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Sales Enablement Emerging As Top Priority As Reps Struggle To Sustain Dialogue With Changing Buyer

BtoB companies' inability to align sales and marketing teams around the right processes and technologies has cost them upwards of 10% or more of revenue per year, or $100 million for a billion-dollar company, according to IDC.

With BtoB buyer behavior continuing to evolve, industry research points to an emerging skills gap within sales organizations, as reps are finding it more difficult to sustain a dialogue with prospects. These trends have pushed sales enablement to a top priority for BtoB organizations are challenged to empower sales teams to deliver relevant, high-touch interactions.

“Buyers are saying they have critical timeframes that have to be met, and the sales folks they are working with are not meeting these timelines,” noted Michael Gerard, VP Sales Advisory Service, IDC. “It might be the result of sales folks dropping the ball, or a lack of skills. Don’t overlook the fact that it might be a lack of support within the organization. We have to help make those connections.”

In a digital-driven marketplace, information is readily available to prospects earlier on in the research phase, so when they are ready to initiate a dialogue with a vendor, they are ready to have a business discussion, and it’s critical that sales reps have the right information and tools to engage.  

“By the time customers connect with salespeople, they have 60% or more of the information they need to make a decision,” said Gerhard Gschwandtner, Founder and CEO of Selling Power. “The good news is that salespeople have to cover less ground depending on what their customer already knows. The bad news is that customers want to drill deeper and get more value from each purchase. That's why the need for sales enablement is growing. Salespeople need to be able to slice and dice information in real time, or risk losing the customer.”

An Organization-Wide Approach To Sales Enablement
In order for sales reps to do their job efficiently, marketing is playing a critical role in providing relevant prospect intelligence. Sales is merely a piece of the buying puzzle — marketing and sales operations must empower its sales force to make each prospect touch point count. A 2010 SiriusDecisions poll found that 26% of BtoB sales reps surveyed cited “inability to communicate value messages” as the number one inhibitor to achieving quota. Other inhibitors cited include “a knowledge gap” (24%) and “too many products to know” (21%).

SiriusDecisions advises BtoB organizations to create a sales productivity dashboard that not only provides a historical view, but also uncovers opportunities and gaps. Dashboard metrics include revenue to date; quote attainment forecast; conversion velocity by stage vs. company; revenue/pipe by product; top opportunities and targeted accounts. According to the research firm, an emerging differentiator for leading organizations is marketing’s contribution to sales productivity.

In addition to primary sales enablement considerations, such as content asset audits and sales playbooks, industry advisors suggest more BtoB organizations consider a move to account-based selling.

As you go through the sales cycle there’s a bigger problem that reps face today,” noted Jim Dickie, Managing Partner, CSO Insights. “There’s no single buyer anymore. There’s a term in sales training called the economic decision maker, the one person who can make the deal happen. That person has disappeared off the face of the earth. Now it’s ‘buy by community,’ especially in BtoB”

Dickie pointed to CSO Insights Research that found approximately four people are involved in the decision-making process. “If each committee has one person they turn to for advise, then you have eight people you need to touch during sales cycle,” he said.

Steps for Sales Enablement Improvement:

  1. Subscribe to a three-pronged approach that includes marketing, sales operations and sales to establish the sales enablement roles within each department.
  2. Leverage marketing-generated insight, including campaign management, intelligence and customer knowledge for greater prospect visibility.
  3. Measure productivity to understand reporting. Overall project management requires deep analysis and ownership to increase efficiency.
  4. Sales can’t just receive information — reps also need to provide feedback on content development, consumption and delivery to prospects and customers.


Industry analysts also stressed that sales and marketers view enablement strategies as a way to have a dialogue with prospects. “Gaining more feedback from buyers is critical to know that a seller and sales team is listening,” noted Mark Smith, CEO and Chief Research Officer, Ventana Research. “This direct alignment is critical for improving customer relationships and satisfaction, which can lead to revenue and profitability. The qualitative value is significant in improving the productivity of sales teams but reducing sales cycles by days or weeks, and decreasing the cost of sales is even more important. Of course driving increased velocity of revenue can help drive improvements that are directly seen in the sales forecast.”