One of the questions I get asked most frequently is around building a sales enablement strategy and what that might look like. While each company, context, and industry is different, I believe that there are some fundamentals that should form the blueprint of any sales enablement strategy.
At a high level, the strategy should convey what your team does, how it does it, goals, and main initiatives for the year ahead. However, here’s the thing – as sales enablement is such an emerging area, there’s a distinct lack of sales enablement thought leadership, best practices and models available, let alone materials that specifically cover strategy. My hope is that this essay and the sales enablement strategy template I’ve created will help right that wrong and generate conversation and critical feedback within the sales enablement community.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ve chosen to build upon what is already a successful and valuable strategy template. As there’s such a dearth of sales enablement materials, we shouldn’t be afraid to borrow, adapt, and reuse successful tools from other fields. A good idea is a good idea, after all.
What I’ve adapted is a simplified one-page strategic plan that we used at HubSpot or “MSPOTs” as they were called. Each year every team had to create an MSPOT, and they were published on the company wiki, for all employees to see, question and provide feedback on. These documents were and are a hugely valuable tool for a number of reasons – they communicate in simple terms what can often be a complex area. However, the real value of these plans is that they drive alignment – they make it easy to see what each team, department, and organization is working on, omitting and their respective goals.
How to Create a Sales Enablement Strategy
While there’s no industry-wide agreement on what a sales enablement strategy should include, to me, the key components and fundamentals are:
You can see a completed example of the sales enablement strategy template below, as well as a detailed explanation on each stage of the strategy:
Your sales enablement team mission should be aspirational and explain what your team aspires to do. It should focus on the long term and rarely change (if at all). In my experience, the best teams have a mission that is clearly understood and often repeated. A long-term sales enablement mission acts as a North Star – everyone can see where the team wants to get to, even if they’re unsure of the route they’ll take to get there.
A sales enablement team’s strategy should be simple to understand, encapsulate what the team does, and will likely change on an annual basis. In the first instance, when crafting your strategy and committing it to paper, it’ll probably be too lengthy. You’ll have to spend time making it more succinct and boil it down into a couple of digestible themes which tie back to an important goal that your team wants to hit.
The role of sales enablement, as its name suggests, is to enable, partner with, and ultimately, serve others. You should take the time to identify and communicate who your key stakeholders are (it’s likely to be sales leadership and sales reps). Whom your sales enablement teams serve should be reviewed annually and will likely expand as the business evolves.
This is the fun part. You should list the key plays that’ll bring your strategy to life and help the sales organization succeed. The plays are best thought of as the big initiatives that the sales enablement function will focus on each year. While you can mention specific sales enablement activities and tactics within the template, it’s often more valuable to describe broad themes, as you’ll likely be running several activities per the theme.
There are a plethora of sales enablement metrics that can be tracked. However, you will first need to spend time figuring out what the key challenges are, and then build a plan to overcome them. Once you have taken these steps, it’s then time to consider goals and measurements.
At a high level, the most important factors to consider when setting sales enablement goals are:
●Are they aligned with business and sales objectives?
●Do they influence revenue?
●Are they trackable?
Follow these goal-setting principles, and you’ll have a solid foundation on which to build a sales enablement function.
Sales enablement is a broad area, so a key part of building a sales enablement function is defining the team’s responsibilities. Sales enablement is often poorly defined and subsequently misunderstood, so clearly defining your responsibilities and communicating this to the business is essential.
To illustrate the point, a sales enablement function can be responsible for any and all of these areas:
●Sales process and methodology
●Sales tools and technology
●Ongoing training and development
●Sales projects and campaigns
One of the most important but overlooked parts of every sales enablement strategy is deciding and communicating what work will be omitted. Omissions are projects that will not be funded each year. There’s rarely a lack of good ideas and work to be found, but it’s important to decide what work won’t be tackled.
By clearly communicating your omissions, you can help drive alignment and set the right expectations with other teams and stakeholders. At HubSpot, CEO Brian Halligan frequently reminded employees that “companies are more likely to die of indigestion than starvation.” What he meant was, as software as a service (SaaS) companies grow there’s always the temptation to do more, but if you’re not strategic, you risk becoming slow, bloated and losing focus. This lesson is as true for sales enablement as it is for any function.
When leading a sales enablement team it can be easy to get caught up and slowed down in what sales reps say they want, rather than what they need – or worse still, supporting those with the loudest voice, most seniority or highest salary. You need a tool to prioritize work.
I’ve found that the best way to navigate this challenge is by prioritizing work based on estimated revenue and the number of sales reps impacted. If you’re having a tough or heated discussion, I suggest bringing it back to this. In my experience, this approach typically creates an understanding and acceptance of a decision, if not wholehearted support.
Throughout my career, I’ve used a simple 2X2 grid to rank projects based on estimated revenue and impact on sales reps – put simply, I always focus on activity that will most likely influence revenue. I often share that working in sales enablement has taught me to say “no” a 1,000 different ways – quite simply we’ll never have the resources to implement all the ideas, suggestions and projects that sales managers and sales reps champion, so having a process to categorize and rank work, which is shared with your stakeholders is crucial.
Other Important Areas to Consider
The sales enablement strategy template is designed to be easily understood, but the reality is creating any kind of strategy is tough and requires more detail. I also recognize that there are a number of important questions and areas to consider when creating a sales enablement strategy that is not covered in the template, including:
●Will you support channel partners? What does sales enablement look like for them?
●How will you support international markets and different languages?
●Do you plan to prioritize some teams over others? Why?
●Are you responsible for supporting sales reps throughout the sales process or just parts of it?
●Are you responsible for sales rep development throughout their whole time at your company or just a part of it?
●How do you enable other teams to enable the sales organization?
I’ve listed below some important operational areas that warrant consideration when building a sales enablement team.
Scheduling and Mindshare
The most effective sales enablement teams both create and curate – they instinctively understand the needs of the sales organization and share what’s most important, rather than trying to share everything, and risk overwhelming sales reps. To combat this challenge, you need to think strategically about the programs you run.
Best-in-class sales enablement functions like the one at LinkedIn accomplish this by imposing a limit on how much sales rep time or “mindshare” they’re allowed each quarter. By limiting themselves to 20 hours per quarter, which equates to just over 90 minutes per week, the LinkedIn team is forcing itself to prioritize what’s most important.
Sales Tools and Technology
By now, I’m confident we’ve established that sales enablement is a broad and varied area. Depending on the challenges you want to solve, you’re going to need to invest in best-of-breed sales tools. Some of the most impressive sales tools I’ve come across are HubSpot, Outreach, Chorus, Articulate, Troops, Brainshark, Highspot, Clearslide, MindTickle, and ToutApp.
You should familiarize yourself with these vendors, the types of problems they help solve and also rank, just how important those problems are for your business to solve. It may be that sales acceleration and engagement tools like HubSpot and Outreach will solve the most urgent pain point, and setting up e-learning like Articulate is less of a priority for your business. Alternatively, vice versa.
Most training at most companies is flash in the pan, and it’s difficult to understand if the information shared has been understood, let alone applied. The best practice is to have people take part in some form of learning, give them time to practice what they’ve learned and then test what they’ve learned with a certification or quiz. You should also be able to tie this activity back to business metrics.
For instance, if sales reps are discounting too heavily, you could run negotiation training classes. These trainings would be both theoretical and practical, and the practical exercise would require sales reps to role-play specific negotiation scenarios with colleagues. Once sales reps have honed their skills, they’d then have to become “negotiation certified,” by successfully handling a tough negotiation role-play with a sales manager. While running a program like this, you could track who is becoming negotiation certified, but also measure what impact it has on important metrics like discounting.
I’m a firm believer that no single team owns “enablement.” While sales enablement should own the strategy, they should also empower other teams to create enablement materials by sharing best practices, planning models, and consulting on what good looks like. For instance, product marketing, learning, and development (L&D) and sales managers are already likely to be creating some enablement materials. Sales enablement can scale their impact by enabling others to enable the sales organization.
Ideally, one team should own communication with the sales organization. This team should have a process for categorizing and prioritizing announcements, so sales reps receive the right information at the right time on the right platform. I believe sales enablement can and should own this function.
However, communication should not be one way. You should also invite feedback in a formal way so that you have a tight feedback loop and sense of what’s happening on the sales floor. You should consider forming a panel of sales reps that you can share ideas with, test new tools, and use as a sounding board.
Lastly, if you’d like a copy of the Sales Enablement Strategy Template, I’ve made it available to download in both Google Slides and PowerPoint. There are no forms to complete or anything like that, but if you do download it, I’d appreciate any feedback you have – good, bad, or indifferent. The template is editable, so I’m keen for others to adapt and make the template more relevant for their organization.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s a real lack of sales enablement planning models available – I hope by publishing these templates, I can make a small contribution to helping others figure out how to build a high-performing sales enablement function at their business. By sharing what we’re doing and inviting critical feedback, we can help elevate the role of sales enablement to where it truly belongs.
About the Author
Ben Cotton is an experienced sales enablement leader and has worked at category-defining companies HubSpot, Indeed.com and Automation Anywhere during periods of hypergrowth.
You can find out more about Ben and his thoughts on sales enablement, the SaaS industry and personal growth and download a full version of The Sales Enablement Handbook at ben-cotton.com.