Sales enablement is the future. That’s not really in doubt. A 2015 report by Forbes Insights in conjunction with Brainshark showed that '59% of companies that surpassed revenue targets—and 72% that exceeded them by 25% or more—have a defined sales enablement function, compared to only 30% of underperforming organizations.'
The report shows the importance placed on sales enablement in terms of closing the gap between B- and C-level salespeople on the one hand, and those A-grade reps whose performance is consistently outstanding.
Bruce Rogers, chief insights officer at Forbes Media, was unequivocal about the report’s findings. 'This report outlines what companies need to do to maximize sales productivity, underscoring the power of sales enablement and the key role content plays in helping reps close more deals,' he says.
Even TechCrunch proclaimed 2016 'the year of the sales stack'. Yet the problem for many businesses is that they embrace sales enablement tools with such enthusiasm that they suddenly have a sales stack so large it obscures their original vision.
So how do we find a ‘Goldilocks’ stack: not too big, not too small, but just right?
Separating The Enablement Wheat From The Unwieldy Chaff
Of course, loading up on sales tools can be exciting, especially if you’ve seen how effective they can be on your reps’ productivity. Ryan Lallier, vice president of inside sales at Dataminr, is one who admits to having a magpie’s eye for new technology.
'I am the first to admit that I love a shiny new toy,' writes Lallier on LinkedIn. 'Rarely do I say no to a sales rep attempting to schedule a discovery call or pitch with me.'
But Lallier sounds a necessary note of caution too: '[O]ne team can only play with so many toys.' It’s a problem not lost on John Rampton of Forbes. '[W]ith hundreds of tools available—and more tools emerging each quarter, particularly in the sales enablement and acceleration niche—how do sales organizations pick the right ones?' he asks.
Understand Your Company To Choose The Right Stack
One of the reasons some CEOs are unable to stop assembling sales enablement tools is because they fundamentally lack understanding of how their own company’s sales department actually operates. When new technology becomes available, we often see the same mistakes repeated and no-one is automatically immune: take a step back and ask yourself if the product you’re considering is in tune with your business philosophy, and if it makes a clearly defined contribution to your sales department’s sales flow. (Don’t know how that sales flow goes? That’s a problem right there.)
The more seamlessly new tools can be integrated into your business, the less likely you are to have a sales stack that ends up obscuring your overarching vision.
You also need to sell your reps on the value of a new tool, or they won’t use it. Fundamentally this comes back to understanding sales flow. Each flow will differ and each organization will be strong and weak in different places in that flow.
'To start, you must first understand your sales organization’s biggest pain points,' writes Rampton. 'For some organizations, the issue may be ineffective prospecting.'
'Unproductive prospecting can waste up to 50% of a sales rep’s time. Other organizations may need a better and faster qualification process in order to outrun the competition.'
It’s tempting to solve the problem of unproductive prospecting by throwing tech at it. Don’t. You must first look at the sales process and make sure it is bulletproof. A bad sales process might be slightly enhanced by enablement tools, but it’s still a bad sales process.
'It may seem like buying new tech for your sales team can solve many of the problems your sales team is facing,' writes Bob Marsh of LevelEleven. 'Faster follow-ups, better data, improved demos, and faster proposal delivery are all very good things—don’t get me wrong.
'But often times, companies are missing the fundamentals and are skipping those basics. Instead, they end up replacing some of the most important steps with the addition of tech.'
Take A Bird’s-Eye View
A useful way of gaining an understanding of your sales process is by looking at it in its entirety—or 'from a bird’s-eye view', as Max Altschuler of Sales Hacker would have it.
'A sales process is a repeatable and scalable system in which you engage and facilitate potential buyers through the stages of your pipeline,' writes Altschuler. 'This runs from the top of the funnel (the lead) down to the closed deal and hand-off to the customer success rep, after the buyer has signed the contract.'
By getting an overview in this way, you can decide what parts of your business are proving most problematic and find the enablement tool—or tools—to help you fix these problems. It could be that your sales team’s productivity is down, with salespeople bogged down with secondary chores and unable to spend enough time selling.
'Any process you can automate saves time that reps can dedicate back to core selling activities,' writes Shelley Cernel of the Salesforce blog. Cernel points to CRM as an example: 'CRM can simplify sales processes and automate workflows, increasing productivity by 32%.'
Or maybe your reps can’t effectively advance a sale, allowing prospects to stall in the pipeline and decreasing the likelihood of closing. Then it might be time to reach for the playbook.
'Tools such as playbooks give reps direction about advancing prospects and using content effectively in their engagements,' writes Cernel. 'With just-in-time coaching, you can ensure reps have the guidance they need to further the deal. And collateral such as talk tracks, kill sheets, and person-based selling tips can be instantly accessible to reps for any sales situation.'
Peak Performance: It’s All About Your KPIs
Knowing your sales reps’ strengths and weaknesses is crucial to the success of your business, so proper measurement of KPIs is absolutely imperative. If you can’t answer questions about where your reps stand or fall, you’re sunk.
Too many CEOs rush headlong into collecting enablement tools without knowing exactly where their reps need to improve, leaving the business of monitoring KPIs to sales managers.
'Examining your current metrics and KPIs and then comparing those with your overall sales team goals is a fundamental many companies miss,' writes Marsh. 'It’s easy to assume your sales managers are keeping an eye on specific KPIs, but that isn’t enough. Executives across the company should know these KPIs and performance inside out.'
For Lallier, accurate reporting of KPIs is the means of avoiding the pipeline deficit that can stymie sales if not addressed. 'The #1 reason sales reps miss their sales targets is due to lack of pipeline,' he says. 'Within your sales stack, it’s imperative to have a simple-to-digest reporting scheme.
'Part of your reporting scheme should include KPIs that rank where your reps stand versus their required pipeline-generation goals. As a manager, any time we have a pipeline deficit I can always look back at the previous 30 days of demand generation.'
'Working backwards allows me to adjust the KPIs as needed to ensure a steady flow of net-new pipeline going forward… [A]side from your standard sales reporting, my sales stack includes two critical reports: Reps Rank versus Required Success Metrics and Outreach Activities With Correlated Results.'
The flood of sales enablement tools into the marketplace has been of biblical proportions. Forrester estimates that, between July and December 2014, the number of companies offering sales enablement products more than doubled. It’s a trend that is unlikely to abate in this 'year of the sales stack'.
With so many options out there, it’s important to know what to prioritize in an enablement tool. Some tools offer in-depth, customizable analysis and offer a wealth of data in terms of contact information and company intelligence. Others offer less depth and are more rigid and less user-friendly in the data they present.
'[T]he number of choices can be a bit scary,' writes Tracey E. Schelmetic of Telemarketing Software. 'Many solutions present overview data but no details. Others do not allow users to customize their views of data, and this is a mistake if the goal is to achieve real sales enablement.'
The key here is interactivity, says Fritz Mueller of Destination CRM. 'Good analytics are interactive,' he writes. 'As a user, you want the ability to easily click and have your next anticipated question answered.
'For example, sales engagement analytics might show actively engaged prospects. But of the prospects who are engaged, what have they done? What are they looking at? Are they sharing this information and, if so, with whom?'
'Analytics must be delivered within an interactive format, so you can click and easily get your next question answered—with everything presented in an easy-to-understand format that clearly answers the question.'
Get Out Of Your Own Way: Look For Simplicity And Continuity
As Lallier points out, it’s easy to get swept up in the thrill of the new, especially if you’re a CEO who, like him, is willing to listen to virtually every pitch that comes your way. But Lallier again counsels simplicity and continuity when it comes to the latest and greatest.
'[F]rankly, I’d rather my reps spend time mastering the use of the applications we sell versus yours,' he says. The important thing here is, rather than bombarding your team with new tools, requiring them to adapt on a continual basis, you should do your research to make sure you get the correct tool in the first place, and then give them time to master that.
Keeping up with the Joneses in terms of enablement tools is the last thing a CEO should be doing, says Marsh. 'Modern sales leaders live in a world of constant content marketing,' he writes. 'Everywhere we look, we see other companies we admire selecting new technologies, innovating on current processes, and exceed their targets.'
'It’s easy to get caught up in this trend of constant tech innovation because we hear them [new technologies] being referenced by other companies. But beware—often times the addition of new technology becomes distracting for sales reps.'
'If they’re constantly being asked to change their process or begin using a new tool, you could be jeopardizing your entire sales process—and spending a lot more in the process.'
'Some people think there’s a perfect sales stack, but every company operates very differently. Even your direct competitors could have a drastically different sales stack… [S]tay away from using technologies simply because they are the newest, shiniest or coolest on the market.'
'Ask yourself what you want to see your salespeople doing every day, and then figure out which technologies will help them do that.'
In other words: Covet not thy neighbor’s enablement tool—it could lead you down the path of business unrighteousness.
Don’t Forget Your Most Important Tool: A Salesperson’s Mindset
You’ve refined your process and picked the Goldilocks amount of enablement tools—everything is just right. But don’t forget the most important tool of them all: the salesperson themselves. Without the correct mindset, all the sales tools in the world aren’t going to improve performance.
'There are myriad tools to boost sales performance,' write Falon Fatemi and Rebecca Hinds of TechCrunch. 'But the mindset of the salesperson is equally, if not more, important; the two work hand-in-hand in determining success.
However, Fatemi and Hinds reemphasize the importance of a well-thought-out, coherent sales stack to help motivated salespeople hit their targets. 'The biggest challenge for salespeople will be navigating all the tools available and integrating them into a unified solution,' they write. 'An effective sales stack can’t consist of a haphazard group of disparate tools. Salespeople must develop a sales process that leverages their stack.'
Whether you’re looking to build a sales stack from scratch or you’re looking to streamline an existing one that has got out of hand, simplicity, research and the right salespeople are the three virtues that lead to success. Follow them and you’ll be swimming in money rather than drowning in a flood of sales tools.
About the Author
A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.More Content by Geoffrey Walters