How To Launch A Sales Enablement Effort With Tips From The Field

Sales enablement is one of the hottest topics in the industry today, but this strategic discipline is often new territory for many organizations. As a result, building a sales enablement function can come with more questions than answers. Where should this department sit—in sales, marketing, or operations? How will it interact with other departments and leadership? What metrics and goals will be used to evaluate sales enablement’s effectiveness? Most importantly, how can senior leadership support or undermine this burgeoning effort?

For the past two years, I’ve worked with several of the sales enablement leaders at an international, 200-year-old company as they created a sales enablement function. As a result of working through this process, this organization’s Vice President of Global Sales Operations and Enablement and Director of Sales Enablement have found some answers to many of these questions. I asked them to share a few of their insights and thoughts for this blog post to help others who are beginning to or are in the midst of implementing a sales enablement function. Below are some key ideas from a conversation I had with Jennifer, the Director of Sales Enablement, and Elliot, the Vice President of Global Sales Operations and Enablement.

How has the sales enablement function in your organization changed?

Elliot: When I joined the company a little less than two years ago, there was no sales enablement function. At the time, there was a global sales organization. Sales was, for all intents and purposes, a central service. The company had just reorganized into that structure from previously having the sales team sit within different parts of the business. The goal was to really to create an environment where all the different sales teams would have visibility into what everyone else was doing to create more collaboration and a 360-degree view of the customer. The goal was to really build out a sales enablement function to facilitate that.

Knowing what sales enablement looks like now, what would be your recommendations for any changes or restructure?

Elliot: If we could hit the reset button, I think what probably needed to happen was a bottom-up/top-down evaluation of what leadership wanted sales enablement to be based upon a holistic review of the sales organization. I feel like we’re trying to build out a sales enablement function geared more toward a future sales organization state, and we really didn’t do an evaluation of the current state, and how to get from current state to future state including relevant timelines.

If you were going to advise another organization launching a sales enablement function, what are some watchpoints you would tell them to be aware of from a leadership perspective?

Jennifer: Leadership needs to provide clear objectives regarding what we’re going to execute on, how we’re going to measure it, and how we’re going to account for it. Before you even launch, decide how you are going to measure success. I think it needs to be set from top down like a waterfall, starting from the overall business, then to the vice president, to the director and then to the frontline for each level of the business.

Who should be at the table in when setting up sales enablement initiatives?

Jennifer: I think you have to have all levels of leadership. Finance should be at that table, so they know what you will be measuring and to create a clear line of communication. Absolutely bring in marketing, especially on the research side.

Elliot: The one party who I think can be a help or hindrance is HR. They may be the gatekeepers for any training initiative that you want to roll out. If you have to wait for them to sign off on everything, it can slow you down to a really frustrating pace.  What is suitable in terms of training for the rest of the organization might not be ideal for sales.

In an ideal world, where should a sales enablement function sit? Who should it engage with?

Jennifer: For us, sales enablement began in sales as part of the global sales organization, and it still fits there—just in a dual-reporting capacity. Does it belong in HR? No, from my experience Sales Enablement best serves the sales organization directly reporting into sales and sales leaders. Does it belong in operations or finance? No, I don’t think so. It belongs either in marketing or sales.

Elliot: I agree with Jennifer. I think that it belongs in sales, ideally, or marketing, probably secondarily. With that being said, I think we sometimes struggle because we sit in the middle of two different sales leaders. We’re a shared resource between those two sales leaders, and they don’t necessarily want the exact same thing at the exact same time. For dual-reporting to work, there needs to be a time when sales enablement sits down together with both sales leaders to plan out what the future direction looks like especially when you have very limited sales enablement resources.

What would be your top three to five pieces of advice that you would give to an organization that is trying to set up a sales enablement function?

Jennifer: Do a needs assessment. Get out there and talk to your sales leaders and sales organization. Take some time. Do some diligence. Then, really map out of the competencies you want to focus on and build on and be very clear about what you can truly accomplish. What are the skills you are trying to address? What are you trying to be? What are you trying to do to enable your sales organization?

Align yourself with your partners, too. If you’re not part of marketing, align yourself with your marketing colleagues.

Elliot: Evaluate your organization first. What’s the current state and are you satisfied with it? Or, are you looking to reshape the sales organization’s? There has to be a firm commitment that sales enablement can hold leadership accountable. You have to, make sure you have the CEO and anyone with a “C” in their title on board. If you’re running into problems and trying to move things forward, you need to be able to go right into the CEO’s office and say, “Listen, we need to move.” There just has to be that commitment right up front from leadership, or any effort just going to fall flat or muddle along. You have to be willing to hold salespeople accountable. Leadership has to be very clear and transparent about what this new direction looks like to the entirety of the sales organization.

Thank you to Elliot and Jennifer for taking the time to talk with me about their experience launching a sales enablement function! Your insights are certainly valuable for other organizations that might be in a similar situation.

Is your organization struggling to implement a sales enablement function?

I work with sales leaders around the world and help integrate cross-functional capabilities including sales, service, marketing, support, and technology to achieve customer alignment. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you.