Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid?

21 August 2014

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Doh!Sales Enablement software has a solid foothold in many sales organizations. Better than the knowledge management platforms it replaces, Sales Enablement solves a common sales force “distribution” problem; that is, the problem of distributing marketing content to, and through, the sales force. Sales Enablement’s oft-stated purpose is to provide the right salespeople with the right content, at the right time – and at this task it is unflinchingly effective. The trouble is, that may not be a problem the sales force needs to solve. 

On the other hand, Sales Enablement may solve Marketing’s single-biggest problem: the sales force. Marketing knows the sales force as a prickly and ungovernable bunch; they complain if they can’t find the latest content, but they can’t be counted on to use the content they are supplied with. Sales Enablement addresses both issues in one go, while liberating Marketing from the sales force’s uncertain agency. It delivers content where it’s needed, and drives accountability for its dissemination.

It is no surprise that Marketing’s budget picked up the tab for many firms’ initial foray into Sales Enablement. In fact, something tells me it was Marketing that came up with the name “Sales Enablement.”

To be fair, Sales Enablement offers real value to Sales in the same way that Google, in a larger context, offers value to all of us. Google gives us all a kind of “outboard brain,” capable of almost instant, on-demand, and comprehensive recall. But as Nicholas Carr suggests (referring to Google’s impact), these benefits come at a price – a diminished capacity for concentration, contemplation, and focus. Carr asks, “Is Google Making Us Stupid ” Sales organizations whose salespeople are more “enabled” than high-performing should find this line of inquiry relevant.

Some other questions worth asking: Should content anticipate every sales conversation? Should it frame the narrative of every buyer/seller interaction? Do salespeople need to do more than simply deliver content? Do they, for example, need to exercise judgment and skill in crafting customer- and context-specific solutions compelling to decision makers? If so, are we enabling that? 

I wish we had more frank conversation about what Sales Enablement is and isn't. Something it isn’t: enabling. Enable someone and you’ve given them new authority, capability, or power – without which they’d otherwise be unsuccessful. Information and marketing content do help, but alone the only thing they’ll enable are tone-deaf sales presentations, in which salespeople answer questions that no one is asking. Enable salespeople by investing in skills, not information.

Next month I will moderate a panel on this topic at the 2014 Sales Force Productivity Conference. In it, we’ll explore Sales Enablement’s potential, its limitations, and the approaches firms who accomplished real sales enablement (lower case) are taking. Click here for a full description.

Hope to see you there!


Like many things, tools can be either/neither good or bad – it is all in the hands of the user. We find that sales enablement tools allow strong sales people to spend less time managing their content and more time on what makes sales people so strong at their job – the relationships, the insight and solving problems for their clients.

At UpSync.com, we have found through thousands of use cases, the sales reps don’t get bogged down with everything their corporation wants them to do – tracking, entering info into Salesforce, and so on. By having a tool like UpSync to manage the tech side of things, the reps are freer to be masters of the relationship.

Our clients have expressed that their lower performing reps can actually learn from the techniques of the stronger sales reps by seeing how their mentors used materials at various stages of the sales process. What organization doesn’t want to lift up their bottom line in this manner?

Finally, custom tools and apps tailored to competitive push backs have been essential to our clients. After seeing the results of their reps using a custom competitive response app we made for them, they went on to push the app worldwide and into 16 languages. That is a testament to how effective they found the app was for their team.

Interesting discussion topic. Thanks for posting!

Bob,

I hear what you are saying in your article.

In my mind, Sales Enablement software is just a tool, and as such, is as good as the one who uses it.

In this case, Sales Enablement software is just the vehicle through which the Marketing content is delivered to the Sales staff.

Now, I see the right discussion to be about whether the Marketing content is used effectively (or used at all) and why this is the case, rather than about the sales enablement software itself.

I see two big buckets to address to answer the above:

– The quality of the Marketing materials and how they are aligned to support the actual sales process that the sales person drives (i.e. should these be providing a script to be followed by sales staff, or should these provide the proper market insights to be leveraged by sales people as apporpriate?)
– The ability of the sales person to drive the sales process effectively (i.e. are sales reps skilled enough to leverage Marketing materials in a way that they can uncover and address the issues that the customer is facing, and add value in the process?)

The above points allow room for extensive discussion that I won’t cover here.

I’d just summarize my point around the fact that misalignment between Sales and Marketing teams on what the desired sales process should be and what each brings to the table to support it, is what drives the different perceptions from each other (i.e. Marketing feeling that they can’t have the sales teams to do what they think they should be doing; and Sales feeling that they don’t get what they need from Marketing to suppport what they see to be happening in the “real world”).

Hope this helps.

Juan

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