How Do You Approach Collaboration in Sales Enablement?

For sales enablement to have a strategic and orchestrating role, cross-functional collaboration is highly important, as it provides effective, consistent enablement services produced in an efficient and scalable manner. However, the role of collaboration in sales enablement is often overlooked and underestimated.

The majority of enablement teams (61.2%) collaborates in an ad hoc or informal way. (click to tweet)

What does that mean in practical terms? Collaborating in an ad hoc or informal way means that there is either no collaboration approach at all or there is only a general high-level understanding of collaboration (i.e., this is what we should be doing). On the level of collaboration areas and actual enablement service types, such as a white paper or a playbook or an e-learning selling skill service, neither has clarity on who is responsible for what. In other words, there’s no collaboration model that puts all involved teams on the same page based on a shared vision of success.

The data point mentioned above is from our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study. I can tell you right now that there is no improvement in this year’s data. If you read my previous blogs about collaboration in sales enablement, then you know that the problem has existed for a long time.

The lack of effective collaboration in sales enablement is not new, but it’s still unsolved, overlooked and underestimated. (click to tweet)

Before we look at the challenges and what needs to be done instead, let’s explore the term “collaboration” in the context of sales enablement. In general, collaboration is “only” required if we cannot achieve our goals alone; that’s when we collaborate with those who can help us achieve our goals, ideally in an even shorter amount of time.

Can sales enablement achieve its goals alone? Absolutely not. The orchestrating role of a strategic sales enablement approach puts the need for successful cross-functional collaboration at the list of top priorities. (click to tweet)

Why, then, is this almost never the case?

Let’s make an example and look at the content salespeople need along the entire customer’s path. These different content types in various formats come from different functions, and marketing only contributes one-third. The rest comes from product management, sales enablement, sales operations, legal and, yes, salespeople still create one-fifth of the content they need on their own. If this example doesn’t make the case for a formal collaboration model, no other will.

Collaboration is often used as a soft attribute, but not as mission critical. For sales enablement, successful collaboration is mission critical and requires collaboration models with at least marketing, product management, sales operations, sales management, L&D and IT. (click to tweet)

Some collaboration models are focused on providing sales enablement services such as content, training or coaching services. Others are different, such as the collaboration with sales operations or sales management. Today let’s looks at those that are focused on sales enablement services.

How do you move from an ad hoc approach to a formal collaboration model? (click to tweet)

The sequence of these steps depends on your current state; feel free to move things around.

#1: Put the need to implement a collaboration model in your charter. (click to tweet)
In your sales enablement charter or business plan, you also should include the internal steps you need to implement to be able to serve your sales enablement target audiences effectively and consistently. A formal collaboration model should be included, ideally together with a production model that defines all of the steps from definition, design, creation and production to delivery and tracking. When this is documented in your charter, your senior executives are aware of it, they have approved it, and resources are allocated. Enablement teams with a formal charter-based approach to sales enablement have a much higher percentage of formalized collaboration models (53.7%, compared to 34.9% of all respondents; also see 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study).

#2: Show the productivity impact of formalized collaboration models. (click to tweet)
This needs to be done in case your senior executive stakeholders don’t see the need to formalize cross-functional collaboration, or if there is the perception that a tool alone would help solve the problem (no, it would not, unless you have absolute clarity on how your collaboration model has to work). We see year after year that overall quota attainment rates improve (by 9.5% in 2018) when enablement teams implement a formal collaboration model. Formal collaboration creates a foundation for better sales productivity.

#3: Develop a shared vision of success across all involved teams. (click to tweet)
This is absolutely crucial, yet one of the hardest things to achieve, as it requires a mindset shift. From functional-oriented “we all help sales” attitudes to integrated and orchestrated “we together help sales in a consistent and effective way” is a long road. People have to understand that nothing is taken away from them, but that all things enablement services have to be designed along the customer’s path and tailored to tackle the challenges of the sales force. This step usually takes a couple of workshops to open their eyes to how the current state creates confusion for salespeople and how this can be changed with orchestration and formalized collaboration.

#4: Identify collaboration barriers, and address them with the advisory board. (click to tweet)
Collaboration barriers often cannot be overcome by sales enablement alone. If barriers such as conflicting goals, budget restrictions or even cultural issues such as heavy silo thinking come up, your leadership team has to be addressed to remove them. The first two barriers are far easier to overcome, as the leadership team simply has to make decisions. Cultural collaboration barriers actually require your leadership team to revisit its own collaboration approach, as how they collaborate gets mirrored across the organization.

If you haven’t already, take a look at our new book, Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. Chapter 9 contains lots of “how-to” information to address the collaboration challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • How do you as sales enablement leader approach collaboration with all of the other involved functions?
  • If not formalized yet, what are the reasons for an ad hoc or informal approach to sales enablement?
  • Is your (sales) leadership team aware of the collaboration barriers it should remove?

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