When I first heard about Sales Enablement, it was a euphemism for pushing product slides to sales reps. As a PreSales professional, I passed over those decks and instead built my own slides. I dug deep into my company’s technology, its purpose, and its value for my customers. A practical approach, but not efficient, not scalable, and not sustainable.
Much has changed since then. Enablement has become a core capability of every leading sales organization.
2017 was the year of the big break-out for Sales Enablement. The percentage of organizations with a Sales Enablement practice nearly doubled from 32.7% to 59.2% of organizations surveyed by Miller Heiman Group. In 2021, 74% of companies surveyed for Highspot’s State of Enablement 2021 Report reported they have a dedicated Sales Enablement function. In their Market Guide for Sales Enablement Platforms 2021, Gartner called out Sales Enablement as a high-growth segment (+12% YoY) within the sales technology category (-11% YoY).
It’s safe to say enablement has become a thing.
What drives this development?
According to McKinsey research, there are strong trends that impact the rise of Sales Enablement:
- Intangible assets, such as human capital, research, and technology, have become more important to corporate growth. High-growth organizations invest 2.6 times more in intangibles than low growers.
- Top growers also deploy these intangible assets in ways that drive and develop more capabilities. Meaning, they build rigorous processes and data-driven decision-making and embed data, talent, innovation, and purpose in their day-to-day operations.
According to McKinsey, Sales Enablement is one lever to support both investments in such intangible assets as well as deploying them through the following areas:
- Attracting and retaining talent
- Developing people capabilities
- Creating a values-based culture
- Building an employer brand
- Motivating and engaging employees
What is it and why does it matter?
Simply put, Sales Enablement provides salespeople with the resources they need to close opportunities as fast and efficiently as possible. It has three major use cases:
PreSales Enablement is a young but required specialization in the field. Leaders understand the significance of PreSales for the overall success of an opportunity. They also understand the particularities of the profession in its intersection of technology, business, industry, and human expertise — and the challenges that come with them.
PreSales Enablement increases win rates, time-to-win, and overall customer satisfaction. How? By improving effectiveness, efficiency, and quality — getting relevant resources to PreSales when they need them.
Strategic Relevance to Sales Leaders
In today’s demand for PreSales talent, having a strong Sales Enablement function can give you a competitive advantage. Imagine you’re an SE yourself. What are your three top immaterial gains? Experience, expertise, and excellence — what I call the 3Es.
PreSales leaders that create an organizational context that constantly offers the 3Es will notice an increase in employee acquisition, satisfaction, and retention. But this doesn’t simply appear; there are many contributing factors.
Three dimensions of building an Enablement practice
I developed a model based on projects, coaching, and conversations with PreSales leaders and professionals over the years, which I call the PreSales Enablement Framework:
The model reflects three dimensions of enablement: content, format, and operations.
Content represents six PreSales domains of excellence:
- Company culture
- Human skills
- Business skills
- Product skills
- Industry skills
- Creativity skills
Format represents the types of learning experiences for PreSales professionals:
- Training: Transferring knowledge from trainer to trainee through in-person or virtual learning materials.
- Shadowing: Following experienced professionals in action and reflect
- Coaching: Facilitating and supporting the fulfillment of personal objectives
- Mentoring: Sharing experience and guide to the mentee
- Sparring: Challenging perceptions and constructively shaping solutions that improve performance and success.
- Consulting: Providing expert advice on strategy and execution
Operations include four main elements:
- Strategy: Defining your enablement working backward from your PreSales vision and your go-to-market.
- People: Define teachers and learners. Think who might best be suited to create the proper context for a specific learning experience: peers, managers, leaders, external coaches? At a certain point, you might want to go beyond enabling your professionals. How could you enable partners and customers? Also, think about your internal stakeholders for enablement: Sales Enablement is a company-wide exercise.
- Process: Define how you create, publish, review, and decommission content and formats. You may want to make sure content is always up-to-date, relevant, and aligned to your strategy.
- Platform: Define how you make enablement easily accessible to your professionals. Enablement comprises providing the right information at the right point in time of an opportunity, ideally integrated on the main sales and PreSales systems such as the CRM. It also comprises the provision of the right learning experience on an individual learning path to long-term growth of the PreSales professional, ideally integrated with your Learning Management System.
Design patterns for engaging enablement experiences
Leading PreSales organizations have enablement systems that provide immediate help for day-to-day tasks and offer tailored opportunities for long-term growth.
Three design patterns might help you find your ideal mix of enablement content and formats based on your company’s groups of PreSales professionals.
(1) Tenure: onboarding vs. ongoing enablement
Design onboarding curriculums for the first three, six, and nine months to quickly get new employees up to speed and make it easy for them to bond with people in their new professional home. Ongoing enablement seeks to (a) help PreSales be more productive in their daily job (e.g., receiving recommendations on slides, demos, references to using on a specific opportunity) and (b) help PreSales develop new skills toward a future vision of themselves.
Point (a) is primarily addressed by an enablement platform providing the right piece of information to PreSales. Point (b) is about a long-term learning experience, mixing the various formats discussed.
(2) Seniority: juniors vs. seniors
A junior PreSales consultant hired straight out of college requires a different level of guidance and learning than a PreSales veteran with 10+ years of experience in the field. You need to reflect this in the design of your enablement experiences. While you might promote shadowing and training for juniors, you might emphasize sparring and mentoring seniors to take the next step in their careers.
(3) Customization: standardization vs. specialization
The goal of enablement is to make your PreSales people successful. As you start, your company needs to establish processes, frameworks, standards to scale. Customers expect the same level of quality every time; PreSales expects not to reinvent the wheel every time. Teaching these standards is essential. As your company expands from start-up to scale-up, your PreSales grows, too. You will have a broad diversity of skills, personalities, and preferences in your team. Try to leverage that. Enable your PreSales professionals to discover a strength-based specialization on top of the company standards they know.
The beauty of this framework is that it grows with your organization — regardless of whether you just hired your first PreSales professionals, are in the process of 10x your PreSales, or have a global team already.
Own the framework. Make it yours.
Is it a lot of work? Yes, it is. It’s not easy to build, and you won’t make it in a day. But it will be well worth it.
Your people will pay back your work as a PreSales leader, your dedication, and your foresight with performance, with loyalty, and with a smile.
MORE ON THIS TOPIC: Guide to Presales Enablement
Note: this blog was first published for the Presales Collective.
About the author: Steffen Mueller is the Founder of Pathfinder Consulting. He supports software companies with strategy consulting and coaching to elevate their presales to world-class. Steffen is a Presales Professional with over 15 years of experience in B2B Software Sales, Go-To-Market Strategy, and Customer Advisory. His expertise lies in strategic presales for global accounts where he is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Salesforce.