Sales Insight: Understanding the Sales Enablement Paradox

Look in most organizations and you’ll find someone responsible for sales training, sales materials, systems that support the sales organization, and sales team support.  That person usually sits in Marketing or Sales and it may be their full-time job or they squeeze it in between other responsibilities.  How well companies define and manage sales enablement can determine how predictable their revenue is.

Demand Metric launched a study to understand how sales enablement is defined as well as measure its impact on business.  Organizations with a formal sales enablement function said its charter was to “develop strategy to help improve the sales process.” Yet, 54% of study participants described the role’s responsibilities in operational terms:

  • On-board new sales staff
  • Provide product training
  • Identify cross-selling opportunities
  • Assess effectiveness of sales processes
  • Create sales materials
  • Develop strategies to improve the sales process

With a mismatch between the definition and responsibilities of sales enablement, it begs the question, just how effective is it?   

The study noted above found that 75% of the participants rated their sales enablement function as having a moderate to significant contribution.  That’s pretty good but the metrics used were general: Achieve sales goals, other financial goals, and/or productivity measures, such as number of sales tools created.  These metrics don’t really measure effectiveness and only make the business case for this role that much harder.

It’s no wonder that sales enablement gets such a bad rap. 

There is a direct correlation between sales enablement effectiveness and how well (or poorly) the function’s role is understood by the rest of the organization.  A whopping 74% of respondents who rated their sales enablement as underperforming also said the function was “poorly or very poorly understood” by the organization. Interestingly, the respondents who rated the function as performing also said the function was well understood by the organization. The impact that sales enablement can have on an organization depend on how it is “managed, staffed, funded, measured and promoted.”  

“It’s a basic management principle that for any function within an organization to succeed, it needs clarity about what it does and who it serves,” says Jerry Rackley, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development at Demand Metric. “For sales enablement, a critical success factor is simply understanding.  From my experience, the core problem is that the sales enablement team hasn’t been empowered, doesn’t have many resources or has no vision about what it’s supposed to be doing, so there is a reluctance to communicate as that just compounds the problem.” 

It takes time for sales enablement to mature to the point where it will positively impact the business.  

A sales enablement team of one or two people with an adequately funded budget need about two years before they demonstrably impact the business and will hit their stride in terms of strategic contribution by year five.

Maybe that’s why there is so much confusion around this function – organizations are too impatient.  Well, it’s worth the wait. The study found that organizations that consistently achieve or exceed their sales goals have a vibrant sales enablement function making “strategic contributions, focused on things such as providing training, coaching and flattening internal barriers to success.”

Some of the best practices identified by the study are:

  • Communicate what your sales enablement function does, how it works and how to engage with it.
  • Develop a clear charter for sales enablement that balances strategic with operationally oriented functions.
  • Measure the functions effectiveness with at least one clear, relevant financial metric.

To learn more about this study, check out the YouTube video.


_3B_9879-1With more than 25 years of marketing and leadership experience, Christine Crandell, President at New Business Strategies, is a recognized thought leader, practitioner, speaker and author on corporate strategy and B2B customer experience.  Christine’s Forbes and CMSWire blogs helps CEOs, CROs and CMOs drive faster revenue growth through innovative business strategy, practices and models.

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