Why We Need a Sales Enablement Playbook

I recently have been privileged to start collaborating with a group of Sales Enablement professionals called the Sales Enablement Society (SES). Much more than a LinkedIn information sharing group, this is a community of concerned professionals who are coming together with the vision of elevating the Sales Enablement role in business.  The Society has rapidly grown to nearly 1,200 members and thousands of followers in less than a year. The Austin SES Chapter is just getting off the ground, and last week we had our third monthly meeting.

To say things are growing in a chaotic fashion is really an understatement!  The communications process among SES members on LinkedIn can best be described as being like an action scene from the movie Fast and Furious, only in slow motion. Literally thousands of people are watching, listening and participating in the action!  A high level of distraction is a near certainty, as many smart people come together to debate the relevance and importance of Sales Enablement in helping sales organizations (and for that matter, enterprises as a whole) improve revenues and performance.

At the local Austin Sales Enablement Society chapter meeting, we found it difficult not to discuss and reflect on what Sales Enablement means to each participant, even when reviewing basic topics. We discussed whether a Sales Enablement person (or team, or other organizational role, depending on the individual participant) should have a charter, and if so, what does that look like?  Even among the dozen or so meeting participants, each of us shared different experiences, responsibilities, organization structures, and other perspectives about our personal Sales Enablement experiences that defied the team to provide a simple answer to the question. Other Chapters have reported similiar discussions in their meetings.

Besides agreeing that there is a legitimate need for Sales Enablement in any business, I’d like to share a few observations about “enabling” a sales organization that illustrate why it is so difficult to characterize the Sales Enablement role and how it contributes to the success of any organization.  Also, it has led me to an initial proposal about how Sales Enablement Society can most effectively contribute to elevating the role by clarifying and documenting the best practices and tools that form the Sales Enablement role.

Is “Enablement” a Noun or a Verb?

To me, a misconception about Sales Enablement is the idea of having a role for it in the first place.  Having a specific role for Sales Enablement is a matter of how the disciplines involved come together to create an actual role, which as we saw in Austin, is embodied in numerous people, organizations, and charters. Nevertheless, organizations big and small are implementing Sales Enablement tasks, building skills, implementing best practices, and automating their processes (among many possible SE activities).

I have a pet saying that I often use with clients when it comes to their sales process, simply: Whether you have a formal sales process, or whether you think you don’t, you still have one.  Many firms implement components of Sales Enablement but do not concern themselves with which person is supporting that component – I have often heard stories that some SE professionals just decided it was their job by default.

In other words, Sales Enablement is often not about who does the work, but what work is done, and how it contributes to improving sales team performance and execution.

Sales Management Enablement?

Here is another dimension of the role definition issue. A recently published CSI Insights study entitled, Sales Managers: Overwhelmed and Underdeveloped came to the conclusion that training and improving the performance of Sales Managers is among the most important critical success factors in improving sales team performance.  Additionally, the study pointed out that while the practice of Sales Enablement is growing, sales performance is not improving in a corresponding fashion.  The study concluded that Sales Manager Enablement is the missing ingredient to address this key performance gap.

Despite the gap, I would argue that for many Sales Managers, Sales Management and Sales Enablement end up becoming the same thing.  In fact, as CSI Insights pointed out, firms invest in sales training, establishing a sales process and methodology, implementing CRM, and then fail to improve performance. As a client and colleague of mine stated, it becomes a “hearts and minds” issue of how sales team members embrace all of this investment and effectively use it. If the Sales Manager does not provide effective leadership and direction to sales people around these investments, they can fail.

What I have seen, especially in smaller and middle market businesses, is that Sales Enablement is being done by the Sales Management people in the business. My own Sales Management experience was driven as much by Sales Enablement as it was managing sales people. If the Sales Manager is unable or unwilling to adopt or in some cases, implement, Sales Enablement tools and techniques, there is a good chance that sales team performance will suffer.

Marketing Sales Enablement

Among the most visible technology tools that claim to focus on improving sales productivity are the vendors who support Account Based Sales Development (ABSD). ABSD is a more sophisticated approach to cold call prospecting which recognizes the limitations of contacting individuals in a target customer, as well as the lack of communication and discipline found in many Sales Development efforts.

The purpose of ABSD is to create leads for the sales team.  ABSD requires the involvement of Marketing to enable prospecting conversations with potential customers. There is a critical emphasis on Marketing and Sales departmental alignment and the provision of Marketing content to support ABSD activities.

Clearly, ABSD involves Sales Enablement practices since it fits in the continuum of activities between marketing and selling.  You have to train Sales Development personnel just like you have to train sales people and Sales Managers. Good management of the ABSD team is no less important than in field sales, nor any less prone to fail if the Sales Manager isn’t committed to best practices.

In the Austin SES chapter, several members report to their respective Marketing departments. Good Marketing makes good sales possible, and there is no question that many Marketing practices are Sales Enablement practices.

Using Sales Enablement is What Matters

I’m sure each of us have our own examples of what Sales Enablement is or is not. Each of the examples above illustrate why there is a need for a better definition of the Sales Enablement role, and how cross-functional disciplines come together to justify Sales Enablement in one job. Because there are so many variations of the role, I propose that a good first step towards making that happen is to describe what the practices are and document them to create a Sales Enablement Playbook. A Playbook would provide the means for firms to put Sales Enablement best practices and tools to use based on their unique circumstances.

If it’s true that SE practices will be implemented whether there is a role or not, that Sales Leaders must compel their teams to use them, and multiple department disciplines must be involved, then understanding the practices, how they are used, and how they produce results, would permit organizations to better realize the need for the Sales Enablement role as an enterprise position worthy of the C-Suite.

Because my own sales experience so extensively involved Sales Enablement practices, I wrote a book, 99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals, that is designed help sales leaders sort out what practices are most important to enabling a successful Sales team. As a former Sales VP and Sales Manager, I know that how sales leaders organize and manage their team enables sales performance. Sales Enablement best practices and tools are necessary to make that happen.

As the Sales Enablement Society moves forward, I hope to see a focus on what works and how we can collaborate to help all participants achieve the best results from Sales Enablement tools and practices. The Austin SES chapter plans to further discuss the Sales Enablement Playbook concept in order to better describe what it might look like.  I plan to work with businesses who want to better apply Sales Enablement to create greater revenue growth and accelerate enterprise performance.

To help jumpstart the Sales Enablement Playbook effort, I’d like to share my book, 99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals and will provide a free copy to anyone who would like to have one. You can download a free copy of my 99 Questions book by clicking here.  

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Sales as a Second Language – Learning to Speak “Sales”

If you follow the media coverage these days, you would think that everyone in business is learning how to speak a foreign language. It seems there’s a widespread perception that speaking a second language is a real asset: Rosetta Stone, the popular language training software firm, continues to report double digit customer growth. Here in Chicago, Language Stars (the firm that specializes in teaching kids foreign languages) caters to increasing parental interest by jump-starting kids’ second language skills. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe learning a second language wouldn’t be valuable in a future career?

I make this observation, because when it comes to sales effectiveness, I find that many senior executives haven’t learned “Sales as a second language”.

My colleague Spencer Maus recently pointed this out in a discussion about how business leaders decide they need help with their Sales team. He asked, why do executives decide that they need your sales effectiveness services? We reviewed this question in depth, and I want to share the valuable insights I gained from Spencer.

As a business executive, your career trajectory may or may not have included participation in Sales. No doubt, many smaller business founders/owners personally captured their firm’s original customers, or perhaps, someone with sales background was brought in to help the founders with Sales. My personal experience in larger firms is the majority of executive leaders didn’t advance through the Sales ranks.

Whether we started in Sales or elsewhere, our life experiences and business activities always expose us to sales situations. We accumulate personal and business experiences either as a potential buyer or in selling products or services to prospect and customers. Executives often participate in customer relationship development and key sales decisions.

Regardless, it doesn’t mean that person running the business has professional sales experience. For example, young attorneys may witness relationship development and selling by more senior partners and associates, but that doesn’t translate into real sales training, networking skills development, or how to find new clients in the context of a legal practice. More senior colleagues may have relied on personal friends or sales naturally evolved out of existing client relationships – not exactly what I would describe as professional selling.

While there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a personal network or getting additional business from an existing customer (especially true within Professional Services), that’s probably not enough to sustain a growing business in any industry. In my view, there are three important prerequisite elements that define an organization’s ability to professionally perform business development:

Intentional Sales Process

A defined, intentional sales process is the first prerequisite element. Defined, in that someone actually sat down and assessed how business development is done, what tasks are completed, the sales content (deliverables) produced, and how long it takes to perform each sales task. Call this “business process analysis” or whatever technical term makes sense, but as the cliché goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intentional, because everyone has a de facto sales process – it may be an ill-defined process that doesn’t produce intended results, but you still have a process. Management should put pre-meditated thought and effort into creating and managing a process that really works.

Sales (versus Marketing) Messaging

Intuitively, there should be a firm-wide consensus about what customer-facing employees say to prospects and customers, versus what is documented on your website, written in proposals, or presented in marketing collateral. Despite the critical importance of sales conversations, many firms fail to examine whether they have the right sales conversation with prospective customers.

While judging conversation quality can be subjective, there’s no reason why there can’t be internal consensus about what works or doesn’t work in a sales conversation. (I’ve documented in a previous post a detailed process to successfully assess sales conversations and messaging quality using the 99 Questions Methodology.)

Some business leaders believe it’s enough just to have good personal conversations and develop relationships. Here’s a brief story that illustrates why this approach has a limited probability of producing short-term results: one of my clients’ sales people regularly took prospective clients to lunch and they developed great personal relationships. After months of lunches, you would think that all the personal attention would have produced significant business, but these sales people never so much as asked the prospect if they could sell them something! Needless to say, these sales people had great customer “friends,” but no pipeline! They also didn’t have jobs once Management figured out what happened!

Create a System

Another famous cliché I have experienced is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. If you have a reasonable volume of business development, there has to be some way of tracking the process, monitoring employees’ communications, and evaluating whether their sales efforts are successful. For example, hiring more people because there is more work may not indicate real success. In fact, it may demonstrate how inefficiently you deliver products and services, versus generating more revenue and profit. Tangible methods of evaluating sales activities help to determine if the Sales people are producing expected results.

However, tracking the process doesn’t mean simply buying and installing a CRM system to record “sales” activities. There should be intense introspection to identify your target customers, how you connect with them, the steps that go into relationship building, how you know a sales cycle is making progress, how you evaluate each customer-facing person to determine if they are meeting relationship and revenue goals. Many firms acquire sales technology products based on the mistaken belief that a technology solution addresses these questions. By example, inputting data into an opportunity screen of a CRM tool doesn’t translate into effectively managing a client relationship.

Would You Learn a 2nd Language this Way?

To revisit the 2nd language analogy, there is no guarantee that you’ll easily adopt another language just because you are competent in speaking English. It takes training and practice, along with insights about why you need a second language, how you will use your second language, setting goals to become proficient in speaking the language, and making an intentional effort to continually improve. Systems like Rosetta Stone help to accomplish those goals by managing the learning process, and tracking results.

Why would you do differently when it comes to developing new business? Assuming you understand an entire body of business practices around creating, building, and managing a Sales organization is like deciding you can learn French just by reading movie subtitles. The recognition of Sales as a second language should be the realization you have the opportunity to help your business become more successful by learning and adopting best practices.

Bonne Chance!

If you are interested in discussing how to implement “Sales as a second language” or if you want to evaluate your selling process, sales messaging and/or sales systems, please contact me. You can find my colleague Spencer Maus at his website on marketing and public relations best practices, Spencerconnect.

Ideation Selling – A New Approach to Customer Development

A television commercial recently produced for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee features Al Pacino reprising Coach Tony D’Amato’s pre-game speech from the movie, “Any Given Sunday”. He says, “…the inches we need are everywhere around us – every minute, every second, we fight for that inch…” In sales, it’s an appropriate way to think about the many tactics we use to recruit new customers, especially C-level executives. When it comes to gaining access to decision makers, what really works?

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to consider this question in my personal selling efforts, for my clients, and with some colleagues who have introduced unique thought leadership in this area to the sales discipline. Ideation Selling represents “extra inch” thinking in an industry where many leading sales training and consulting firms offer homogenous approaches to address executive level business development. Here’s some background about how this breakthrough process was conceived. Continue reading “Ideation Selling – A New Approach to Customer Development”

Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?

As many colleagues and sales people I have trained will attest, there is nothing more important than the sales and marketing dialogue your firm has with the marketplace.  I believe a challenge presented to most businesses is the integration of marketing content and sales dialogue, as described below in my latest guest post for CMSExpo. On May 15, I will be presenting a new approach to integrating sales and marketing messages which was created out of client experiences over the past year with 99 Questions.  My article provides an overview of the issues and  a high level overview of the 99 Questions Methodology.  I hope to see you at CMSExpo on May 15!

Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?


As a content management professional, no doubt you’ve been exposed to the process of creating and delivering content for your firm (or your client) to market and sell your (their) products and services. A primary use of your CMS is to act as a delivery channel for that content. Hopefully, that content is also used by all members of your firm, including your sales team, your service personnel, or other “customer-facing” employees within your business. The reality is that in most cases, that’s simply not the case. Continue reading “Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?”

The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI

On Wednesday, May 15, I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion and speak at  CMSExpo, an annual conference devoted to all things content. I am an avid Joomla user  (the tool I use for my website), so I’ve been collaborating with a number of web developers and marketing consultants both to develop new business and to support them as clients. One such colleague is Avery Cohen, principal at Metrist Partners. Metrist and I are partnering to create new thought leadership around integrating sales and marketing content to produce revenue. Here is Avery’s recent article, also posted on the CMSexpo blog site, describing this new thought leadership. Many Thanks to Avery for allowing me to post his article here.

The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI


It’s a typical day at the office: The Sales Team says that Marketing isn’t producing good, qualified leads. The Director of Marketing is trying to keep up with a changing technical environment and production demands for content.

The Marketing Team is working on advertising, online articles, email and print newsletters, social media along with brochures, trade shows, and presentations. Search rankings are falling, and the cost of customer acquisition is rising.

Marketers are asked to deliver more high-quality leads, at a lower cost per lead, without acknowledging that there is an integrated bottom line. Increasing costs of new customers can be an indicator that we aren’t getting the right messaging to the right people at the right time…

Often, there are disconnects between:

  1. What the sales team is saying (and learning) in the field,
  2. The problems and real needs faced by our customers and prospects,
  3. The messaging our marketers are pushing out through our content marketing initiatives,
  4. The response we are getting from our online community,
  5. The results we are getting from our marketing campaigns.

It’s time to get Sales and Marketing to collaborate on content. Marketing can support the sales team by providing topical content on a monthly basis. This gives the sales team a relevant perspective to share with prospects and their client network. Continue reading “The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI”

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