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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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?”

How I Became a Top Sales Performer (Part 1)

Lesson 1: Sales is NOT about Selling

I am fortunate to have had a very successful sales career. But, it didn’t start out that way.  First I had to learn the most important lesson in sales:  Sales is NOT about selling.

Wait a minute! What do you mean, “Sales is not about selling”?

It’s not.

What I’ve learned as someone who has trained and managed a lot of sales people is that 99% of the things that you hear about sales when you get into it are simply wrong! Continue reading “How I Became a Top Sales Performer (Part 1)”

How I Became a Top Sales Performer (Part 2)

Sales people that properly organize and plan their sales efforts know how to analyze customer needs, and that results in more closed business!

They’re Not That Into You….

People need a reason to buy from you, and for the most part, you are not the reason they buy!

My experience starting out in sales was that most of the sales people I worked with sold under the assumption that the reason the customer bought the product was because it had great “features and benefits”.   Then one day, my sales manager said something to me I’ll never forget.  At that time I was selling computer equipment to big corporations.  He said, “Terry, a computer is nothing more than a furnace if the customer has no software to run on it!” Read More…

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