Lorraine Cushnie | February 11th, 2021

With meetings and events forced online and face-to-face contact likely to remain a rarity for some time to come, there is now greater impetus on getting sales and marketing teams to work in co-ordination.

So it’s not surprising that the concept of sales enablement is gaining traction. Much like account-based marketing (ABM), it is an idea that has been around for a few years but has taken time for marketers to make it a priority.

But that is changing. If 2020 was the year that B2B marketers began to take ABM seriously, then 2021 is set to see sales enablement become a core part of marketing strategies.

What is sales enablement?

There are many - often complicated - definitions of sales enablement, but we like this one from HubSpot:

Sales enablement is the iterative process of providing your business’s sales team with the resources they need to close more deals. These resources may include content, tools, knowledge, and information to effectively sell your product or service to customers.”

Of course, the ultimate aim of all content marketing is to support the sales cycle, but sales enablement goes further by creating content that directly addresses a prospect’s needs and helps convert them into a customer.

This does not always means creating new content. One common problem is companies produce copious amounts of content marketing, but sales teams don’t know where to find the information they need. One study showed that 65% of B2B content goes unused. That’s why it’s important to put in place systems that make it easy for the sales team to identify and access the relevant information (see Get engaged, below).

One thing to note however, is that sales enablement requires marketers to respond to the needs of the sales team, rather than the other way round. A dynamic which often leads to the next question…

Sales or marketing?

There’s an ongoing debate about whether sales enablement is a separate job function, and whether it sits within the sales or marketing division. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer and it’s likely to depend on the size and structure of your company (and probably the politics too).

Certainly, a company is never too small to start sales enablement. As long as there is one marketing person and one business development person, they can start talking about how marketing can help address the sales challenges.

What is clear is that marketing plays a key role in identifying and creating the content that will help convert leads into customers. And more important than the question of who owns the role is ensuring that sales enablement aligns the messaging used by sales and marketing, identifies any gaps, and creates a partnership between the two divisions.

And with the marketing function increasing under pressure to demonstrate its ability to contribute to the bottom line, effective sales enablement provides a measurable way for marketing to prove its worth (see Get measuring, below).

Things to consider when setting up a sales enablement strategy

Get the basics right

Before starting, it’s essential to have the foundations for an effective content marketing strategy in place. Do you have up-to-date audience personas? Do you understand the customer journey? What does you audience want to read and/or see and where can you reach them?

Get engaged

Sales enablement is only effective and worth the effort if the sales team use the material the marketing is producing. As mentioned, this means it needs to be easy for sales executives to find the content they need. Solutions to consider include:

  • Sending a regular internal email highlighting all the content published that week;
  • Creating a matrix or content calendar that identifies:
    • What content has been published;
    • Target audience or persona;
    • Customer journey stage;
    • Best channels for sharing content;
  • Using collaboration tools such as G Suite, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc to create forums where sales and marketing can discuss ideas for content and respond to questions;
  • Scheduling regular brainstorming sessions to discuss prospects, sales strategy and content ideas.

Get measuring

Proving business value is crucial for marketers, and key to the success of any sales enablement programme is measuring its effectiveness. That means identifying in advance which metrics are important. For instance, you may be able to show you are delivering sales enablement to 80% of the business development team, but a more important metric is how much of that team is using the content in their sales strategy. Other metrics to consider include:

  • How many prospects are engaging with the content;
  • Which type of content and channel receives the most engagement;
  • Time needed to find content;
  • Number of leads generated, converted or lost.

While the benefits of sales and marketing working together have long been recognised, as with so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the pace at which companies take action and put in place best practices such as creating structures for collaboration, measuring outcomes and demonstrating the business vale of marketing. That’s why 2021 is the year of sales enablement.

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