Is sales enablement dead?

Sales Enablement is a huge topic in B2B these days. You can spend all day every day and still barely scratch the surface of all the dialogue, debate, and events exploring the "real" meaning of sales enablement, who is doing it well, what tools are most useful, and how social media will revolutionize the whole process. (Forrester's upcoming forum is a great example.)

The activity makes sense. We all know the B2B sales cycle keeps getting longer, more and more people are involved in big purchase decisions, and lead nurturing is incredibly important. We know that crafting custom solutions is essential if we're going to avoid fighting over discounts with procurement folks on the other side of the table. Our sales teams need to know more, do more, and be ever more capable of having the right conversations with the right buyers and influencers at the right time.

And this isn't just talk. Sales enablement is a big area for investment. According to IDC and other analysts, sales enablement is a top priority for many marketing leaders. It's one of the few areas of increased spending (along with digital marketing, of course) amid relatively flat marketing budgets. Sales enablement companies like SAVO are growing like gangbusters.

So, this is great news for marketers, right? We're drilling into what sales really needs and making a difference.

Well, I wonder. In today's world of B2B solutions, is sales enablement even possible?

The practical reality for many B2B organizations is that sellers don't really sell anymore. What they do is help people buy once those buyers have made up their minds it's time for a purchase.

Buyers today have all the information. They have extremely smart and sophisticated teams that know far more about what they need than any sales person. They talk to peers across their industries to learn more about what's working and what's not -- and which vendors are worth considering and which are not. Along the way, in fits and starts, they decide it's time to invest in a new solution. Then, and only then, they start to talk with vendors and potential partners to see if you can deliver what they need.

OK, you know this, too. It's not news to say that buyers are in control and that they set the pace. So is it just semantics when I suggest that sales enablement is dead and the real issue is buyer enablement?

Surely we cannot just get rid of our sales forces, spread the good word about our solutions, and wait for buyers to show up. Indeed not. Especially in the world of high-end solutions, sales teams are more important then ever to helping buyers move from defined need and interest to crafting specific solutions that deliver clear value, and then closing the deal.

As sales guru Neil Rackham noted recently at ISBM's conference on marketing and sales alignment, sales people increasingly need to move from value communication to value creation. They can't just talk about the value of your offerings, they have to work with customers to help create the solutions.

To help this process along, sales people need a huge amount of help, i.e., enablement! As the analysts keep pointing out, too few sales people are well equipped for these kinds of consultative conversations and too few buyer executives find any value at all from our sales people.

But language matters. It reflects our mindset. And our mindset needs to change.

Buyers are in control; that's not going to change. Traditional selling is less and less effective, and often even counterproductive. Helping buyers craft solutions and invest in real value for their business is the way we should be thinking about our work.

For marketers, then, it's not so much about enabling sales, it's really about collaborating with sales to enable the buyers. More investment can help, and new tools can be useful, but I think the starting point is clarifying exactly what it is we're trying to do.

Do you agree? Is this a meaningful distinction or just a pointless word game? I'd love to hear how you're approaching the issue.

Photo credit: Dan Perry

Comments (2)

by
Paul

Hi Rob, Great post. You are right that there are more and more Sales enablement companies. In case you are looking for a list of all sales enablement vendors here is my work in progress list: http://salesenablement.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/work-in-progress-list-of-sales-enablement-vendors/ Best, Paul

by
Filipa Ribeiro e Silva

It has been two years since this post was written... And it is still a hot topic, so I guess you were right. 'Helping buyers craft solutions and invest in real value for their business is the way we should be thinking about our work.' The problem, as I see it, is in the inconsistency of sales enablement acts. It is seldom found in a company a structured, thought-through sales enablement model. Sales forces need anything that goes from specific training to support, to tools and techniques, or incentives. And a random act simply won't do it. 'For marketers, then, it's not so much about enabling sales, it's really about collaborating with sales to enable the buyers.' Allow me to disagree. If it is true, than we are hopeless and, yes, might as well get rid of sales and wait for them to come to us. There will always be room for the seller to maneuver the buyer; point out an undiscovered need; equip itself with sales forces that have game, can make a difference and close the gap between strategy and buyer decision. And, thus, sales enablement comes in...