Sales Enablement has become a trending topic in Sales. From a peek preview of CSO’s insights forthcoming Sales Enablement Report 2017, I have retained that 59% of the respondents claim to have some form of Sales Enablement. A search on LinkedIn for people having sales enablement skills - done on September 27, 2017 - produced 293 300 results. At the recent Sales 3.0 conference held in September 2017 in Las Vegas Sale Enablement was a prominent topic. Top Sales World held their first European Sales Enablement Summit this week. The Sales Enablement Society will hold their second conference later in October this year. From an article on LinkedIn reporting on academic research, I have retained 12 major definitions of Sales Enablement.
Is there a need for a generally accepted definition?
With so many “cooks in the kitchen”, there is a danger that the meaning of the term Sales Enablement becomes increasingly foggy. Another data point from the CSO’s insights Sales Enablement Report 2017 – only one third of undertaken Sales Enablement Initiatives are considered as being successful – seems to illustrate that this danger is real and confirms the need for a common understanding what Sales Enablement is.
Initiatives to find a generally accepted definition
The Sales Enablement Society is currently running a project to come up with, what I understand, is to be an all-encompassing definition of Sales Enablement. On their website, I have come across a survey where members of the society were invited to choose their preferred definition from a subset of the aforementioned 12 definitions of the term. The definitions to choose from originated mainly from analyst organizations.
The academics who had established the list of 12 known definitions of Sales Enablement have come up with a coding scheme to classify these definitions. The proposed coding allows for a discussion about the usefulness of a definition from the respective viewpoints defined by the codes. So, we might very well end up with a set of definitions of Sales Enablement. The condition for this set of definitions to be useful is though that the included definitions must not contradict each other. I conclude from this that these and other definitions circulating among Sales Enablement experts are not directly comparable. I therefore would expect the results of the survey to be biased by the respondents’ view point and the findings being highly sensitive to the demographics of the respondents. Trying to find THE right definition in this way might well end up in a dead end.
On the sales Enablement Society’s website, I have also seen a draft spreadsheet making an attempt to establish evaluation criteria for judging the growing number of definitions on Sales Enablement floating around. From the criteria listed in the spread sheet, I infer that the evaluators expect to judge definitions mainly on how well thy characterize the Sales Enablement function: The deliverables, how deliverables are defined but also how the function is perceived by outsiders and indications on by what metrics the success of the function should be judged. I do not question the relevance of any of the listed evaluation criteria I have seen there. IMHO catering to all these criteria will produce a definition which will be quite a mouthful. There is a high chance that one of the evaluation criteria - the definition should to be short and crisp – will not be met.
Obstacles on the way of finding a generally accepted definition
The attempts being made to provide clarity must be appreciated. However, I am afraid that throwing clever sounding legalese wordsmithing at each other will not help us to get our arms around the phenomenon of Sales Enablement. Most of the cleverly polished definitions are also assets for their creators to promote the contributions they claim to make helping companies to make their Sales Enablement initiatives successful. It is therefore quite understandable that the creators of such definitions will react defensively to suggestions for modifications and extension. The creators can perceive these suggestions as criticism devaluing their assets by minimizing differentiation. This makes the task of finding a generally accepted definition for Sales Enablement more difficult
I must admit of having participated in the discussion triggered by the aforementioned article on LinkedIn reporting on academic research and having offered my own definition. Here is what I came up with in a knee jerk reaction for making my voice heard in this important discussion: “Sales Force Enablement helps sellers to have impactful interactions to facilitate the customer's journey by providing the right message at the right moment in the right way to the right person within a customer's organization and it helps sales managers to coach sellers to deliver impactful interactions which provide a positive customer experience”.
I made an attempt to focus on the people whose job is supposed to be made more effective (Sellers and Sales Managers) by services offered by the Sales Enablement function. Reflecting on what I did, I discovered that my proposed definition of Sales Enablement implies a definition of what Sellers and Sales Managers ought to do to be effective. I am sure there is a plethora of Sellers and Sales Managers out there that might not adhere to this implied definition of their roles (facilitate a customer journey, coaching sellers to have impactful interactions, focus on providing a good customer experience) and therefore might reject my proposed definition of Sales Enablement. I am convinced that the implied definitions of what Sellers and Sales Managers ought to do will lead to higher sales effectiveness and I probably could also find a group of likeminded experts. But this does not make my proposed Sales Enablement definition more useful. A Sales Enablement initiative, based on my implied role definition, risks being considered as not being successful by those Sellers and Sales Managers not adhering to my implied role definition how they ought to work. Such an initiative would simply be perceived as not positively impacting THEIR way of working.
Maybe in a first step, Sales Enablement professionals should strive for a common understanding on what the ideal behavior of the targets, for whom they want to provide services, ought to be. From this common understanding, useful Sales Enablement services could be deducted. We could then look for models and means how these services can be defined and implemented and their impact measured.
At this point in my thinking process, I believe that simple prose might be more suitable than clever wordsmithing to gain more clarity on the above-mentioned topics. I, therefore, plan to publish a series of blogpost, describing various aspects about Sales Enablement, hoping to contribute to a discussion to find a generally accepted understanding of what Sales Enablement is. My ultimate goal is to help increasing the percentage of successful Sales Enablement implementations.