I’ve spent two decades working in B2B marketing and sales.  The last two or three years I’ve been increasingly involved in the emerging discipline and practice area of Sales Enablement (SE). During this time, I’ve spoken to and worked with in excess of 250+ SE professionals and a handful of the leading tech vendors operating in the space.  From being hands on to deliver projects to working at C-level to help define SE strategy I’ve learnt a huge amount about what works and what doesn’t.  In this piece I want to look at a common challenge – how do you define and design a clear and achievable SE strategy?

This is easier said than done.  SE is a professional discipline in its infancy and in most instances been born out of tactical pain i.e. we need better sales training, our sales content isn’t very good, etc.  It’s finding its feet and focused on ‘getting sh*t done’ therefore it’s no surprise that you’ll find that most SE departments aren’t working towards a grand plan. 

That said, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so unless you find the time to step back and develop a strategic framework and plan in which to operate you’ll likely limit what you can achieve and with it your career in SE. 

Here’s a few thoughts on some areas to focus on that will hopefully help kick start your strategic thinking.

Define what your world looks like

“I’m Head of Sales Enablement”

“Sales what?”


Puzzled look.  “What’s that?”

Virtual roll of the eyes. “We support the sales function with training, content and stuff.”

I’ve heard, first hand, variations of this conversation played out many, many times.  It’s not surprising.  A lot of people have not heard of SE or if they have they don’t really know what it is.  Therefore, it is critical that you and your team do.  I’m not talking about a global definition for SE (although that can’t hurt) but what it means to you, your team, your organisation and the people in it.  You have to be able to clearly and simplistically articulate why SE exists and what’s it there to do.  You have to be able to turn a puzzled, sideways glance into a nodding head of affirmation. 

Now, wouldn’t a better response be.  “We’re a strategic function that’s primary role is to improve our customers buying experience.  We do this by providing critical support services to sales and marketing such as sales training and tailored content.”  Maybe a touch on the formal side for a chat over the water cooler but you hopefully get my point. 

How do you get to a position where you have a value proposition for SE that works for you?

Well, SE is a melting pot of a community with people arriving into it from a multitude of directions.  This hasn’t helped the identity crisis SE still faces as an industry but it does make for a rich and diverse canvas to work from.  Work this to your advantage, we are pioneers and can design the SE strategy with a certain amount of freedom (for now).  If your current team is made up of 70% L & D people then clearly base your strategic objectives around improvements in sales performance, ramp times, etc.  You might think value propositions and manifestos are fluff but believe in them or not I’ve seen countless times how powerful they can be at giving people something to anchor to and believe in.      

Another obvious but critical point is to force some distance between the strategy and what the SE department currently does.  As mentioned above most SE departments tend to be tactically focused and introspective.  This isn’t a great platform to start developing a cogent strategy.  Therefore, put the status quo to one side and elevate yourself.  Spend time with senior members of sales, marketing and other functions who should in turn provide the triggers and stimulus for your strategy. And don’t wrap yourself up in knots by trying to conceive the Sistine Chapel of SE strategy.  Develop digestible and understandable blocks of thinking with associated KPI’s and activities.

Understand the Buyer's Journey

All SE roads should ultimately lead to improving the Buyer’s Journey.  If they don’t it’s likely you’ve strayed.   The buyer journey forms the blueprint from which you should base your SE strategy.  It will allow you to understand where there are weak points, dysfunction and areas to improve.  In turn it will spit out metrics to focus on and improve.  We’ve spent time recently sitting down with SE teams to visually map out and understand each of the key cycles within the buyer journey.  From top of funnel activities right the way down to the pointy end of things and the final sales pitch/presentation.  It’s a process that is incredibly powerful because it rapidly brings everything into sharp focus.

“Why are the Inside Sales teams using that library of content to follow up the marketing qualified leads?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“The Excel based ROI calculator the sales guys are using around meeting 2 or 3 is really bad, it’s really clunky”    

“We can surely develop some content to help the sales guys overcome those types of objections?”

These are examples of questions asked during Buyer Journey mapping sessions.  Real world and tangible problems that SE can build into its strategic plan and work towards solving.

The Role of Technology

Whether you like it or not, technology will likely have an important part to play in your sales enablement strategy.  It will give you the scale, autonomy, understanding and sex appeal to meet the biggest challenges you face, head on.  Selecting the right technology to meet the individual needs of your organisation can be a tough ask.  With in excess of 7000 martech vendors operating in and around the space you could quite quickly end up in a technology stupor.  This is where you need to execute and follow a well thought through plan that answers questions along the lines of:

  • What are the organisational challenges / problems the technology needs to solve?
  • What is the time frame for solving these problems?
  • How large will the likely user base be? How does this breakdown by function?
  • How will the success of the technology be measured?
  • What are the current and most relevant technologies already in use?
  • Will there need to be a relationship between the new technology and existing platforms?
  • Are there any technical pre-requisites from the IT department that we need to be aware of?
  • How and who will implement the solution?
  • What are the internal resource requirements required to support the implementation?

SE is a great place to be right now

Sales Enablement is an industry that’s predicted to go from $800 million today to $5 billion by 2021.  This type of explosive growth will open up huge opportunities for the people involved within the industry be you a practitioner, software vendor or something else entirely.  But as much as ‘right place, right time’ will come into it so will effort and application.  It’s a space that's getting increasing levels of interest and will undoubtedly become more crowded therefore it’s crucial those in it today play their cards right.