Without blinking, we’re already over a month into 2017. And, if the last few weeks are anything to go by, it’s going to be a big year for sales enablement.
What has become clear so far this year is that more and more high-performing businesses are acknowledging the direct link between sales enablement investment, sales force effectiveness and organic revenue growth.
With sales enablement processes and technologies also maturing at pace, in response to ever-changing buyer habits, it is the stated focus for many sales and marketing organisations looking to improve overall productivity and performance.
Here are three of the key drivers we believe are behind this trend.
1. New sales models are becoming more mainstream
There’s been growing recognition for some time that traditional sales models are significantly outdated, and 2017 may prove to be the tipping point – with new sales models moving more into the mainstream.
Customer buying behaviour has changed radically in recent years, and sales models have had to adapt accordingly, often bringing sales enablement processes to the forefront.
There is now an insatiable desire from buyers to move quickly, which is often tempered by the mass of information available for them to evaluate. So much so, this can often result in no decisions being made at all. Sales enablement technology helps to overcome this challenge by cutting through the clutter, ensuring the right content is made available at the right time to keep the buying process moving.
It also allows companies to more tightly align their sales process with actual buyer readiness, which in-turn can massively improve pipeline forecasting accuracy too.
Another key issue is that, for many years, sales professionals have been trained and conditioned to build relationships, to establish customer needs and to create solutions to problems they couldn’t solve themselves. The main drivers were to help companies differentiate from their competition and avoid commoditisation. But the irony is that most traditional sales models work on the same basic premise, so sales experiences aren’t ever really unique.
This ‘solution selling’ model has placed a heavy burden on customers too, who have to give up time to explain their issues and asks a great deal from salespeople who have to develop tailored propositions for every buyer. With the increased number of stakeholders involved in B2B purchase decisions, the whole process becomes drawn out and protracted.
Sales stories are fast becoming a way to engage buyers and accelerate sales cycles, by providing compelling context to break them from their status quo and move them toward a more standard proposition, which can be easily personalised. Sales enablement ensures this story can be brought to life and can be told by the whole sales team, not just a handful of star performers.
In fact, this 80/20 rule (whereby 80% of sales come from 20% of your sales people) is no longer an acceptable outcome – and smart companies are looking at sales enablement as one of the ways in which to raise the capability of their salesforce right across the board.
For many organisations, this shift is changing the nature of sales conversations – and investment in sales enablement technologies and processes has become paramount in order to stay in control.
2. The evolution of sales and marketing content
With the theme of raising overall salesforce capability, it’s also important to acknowledge the changing role of sales and marketing content.
With the continued saturation of content through online channels, generic content strategies that were working perfectly even just a couple of years ago, are slowly becoming less effective. Forward-thinking companies are therefore understandably trying to find new ways to ensure their investments in content development are having a clear and material impact on sales.
In 2017, this seems set to centre on the dual elements of personalisation and timeliness – providing access to the right, resonating content at the apposite moment, with messages highly tailored to specific buyers’ needs, at the appropriate stage of their decision-making process. This is also critical to the goal of driving consensus among decision-making teams, comprised of individuals with different concerns, objectives and priorities.
Sales enablement technology plays a key role here, aiding in the creation of interactive, engaging and personalised stories, which captivate buyers. Yet, to make the most of the technology’s capability, it’s important that the human element of the salesforce works to establish a deep understanding of the audience ahead of time.
Developing this detailed understanding of your customer, and what kind of topics and content they really respond to, is critical. A research study by Gartner suggests that by 2020, buyers will manage as much as 85% of their purchases without talking face-to-face with a sales person. While in truth such a high threshold as this is hard to imagine, it demonstrates a trend towards this new era of sales, where sales enablement solutions allow you to deliver content that does much of the talking for you.
3. Maturity of the sales enablement function
Sales enablement solutions continue to evolve at pace, with the technology maturing towards a position of greater, integrated functionality. As it does so, the sales enablement function itself steadily becomes more and more established in its own right.
As the technology develops (solutions increasingly featuring advanced usage analytics, integration of different and new media and more streamlined content activation), experienced sales leaders are learning to harness its power – and that’s seeing sales enablement move out from the shadows, no longer known as ‘just another marketing-owned capability’.
In 2017, many are expecting sales enablement to mature as a self-contained function – turning almost on its head from an area largely manned by inexperienced sales people learning their trade, to a critical business function led by the most experienced, high-performing sales professionals.
Sales enablement may not yet be an entirely mature, standalone function yet – plenty of professionals would still currently provide a different definition of its exact role and responsibilities. But in 2017, it seems certain to grow in importance and solidify in status, with emerging talent and evolving technology the key to its rapid rise.
Early indications are that 2017 seems sure to mark another significant year of progress for sales enablement, with big businesses upping their investment in technology and processes to respond to ever-changing customer buying habits.
However, the technology is only part of the solution, with sales models, content strategies and the skills, knowledge and discipline of sales enablement professionals also evolving at speed.