud computing in the legal sector’ featuring customers, prospects and opinion formers. Head of sales at e-know.net, Julian Jackson says: “Within the business, the video is an exceptionally useful tool for our sales team to continue ongoing conversations for the next 12 months. It has also benefitted our marketing team as they have been able to integrate the content into lead generation plans and other marketing activity.”

Jackson’s point is a pertinent reminder that in sales enablement sales also has a part to play in supporting marketing. As part of a sales enablement strategy sales staff are feeding valuable information about customers back in to the business and back into marketing. Yates says: “Sales enablement can help businesses listen to their customers effectively and better understand where the opportunities or issues exist.”

Technology
So far the focus has been on what people can do to assist sales enablement, but McBain believes technology also plays a part: “In today’s world it is a vital component of the sales person’s toolkit; the ability to research customers and clients, identify opportunities and keep up with market developments is all enhanced by technology. Additionally, maintaining up-to-date information on a solid CRM system and being able to communicate effectively are important; so too is being able to do all this while being away from the office. Technology also facilitates the ability to be able to communicate globally in a cost effective way.”

Nodding towards the help technology can give but offering hope for the techno-phobes, Toman says it’s desirable but not necessary. “Technology is not necessarily required. Some of the best enablement tools I’ve personally seen in hardcopy form were created without any technology. However, technology can play a significant role in more seamlessly delivering information and support to sellers.”

While a lack of technology doesn’t seem to be a downfall, there are a few challenges to be aware of. As sales enablement sits very closely with the age-old myth that marketing and sales don’t get on, Trevor Salomon, business and marketing director at Europa Communications warns: “A challenge presents itself when sales and marketing are not on equal footing. Marketing should not be subservient but in an equal partnership with sales, pulling together to deliver the business strategy.”

Because marketing has been seen as being subservient to sales in the past, it may explain why David White, head of portfolio marketing and inside sales at Fujitsu UK&I cited confidence as one of the challenges he faced when implementing its sales enablement campaign. He reasoned: “You have to be able to demonstrate the value of the investment by the sales team in participation in the enablement activities in a way that gives them the confidence that the return is better qualified opportunities.”

White also cites innovation as another challenge he faced, saying: “You have to continually raise the bar and deliver something new and exciting to keep the sales teams interested and engaged.”

Engaging sales and providing them with valuable information to help them reach customers is likely going to be something new for your marketing teams to do. So it will require a new way of thinking, not radically new, but a slight cultural shift will take place. It’s a very cyclical process, much like the chicken and the egg, sales needs marketing as much as marketing needs sales in order for the process to continue. The question is, which came first in the successful sales enablement strategy? Initiation from sales or marketing? Considering you’re reading this feature I think you know the answer.

Want to know more? Read Fujitsu's sales enablement case study>

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2013-07-26T14:56