Sales Enablement’s New Mandate: Driving Seller Behavior Change

Published: January 2, 2024

The B2B sales world is moving forward at breakneck speed, and sellers are falling behind. A recent Gartner survey found that 83% of Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) and senior sales leaders believe their sellers are struggling to adapt to customer needs and expectations.

Sales organizations rely on enablement to fill skill gaps, align with marketing efforts and drive seller productivity. Enablement works tirelessly to equip sellers to thrive, but the current approach is not working: 82% of sales leaders believe that sales enablement content or delivery must significantly change to meet revenue goals within the next 5 years.

Understanding Where Enablement Went Wrong

As enablement evolved to support more audiences and became a critical component to key growth drivers like product launches, process changes and market expansions, three shortcomings are limiting its true potential as a transformative force in the sales function.

1. Reactive Approach

Nearly 60% of sales enablement functions are operating without a formalized charter or an annual planning process. Operating without a plan or guiding principles means enablement is constantly delivering initiatives in a reactive and tactical firefighting role, focusing on the most urgent short-term projects rather than pertinent, and oftentimes more impactful, medium- and long-term projects. Enablement’s services are requested after the sales strategy has been determined, rather than being a part of the team shaping the strategy.

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2. Over-Reliance On Training

In most sales organizations, enablement is analogous to training. This traditional training (e.g., live or virtual classroom sessions, E-learning and peer-to-peer learning) is meant to develop skills and competencies. While important, it’s only part of the picture. Training gives sellers the knowledge they need to develop but not necessarily the skills needed for execution.

3. Irrelevant Success Metrics

Enablement often focuses on two types of measures that are both inadequate: Easy-to-capture vanity metrics that reflect enablement activity rather than actual impact and lagging indicators that lack a direct connection to enablement activity.

The New Way Forward: Focus On Behavior

Today’s enablement functions need to be built around what seller behaviors need to change, how to change those behaviors and how the impact of those behaviors is measured.

What To Change: Align Goals By Shifting From Tactical To Strategic Thinking

Today’s enablement leaders need to take a more strategic approach to enablement by proactively identifying the behaviors that need changing rather than reactively responding to training and skill development requests. Enablement functions must have a charter that defines their mission and guides their operation, as well as an annual plan.

When aligned to a sales organization’s priorities, enablement leaders can prioritize initiatives and maximize the impact of the function. Given enablement’s critical role in changing seller behaviors, enablement leaders should be a part of the sales strategy decision process to help sales leaders envision the behaviors that need to change for the sales team to achieve its goals. Ultimately, teams should work together to align enablement initiatives to sales goals to drive those behaviors.

How To Change: Catalyze Behavior Through Triggers

With the targeted behaviors aligned to sales strategy, enablement can focus on executing behavior change initiatives. Changing seller behavior comes down to three elements: Motivation, ability and trigger. Most sales organizations are very effective at delivering on motivation and ability, but almost all overlook that crucial third component.

Gartner research found that two effective triggers are behavioral nudges and just in-time learning. Behavioral nudges are interventions that alter behavior in a predictable way without forbidding options or significantly changing economic incentives, while just-in-time learning provides sellers with the exact information needed to execute an action when they need it.

According to a Gartner survey of sales leaders, both approaches can have a massive impact on commercial success. Organizations taking advantage of nudges are about twice as likely to exceed new customer acquisition targets and revenue growth targets, while organizations that use just-in-time learning are more than twice as likely to exceed seller revenue targets and seller retention targets.

How To Measure Change: Measure Behavior Accurately To Show Impact

Once sales enablement’s initiatives are aligned to the goals of the sales function, a more precise measurement approach is needed to show progress on the sales team’s goals by measuring seller behaviors.

Enablement functions often focus on skills and competencies, which are indeed vital, but they need to be connected to specific behaviors to identify impact. When done well, enablement’s behavioral metrics are the leading indicators of the sales function’s success as they are tracking the behaviors leadership identified as critical to achieving the sales team’s goals.

In addition, these behavior measurements, when paired with sales enablement’s own metrics, provide data on the actual impact of enablement. By showing the enablement efforts that drove specific behaviors tied to accomplishing sales goals we can isolate the impact and value of enablement.

Today’s evolving B2B sales environments are driving CSOs to expect more from their enablement programs. Sales enablement leaders must adopt a new mandate that focuses on strategic alignment, behavior change and robust measurement.

Michael Katz serves as a Research Director for Gartner’s Sales Research Practice, while Shayne Jackson is a Sr. Director, Analyst, Gartner for Sales Leaders.

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