Sales enablement: What is it, and how does it work?

Sales enablement: What is it, and how does it work?

As you scale your sales team, you'll inevitably reach the point where sales enablement becomes a priority. And yet, many people lack a clear understanding of what sales enablement actually is, and how to effectively implement a sales enablement strategy.

Just five years ago, CSO Insights ran a study about sales enablement and only 25% of the companies they surveyed had developed sales enablement for their teams. But in 2019, that number jumped to 61.3%.

Why are so many businesses using sales enablement? Put simply, because it works: but only if you do it right.

If you want to increase sales productivity for your team, close more deals, and hit your quota, then keep reading. We’re going to show you what sales enablement is, and how to make the most efficient use of sales enablement to grow your sales and your team.

Today, we’ll see:

What is sales enablement and what does it mean to your sales team?

Sales enablement is what it sounds like: enabling your sales team to do their job better. This involves giving your sales team the processes, information, technology, and training they need to sell more effectively. Sales enablement also bridges the gap between sales and marketing to create a smoother experience for both the team and the customers.

Sales enablement vs. sales operations: what’s the difference?

Sales enablement talks to all teams, including sales, marketing, product, and executives. They get the big-picture view of what's happening and articulate that into sales plans, content, and processes for the sales team to execute on.

Sales operations is the team that plans and organizes rep operations, territory planning, lead generation, sales analytics, and more. The sales operations team focuses on the non-selling processes that are an integral part of the sales process.

Of course, not every company has dedicated persons for sales enablement and sales operations. It depends on the size of the company: In one study, it was found that more than 70% of companies with a sales force of over 50 people had a dedicated sales enablement person. However, only 39% of companies with less than 25 sales reps had one.

The point? In small companies, the sales manager might take on the role of sales enablement manager as well.

But as a busy sales manager, you hardly want to add more tasks to your plate.

So, why should you invest time in sales enablement?

In short: because it empowers your team to sell better and close more deals.

How does sales enablement empower your team?

Want to know if sales enablement is worth the investment? Here’s what you and your team can gain by implementing a sales enablement strategy:

  • Aligns sales and marketing: When done correctly, sales enablement connects sales and marketing and aligns them on the strategies and goals that drive revenue.
  • Allows you to forecast accurately: Teams without sales enablement have below-average win rates for forecast deals. However, teams with sales enablement are above average with a 49% win rate.
  • Gives reps more time to spend selling: With sales enablement, reps have access to a repository of sales content, meaning they can execute faster and spend more time selling instead of wasting time building contracts, presentations, and other pieces of sales content they need in the moment.
  • Makes sales reps more customer-focused: With easy access to the external-facing content your audience is viewing and interested in, reps are better able to appeal to their prospects and provide real value.
  • Gives sales team the direct tactics they need to win more deals: Since sales enablement includes both the measurement of meaningful metrics and advanced training and coaching, your sales team will be even more prepared to close deals and reach their goals by focusing on the activities and strategies that have been proven to work for your team.
  • Makes sure reps are always on message: Direct, meaningful communication between marketing and sales means that reps are always aligned to the messaging that’s presented to customers, which builds trust in your audience.
  • Ensures tech adoption: Whether it’s your CRM software, email tools, or anything else, sales enablement ensures that reps adopt and continue to use the tools and tech purchased by the company.

5 key components of sales enablement

Sales enablement is often described in a vague, non-specific way. We know it includes information, training, tech, and analysis, but what are the practical, real-world aspects of sales enablement?

  1. Sales productivity: Sales enablement involves collecting and organizing the information and content that reps need, whether it’s customer information, sales data, documents, and more. The goal is to have an easy-to-use database that improves sales productivity.
  2. Internal sales content: Sales scripts, email templates, battle cards, playbooks, and a sales objection handling document are all necessary pieces of sales enablement content. This content allows reps to sell smarter and faster.
  3. External sales content: Providing the right content, including white papers, case studies, blog posts, testimonials, and more is an important aspect of sales enablement. More than that, it allows sales to understand how these content pieces perform and how they are presented to customers and leads.
  4. Sales coaching and training: By capturing and institutionalizing the processes and information that sales reps need to be successful, sales enablement gives the whole team a solid foundation for selling. It also includes creating practical onboarding documentation and videos to get new hires started faster.
  5. Meaningful metrics measurement: With the right metrics, sales enablement can help both sales and marketing to understand what tactics and messaging gets the best results. Then, they can use these insights to better appeal to your brand’s audience.

These five factors are the main keys to a successful sales enablement strategy. When companies practice an all-in sales enablement strategy that includes all of the essential elements, they see increases in important metrics like customer retention rate, profit margin, and total company revenue.

Sales enablement content optimizations and training tactics you should be using

While sales enablement is made of many moving parts, the content and training aspects make up a majority of what sales enablement is all about.

Get these two parts right, and you’ll be on your way to a successful sales enablement strategy. Get them wrong, and your sales enablement strategy will be nothing more than a huge waste of time.

Here are the optimizations and tactics you need to be using for a better sales enablement strategy:

1. Audit your current sales content

What’s the current state of your onboarding content?

Which case studies and testimonials are your sales reps providing to prospects? Are they up-to-date?

How easy is it for your reps to find important sales enablement content, like cold email templates or contracts?

The first essential step in building a library of sales enablement content that’s useful is to go through your current content and run an audit.

First, remove any content that is outdated (that white paper from seven years ago probably isn’t up-to-date, and that product video you recorded before the last big release needs to go).

Once you’ve removed any outdated content, you’ll be left with the bare-bones minimum (or possibly nothing), and that’s fine. Next, make a list of the pieces that you need up to replace with updated versions. But don’t worry about updating every single piece of content: Focus on the content that is truly essential to your team.

How this enables sales:

By removing outdated content and stripping down to the bare essentials, your sales enablement content will be easier to find and use for sales reps. Also, your team will stop sending outdated content to prospects and be more aligned with the most current messaging coming out from marketing.

2. Organize essential customer-facing content

The days when prospects came to sales reps looking for information are long gone. Now, your audience comes fully packed with all their research in hand, and they want fast answers to the questions they weren’t able to answer on their own.

That’s why organizing customer-facing content is essential. This includes white papers, case studies, testimonials, pricing and discount information, and more.

For a successful sales enablement strategy, this customer-facing content must be well-organized and accessible to sales reps.

How this enables sales:

When reps have easy access to these essential pieces of content, they can give prospects the answers they need faster. This helps potential customers move forward in the buying journey.

3. Let sales and marketing brainstorm content together

This is a moment when sales and marketing need to be fully aligned. After all, your sales team is in constant, direct contact with the people and companies that fall into your target audience.

So, organize a regular content brainstorm session with both the marketing and sales teams, or keep a Slack channel open where they can discuss ideas and options for relevant content. As sales reps identify common questions and concerns coming from their prospects, marketing will have a clearer idea of the customer-facing content that needs to be produced.

How this enables sales:

The average salesperson makes 20% of the content they need themselves: this is not only a huge waste of time, but it’s also unnecessary. When you let your sales team have direct input in customer-facing content, that content will be more relevant to your audience.

4. Add competition research to your sales content repertoire

Who are your biggest competitors? Are there any new companies on the scene that could become competition? How does your product compare to theirs? What features, integrations, or resources set your company apart from the others? How does the pricing differ?

Do your sales reps have the answers to these questions on-hand on any given day?

Knowing your competition gives your sales reps an edge when conversing with prospects. For this to work, though, this information needs to be up-to-date, including any new updates, feature releases, or news from your competition.

How this enables sales:

Sales reps will always have a fast, compelling answer to the question “How does your product compare to X?” Having competition research on-hand allows them to always give a clear, confident answer that sets your product above that of the competition.

5.  Make your sales onboarding content more efficient and practical

How long does it take to onboard new sales hires?

Let’s cut that in half.

The content you use to onboard should be clear and practical, not vague and overwhelming.

Start by writing out the top 10 objections and questions your team hears from prospects, and add the best responses. Next, add top strategies that the team is currently using to close deals.

Then, add essential content to help new reps learn the product they’re selling. This could include product training videos or even the onboarding content you send out to new customers using your product.

Another piece of onboarding content for sales hires is a detailed map of the buyer journey. Where do prospects normally hear about your company? Where do the majority of MQLs come from? Where do prospects fall off the path, or where they have that ‘Aha’ moment? What piece of content or strategy convinces people to buy?

Gathering this information better prepares new hires to close deals, practically from day one.

How this enables sales:

Proper sales enablement can reduce ramp time for new hires by 60%. That means they’ll be selling effectively in a much shorter amount of time.

6. Train sales reps directly in the sales enablement tools they’ll be using

Below, we’ll talk about some of the fantastic tools that are currently available for sales enablement. But let’s make this clear: for sales enablement to work, you need tools to organize and optimize your content and training, and measure the right metrics.

That said, your sales reps need to understand how these tools work.

How this enables sales:

Whether they’re looking for a case study that reflects a specific feature, creating a new contract, or looking for scripts to improve their cold calling efforts, sales reps need easy access to the right content. If they’re specifically trained on how to use the sales enablement tools you choose, they’ll be in a better position to adopt this strategy and sell better.

7. Make training ongoing and give as-needed access to training materials

This is not a once-trained-always-trained situation. If your team doesn’t continuously train and improve their skills, they’ll become stagnant and lose momentum.

Regular training must be planned and available to all sales reps, even the most experienced ones. Believe me, everyone can improve.

Any onboarding and training materials you create should be available 24/7 to everyone. You can also organize training events, such as sales calling practice sessions with the whole team. These could even evolve into a fun competition for your reps to see who can deliver the best sales pitch or provide the best answer to an objection.

How this enables sales:

When you cultivate a culture of learning and improvement, your sales team will always push harder to build their skills. In the end, you’ll develop an all-star team who is motivated to keep selling because they’re not stuck in a rut with the same boring phrases and tactics they’ve been using for years.

By optimizing your content and building your training tactics, you’ll have a much better head start to sales enablement. But you’ll need the right tools to organize this information.

Best sales enablement tools to automate the process

To truly optimize your sales enablement strategy, it’s time to organize and automate as much as humanly possible. Here are the tools to help you do it:

1. PandaDoc

This easy-to-use tool for sales documentation helps you keep an updated, dynamic library of proposals, contracts, quotes, invoices, and more. Plus, it allows you to get eSignatures and track usage.

How PandaDoc enables sales:

  • Lets you create pre-approved templates for quick creation of new sales documents
  • Automates approval workflows
  • Tracks when reps create, send, and get signatures on documents
  • Integrates with other sales tools, like CRM software

2. Highspot

Highspot helps sellers engage their audience through advanced sales content management, training, and analytics. They organize plays, integrated communication, and dynamic sales training into one platform. This tool also includes AI features and analytics to help you see how reps use the materials you provide, and which pieces perform the best in different situations.

How Highspot enables sales:

  • AI search feature to find the right content at the click of a button, and quickly scan through results
  • Highly organized content spots for documentation
  • Analytics to see how prospects and customers use the content sent to them, and which pieces of content push prospects through the pipeline
  • Option to add feedback that goes back to content owners
  • Relevant training materials show up alongside content, meaning reps can quickly refer to training when creating and sending sales content

3. Showpad

This sales enablement platform combines content and training in one easy-to-access place. It also includes AI features to surface the right pieces of content and training materials at the right time.

How Showpad enables sales:

  • Helps unify marketing and sales efforts by providing data on which pieces of content are being used, and how effective they are
  • AI-powered content recommendations based on seller usage, buyer engagement, and closed deals
  • Intuitive training, coaching, and practice features with peer review and role-playing
  • Automatic content syncing from CMS or DAM systems

4. Seismic

This enterprise-grade platform connects marketing, sales enablement, and sales teams and empowers them to create, deliver, and understand their content better than ever.

How Seismic enables sales:

  • Practical search feature with the ability to save, send, track, and present right from the results page
  • Quick sharing and integrated chat for easy collaboration
  • Microsite with individual landing pages for training materials
  • Integrations with other tools bring relevant, on-demand training materials to users when they need them most
  • Analytics show how your team is using the training material and content, as well as how prospects and customers engage with content

5. Brainshark

This training and sales enablement platform helps you prepare your reps for any situation they may face. It allows you to quickly create dynamic content that can be shared with the team and focuses especially on creating video training materials.

How Brainshark enables sales:

  • Video-based coaching, practice, and assessments to certify that reps are ready
  • Automated scores and analysis powered with AI
  • Analytics to track the progress and readiness of each of your sales team members

6. Bigtincan

This sales enablement platform is mobile-first, giving sales reps and leaders the ability to create and use training materials, build content, and share insights all from their mobile device. It includes a simple interface and easy collaboration features. They also offer tailored solutions for specific industries such as tech, finance, retail, life sciences, and government.

How Bigtincan enables sales:

  • Mobile app for sellers to complete learning activities on the go
  • Adaptive, AI-powered learning gives the right training materials to the right person
  • Create, edit, and share materials for customers
  • Content management for over 150 file types, including HTML content and VR presentations

7. ClearSlide

This platform works as a hub for both sales and marketing content, organizing team collections and allowing for easy discoverability. It also includes advanced features such as email tracking, web conferencing, auto-log to your CRM, and guided selling.

How ClearSlide enables sales:

  • Recommended content and collections depending on the stage
  • Content sharing and engagement data is automatically logged to your CRM
  • Create tailored coaching materials and surface them for the sales reps that need them
  • Insights into which pieces of content work best, and at what stage

8. Guru

Guru is a knowledge base platform first and foremost, but that gives it unique features for sales enablement. With real-time knowledge management for reps and sales leaders, Guru allows reps to have the sales content they need and shows leaders which content is resonating best with their team.

How Guru enables sales:

  • Content delivered to reps within their workflow
  • Easy content organization with boards, sections, and cards
  • Reporting that shows which cards have been used most by reps, and what phrases reps are searching for most in the knowledge base
  • Slack integration to capture SME answers and add them directly to the knowledge base

These are the top sales enablement tools currently on the market, and all have distinct features and options that help them adapt to your specific needs. So, you can confidently choose the one(s) that fit your business best.

Which sales enablement metrics should you be measuring?

Now you know how sales enablement works and which tools can help you accomplish your goals.

But before you start a sales enablement strategy, you need to be prepared to measure the right metrics. That way, you can justify your investment to the powers-to-be, and find ways to tweak your sales enablement strategy and make it even more effective.

Here are some metrics you should be measuring:

  • Sales cycle length: How long does it take to get from one end of the funnel to the other? With better content management and training for your team, has the sales cycle length gotten shorter?
  • Time spent actively selling: Since improved productivity is a key aspect of sales enablement, tracking the time reps spend selling will show you whether your strategy is actually making them more productive.
  • Content usage and engagement: How often do reps use the pre-approved content? Who are they sharing it to? How do those customers engage with the content?
  • Quota attainment: What percentage of your reps regularly hit (or miss) their quotas? With sales enablement, how is this metric improving?
  • Training content consumption: How much of the onboarding content have new hires completed? Where do your experienced sales reps stand in their performance on training materials? Which materials are being referred to more often, and which ones seem to have been forgotten?
  • Time to find content: How long does it take for your reps to find the content they need, whether it be training materials, email templates, customer-facing content, or something else? This will show you how well your sales enablement content is set up and whether or not the content management tools you’re using are working for your team.
  • Sales tool adoption: Whether it’s your CRM, sales enablement tools, calling and email tools, or anything else, measuring adoption will show you where your team needs more training or incentive.

To effectively track these metrics, you’ll need to first set a baseline before implementing your sales enablement strategy. This will show you where you’re starting from.

Then, as you implement new tools, create better content, and build more training materials, you’ll see how these metrics shift and improve for your team.

And hopefully, you’ll see your team acing their sales activities and crushing their quotas with the help of your sales enablement strategy.

9 sales enablement best practices: how to not waste your efforts

As we said before, sales enablement isn’t always easy. If you implement your strategy incorrectly, the best intentions could easily turn into wasted efforts.

To make sure your sales enablement strategy is as effective as possible, make sure you’re using these 9 best practices:

1. Make content an asset, not an overwhelming waterfall of information

There is a fine line between having the right content for every situation and having so much content that it’s impossible to use.

Once you’ve completed your content audit as mentioned above, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t go overboard creating new content.

Whether it’s internal content, training materials, or customer-facing content, make sure it meets these requirements:

  • Regularly used by the team
  • Clear, informative, and concise
  • Up-to-date
  • Expert-approved

If a piece of content doesn’t meet these requirements, it may need to be revised (or trashed).

2. Make your content database searchable

When your reps need a specific piece of content, they don’t have time to go running around your content database looking for it.

And while more than half of sales reps say they can’t find content to send to their prospects, a whopping 65% of content goes unused by sales.

Is it just me, or is this completely crazy?

Let’s solve this problem right now: wherever you store your sales content, make sure reps have the ability to search for what they need.

Functional content search in Seismic

That way, reps can find and use the content that’s being produced and don’t end up wasting time searching for or building content from scratch.

3. Create what you need now, and add to it later

So many sales leaders feel they need to create all the documentation their team needs right now.

Don’t get sucked into this black hole.

If you focus on creating EVERYTHING, you’ll either:

  • Get so overwhelmed that you won’t actually do it
  • Waste a ton of time creating the ‘perfect’ documentation that your team will use for a month and then forget about

Instead, focus on creating your minimum viable sales documentation. Just sit down for an hour and punch out the most important things that come to your mind. Sales scripts, email templates, sales process documentation, and the like can all be added to and revised down the road.

4. When creating internal sales content, get the whole team involved

Your sales reps have valuable insights into the content that they need and use on a day-to-day basis. You can’t reasonably create everything for them and expect them to adopt it seamlessly into their process.

Take advantage of the experience and insights of your whole team by brainstorming sales content with them. Set aside time each week to go through your sales documentation and create new content that will help the whole team.

This will not only give you stronger sales content: it’ll also motivate your reps to use the content that they themselves helped create.

Bonus tip: These regular brainstorming sessions will act as collaborative training for your team, allowing them to bounce ideas off each other and build their skills collectively.

5. Create sales processes, scripts, and templates that teach all sales reps the fundamentals

Each salesperson has their own unique style and way of selling. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

That’s why you need to suck the creativity from your sales scripts and templates.

Just hear me out.

In the end, all of this sales documentation works better as a safety net than a daredevil feat that all sales reps are expected to achieve. When you create documentation, it should include the fundamentals of a good pitch, but allow reps to add their own creative flair.

When they’re feeling inspired, your reps can jump out of the script and perform at 110%. But on the days they’re just not at their best, this documentation will still help them perform well.

6. Build teamwork between sales and marketing by sharing wins

When you’re using a sales enablement software that measures the engagement with certain pieces of content, you’ll be able to see what’s performing best. More than that, you can get insights into the pieces of content that have pushed a sale forward or had a direct impact on closing a deal.

Content analytics in Showpad

So, set up a way to consistently share these wins, whether it’s in a Slack channel or a regular meeting between the sales and marketing teams. That way, both teams will see how their mutual work is helping them reach their goals and build revenue.

7. Create content that’s aligned and relevant to each stage in the buyer journey

For your sales team to effectively appeal to prospects, the content you send them must be valuable and effective for the specific stage that they’re in.

Why is this important? According to a study by CSO Insights, only 19% of businesses dynamically align their internal processes to the buyer journey. But this group achieves a 17.9% increase in win rates and an 11.8% increase in quota attainment.

So, how is it done?

First, it’s essential to understand the buyer journey. When do your buyers enter the awareness stage? Where do they gather information? How do they go about comparing different products? When do they want to be contacted by sales?

Once you understand how the buyer journey works, you can create content that is appropriate for the stage that they’re in. Using in-depth content analysis, you can also see when certain pieces of content perform better, and use that information to better align your content to the buyer journey.

8. Have sales reps record quick videos after each win

Peer learning is a great way to maximize the training aspect of your sales enablement strategy. So, beyond just celebrating wins, why not analyze them with the team?

When your sales reps close a deal or have a breakthrough with a tough prospect, have them sit down and record a quick video. In under five minutes, have them explain the top three things they did to close the deal, whether it’s the content they shared, the strategies they tried, or the scripts they used.

Then, send these win videos to the team and open the floor for discussion. This collaborative training allows the whole sales team to work together to improve their process, and also helps them pay closer attention to the strategies and content that directly impact deals.

9. Run a call of the month contest

Another great way to implement peer learning with your sales enablement strategy is with a bit of healthy competition.

Using a tool like Close, you can record and review the best calls that your sales reps make during the month.

Then, run a contest: who had the best call of the month? This ongoing contest is a great way for reps to step up their game with calling, and also helps them learn from each other and improve their skills.

The sales team at Vorsight tried this, with their monthly incentive being a day of PTO for the winner. After a year of running this monthly contest, they said it’s the most productive on-going incentive they’ve put in place.

Is your sales enablement strategy ready for takeoff?

Sales enablement is more than putting a few scripts and templates together: it’s the combined process of:

  • Building and maintaining relevant internal and external content
  • Developing practical training materials for onboarding and on-going sales training
  • Bridging the gap between marketing and sales for better content management and on-brand messaging
  • Measuring the metrics that matter for a constantly improving process

All of this requires time and effort, but we’ve seen the good results it can bring: increased rep productivity, better sales and marketing alignment, higher sales quota attainment, improved communication with customers, and more closed deals.

With the right tools, your sales enablement strategy can be easily organized and maintained. And using the best practices we discussed above, you’ll create a strategy and documentation with your team while encouraging them to learn from each other and grow together.

Want to get a head start on your sales enablement strategy? We’ve created the ultimate Sales Enablement Toolkit to help you get started, with tons of valuable content you can swipe for your team.

Download the Sales Enablement Toolkit now and jump start your sales enablement strategy.