• Sales enablement is a rapidly growing function with a wide variety of definitions and responsibilities
  • Some organizations take a legacy approach to enablement rooted in product-centric learning to inform seller-buyer interactions
  • Best practices in sales enablement favor a more holistic approach to developing role-specific skills, knowledge and process awareness that yields stronger sellers

Here’s what we know about B2B sales enablement today:

  • Seventy-three percent of sales enablement functions are growing their budget in the next 12 months – nearly half of them at a 30 percent or faster year-over-year rate.
  • Though sales enablement may have originated as a marketing outreach function, today it more likely reports to sales leadership and the CEO’s office than to marketing.
  • Enablement leaders indicate that seven of the top 10 sales growth inhibitors are directly related to insufficient sales skills.

So, if enablement is growing and leaning toward sales – and needs to focus on seller skills – why do many organizations still insist on launching sales inflictment instead of sales enablement toward their front-line sellers? If you haven’t heard the term “sales inflictment” or aren’t sure of the difference between sales inflict or sales enablement, maybe the examples below will help.

Need: We’re Launching a New Product and Need to Prepare the Field

  • Sales inflictment: Torture and test. Develop several painstakingly detailed product e-learning courses that will ONLY take an hour or two of seller time to complete. Include tests containing obscure questions to ensure reps are not simply clicking through the modules and trying to beat the test.
  • Sales enablement: Minimum pain, maximum performance. Provide awareness-level baseline training focused on buyer needs, emphasizing how to sell instead of what to sell. Role-play only when different buyer-driven conversations are required. Create learning opportunities and job aids that can be delivered easily to sellers when they’re ready to introduce the offering to the buyer.

man raising hand with orange chairsNeed: We Need to Improve Our New-Hire Competence

  • Sales inflictment: More is better. First, make sure all onboarding content is mandatory and every new hire goes through the same program in its entirety. Develop more self-paced learning and expand boot-camp resources to provide more knowledge and skills in a shorter period of time. Add a certification process to make them prove they are ready.
  • Sales enablement: No one can drink from a firehose. Start with clearly defined skills, knowledge and process expertise by sales role. Assess incoming new hires to understand their individual levels of competency. Design onboarding pathways that include learning integrated with doing to ensure practice promoting retention and active learning. Use certification as an outcome of the practice and feedback cycle.

Need: We Have Plenty of Content, but Sellers Can’t Find It

  • Sales inflictment: Technology is always the answer. Reps don’t engage with content because the technology used to access it is bad. Rip and replace the storage tool to put all content in one place where sellers will have to go.
  • Sales enablement: Process paves the way to better content. Define key selling motions by understanding how buyers and sellers interact in winning sales cycles. Identify which assets best support and inform these interactions. Rationalize content against this framework before investing in tech that delivers proven assets to reps in the context of their workflow.

The main difference between sales enablement and sales inflictment is best summed up this way: Sales inflictors want sellers to do things their way – interacting with buyers in a certain manner, delivering prescribed messaging, following fully scripted motions. Though they passionately and genuinely believe that these paths will result in buyers buying, they also believe that the only delivery approach is via command and control. Sales enablers want sellers to be successful more holistically, so that the good and great ones stick around longer and make everyone – seller, manager, buyer, employer – happier and wealthier. Their delivery approach is more about orchestration and facilitation among multiple organizational groups.

Inflictors tend to focus on provisioning product features; enablers emphasize building skills. Full disclosure: I know some top-down inflictors who are successful and some bottom-up enablers who are not, so this isn’t an all-or-nothing discussion. But SiriusDecisions has plenty of data to validate the sales enabler approach as best practice. Which approach does your organization currently take … and which one do you think will ultimately win?