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The new sales enablement: From back-office support to growth engine

Executive summary

Digitization is rapidly transforming how sales forces at large business-to-business enterprises interact with their customers. Sales representatives are now highly mobile, equipped with immense amounts of data and insights about their customers, and willing to collaborate with them on a regular basis so that they can tailor products, services, and solutions to those customers’ needs.

At far too many companies, however, sales management personnel and frontline salespeople are not getting the support they need. Sales strategy, planning, support, and delivery organizations involved in enabling sales efforts are often highly decentralized; roles and responsibilities are unclear; data, processes, and systems are dispersed; and most resources and spending are primarily focused on keeping up with the transactional needs of the sales function.

If companies are to turn these various support functions, which we collectively call “sales enablement,” into full partners in the sales effort — capable of enabling profitable growth — the company leadership must first redefine the primary role of those that support and enable the sales force. Sales enablement is a multifaceted function that should generate the analytics and customer insights needed to develop successful sales strategies and build the capabilities needed to engage fully with customers, as well as provide the necessary transactional and operational support. Next, grounded in a clear understanding of what drives superior customer experience and the optimal go-to-market strategy, companies need to define the end-to-end capabilities, activities, and performance required to deliver that experience and carry out their chosen strategy. That in turn will help them determine how sales enablement should be configured and organized to be both effective and efficient, and where to invest money and people to build the best possible customer experience and to maximize growth.

Putting it all together will have a profound effect on the ability of companies to “move the needle” in an ever more competitive B2B environment. But the transformation involved is a highly complex endeavor, and it is critical to maintain a focus on what really matters: providing the best experience possible for the customer.

Build a bold vision and never lose sight of the customer

For many companies, building an effective sales enablement strategy and capability will likely require a major transformation, one that must take place while the sales force maintains its ongoing efforts to make sales. To succeed, companies need to develop both a long- term vision and a road map that allows them to transform while also delivering near-term wins and delivering the day-to-day business. No transformation can begin, however, until the company has clarified its vision for the sales experience it hopes to offer customers, a strategy for taking that vision to market, and an understanding of the capabilities needed to fulfill that strategy.

In doing so, companies must understand what resources are currently being used by the sales enablement function, and determine which of them can be reallocated to more strategic capabilities. Once that’s clear, they must define the end-to-end sales enablement capabilities needed and design the right organizational and operating model, and the processes, tools, and talent required.

The ongoing impact of digitization on how companies engage with their customers means that building an effective and efficient sales enablement organization is, in effect, a moving target. So it is critical to remember that any transformation effort needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to take into account the inevitability of constant change.

As with any major transformation, there will likely be considerable resistance within the organization to redefining roles, changing decision rights, and reprioritizing and reallocating investments. Senior management can overcome this resistance by articulating a clear and compelling case for change, by building ownership for the transformation across the enterprise, and by actively leading the process of making change happen.

Finally, be aware that when companies get deeply involved in solving internal issues through major transformations, it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal: the customer. This is especially tricky in areas such as sales enablement, where creating the best sales experience for the customer is critical to its role and very existence. Only by always keeping customers in mind can companies truly achieve sustainable sales growth.