Sales enablement has a vital part to play in supporting a company’s strategic requirements, vision, and strategy. The question is, which role (s) does it play? And how many parts does it play? What are the components of sales enablement? For those outside the profession, it’s easy to assume what sales enablement is. Something like “they enable salespeople, right?”
So, what are the components of sales enablement? The answer to that question largely depends on the view of enablement held by CEOs and executive teams who are getting a lot of advice about improving sales from vendors, partners, management consultants, and their peers. Our view at Orchestrate Sales? There are eight components, and all of them align with customers outside your company.
With that in mind, the components of sales enablement are varied. If you ask ten people what sales enablement is, you will probably get ten different answers. But, that doesn’t mean everyone’s wrong or right, per-se. It’s important to remember that the enablement role is an emergent role forged in the furnace of volatility, complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. It comes from creating an interconnected business ecosystem to deliver more consistent customer experiences.
Sales enablement success comes down to strategy and execution. That success often rests on solid, proven, research-based foundations verified and enhanced over decades of implementation and performance by many companies. The field started in 2008 when the enablement discipline was proven effective for more complex, outcome-focused, customer experience-driven business relationships between vendor and buyer organizations.
Since then, the components of sales enablement have evolved to become multi-faceted. Sales enablement has become a philosophy, function, capability, role, discipline, process, skill, and technology. The mix of these components can create some confusion; however, they make a lot of sense in a digital economy when fully understood.
Let’s take a look at the components of sales enablement.
1. Sales Enablement as a Philosophy
An enablement philosophy focuses on the business’s productivity. The philosophy views the company as an ecosystem of interrelated parts that must return value to shareholders. These corresponding parts must create value, deliver value, and communicate value. These philosophy components of sales enablement are focused on communicating value to the right customers and prospects to achieve the business strategy. It’s about customers.
The enablement philosophy focused on communicating value comes with an awareness that customer-facing teams must co-create the future with customers. For example, executives and leaders focused on growth usually have an enablement philosophy. These leaders want to increase bookings. To do that, they are focused on increasing customer-centricity and empathy, especially at higher altitude levels in customer accounts, to increase deal sizes.
Vendor executives also want to understand what conversations customers want to have. They are empathetic to the amount of change, and complexity customers must navigate. As part of the components of sales enablement, and enablement philosophy also requires seeing that value is in the eye of the beholder and customers are in control — especially in significant, complex buying decisions with multiple stakeholders.
For salespeople to communicate value, the sales enablement philosophy must permeate through the commercial (sales and marketing) system to help customer-facing teams create what’s possible together with their prospects and customers.
One way to think about an enablement philosophy is this: We don’t fix salespeople. Instead, we improve the ecosystem they operate within so they can have timely, relevant, and valuable conversations with customers and prospects.
EXAMPLE: The executives in a vendor company bring their customers together to learn from them and understand their customer’s challenges. These executives proactively explore their vendor company’s role with customers to help them be successful. They work to simplify and engineer the right conversations, with the right attitude of customers, across the variety of different stakeholders in the customer’s company. However, they realize their product can only go so far in communicating the economic value in a way that matters most to their customers and prospects.
2. Sales Enablement as a Capability
A sales enablement capability is another component of sales enablement. An enablement capability begins to emerge when the cross-functional and collaborative alignment of people, processes, information, and technology are simplified into services that support sales and other customer-facing teams. Capability-focused components of sales enablement become a crucial consideration in a commercial growth architecture. An enablement capability denotes the “What” a company can do to help sales sell. In contrast, a business process outlines “how” those particular activities get done (see below for sales enablement as a process).
Enablement capabilities exist as services such as:
- Talent enablement services
- Message enablement services
- Pipeline enablement services
- Organizational enablement services
When enablement is managed and deployed as a capability, leaders in the enablement function are focused on impacting salespeople and the customer experience. They concentrate on elevating sales conversations, streamlining onboarding processes, and many other outcomes. Sales enablement services are capabilities that must be planned, architected, deployed, managed over time. In that way, they are measurable and have a clear ROI.
A well-managed enablement capability creates more capacity to support many customer-facing teams while also providing each group precisely what they need. An enablement capability brings together content, materials, and expertise to perform a core function in the sales strategy — to free sales up to sell more. In this way, enablement is a critical component to achieving customer-centricity. Enablement becomes a component of a business to become more customer-centric.
EXAMPLE: An enablement leader engages with executives to shape the vision of an enablement function to help evolve customer-facing team members and close the gaps to customers. They develop a plan to architect and deploy talent enablement services to improve the end-to-end “hire to retire” process across various sales teams. They are building an enablement capability.
On the other hand, an enablement manager asked to create training and deploy the new sales process in 90 days is not building an enablement capability. Instead, the enablement manager responds to demands from sales leaders in the organization. As a result, they are executing as a sales enablement discipline (see below), not developing an enablement capability.
3. Sales Enablement as a Function
Sales enablement as a function is another sales enablement component. When sales enablement is a function, that function occupies a specific position on the organizational chart. Therefore, the function is like a business unit with a clear scope and budget. It is typically a cost center, as it doesn’t have a quota. However, the function leader has a specific functional charter to provide services, programs, projects to a particular portfolio of customer-facing teams. Active components of sales enablement are bespoke to accelerate the sales strategy to achieve the company’s business strategy, mission, goals.
The leadership team of the enablement function focuses on improving the effectiveness (quality) of sales conversations and efficiency (speed and consistency) of those conversations to improve sales productivity and fuel growth through bookings. In addition, the enablement function elevates bringing together sales, marketing, and sales operations to streamline and simplify the ecosystem that supports sales. To do that, leaders establish some cadence, governance structure, and feedback loops to prove the impact of what they are providing to sales leadership.
The view of enablement as a function usually evolves into commercial enablement (sales and marketing) to drive growth as measured by the Commercial Ratio. That means the function is aligned to the Chief Commerical Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, or even the CEO. In some organizations, this is being called business enablement.
EXAMPLE: The enablement function runs as a “business within a business” supporting the go-to-market strategy. The function’s leadership sets the vision and allocates resources to engineer the right experiences for customer-facing teams. They do this by assembling the “best-ofs” from across the organization. For example, salespeople need the content, training, tools, and technologies to get access to executives.
4. Sales Enablement as a Discipline
Sales enablement as a discipline is another component of sales enablement. Successful enablement rests on solid, proven, research-based foundations verified and enhanced over decades of implementation and execution. It’s important to note that enablement discipline requires much more than “building things for sales” in most organizations. Random is the opposite of specialization.
The enablement discipline is elevating to blend strategy and tactics in partnership with other functions like marketing, product, sales, finance, and even human resources. That means enablement leaders and teams need to develop approaches that translate the sales strategy into actionable initiatives (aligned to customer expectations), integrate a wide variety of products and solutions, and activate cross-functional teams to deliver the right experiences.
A successful sales enablement professional understands the focused discipline components of sales enablement and engages others to improve the impact of:
- Design: They realize that success come from design, not effort
- Support: They engage in a way that drives adoption of processes, tools, and skills
- Change Management: They consistently engage others in an ongoing manner to foster continous change
- Strategy: The engage with busienss acumen and strategic thinking to drive the future state
- Decision–making: They engage with a well designed approach to making decisions that blend both logic and emotion to improve customer experiences.
- Communication: They engage with thoughtful and well structured communications, and factor in the various perspectives of all stakeholders who have a vested interest.
EXAMPLE: Sales enablement discipline embraces the fact that customer-centricity doesn’t happen alone, and it doesn’t happen in silos. The enablement discipline requires understanding the business and sales strategy to sell into various companies and industries. As the profession evolves, the enablement discipline becomes more practical for a wide range of sectors. It shows value in more complex, outcome-driven, customer experience-driven business relationships between vendor and buyer organizations.
5. Sales Enablement as a Role
The sales enablement role is another component of sales enablement. This role is essential to bring together the right strategies and tactics to help customer-facing teams succeed. The position is part of the sales enablement profession and is a newly emerging role that is rapidly expanding.
The sales enablement role is an orchestrator role where people serve as the strategic and tactical interface between sales teams and those who support those teams. People in enablement roles shape initiatives, programs, projects to provide services to sales teams if they are in an enablement function or creating an enablement capability.
Otherwise, they engage as contributors with enablement discipline required to achieve short-term impact and wins (see the discipline section below). People in the enablement role translate internal product-focused efforts into externally relevant content, skills, and tools that salespeople (and other customer-facing teams) need to engage with customers and prospects.
The role components of sales enablement have a progression, much like other professions.
- Indvidual contributor: An indiviudal contributor is someone who has the enablement skills, enablement process, and enablement disicpline requried. Indiviudal contribtors often identify content and skills, design content and training, and devlier content in ways that are usable and digestible
- Enablement manager: An enablement manager is someone focused on a domain of sales enableent (ie., talent, message, pipeline, organizaitonal) and evoles that domain to best serve the salespeople and customer facing teams they are supporting.
- Enablement leader: An enablement leader is repsonsible for shaping, developing, and implementing the enablement capabilities.
EXAMPLE: An enablement team has a leader, a few managers, and individual contributors. Depending on the enablement function (skills, process, discipline, or position), the enablement team executes to support the sales teams aligned with. The people in those enablement roles spend a lot of time understanding their customers’ industries, the day-in-the-life of their customer’s prospects and push themselves to role-play and engage as a seller. They want to know more about the experiences of salespeople with their customers, and they don’t “should” on salespeople (you should do this, you should do that, you should just…).
6. Sales Enablement as a Process
Business processes are essential to delivering consistent customer experiences and improving the efficiency and impact of something over time. Sales enablement is a business process that “enables” valuable and relevant sales conversations. This requires a cross-functional and multi-disciplinary approach that brings people together from marketing, training, sales, and even finance.
The best definition of sales enablement as a process is by Scott Santucci, who views enablement as a critical process to improving customer-centricity and communicating value.
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 optimize the return of investment of the selling system.Scott Santucci
Sales enablement is a business process that requires a lot of orchestration to remove the burden from salespeople. It requires (by definition) getting outside of one silo. The sales enablement process also has many “sub-processes” as well. For example, identifying the process components of sales enablement often means figuring out the engagement process, intake process, content maintenance process, measurement process, enablement talent development process, and service activation process (to name a few).
These processes are all designed and simplified to free up salespeople to spend more time with their customers. Enablement leaders and their teams do the hard work so salespeople don’t have to. They don’t levy more requirements on salespeople. They take on the work so salespeople don’t have to do it.
EXAMPLE: Enablement is much like the new employee onboarding process. When you look at the business process, from opening a requisition with finance to helping a new employee be successful in their first six months, there are a lot of steps. Those steps must “work together” across many internal functions to create value for the business and create a high level of new employee satisfaction.
7. Sales Enablement as a Skill
Skill is about proficiency. Through practice, people can make skills better over time. Through that practice and subsequent learning, people can “skill up” in one area or another. Skills require some sort of ability, which is more inherent. Ability is more about actually being able to do something. So, in many ways, people have an enablement ability, and then they become skilled over time. For example, people need the ability to help salespeople be successful before getting proficient at it. The skills of enablement range from extremely tactical to very strategic.
There are many ways to define the skills required to be successful in these components of sales enablement. The question is, what are you building and why? Does your company need sales enablement skills, or does it need a skilled person to achieve a vision? For more on the skills required of enablement orchestrators, check out this sales enablement job description.
EXAMPLE: Sales enablement people who talk in terms of “I am a trainer” or “I do training” talk about their facilitation skills and their ability to facilitate a training course. An enablement person who is cold-calling to set appointments for a vendor company to position sales enablement tools and technology are applying their cold-calling skills. Companies who look for sales enablement people to deliver training are looking for the training skill and ability.
8. Sales Enablement as a Technology
Many people view technology tools as one of the critical components of sales enablement. This is especially true in the digital economy, where platforms bring people together and create synergy in and between groups. However, it’s important to remember that technology enables strategy and vision. It’s not the “answer” or a silver bullet. Sales enablement tools and software are designed to boost the sales and marketing teams’ efficiency. However, these tools usually focus on one specific portion of the overall sales and marketing challenge, leading to a proliferation of devices. As a result, the average salespeople must navigate between 20+ sales enablement tools designed to “help them sell” as they pursue deals.
EXAMPLE: There are many, many enablement technologies and tools. Check them out here.