When you put the word “sales” and “enablement” together – it sure can mean a lot of different things – to a lot of different people.

As the Research Director on Forrester’s Sales Enablement team – it’s a problem I see every day.

What’s entertaining about this (or aggravating, if you are a sales enablement professional inside a large company) is that not only do many people view those two combined words differently – many of those people are extremely confident their own perspective is the right one.  Given what we publish, the number of presentations we give, all of the cross-functional group settings we run into – you might imagine we’ve heard our fair share of strong opinions.

Here are a few highlights of my favorite “certainties:”

·         Sales enablement is just lipstick on a knowledge management pig.

·         Sales enablement is the new label for sales training.

·         Product marketers have been enabling sellers for years, what’s the big deal?

·         Sales people should be enabling themselves with all of the resources we provide them.

·         Marketing should own sales enablement, because it is clearly a content issue, and the sales force doesn’t have access to good content.

·         Sales should own sales enablement because it’s clearly a about training and sales force development.

·         Sales enablement is about providing sales people what they need to be successful.

·         Sales enablement is about creating the right conditions where sales people can thrive – it’s the sales manager’s responsibility to look after individual reps.

·         Sales enablement is yet another term that gives me a headache.

To be honest, that last point really resonates with me.  Having been briefed by many suppliers (over 100!) who have raised the “sales enablement” shingle on their storefronts, when I hear the term uttered without context, or scoped to a set of common business problems – I too get a headache.  This is what happens when you get into word games of “noun polishing” rather than trying to pick a set of words that give an identity to a set of common problems.

At Forrester, we try to keep our research away from “noun polishing” exercises, but at the end of the day we do use those two words.  So, how do we go about talking about it?   For us, it really gets down into asking two simple questions (this is what I call getting Zen about sales enablement)….

1)      By “Sales” what do you mean?

a.       Individual sales people?

b.      The sales organization?

c.       Specific sales of products or services?

d.      Increasing overall top line sales?

2)      “Enable” what specifically to happen?

a.       Individual sales people – to do what exactly?

b.      The sales organization – to do what, or how – exactly?

c.       Specific sales of products or services – by doing what specifically and impacting whom, why?

d.      Increasing overall top line sales – by doing what specifically?

When you start answering these questions you can quickly see why there are so many different random acts of sales support out there.  What is our lens?

How’s this for a Zen-like answer: They are all important, but not all are equally important.

At Forrester, we look at “Sales” to mean – the top line.  It’s all about revenue streams first and foremost.  However, we need to be a little more specific – what definition of revenue really matters?

·         Aggregate revenue of all your products and services that is reflected in your firm’s income statement?

·         Revenue targets from business units?

·         Revenue from specific products?

·         Revenue generated from all of the quota carrying sales force?

·         The legal definition of revenue (i.e. when it can be recognized) or the less precise term that is used interchangeably by some to mean “sales” or “bookings?”

·         Revenue by accounts?

·         The value of the revenue? (For example – revenue from software license sales is more leveraged than consulting –so not every dollar is equal)

I know, I know – you can’t be an analyst without being anal, but unfortunately these details matter.

In our “do more with less” economy – your executive leadership is focused on increasing returns on the investments it makes to drive top line revenue.  On your income statement that is your selling, general and administrative costs (SG&A), less the GA costs.  Simply put – it’s your sales and marketing investments.  Unfortunately, for 10 years – overall SG&A have been growing faster than the top line revenue.

If you are involved, in any way, with “doing something to help sales” – it’s imperative you understand a) exactly what kinds of transactions are in scope of your activities; b) who is responsible for doing what tasks in that value stream and c) whether there are common definitions in place, so your contribution can be accurately measured.  Absent this, how will you be able to articulate the specific value you are contributing to your organization?

For example, if you do a training program and 100% of the sales force enrolled and provides solid net promoter scores – but the overall sales force did not meet its number; how would you reconcile that?   Or, let’s say you created a sales playbook for a new product launch that has a relatively high number of downloads on your system – but the overall revenue objectives of the product launch were not met – was this a useful investment in time and energy?

I am not making a value judgment here either way.   What I am merely pointing out that in the absence of some of the definitional details I mentioned above – it can be awfully hard to articulate the contribution you or your team made in terms of driving overall revenue.

This is one of the more challenging issues facing sales enablement professionals.   One the one hand, they are often told by an executive sponsor (either a CMO, VP Sales – yes, even CEO) to “go do something;” on the other – the specific objective of that “something” isn’t defined, nor is there discussion about how to measure the results.  Six months later (after you’ve completed your assignment) you are in the uncomfortable situation of defending the investments and providing the evidence of return on investment of YOUR initiative.  (Notice how six months ago it was someone else’s idea and now it’s YOUR program.)

Understanding these details is important to creating the right kind of measurement strategy for your work.  This is one of the reasons we’ve asked our CEO, George Colony, and our CFO, Mike Doyle, to present at our upcoming Sales Enablement Forum and share with you what motivates them.  Simply speaking – a huge amount of the activity you and other people in your company are doing to “help sales” is coming from your CEO – so, it makes a lot of sense to try to understand how your CEO views the world.  I think you will be surprised.

On the other hand, CFO’s are the ones who (more or less) create the scorecards to determine if groups are spending money wisely.  We thought it would be invaluable to hear directly from them what in their concerns about investments make to support sales and how they thing about it.

I am in a fortunate spot to get to work with many different people.  What I see: there is a huge disconnect between what people think is required to move the needle in profitable revenue growth and how to track results – and it’s widening.  Unfortunately, if you are not the CEO or CFO – chances are the deck is stacked against you.

For example, a Chief Sales Officer is responsible for the sales force – but a common compliant I hear from them is “I feel like I am trying to mount a value selling engine on a product selling chassis.” In other words, many don’t feel they are totally in control of their success.

Conversely, from CMO’s I often hear “we create all of these wonderful executive level thought leadership programs that map directly to our corporate strategy, but sales people don’t follow up the right way, and we get blamed for the failure of the effort.”

Our goal in March is to help illuminate this gap, to provide some clear ways to get everyone rowing in the right direction, and provide some examples of your peers who have started building these relationships across the executive team.   We’ve designed the agenda specifically to help you a) turn the directives coming from CEO’s into highly focused initiatives that b) will hold up to the scrutiny that will inevitably follow from finance.

If you join us in Phoenix, you will get to engage in highly energized conversations with peers in your community who are all struggling with issues similar to yours.  Our job for our keynotes is to really challenge you and our audience and create an environment of thought-provoking discussion with your peers.  Don’t worry, we’ve also got a great balance of track sessions about tactical things you can do that can add value immediately.

So, if you feel like you are currently the “VP of Broken Things” in your organization and feel there is a better way – you should strongly consider joining us in Phoenix March 4-5.