By Thomas Barrieau
Director, Sales Enablement Practice
When IDC defined “sales enablement,” we phrased it as such…
Putting the right information into the hands of the right sales professional at the right time and in the right place and format to move a sales opportunity forward.
Very importantly, however, we set it within a larger context known as the IDC Sales Productivity Framework. Our goal was to provide an accounting for all the processes and activities that contributed to a sales organization’s overall productivity. Stated differently, what were the levers one needed to control in order to create and manage a high performance selling organization?
Our answer was the following framework…
As you can see, sales enablement was but one of what we considered several components that contribute to sales productivity. An important part of this framework was its multi-layered structure. For example, one layer spoke to the core processes that make up each component of the framework…
Another addressed what departments are involved in the different components…
It’s noteworthy that “Training” was considered a distinct entity; this framework was developed in 2008, prior to the integration of sales training that we are used to today. Also noteworthy is that sales methodology was called out as a core component of sales productivity. We felt that having a single, consistent selling methodology was vital for linking high-level selling strategy to actual salesperson behavior. It is with this context in mind that I have asserted elsewhere that sales methodology training is distinct from sales enablement.
My point here is not that sales methodology should necessarily be excluded from the domain of sales enablement[*]; it’s that defining sales enablement requires a recognition of the context within which that definition is being developed. We wrote the IDC definition from within a broader framework that attempted to address the larger issue of sales productivity. Not recognizing the role of context runs the risk of having our definition of sales enablement overlap with other domains and muddying the water or setting off a turf war—the last thing we need.
Much of the hard work of enabling a sales organization is liaison work: helping Marketing to map their content delivery to the seller’s journey as much as the buyer’s journey; making sure Sales Operations is building the right sales enablement content management platform to facilitate that delivery, getting Sales Management to incorporate the content into their coaching, etc. Each of these departments feels they own some part of the sales productivity puzzle. Sales enablement professionals will not be serving the needs of sales by spending their time getting into turf wars with other departments about who owns what.
That said, we can’t expect to have a well-implemented sales enablement strategy without knowing what needs to be orchestrated to implement that strategy. For this reason, I think we need to move beyond the single paragraph definitions for sales enablement that we have been using thus far. I think we need to come up with a taxonomy for sales enablement.
A Taxonomic Approach to Defining Sales Enablement
While there is great utility in looking at prior definitions of sales enablement to craft a new one that meets the needs of the growing community of sales enablement professionals, there is also a great limitation. Each of these is no more than a paragraph; a few sentences at best. Undoubtedly, all of the authors were seeking brevity—a mission statement, if you will. To really set forth a vision for what sales enablement can be, I think we now require more.
To fully embrace all of the many people, processes, and technologies that make up the current sales enablement landscape, a taxonomic approach is necessary. The framework that results from this approach should fully encompass a broad conception of sales enablement as a function so that sales enablement professionals can understand the scope of what they need to orchestrate, independent of organizational boundaries.
Here is what a taxonomy of sales enablement might look like:
A taxonomy like this provides the flexibility needed by organizations of different size and maturity to tackle whatever they feel is within their reach, as constrained by current resources. Small companies may choose to outsource some functions (e.g., sales methodology training). Medium sized companies may leave part of the framework (e.g., technology support) to other departments. Large enterprises may seek to bring as much of the framework under unified management as possible, to achieve higher levels of efficiency and responsiveness.
This is obviously just a top-level framework and only a beginning, but even this could have far more value than a paragraph-style definition for a mid-sized sales enablement organization working to map out their strategy…
Just as the IDC Sales Productivity Framework helped us narrow and clarify the scope of sales enablement within that taxonomy, so too would a taxonomy of sales enablement clearly articulate the people, processes, and technology needed to build a flexible and scalable sales enablement strategy for any company. This is definitely a case where one size does not fit all.
So, where does this leave our paragraph-long definitions? Right where they started: as the concise mission statements that a focused, high-performance organization needs. The taxonomy can provide an all-encompassing framework for understanding the function, that can be used by sales enablement departments to plan their strategy at any given point in time, while a concise definition can speak to the mindset that should motivate our work.