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What Is Sales Enablement?

July 17, 2013 | By Jim Ninivaggi

Sales enablement’s mission, where it reports, how it is funded and what it is responsible for vary from company to company. SiriusDecisions conducts ongoing research to understand this function and how it’s changing. Here’s what we see today.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting to a sales leadership class at the University of Connecticut in Hartford. Many of these executive MBA students work in the financial services industry in the area. My presentation was on sales enablement, and I began by asking how many had heard the term “sales enablement.”

Not a single hand went up.

Unlike established corporate functions like accounting, finance and marketing, sales enablement is still evolving, and the term means different things to different companies. (It doesn’t help that “enablement” isn’t even a real word – try looking it up in Webster’s.) Sales enablement’s mission, where it reports, how it is funded and what it is responsible for vary from company to company.

It’s a Sales Function – Except When It Isn’t

Nearly half the companies in our database (46 percent) have the sales enablement function reporting into sales, 32 percent into marketing and 18 percent into one or more business units. We believe sales enablement will increasingly report into sales as the function broadens its roles and responsibilities, which brings us to…

What Exactly Does Sales Enablement Do?

When we ask companies what their sales enablement functions do, the top four responses are – provide guidelines for using sales assets (78 percent of respondents reported this as one of enablement’s responsibilities), share enablement best practices (73 percent), build sales assets (71 percent) and develop product training (68 percent) – reflecting the function’s legacy of supporting product marketing. But more than 50 percent report that the function contributes to various sales effectiveness areas (delivering sales effectiveness training, selecting and deploying sales technology, managing sales communication). This indicates that the function’s role is broadening from providing sales assets to ensuring that reps are competent in using those assets. Based on client feedback, we also see new rep onboarding as a key responsibility of enablement.

How Is It Measured?

Because enablement is responsible for coordinating the delivery of various elements (e.g. content, training), it’s not surprising that the top two most common forms of measurement are “consumption” based – what content reps are downloading and whether they are completing their required training. But companies increasingly measure the business impact that enablement has on the sales organization, including conversion rates within each stage in the sales funnel and time to productivity for new hires.

Little ‘e’ and Big ‘E’

The sales enablement function is evolving as an integral role in aligning marketing and sales. Of course, many functions “enable” the field force (little “e” – the verb), including human resources, sales operations, marketing operations, product marketing, field marketing, account-based marketing and communications. All of these functions build “enablement elements.” The sales enablement function (big ‘E’ – the noun) takes these elements and orchestrates their delivery to the field so reps can easily digest them. To help organizations manage this process, we developed the SiriusDecisions Enablement Framework, which organizes key elements (e.g. assets, skills, knowledge, tools) by stages in the buying/sales process.

Sales Enablement: Building an Execution Framework

Get insight into the key elements of sales enablement with an overview of the SiriusDecisions Enablement Framework and view our SiriusFoundations OnDemand webcast, which highlights relevant models and frameworks for a successful sales enablement program.

Jim Ninivaggi

Jim Ninivaggi is Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. Jim’s focus is on helping to deliver data, knowledge and insight that our clients need to improve sales performance and drive ROI. Follow Jim on Twitter @jninivaggi.

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