Sales Enablement: How to Collaborate Effectively Across Functions

Collaboration, especially cross-functional collaboration, is often given low priority because it always seems to work. Until it doesn’t. Sales enablement is a discipline that has to collaborate on a daily basis with departments such as marketing, sales operations, sales management, L&D, HR, IT, product management and third parties. But how is this collaboration set up?

More than 60% of organizations don’t set up their cross-functional collaboration efforts in a formal way. It happens on an ad hoc basis. “It works.” I hear you. It works until it doesn’t.

The ad hoc approach typically crashes when tough deadlines have to be met, when a product launch has to be sped up, when an acquisition is made, etc. In other words, the ad hoc approach falls apart when sales enablement is forced to scale its efforts.

Parallel initiatives that require the same rare resource, scalability and precision force sales enablement to organize its collaboration efforts. (click to tweet)

Before we go into detail, let’s define what cross-functional collaboration is: it’s the need to work with others to achieve an outcome that cannot be achieved without other people’s or functions’ involvement. To be very clear, collaboration is not a “nice to have”; instead, it’s based on the need to do things that cannot be done alone. Ideally, the desired outcomes also are achieved in a shorter amount of time; however, the latter requires a perfectly functioning formalized collaboration engine.

The better sales enablement formalizes its cross-functional collaboration efforts, the better the sales force’s productivity. (click to tweet)

  • Organizations with a formal approach to cross-functional collaboration set a foundation to improve their sales forces’ quota attainment rate by +5.1 points, or +9.5%. (click to tweet)
  • Organizations with a general understanding of who is doing what achieve average quota attainment rates of 53.7%. (click to tweet)
  • Organizations with a random ad hoc approach to cross-functional collaboration pay a huge price for doing nothing, with -7.5 points, or -14.0% regarding quota attainment. (click to tweet)

Why does a formalized collaboration approach even impact sales productivity?

It’s a great question that I get a lot. And there are a few aspects to the answer. First, once everyone knows what to do and when, you vastly improve the quality and predictability of your enablement services. That saves your sellers time, and their outcomes are better from the very beginning. Second, you focus on what’s needed and remove everything that’s not worth working on. As you go through long lists of enablement services with your collaboration partners, there is always a great opportunity to make decisions on what you don’t want to do moving forward. That sharpens everyone’s focus and allows more quality to go toward the remaining services.

Here are some steps to improve cross-functional collaboration:

  • Establish clarity regarding the term “cross-functional collaboration” in your context: (click to tweet)
    If people understand the concept and what should be achieved, it’s much easier to engage them to work on an initiative. Here, it’s key to establish what you mean by formalized collaboration and why it’s crucial to get better at that. Reasons are sales productivity (as outlined here), speed and scalability.
  • Define roles and responsibilities, and run a pilot: (click to tweet)
    Take the content space or focus on a training initiative first, and work with all involved functions to achieve a general understanding of responsible roles, roles to be consulted and roles to be informed. Take, for instance, a customer-facing white paper. You might come up with marketing as responsible role, sales enablement as accountable role, sales and industry as roles to be consulted, etc. Whatever your example is, make it specific, and start with a pilot.
  • Based on the pilot, develop your collaboration framework: (click to tweet)
    If you already have a list of defined content types and formats, of defined training types and formats, take the next step and work with all involved teams to define the collaboration path for each type.
  • Connect the dots to your sales enablement production process: (click to tweet)
    Such a process covers all steps—from designing and defining a sales enablement service to creation, localization, and providing, publishing and measuring results. Once the roles are clarified, it’s much easier to collaborate along such a process.

Effective sales enablement leaders know that, regarding cross-functional collaboration, it’s much better to have all their ducks in a row than to navigate chaos on a daily basis. (click to tweet)Additionally, the better and more focused the collaboration is, the more efficient and effective the sales enablement engine is—and that sets the foundation for better sales productivity. (click to tweet)

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. It contains lots of “how-to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • How do you run cross-functional collaboration in your organization?
  • How have you experienced the impact of poor collaboration?
  • What are the main barriers of collaboration challenges?

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