Sales Enablement: Expectations vs. Reality

When your best ideas don’t go to plan… How to rescue your Sales Enablement Program!

There’s lots of resources out there at the moment to help you ‘put in place your own Sales Enablement program‘ – and the results of these proposed ideas sound great. But what about when it doesn’t go to plan? What should you do then?

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the common ‘expectations’ that people hope to achieve with their sales enablement programs, and how it often actually goes in reality. Do any of these situations resonate with you?

Sales Enablement Expectation 1: You’re going to create a cross-business Sales Enablement Program Team

You’ve read the books, you’ve downloaded the whitepapers, you’ve given all your personal details away to every research body in the industry in exchange for their words of wisdom, and you’ve been told that you need to create a cross-business unit steering committee to get the best results for your sales enablement efforts. You’re going to hopefully have a couple of people, or at least yourself, dedicated to the sales enablement function (Miller Heiman report that 60% of organizations now have staff dedicated to sales enablement functions).

So why do you need a cross business unit committee to work on this?

Well, you’re going to need support from someone at board level (ideally the MD or CEO) to get them on board with your sales enablement plans. You’re going to need Sales Management to agree to give you their salespeople’s time for sales training and to ensure any enablement activities fit with their plans, and you’re going to need Marketing to help create the content that will underpin your sales enablement activities. Plus, you’ll probably need Product Management and HR to get involved with the training – and IT will need to get a look in to deploy all those snazzy new sales enablement apps and tools you’ve got planned.

The Reality…

Although everyone starts off excited to get this new Sales Enablement project going, pretty quickly everybody gets sucked back into their day to day jobs and progress is slow. Each business unit makes some half-hearted attempts to fulfil their side of the bargain by creating a presentation or a fancy looking playbook that no one wants or uses.

You’ll have quarterly update meetings scheduled in the diary, which means the day before those said meetings, each member of the steering committee frantically scrabbles around to put some useful content together – which ultimately ends up disjointed and doesn’t fit into the company’s strategic plan.

So, how do we fix this?

Sales enablement isn’t sales training – it encompasses a range of different activities and resources (sales training, content, processes and tech/tools) so it really needs someone dedicated to managing it overall, if there isn’t enough resource or budget for a Sales Enablement team. Where there isn’t budget for a dedicated Sales Enablement Manager, then someone needs at least a good portion of their compensation dedicated to driving sales enablement goals.

In a scenario where you’re relying on a cross-BU team to deliver on sales enablement goals, the best thing is to start small. Do a few good things well, rather than trying to deliver on a huge sales enablement project.

Those few foundational things could be focusing on better customer awareness training or developing sales playbooks for each product family, or reviewing and deploying better tech to the salesforce to help them do their jobs better, or to train teams on how to conduct more effective sales meetings.

Sales Enablement Expectation 2: You’re going to deploy new tech and tools to your salesforce to improve productivity and speed up the sales cycle.

You’ve had countless companies come in and present their amazing tools – across collaborative content platforms to help salespeople and customers engage on proposals and documents, fancy new CRM tools that automatically check in with your customers and call monitoring tools that use AI to assess your telesales’ training needs in real-time.

By the end of the year, you’re expecting your salesforce to look like an army of robocops, with customer data flashing up in their eyeline whenever they meet a client.

You’ve been sold an amazing story: that these tools are going to revolutionise how you sell. Lazy Josh in the Account Management team is going to be transformed into ‘Way-to-go Josh’ whose zest for selling cannot be quashed.

The Reality…

Yeah, even you knew it wasn’t going to go down like that. These tools sound great, but adoption is everything. If no one uses the tool, if your salespeople don’t truly buy into them, then they aren’t going to help at all.

Even the most basic of CRM systems do a really good job, if salespeople actually use them and input accurate and timely info into them. The problem is, salespeople get tired of putting in loads of data after a full day of work; they don’t like being monitored and can feel like the CRM system is just there for the sole aim of giving them even more hassle from their managers.

The same can be said of any of the technology that’s sprung up around the sales enablement function: it’s only as good as what gets put into it. If you have a content repository platform but it only gets filled with content that marketing think is useful and the sales reps just use their own Google Drives to store what they need, then that (expensive) shiny new tool won’t change a thing.

Instead, in a years’ time when the software renewal is up and procurement starts asking questions about who is actually using this app, then lots of those tools will get uninstalled. Or worse, just forgotten about and sent to spend their days in your company’s IT wasteland.

How to fix it

It’s easy to get sold on fancy new software products that promise the earth – after all, it feels like a quick fix to sort out lots of problems with your sales teams.

Low revenues and reps not hitting target? This new tool will fix all of that. Just install it.

High customer churn? This new tool will sort it – download the app and you’re good to go.

Except it doesn’t work like that.

Before embarking on buying any new tech, look at your sales process and decide what really are the pain points. Start from analysing the issues that really need fixing, then look for a fix, rather than getting sold on new trends and ideas in the industry. No gimmick or app is going to fix fundamental issues in your sales organisation – so start by understanding what needs to be done, and find a solution; software, consulting or organisational, that can help to fix that.

Sales Enablement Expectation 3: You’re going to create Sales Playbooks for every product and customer situation

One of the key pillars of your Sales Enablement program’s content requirement is Sales Playbooks. You’ve read about how they help sales teams and they seem like the perfect solution to your issue of sales reps not being able to position your products, or not having enough knowledge about your customers’ business challenges.

PS, if you’re looking to create professional sales playbooks for your own organization, then take a look at our comprehensive Sales Playbook Template and tools pack.

One centralised document that’s going to fix everything – but wait, you want one for each product. But then what about how to position that product into that particular industry. Pretty soon, you’ve created a Sales Playbook web of products, for different industries, based on particular customer situations (sales plays). You might only have 4 core products, but you’ve determined you’ll need 48 playbooks to cover everything.

Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but once this is done your teams are going to have everything they need at their fingertips. Need to sell your Invoicing software to a law firm who is struggling with managing teams remotely – well, we’ve got a playbook for that (or we will have, just as soon as we’ve written it).

The Reality…

You were never going to be able to get 48 playbooks created, especially with Maria from Marketing’s track record for getting anything you ask for EVER created (remember that 2 page quick flyer you wanted drafting up in an afternoon – three weeks later and it still wasn’t done?).

Even looking at the playbook titles was overwhelming, nevermind getting started on them. You started off with a lot of zest and enthusiasm and the first 3 were actually pretty good, but over time, your Subject Matter Experts and techies got sick of having to jump on interview calls, or review playbook content – every got sales playbook-fatigue (trust me, it’s a thing). The next few were lacklustre and just didn’t deliver any useful, meaningful info.

Sales reps started to ignore them, so even when you produced a super-duper playbook, they were weary of even giving it a second glance.

How to fix it

Always start small with playbooks, and do them in rounds. So, say you decide you do want sales playbooks for every product and industry, focus on rounds.

So – let’s start with a playbook positioning your company in each of the four customer industries in which you operate. Make a good job of them, get salespeople and stakeholders to buy into them.

Put these four playbooks out to your salesforce and refine them, update them, get feedback.

Then, go back the year after and create playbooks for your products, using the learning and useful bits of your industry playbooks. Your aim is to get to the point where sales reps are keen to get their hands on the playbooks as they know they’re a goldmine of useful customer and sales info.

If you find yourself already in a pickle where you’ve released a number of poor playbooks, then regroup. Focus on creating a standout playbook in an area where you can give it to reps and get some feedback and results – to take those good results to the rest of the salesforce as a business case. Create an internal case study to show how your playbook has delivered amazing results for salespeople.

I would also recommend drastically cutting down your sales playbook plans to focus on a handful of areas and instead creating battlecards for each of your products if you want dedicated content for each product or customer type.

So, what have we learnt?

Sales enablement can be as big or as small in focus as you want it to be. The issue is often that people run into projects that are way too big to actually action, sometimes spurred on by consultants who are keen to tell you that you need an all-singing, all-dancing sales enablement programme, but don’t stick around to do the hard work.

Unless you have a big sales enablement team, you can’t deliver on every single area of sales enablement – but you can make a big impact focusing on certain areas that are affecting your business the most. Being targeted and focused in your approach will help you avoid getting burnout from trying to deliver on an overwhelming project and also give you some results to help you get buy in for future sales enablement projects.

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