Author: Natalie Nathanson
I’ve been involved in sales enablement and lead generation since the term was just getting popularized in the B2B tech sector around 2006. And more than ten years later, the definition of what sales enablement actually is has yet to be nailed down. Ask five different sales enablement leaders, and you’ll likely get five different responses. I like Brainshark’s straightforward definition of sales enablement:
Sales enablement: “A systematic approach to increasing sales productivity, by supporting reps with the content, training and analytics they need to have more successful sales conversations.”
In the enterprise space, most successful companies have already embraced sales enablement as a critical priority—and are seeing the fruits of their labor. And in fact, a study by Forbes & Brainshark notes that 72% of companies that surpassed revenue targets by 25+% “have a defined sales enablement function.”
But many B2B firms can’t afford all the bells and whistles of a comprehensive sales enablement function. By understanding the discipline of sales enablement and how to prioritize tactics based on marketing and sales objectives, companies of all sizes can reap the rewards.
Sales enablement really boils down to how marketing can help make sales more successful, and this can be accomplished through a range of program areas including technology, intelligence, content, analytics, training, and demand generation.
Successful sales enablement starts with ensuring marketing and sales are aligned, which isn’t always easy, but pays its dividends many times over. To provide quality sales enablement, it’s helpful to think in terms of the sales process and look at where marketing fits in. In order to do that effectively, marketing must have a strong understanding of the sales process—both the formal process and the activities and behaviors on the sales team. While the chart below can be tweaked for each organization, it’s a helpful framework to look at how marketing should support stages of the sales process.
Before a prospect is even a prospect, they are an individual in your target market who may or may not have any familiarity with your firm—and who may or may not even have a need for what you offer. Focusing on building awareness with this audience is critical, and this awareness activity should happen on an individual rep basis, leveraging sales intelligence tools like DiscoverOrg, as well as social selling tactics.
Perhaps more importantly at this stage, marketing’s brand-awareness efforts allow for much more scalable reach. Brand awareness can take many forms, ranging from digital advertising to thought leadership programs—all with a goal of building familiarity and a positive impression among target audiences and ultimately—when executed correctly—driving inbound outreach with potentials who do have an active need.
Once a prospect is identified and a sales rep is hoping to initiate a sales process (but before a true opportunity is identified), marketing can help with lead generation and low-touch qualification. This can be accomplished through programs such as email lead nurturing.
In a recent example, a client of ours in the cyber security space wanted to drive more conversations for sales, efficiently. We built a 5-touch email nurture program that leveraged thought leadership and ‘qualifying’ content (content that closely aligns with buying triggers) that we had created, and then only passed the leads to sales who engaged with the qualifying content, indicating that they likely had an active need.
The topic for the qualifying content in this example was a “how-to” piece about overcoming a particular security concern that our client’s solution helps mitigate quite dramatically – so any prospect who read the piece was raising their hand as a better prospect for Sales than the population at large. This simple example shows how marketing and sales can align to efficiently identify which prospects are worth Sales’ time.
Companies and individuals have different schools of thought regarding Marketing’s role in engaging with Opportunities.
While there’s always a role for marketing in supporting active sales opportunities, some firms lean on marketing during this stage more than others: Some firms decide to mostly exclude prospects with an active sales opportunity from receiving marketing messages and campaigns, likely due to a fear of sending the wrong thing and negatively impacting the deal. Other firms understand the power of combining sales activity with marketing messages and rely on marketing to help drive the sale. A final segment of firms have marketing only focus on “behind-the-scenes” activity, such as providing behavioral prospect intel to Sales or creating content that Sales can distribute on a one-on-one basis. The companies who do crack the code on how to leverage marketing campaigns at this stage usually see a significant lift in key metrics including shorter sales cycles, higher close rates and greater sales efficiency. The key is to build programs that are very personalized and targeted to a buyer’s needs and where they are in the process.
While there’s always a role for marketing in supporting active sales opportunities, some firms lean on marketing during this stage more than others: Some firms decide to mostly exclude prospects with an active sales opportunity from receiving marketing messages and campaigns, likely due to a fear of sending the wrong thing and negatively impacting the deal. Other firms understand the power of combining sales activity with marketing messages and rely on marketing to help drive the sale.
Oftentimes, this is best accomplished through the use of marketing automation and CRM systems that have lead intelligence and associated business processes factored into the communications.
Sales enablement for existing customers differs greatly depending on the objective. Customer campaigns focused on keeping SaaS product users engaged to improve retention looks very different than a program designed to help existing customers realize additional value by up-selling them on additional products or services.
When thinking about customer marketing in the form of goals—retention, enrichment, or even advocacy—it often helps to look at business metrics to understand where the lowest hanging fruit resides. Many firms will formalize efforts into client success initiatives to stay focused on a particular set of objectives and associated programming.
While the areas above focus on how marketing can support the sales process itself, in the broader view of sales enablement best practices, it’s important to consider other areas such as sales training, and the vast array of sales enablement technologies that can span everything from business intelligence to proposal development to sales content optimization.
Interested in enhancing your sales enablement practices? Magnetude Consulting would love to hear from you!