Sales enablement is suddenly very hot!

Just a few years ago, very few companies had a sales enablement leader. Almost no one had a full team. Now, most large B2B sales teams are investing heavily in sales enablement departments.

I talk to sales enablement professionals every day of the week, but I still struggle to define exactly what it is. I can’t define sales enablement because I am not a sales enablement practitioner and there is an awful lot of debate in the community of practitioners around what the role should entail. Like any nascent stage business discipline, there continues to be rapid evolution of the role.

I think that the word itself – enablement – is driving some of the confusion. The word is open to interpretation. And has it ever been interpreted differently by different people! When we google “sales enablement” we find scores of varying and complex definitions.

I debated this topic over breakfast with a founding member of the Sales Enablement Society a few weeks back. He has been an influential thought leader in this space for a long time. He opined that much of this debate could have been avoided if we had used a simpler term than enablement from the beginning. He suggested a term that gets to the heart of what everyone in this field is ultimately striving to achieve for their companies:

“Sales Productivity.”

Now, when I go back and review all those complex definitions of the function, productivity seems like the perfect word.

But even if everyone agrees that productivity is the desired goal of the sales enablement function, there are still basic structural questions lacking consensus. These outstanding questions threaten to prevent the function from achieving its full potential and revolve around things like reporting structures and the level of interaction with other functions (for example, To whom should the enablement function report? What is the “correct” level of interaction with other departments like marketing and H.R.?). The question that my company often discusses with enablement professionals is the role that data science and analytics should play.

Some sales enablement leaders see data science and analytics at the core of their roles. Others, not so much.

If sales enablement is inherently about driving sales productivity, shouldn’t the sales enablement function be tasked with a very detailed understanding of the driving forces of success and failure for their companies? Why certain opportunities win and others lose? Why some salespeople successful and others decidedly not? Why certain goals are achieved and others are missed? What value sales technologies are bringing to the company? What content is needed to drive one sale or another?

The answers to these questions are never black and white. They can only be found through a scientific examination of a confluence of several different data points: buyer attributes, the salesperson’s strengths or weaknesses, content that was used, activities, technologies that were used, stage velocity and on and on.

To drive true productivity, the first order of business should be to have a thorough understanding of a company’s drivers of sales success and failure. As sales enablement practitioners continue to debate their roles and increase their influence within their organizations, data science must become a driving force.

Jim Dries is the CEO of piLYTIX, a sales enablement technology company.