This article is part of an occasional series from leading voices about key issues facing marketing today.
I've always tried to be a B2B marketer whom salespeople love. My logic was simple: If the sales folks love me, I'll never get fired.
The other day, when I bumped into Gary, who worked in Sales at one of my prior clients, he gave me the sound bite I always strive for: "I was always happy to see you walk in the door because I knew the leads would be coming in not too long after you left."
As a sales-oriented marketer, you can't ask for more than that.
To earn love from Sales, I've always focused on two things: lead generation and sales enablement.
The former, lead gen, is self-explanatory, but sales enablement is no longer what I once thought it was. It's now Sales Enablement—with capital letters—and it's a profession unto itself these days.
In fact, I just checked LinkedIn and found tens of thousands of people with "Sales Enablement" in their job titles.
Wait, isn't this Marketing's job?
What? For many years, I thought sales enablement—which I always wrote in lower case—was a Marketing function.
For the fast-growing B2B tech companies we worked with, our job as marketers was to know the customer better than anybody else and then give the people in Sales what they needed to engage target buyers.
Whatever the specific details of prospective customers, and wherever they are in their journey, we've got marketing content and marketing tactics to help get those prospects further along in our funnels, with the ultimate goal of helping Sales to land a new customer. Once customers are on board, Marketing also has programs to nurture, cross-sell, and upsell.
All of the above is sales enablement, and it's ours. Hands off. At least, that was my view of things until very recently.
I found a path to re-education
My opinions on who owns sales enablement changed when I got hold of an excellent new book, Sales Enablement, by Byron Matthews, CEO of Miller Heiman Group, and Tamara Schenk, research director at CSO Insights.
The book has all sorts of statistics from CSO Insights about how companies are increasing their focus on sales enablement. For example, 59% of companies in a 2017 CSO Insights study indicated that they had a dedicated enablement person, program, or function. In 2016, that number was a paltry 19%.
But despite the growing trend of formalizing Sales Enablement's role within companies, only 35% of organizations reported that their enablement function was meeting or exceeding their expectations, CSO Insights found.
Yet, the book's data also makes it clear that organizations that are getting it right have better win rates and sales quota attainment.
Confused? I was, too... until I got clarity
At that point in reading the book, I was confused. Lots of people are investing in this stuff, and it's clearly very powerful, yet it's also clearly very challenging to do well.
Thirty pages into the book, I needed some clarity on what world-class Sales Enablement looked like, and the book gave me exactly that with its thoughtful Sales Force Enablement Clarity Model, which is when I humbly realized that Sales Enablement is so much more than "Marketing helping Sales to be successful" and is a discipline unto itself.
Marketing is just one piece of the sales enablement puzzle
I'll avoid any big spoilers, but with respect to Marketing, a key message of the book is that we marketers help—but don't lead—enablement: "To be effective, sales enablement must be seen as a strategic discipline that is set apart from other functions such as marketing and training, even though those functions contribute to enablement."
In other words, the new Sales Enablement function is accountable for anything that makes the sales team more effective—including content, training, coaching technology, and more—but they rely on others to get everything done. Beyond Marketing, the discipline of Sales Enablement touches Sales Management, Sales Ops, Product Management, Human Resources, Learning and Development, IT, and other departments.
Apparently, even with respect to content, Marketing's role in Sales Enablement is limited. The CSO Insights statistic quoted in the book is that only 39% of the content that salespeople need comes from Marketing.
So what's Marketing's role in the new world order?
To get more perspective on this topic, I reached out to Tamara Schenk, a research director at CSO Insights and one of the book's co-authors. I asked Tamara for some additional thoughts on Marketing's role in Sales Enablement. Based on that conversation, I recommend you do the following four things.
1. Propose a formal sales enablement function
If your company doesn't yet have a standalone, independent Sales Enablement function, make the case for it. The research data I noted above is a great start. Marketing is too often viewed as working in a silo. Reach out to your counterpart in Sales and jointly develop a proposal.
By leading the creation of the proposal, you'll prove that Marketing has a proactive, big-picture view and is looking to do whatever it takes to improve organizational performance.
2. Collaborate with Sales Enablement on the customer journey and value messaging
If your organization already has a Sales Enablement team, avoid a territorial battle and just buy into the idea of Sales Enablement: Roll up your sleeves and help the team to be successful so the organization can be more successful.
In doing so, play to your strengths. Marketing will often have deeper perspective on the customer and the buying path than other teams, so bring that knowledge to the table. Reach out to Sales Enablement and make the case that the entire organization needs a single view of the customer.
Work closely with Sales Enablement to map out the buying path, articulate the voice of the customer, get consensus on pain points and buying triggers, and define the value messaging that will drive the enablement, lead generation, and lead nurturing engine.
3. Partner with Sales Enablement on a content audit and content plan
The people responsible for Sales Enablement will implicitly know that they need high-quality, customer-facing content to be successful, but they will be looking to you to help them get it right. To start the partnership off on the right foot, team up with Sales Enablement to map your existing content against enablement needs and agreed-upon value messaging. Then, work together to create a plan to fill any gaps.
With respect to content, Tamara Schenk smartly reminded me: "Marketing is often focused on macro-level messages, but Sales needs sales-ready, micro-level messaging for specific situations and audiences." By working together with Sales Enablement, you can make sure that both the macro-level and micro-level messaging are optimized to achieve revenue acquisition goals.
4. Ask to learn more about sales methodology, coaching, and training
Finally, spend time learning about various functions of Sales Enablement that historically have not been on Marketing's radar. How do the sales reps sell? What methodology do they use? How are they coached and trained? Traditionally, Sales and Marketing have often not had a symbiotic relationship. Sales Enablement is your peacemaker and your opportunity to start fresh with Sales.
By having your marketing team learn as much about the sales process as you can, you'll find yourself in a much better position to not only help your colleagues in Sales Enablement but also up your game in Marketing and drive better business results.
Where can you learn more?
If this topic intrigues you, I recommend you read Sales Enablement, by Schenk and Matthews.
In addition, explore the Sales Enablement Society (SES). Its members are working on guidelines to provide more clarity on the functional role of Sales Enablement and its value to the enterprise.
And, of course, MarketingProfs has some excellent articles on Sales Enablement as well:
- The Content Marketer's Approach to Successful Social Selling and Sales Enablement
- Your Brain on Tools: The Benefits of Sales Enablement Technology
- Why Asking Sales What They Want Is NOT Sales Enablement
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- Empowering Sales Success—The Role of Marketing in Sales Enablement: Owen Richards on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
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- The State of B2B Sales in 2023