If you can help it, sales enablement — the act of empowering your sales reps with the tools, resources, and competitive intel they need to win deals — should not be conducted on an ad-hoc basis.
To succeed over the long term in a competitive niche, you need a sales enablement strategy.
Good news: You’ve come to the right place. Today’s blog post is a 7-step guide to building and implementing a sales enablement strategy within your organization. We’ll also share a few tips for analyzing and optimizing your strategy on an ongoing basis.
But first, a word on personnel:
Your sales enablement strategy should be a team effort
Broadly speaking, you invest in sales enablement for one major reason: to help your reps win more deals. As straightforward as that sounds, it’s actually a pretty complex process.
It’s not complex in the sense that it requires an extreme depth of technical skill (although that could be the case depending on the type of solution your company produces). Rather, it’s complex in the sense that it involves a number of moving parts.
Here’s another way to think about it: There’s more than one way to help your reps win deals — in fact, there are quite a few ways. You can help your reps win more deals by:
- More effectively positioning your solution
- Generating more leads
- Creating more impressive thought leadership content
- Earning more media coverage
- Delivering more granular pipeline data
The list goes on. Here’s the takeaway: Everyone on your marketing team should feel a degree of responsibility when it comes to building and implementing your sales enablement strategy.
Let’s quickly walk through five key areas of marketing and discuss the unique ways in which each of them can contribute to sales enablement.
If there’s one single group that’s often expected to carry the weight of sales enablement, it’s product marketers. As the subject matter experts when it comes to positioning, messaging, and competitive intelligence, they’re typically the go-to authorities whenever sales reps need help closing business.
Via the Product Marketing Alliance.
Product marketers can bolster your sales enablement strategy by producing collateral such as battlecards, product sheets, and so on.
Tasked with attracting and nurturing leads, demand gen marketers play a pivotal role in the pursuit of net new revenue. Highly skilled in the practice of engaging prospects and piquing their interest, demand gen marketers often work with their colleagues in sales to move deals through the funnel.
Demand generation marketers can bolster your sales enablement strategy by launching strategic campaigns, optimizing email copy, and so on.
Responsible for driving website traffic and elevating brand authority, content marketers contribute to the sales process in more ways than one. Balancing the need to generate net new leads with the need to educate late-stage prospects, content marketers are involved in both creating and closing business.
Content marketers can bolster your sales enablement strategy by filling the top of the funnel, arming reps with thought leadership collateral, and so on.
Branding & PR
If, from a sales enablement perspective, product marketers are leaned on too often, then branding & PR professionals are leaned on too rarely. Like content marketers, these folks play a huge role in the elevation of your company’s authority — which can make an enormous impact as prospective customers approach their final purchase decisions.
Branding & PR professionals can bolster your sales enablement strategy by improving the cohesion of the buyer’s journey, earning relevant media coverage, and so on.
Last but not least, we have marketing operations specialists — experts in the conversion of data analytics into revenue. Tasked with creating a bird’s-eye view of your pipeline and identifying areas of opportunity, marketing ops specialists often work with sales reps to focus their efforts as efficiently and as sensibly as possible.
Marketing operations specialists can bolster your sales enablement strategy by making data more legible, increasing win rates, and so on.
7 steps to an effective sales enablement strategy
No two companies are the same. Nearly everyone will need to make tweaks to the process we’re about to discuss. Nevertheless, we’re confident that anyone who uses our process as a general outline for the construction and implementation of their sales enablement strategy will succeed as a result.
1. Assemble your team
No one builds an industry-leading sales enablement strategy entirely on their own. If you want to consistently empower your reps to close the deals in their pipeline, you’re going to need a team.
Ask yourself: Who, other than your reps themselves, needs to be involved in the construction and implementation of this strategy?
In general, your team should include (1) the leaders of your sales team and (2) anyone who will be overseeing the creation of collateral. Note the word overseeing — you don’t necessarily want to involve every single person who will be creating collateral. If you’ve got several product marketers, several demand gen marketers, and several content marketers, you’ll find yourself with too many cooks in the kitchen if you’re not careful.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If someone’s presence on your sales enablement strategy team is not absolutely essential, then it’s probably best to exclude them (for now, at least).
2. Establish specific goals & KPIs
As we’ve said, the overarching objective of sales enablement is to win more deals. We have also pointed out, however, that there are myriad ways to go about achieving that objective.
Although virtually every sales enablement strategy is geared towards the same objective, the specific goals underneath that objective will differ from one organization to another.
Will you strive to win more deals by updating your battlecards? By overhauling your reps’ email sequences? By creating whitepapers for late-stage prospects? By doing all of the above?
You get the idea — once you’ve assembled your team, it’s time to put your heads together and specify the goals that will take you to the next level of recurring revenue.
Each goal should be accompanied by at least one key performance indicator (KPI). KPIs are extraordinarily helpful when it comes to determining whether your efforts have been successful. If, for example, updating one of your battlecards yields a 15% jump in competitive win rate — a KPI — you can conclude that the update was a success.
3. Delegate action items
With your goals and KPIs established, it’s time to delegate — i.e., it’s time to determine which member of your team will own each goal.
This should be one of the more intuitive steps in the process. Any goal related to positioning, messaging, or competitive intelligence should be owned by a product marketer. Any goal related to nurturing leads should be owned by a demand gen marketer. Any goal related to thought leadership should be owned by a content marketer.
Ownership of a specific goal can be shared, of course. If, for example, one of your goals is to create whitepapers aimed at moving prospects down the funnel, ownership should be shared by demand gen and content marketing.
4. Create collateral
Nothing too complicated here — once goals are established and action items are delegated, so begins the process of creating your sales enablement collateral.
Note our use of the word process rather than the word task. Creating a piece of collateral isn’t as simple as writing an email or publishing a blog post — it’s an activity that (when done well) requires a substantial degree of collaboration and attention to detail.
Let’s stick with the example of whitepapers aimed at moving prospects down the funnel. Should your content marketers unilaterally select the topics, write the copy, and submit the drafts to demand gen without getting anyone else’s perspective?
We wouldn’t recommend such an approach. Instead, your content marketers and demand gen specialists should collaboratively brainstorm potential topics. Then, these topics should be (informally) presented to the rest of the team, if only to check for blind spots. Maybe one topic has already been covered by an existing whitepaper. Maybe another is at odds with the messaging that your product marketers are putting together. Specifics aside, the point is that there needs to be a team-wide conversation before the drafts of the whitepapers are written.
Throughout the process of creating each piece of collateral, candid conversations amongst members of your team are absolutely essential.
5. Develop your roll-out plan(s)
Congratulations! You’ve created the collateral you need to (hopefully) achieve your sales enablement goals and generate revenue at a higher rate than last quarter.
Time to send one long email with a dozen attachments to your entire sales team, right?
Hold your horses. If you want your reps to actually leverage the materials you’ve created, you need to be thoughtful as to how you’re going to roll everything out. Depending on the preferences of your sales team and the complexity of your collateral, it’s entirely possible that each new asset will require (1) a unique distribution channel and (2) a unique training process.
For clarity, let’s discuss two specific examples of sales enablement collateral: an email sequence and a battlecard. The former is relatively straightforward — your reps probably don’t need any training in the execution of an email sequence. That being said, the roll-out of your sequence should include uploading it to whatever email marketing automation tool your sales team is using. Why make your reps responsible for uploading the sequence when you (or someone on your team) can do it for them? They’ll have more time to source and close deals, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing the sequence will actually get used.
A battlecard, on the other hand, will likely require a training session or two. This is a highly tactical piece of content that needs to be used in a specific manner. (You don’t want your reps simply rattling off bullet points without any kind of context or personalization.) Plus, in order to maximize usage, a battlecard should be distributed via CRM or sales enablement platform — not simply email or Slack.
6. Distribute collateral
Once you’ve developed your roll-out plans, it’s time to put them into action. Make sure to be exceedingly clear with your reps as to (1) why each piece of collateral was created, (2) where each one lives, and (3) which ones will be accompanied by training sessions.
Whereas items (2) and (3) are self-explanatory, item (1) might be a head-scratcher: What’s the point of telling your reps why each piece of collateral was created? They know it will help them do their jobs more effectively — isn’t that all that matters?
The point of providing reasoning for each piece of collateral is to generate enthusiasm. The higher the level of enthusiasm surrounding your sales enablement content, the more often it will be put to use — and the more often it’s put to use, the greater the impact will be.
Ask yourself: If you were a sales rep, which of the following would yield more enthusiasm?
- The new customer case study is live and accessible via Dropbox.
- The new customer case study is live and accessible via Dropbox. We’ve created this case study because we’re confident it will make an impact at the bottom of the funnel. As you all know, we’ve got a number of competitors in almost all of our deals, and a piece of collateral like this can make all the difference. Put it to use whenever possible!
The latter is the winner — in a landslide.
7. Analyze & optimize
As with any marketing-related initiative, the “final” step when building and implementing your sales enablement strategy is to consistently analyze your results (or lack thereof) and make optimizations accordingly.
Unfortunately, no matter how thorough you are when planning, creating, and distributing your collateral, you won’t hit a home run with your first swing. Some materials will be underutilized, and others will prove ineffective. There will always, in other words, be room for improvement.
This raises two important questions:
- How do you identify where, specifically, there is room for improvement?
- How do you proceed from there?
The final section of today’s guide is dedicated to answering these two questions. Let’s dive in!
4 ways to analyze & optimize your sales enablement strategy
Just as there’s more than one way to help your sales reps win deals, there’s more than one way to analyze your sales enablement strategy — i.e., to determine where, specifically, you have room for improvement. Let’s walk through four time-tested approaches.
1. Funnel leak analysis
At which stage of the funnel do your prospects tend to drop off? Do they tend to drop off at an early stage or a late stage? Before their first demo or after their first demo?
Answer these questions and you’ll get an idea of where your strategy is lacking. If, for example, your prospects tend to abandon ship before their first demo, you may need to arm your reps with better messaging or train them to conduct more effective discovery calls. If, on the other hand, your prospects tend to abandon ship after their first demo, you may need to arm your reps with better sales decks or train them to more effectively demonstrate your product.
2. Sales content analysis
Let’s assume, for a moment, that you and your team did an excellent job with the roll-out of your collateral — your reps were beyond excited to put each of the new materials to use.
That’s terrific — and potentially fleeting. If your reps quickly find that certain pieces of collateral are ineffective, they probably won’t return to them very often (if at all).
As such, it’s imperative that you keep track of the rate at which each piece of collateral is used. If one of your battlecards is consistently used at a high rate, you probably don’t need to make any major changes (for now). If, on the other hand, one of your email templates is seldom put to use, it might be wise to give it a refresh.
Maintaining an open dialogue with your reps is extraordinarily important. When it comes to analyzing and optimizing your collateral, qualitative data can be just as informative as quantitative data. If many of your reps say a certain battlecard has improved their confidence on the phones, that’s a useful insight!
3. Sales cycle analysis
For a given prospect, the sales cycle begins when they initially interact with your business — by downloading a whitepaper, for example — and ends when they make a final purchase decision (regardless of whether their decision is in your favor). Whereas one prospect’s sales cycle may last 60 days, another prospect’s sales cycle may last 90 days.
Calculating the length of an average sales cycle is straightforward: Simply add up the total number of days across all your deals (both closed won and closed lost) and divide the sum by the total number of deals.
All else being equal, a decline in average sales cycle length can be an indicator of a strong sales enablement strategy. As an example, let’s say you launch your strategy in April 2021 — at which point your average sales cycle length is 90 days. If April 2022 rolls around and your average sales cycle length has declined to 75 days, that’s a sign that prospects are moving through the funnel at a higher rate — potentially as a result of the collateral you’ve created.
To be clear, if you observe a decline in average sales cycle length, there may be other factors at play. Make sure to communicate with your team and investigate alternative explanations.
4. Win/loss analysis
At what rate do your sales reps win deals? At what rate do they win competitive deals? When they win, what tends to be the explanation? When they lose, what tends to be the explanation?
These questions are at the heart of win/loss analysis — the process of determining why deals are won or lost. Win/loss analysis is essential for any organization, and it’s particularly useful when trying to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your sales enablement strategy.
Here’s an example: Before you launched your strategy, let’s say your reps won 25% of competitive deals. At that time, the most common explanation for a lost competitive deal was insufficient differentiation — your reps were struggling to communicate the unique value of your product. Fast forward to six months after the launch of your strategy: Not only is your competitive win rate up to 40%, but now, the most common explanation for a lost competitive deal is pricing. Evidently, your reps are doing a much better job of differentiating your product from the rest of the market — likely an indicator of excellent battlecards!
Sales enablement strategy — the big picture
Every B2B organization is looking for ways to help their sales reps win more deals. Some want to do so by overhauling their approach to email marketing. Others want to do so by investing in a sales development function. And still plenty others want to do so in myriad different ways.
Irrespective of the specifics of your company, whether you succeed with sales enablement depends largely on the rigor of your strategy. Whereas those who wing it will quickly find that they have a low ceiling, those who do it the right way will see positive results for years to come.
Can you do it the right way without following our process to a T? Of course. But if you use the steps we’ve outlined here today as a starting point, you’ll be in fantastic shape to launch the sales enablement strategy you’ve been dreaming about.
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