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What is the Difference Between Sales Operations and Sales Enablement?

Back in the 1970s, Xerox recognized the need for a support team that handled many of the basic operations and logistics essential for a successful sales team. The support team took over core sales operations such as sales planning, compensation, forecasting, and territory mapping. The team aptly named, sales operation group, created a working environment that allowed the sales crew to do their jobs with all the right tools.

At the same time, sales managers and business owners were handing out copies of Og Mandino’s, The Greatest Salesman in the World, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People, while developing sales strategies for enabling their sales team once they got out of the office and into the field.

These two processes — sales operations and sales enablement — have been running on parallel trajectories ever since.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between sales ops and sales enablement, how each impacts your sales organization, and how to implement each to assist your sales team in winning more deals.

Sales Operations: Your Sales Team’s Basecamp

Business owners often refer to their organization’s facilities, procedures, and processes as infrastructure. The infrastructure is essentially a basecamp that contains everything the organization needs not only to operate but also to meet the company’s objectives. The infrastructure is so vital to the lifeblood of the company that, without it, the organization would crumble instantly.

Take your strategy to the next level with the Ultimate Guide to Sales Enablement

So it is with sales operations. Sales operations is your team's infrastructure — it’s the basecamp from which every sales rep operates. Sales operations provide the data, tools, and processes that every employee needs to thrive in a sales environment.

What are some examples of sales ops?

  • Managing workflow
  • Building a forecast
  • Handling sales calls
  • Data
  • Analytics
  • Utilizing technology
  • Facilities
  • Sales compensation
  • Performance management

Bottom line: logistics and processes: setting the stage for successful operations

When implementing sales ops into your organization, ask yourself this simple question: What facilities, data, and processes do I need to provide or put into place to ensure that our team has everything they need for success? Think about answers that are tangible and/or measurable.

Sales Enablement: Your Sales Team’s Bootcamp

Now that you have a solid foundation in place for your team, it’s time to start thinking about sales strategy. A strategy is what takes you out of the basecamp and into the bootcamp. This strategy is known as sales enablement.

Sales enablement is the sales rep’s playbook for success. It contains methods, processes, and strategies for how to engage potential customers and close the deal. It also includes tactics for customer retention and soliciting referrals. Some sales and marketing teams add further training to help agents promote and market themselves beyond the interaction with a buyer.

What are some examples of sales enablement?

  • Training products
  • Sales methods
  • Sales procedures
  • Sales tools
  • Sales intelligence
  • Customer path
  • Value proposition
  • Customer engagement
  • Customer-facing content
  • Consistent messaging, training, and empowerment

Bottom line: training, education, and empowerment: setting the stage for successful engagement

Why Both Sales Ops and Sales Enablement Are Crucial for Your Team’s Success

By now, you see the yin and yang of sales ops and sales enablement. Each is an indispensable component in your training and management strategy.

For instance, let’s say that you want to train your agents on how to create a successful customer sales path using the AIDA model (awareness, interest, desire, action). Going back to what we discussed earlier, you must first determine what data, logistics, or processes to put into place for this training.

Setting Up Basecamp

  • The training schedule (weekly session, weekend retreat, etc.)
  • What, when, and where the training takes place
  • Supplies that you will provide
  • Data on why the AIDA model works and why you’ve chosen this strategy
  • The process for deploying this new strategy
  • Goals or objectives you plan to create and/or meet as a result of the new strategy
  • How you will evaluate each rep’s performance using the new strategy
  • How the new strategy affects your digital marketing tools that you are currently using
  • What compensation, contests, or incentives you provide for those who successfully use the strategy in the field

Next, you must determine the training methods you’ll use to enable your team.

Setting Up Bootcamp

  • Training products that you will provide
  • Sales enablement resources that will strengthen your team
  • Role-playing
  • Battlecards for winning competitive deals
  • Breaking down and optimizing each stage of AIDA
  • Scenario preparation
  • Looking at case studies to leverage market intelligence
  • Leading the client from one step of AIDA to the next
  • Using sales intelligence materials

These are all techniques that you can integrate into your training to enlighten and empower your sales team.

In this example, you can see how you incorporate both sales operations and sales enablement into your overall training and management strategy. Granted, your processes will probably be a bit more detailed than the example above. Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between sales operations and sales enablement, you can also see why each is vital for your help your sales team succeed.

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Emily Dumas
Emily Dumas is a product marketer who leads content strategy at ZoomInfo, a global leader in modern go-to-market software, data, and intelligence. Prior to joining ZoomInfo, she spent several years on the Crayon marketing team.