How to Get Past the Sales Enablement Plateau and Climb the Next Mountain

Analyzing the data from our Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Study, we couldn’t help but conclude that sales enablement has reached a plateau. I hear you: “I can’t believe it! So many people are new to the role… really?” Yes, let me map it out for you. And of course a small group is already climbing to the summit of the next mountain.

Sales enablement is at a plateau regarding three dimensions: growth, effectiveness and maturity.

While growth is more obvious, the other two dimensions – effectiveness and maturity – require a more in-depth analysis. First, let’s look at growth.

Since sales enablement’s big breakout in 2017, when the percentage of organizations with sales enablement jumped from 32.7% in 2016 to 59.2%, it has become a stable discipline in many sales organizations. This overall percentage hasn’t changed a lot since 2017; it was 61.0% in 2018, and it’s 61.3% in 2019. Imagine these values since 2017 in a row, and you already have one aspect of the plateau.

Sales enablement is more focused on larger organizations with >$250M in annual revenue, where three-quarters have sales enablement.

Sales enablement found its focus in organizations with more than $250M in annual revenue and in sales forces of more than 26-50 people. And in larger sales organizations, as in 51-100 people, three-quarters of organizations have a sales enablement discipline, function or initiative.

Second, let’s look at effectiveness. Overall, sales enablement matters. For a couple of years in a row, there has been a significant impact on sales KPIs such as win rates for forecast deals, quota attainment and even revenue plan attainment. In 2019, organizations with sales enablement achieved an average win rate for forecast deals of 49.0%, compared to only 42.5% without sales enablement. That’s an increase of 15.3%. In 2018, the increase for the same KPI was 14.5%. Stable results.

Not all sales enablement initiatives are equally successful; in fact, only 27.5% are effective.

As a next step, we looked only at organizations with sales enablement, meaning we only looked at the 61.3%. We wanted to know how well they were doing in detail. We learned that there was one key criterion that separated the wheat from the chaff.

Meeting your stakeholders’ expectations is mandatory if you want to move the performance needle with your sales enablement efforts.

We learned that a bit more than one-quarter (27.5%) met the majority or all of their stakeholders’ expectations – or even exceeded them. That was the group that was highly successful regarding all KPIs. For instance, they achieved quota attainment rates that were 14.2% better than the study’s average (60.0%).

As in 2018, the majority of organizations invests in sales enablement but does NOT move the performance needle.

As we had very similar results in earlier years, this is another symptom of the plateau effect. As last year, the majority of organizations with sales enablement (56.2%) invested in enablement but didn’t move the performance needle. This group only met some of their stakeholders’ expectations and only achieved average quota attainment and average revenue plan attainment. In other words, they invested in sales enablement with zero improvement.

And it can be even worse: Investing in sales enablement but only meeting a few stakeholder expectations is basically worse than doing nothing because those organizations ended up below average performance for most KPIs. For details, check out the report.

One reason for these missed expectations might be the increasing responsibilities senior executive stakeholders assign to sales enablement without always completely understanding the complex and interconnected nature of sales enablement as a cross-functional business discipline.

Addressing this problem is the single most important task for sales enablement leaders who are not as successful as they should be right now. And the solution to this problem is to follow the right approach to sales enablement.

Getting senior executive buy-in and developing a strategic, formal charter-based approach to sales enablement is mandatory to be effective

Why? Because the process of developing a charter (business plan) for your sales enablement initiative requires you to deeply understand the business and the sales strategy, to precisely assess the actual selling challenges, and to connect the dots to other strategic initiatives and goals. And all of these steps have one thing in common: You have to get access to and buy-in from your senior executives, and you need their approval, and you need to keep them engaged and involved.

Let me be crystal clear here: You cannot create a sales enablement charter alone at your desk and ask someone afterward for approval. That doesn’t work. Creating a sales enablement charter is an iterative and interactive process.

Only this way are you able to develop and tailor your enablement strategy to meet their expectations. Long story short: As you have the data here and in the report, use these findings and explanations in addition to your story to access your senior executives the right way. You don’t want to run a program, you want to solve their problems, so you need a bit of their time, their input and their buy-in to be able to do that.

Third, let’s look at maturity. All of the details on this are covered in the report from our Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Study.

Almost all facets of sales enablement create much better results if sales enablement is set up in a strategic and formal way, ideally with a charter. One example is content strategy. If organizations follow a formal and charter-based approach to sales enablement, it’s five times more likely that they have a content strategy in place compared to those that run sales enablement in a one-off project manner. Also here, the performance impact is huge: 27.1% win rate improvement compared to those without a content strategy.

Other examples are collaboration models and production processes as well as metrics. In all of these cases, organizations that follow a formal charter-based approach to sales enablement are much more likely to have a formal collaboration model in place, to work based on a production process and to be able to leverage the right performance metrics to determine the ROI of their investments. Please check out our Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Study for details.

Effective sales enablement leaders are constantly rethinking their approach to get better. They have access to their senior executives because they articulated clearly that they are here to help them achieve their goals. These winners are already climbing to the summit of the next mountain.

If you feel you’ve reached a plateau, follow these steps, and check out the related blog posts below to sharpen your approach to sales enablement. Then you also can climb the next mountain. See you there!


If you haven’t already, take a look at our book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of valuable information, frameworks and approaches to make you a better sales enablement leader.

Questions for you:

  • How do you run sales enablement in your organization? One-off project, informal, formal or even formal with a charter (business plan)?
  • What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to senior executives’ buy-in?
  • What are your biggest challenges when it comes to effective communication regarding your approach?


Related blog posts:


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