Building Beyond Training to the Enablement Horizon


12.7 minutes

Before we discuss building enablement, we need to align on what we mean by enablement. That would be the priority to address!

We have come a long way in defining the purpose of Enablement, thanks to the hard work of thought leaders across the profession. However, it is still nascent compared to other more established functions, so there is no industry standard definition, and it can mean different things to different people. What matters is that you, your leadership team, and critical stakeholders align on what it means.

Enablement is the proactive identification of gaps in the buyer experience and shaping priorities to fill those gaps with the optimization of people, processes, and technology.

Let’s break this down:

  • Proactive – Enablement is not putting out fires and waiting until the field tells you it needs something. It requires thinking like a CEO, focusing on scale and continuous improvement.
  • Buyer Experience – Enablement is not limited to sales teams. It should be aligned to all revenue-generating groups. Your buyer doesn’t think of talking to sales reps or customer success; they are just talking to an organization that needs to delight them every step of the way to earn their business. This is important because it defines your audience, which ideally includes all go-to-market (Sales, Customer Success, Channel Partners, and Marketing).
  • Shaping Priorities – This is not just Enablement priorities. Ideally, Enablement has a seat at the table in defining key objectives because they should know what their revenue-generating teams need more than anyone else in the business.
  • Optimization of People, Process, and Technology – Defining the drivers of Enablement is crucial in differentiating the function from its sales training origins. Training is only one mechanism of many to optimize in these areas. I’m a fan of these three drivers because they highlight the cross-functional nature of Enablement. You must coordinate with HR and frontline managers to optimize people. Optimizing operations, technology, and processes can include many partnerships depending on the scope.

Hopefully, that clarifies why aligning on a definition with leaders and stakeholders sets you up for success. Once you check that off, you need to drill into this scope to determine priorities.

You will get pulled into a lot of directions at this phase. Leaders will want you to organize training, onboard new hires, implement technology, etc. The list of urgent needs goes on and on. However, you need to stand firm in the importance of defining the buyer’s journey. This is critical because your buyer needs to set the foundation for everything you do. Without understanding what matters to them, it is far too easy to fall prey to over-focusing on an internal perspective.

If you have trouble advocating for this, explain that it is the foundation for defining a buyer-centric sales process, which is the foundation for everything else you do in enablement. A structured sales process leads to a consistent buyer experience, revenue predictability, and insight into gaps based on conversion rates. If you are still running into roadblocks, revisit the definition and scope because there may not be aligned with what is required for proper Enablement.

How do these two fit together? Here are my steps for creating a sales process, starting with the buyer journey.

  • Consult customers and the most experienced members on your go-to-market teams to map out how clients buy and expand your solution or service adoption.
  • Interview the top performers from those teams to determine how they align to the buying process to optimize the customer journey before and after the point of sale.
  • Discuss what you learn from the top performers with GTM leaders to shape distinct stages of that journey and identify clear goals for each. Typically, a sales process consists of 5-7 steps that fall under three phases, awareness, interest, and decision. Post-sales can include onboarding, adoption, and advocacy as well.
  • Work with marketing to align internal and external content to every activity possible. This will shape your sales content strategy and is pivotal in making the process actionable. Also, ensure that this strategy is reflected in any content management tools you leverage so that teams can access the information they need when they need it.
  • Convert those goals to entry and exit criteria, along with the roles that are accountable/responsible for achieving them. This is the accountability layer, so leadership must believe in the importance of shaping entry and exit criteria to fit what you’ve learned from the buyer. Otherwise, it will not be adopted.
  • Get feedback from everyone you worked with on the final product to get buy-in before launch.
    Launch and enable all teams individually, so there is room to ask questions and provide hands-on support.

Once your buyer journey and sales process are defined, you have great insight into what skills are needed to take a deal from lead to close to renewal. That’s when it is time to take an inventory with your managers on the most prominent skill gaps. Once identified, you can select a sales methodology.

Sales methodology is not the same as the sales process. It includes the actions you take when selling or the way you sell. Examples include ValueSelling and Solution Selling. There are many options with pros and cons, and I could dedicate a separate article to just that.

The primary thing to keep in mind is that you must be aligned with your GTM leaders on what matters the most based on what skills areas require the most focus. If it is selling on value, ValueSelling is an excellent choice. Challenger is an ideal choice if it pushes back on the buyer’s potentially inaccurate view of your emerging market. If it is qualifying a deal, MEDDIC is an optimal choice. Just make sure to do your research, consult your network, and keep the skill gaps you identified in mind to prioritize needs.

You have the skills down, but what is still missing are the intangibles.

What are the core competencies that make an effective Account Executive, Sales Engineer, or SDR at your organization? Are there different competencies needed for varying levels of seniority? Remember that skills are abilities specific to the role, while competencies may be transferable across functions and more related to knowledge and behaviors that lead to success. Examples include grit, curiosity, and resourcefulness. Defining these with your leadership team and aligning with HR will standardize hiring and promotion practices. It will also provide the building blocks for targeted coaching and continuous development in your enablement program.

Now that you have all of your skills and competencies mapped, it’s time to execute and develop your teams to build the muscle! As you build your onboarding program, practice empathy. Think of what you would want to know as a new hire and build accordingly. Don’t throw everything at them at once, or start with what they need to close an Opportunity in CPQ. Build your solution’s foundations, messaging, company values, etc., and then get to skills.

Onboarding is the best place to start because it is the quickest path to progress. Experienced reps at your company will typically be more entrenched in their way of doing their job. You’ll hear that they are beating quota and therefore “don’t need Enablement.” Sellers miss they could be even more effective by aligning with their buyer, but convincing them of that is not always easy. Prove an increase in effectiveness by ramping new hires faster than ever before. Top reps will take note once they begin surpassing the effectiveness of more tenured reps. If they don’t, leadership will.

Once you have built an effective onboarding program, you will sense an increasing demand for the knowledge that new hires are being exposed to, and this is your window to instill a culture of continuous learning. A constant development program should be adaptable based on other gaps in the buyer experience that are revealed over time. It should also be created in close collaboration with cross-functional partners like Product Marketing. Examples include a certification on a new pitch, improving discovery, or instilling your chosen sales methodology.

At this point, you’ve been busy! Depending on the size and complexity of the organization, you are likely six months to a year into your Enablement build. To ensure that Enablement continues to be successful, you must measure the results of all your hard work. To do this, continuously analyze the correlation between leading and lagging indicators to track rep effectiveness throughout the process and proactively identify gaps. Leading indicators include time to ramp (must be defined with leadership), training, and certification completion. You can even adopt key messaging if you have a conversational intelligence solution. Lagging indicators are more traditionally analyzed metrics, like deal stage conversation, win rate, and quota attainment. Correlating between the two also allows you to prove Enablement’s impact on revenue, the crown jewel of every Enablement program. Enablement will be rightfully viewed as a strategic function with influence if you can prove that.

Please note that, for simplicity, this article focused on building an Enablement function from scratch. More often, ad hoc enablement initiatives are in place, and an incoming leader must enter the process above at a midway point. That can be much more challenging because there are historical dynamics at play. In this instance, make sure you spend time thoroughly understanding those dynamics and closely align to your leadership on the ideal playbook. When you have their buy-in, you will have the air cover you need to potentially rework parts of this process that were done out of order.

Above all else, keep in mind that your focus is serving your clients, the teams we have discussed. If any part of this process is ineffective in the long run, it needs to be reworked. While you need to be proactive in identifying their needs, it is always a good compass to utilize.

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