In the last 10 years, the term “sales enablement” has experienced explosive growth. Now there are nearly 5,000 job openings for sales enablement pros on Indeed.com, dozens of books on the topic, and 659,000 results from a Google search for “sales enablement.”
Nearly 32% of companies now have a formal sales enablement department, according to Brainshark research. Even more have initiatives related to sales enablement. It’s come a long way since the early days when Elay Cohen pioneered sales enablement to accelerate the growth of Salesforce from $300 million to over $3 billion in revenue.
Despite the explosive growth and proven results, there’s little consensus on exactly what sales enablement is. Accent’s broad definition encompasses most efforts: “Sales enablement is the act of implementing strategies, tools, and processes that continually increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales ecosystem.”
Strategies, tools, and processes may include sales training and coaching, marketing assets, productivity metrics and systems, technology, artificial intelligence (AI), hiring and onboarding support, and more. In short, anything at all that enables sellers to sell more, better, and faster could be lumped in.
Despite all that, there’s still something missing from most sales enablement strategies.
Finding the missing ingredient for sales enablement
With all of the sales enablement efforts happening, there’s still a missing ingredient for success. The proof is both quantitative and qualitative. Quota attainment dropped to 53% in 2017, the fifth consecutive annual decline, according to CSO Insights. Many sellers still have a persistent, nagging feeling that there’s something unsavory about being in sales. In turn this creates a real barrier between buyers and sellers because buyers, after all, can’t respond favorably to sellers who don’t feel proud of and satisfied by their own profession.
What’s missing in most sales enablement is sales ennoblement.
To ennoble means to dignify, to make someone feel important and worthy. Sales ennoblement includes recognizing sellers’ struggles, encouraging them, equipping them to rise to their challenges, and inspiring them with more than a quota. Ennoblement is what creates engagement and commitment. It gives sellers a sense of meaning and purpose in the work they do and a sense of belonging in their organization.
Ennobled sellers take pride in themselves, the products they represent, and their companies. They have confidence and swagger that’s genuine, not manufactured for the moment. They apply additional discretionary effort to the work they do, and they are less likely to give up when the going gets tough. Ennoblement takes enablement to the next level because, without it, even the best strategies, tools, and processes are compromised by lackluster application.
Creating a culture of sales ennoblement
To foster sales ennoblement, sales managers must first acknowledge the importance of an emotional connection with each seller. That’s because, as CEB concludes, “when employees feel an emotional connection to their workplace, they apply additional discretionary effort to their work.” Further, “emotional commitment is four times as valuable as rational commitment in producing discretionary effort.”
Research from Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces reveals the specific leadership behaviors that create emotional connection. When sales managers choose these ennobling behaviors, results include higher levels of customer loyalty, increases in top line revenue, and improved profit margins.
The early sales enablement efforts of Cohen and others at Salesforce almost certainly included sales ennoblement. They didn’t call it ennoblement, and it may not have been intentional to behave in ways that created emotional connections. The evidence of ennoblement, though, is clear in Cohen’s “success” mantra and in the book he wrote about the results of his focus on enablement. He includes content on inspiring and engaging sellers. He writes about strategies where sellers were teaching each other, and had a high degree of ownership and buy-in throughout the changes being introduced. That’s ennoblement. Clearly, he’s describing a team that felt worthy, important, and dignified.
In the race for sales enablement and the current emphasis on strategies, tools, and processes, let’s hope the people part of the equation is not overlooked or shortchanged. Unless sellers are engaged by leaders who ennoble them, all those sales enablement efforts and expenses will be tragically wasted.
Where to learn more about sales ennoblement
For those who want to round out their enablement with ennoblement, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model provides the road map. These are the leadership behaviors that are proven to significantly boost engagement — the emotional connection that yields additional discretionary effort. This evidence-based framework of leadership, developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, teaches sales managers how to ennoble sellers by Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Challenging the Process, Enabling Others to Act, and Encouraging the Heart.
One additional way to ennoble sellers is to liberate leadership behaviors in them, too. As reported in Stop Selling & Start Leading, when sellers adopt The Five Practices in interactions with their buyers, they feel proud of the work they’re doing and are more effective. In a panel study with 530 B2B buyers, the findings were unequivocal — buyers strongly prefer sellers who more frequently demonstrate leadership behaviors. They are significantly more likely to meet with and significantly more likely to buy from sellers who lead.
This research, along with more than 500 stories from sellers, demonstrates the powerful pull of leadership. When sellers lead, buyers buy. When sales managers lead, sellers sell. It all stems from engagement, an emotional commitment that comes from ennoblement, the missing ingredient in most sales enablement efforts.
“Unless sellers are engaged by leaders who ennoble them, all those sales enablement efforts and expenses will be tragically wasted.”