Sales Enablement: More Than Just Another Word for Sales Training!

Last week, I shared some impressions MBA students have about sales enablement. In the next couple of weeks, I will dive a bit deeper into some of the aspects the MBA students shared with me regarding their perception of sales enablement. Today, let’s begin with this one from last week’s post:

At CSO Insights, we have always focused on a holistic and strategic approach for sales enablement to be most effective. And that includes training, content and coaching services for both salespeople and their managers, along the entire customer’s journey.

“Sales enablement is perceived as another word for all kinds of sales training.”

Let’s discuss the context of this statement. It matches the data from both the 2015 and the 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Studies. Sales training was by far the most important sales enablement service as illustrated in this chart.


Defining the “what” and “why” of sales training 

Like “sales enablement,” we also need to define “sales training.” In our frame of reference at CSO Insights, the term “sales training” covers all kinds of selling skills, sales methodologies, sales processes, sales technology, and the whole range of product training services. That covers the “what.”

Now, let’s look at the “why.” The primary purpose of sales training is to initiate a certain behavioral change (which should be ideally reinforced by the sales managers’ coaching practice). Behavioral change can be, for instance, applying a new sales process, using a new tool, applying a certain sales methodology, a new value messaging appoach, or different selling skills, etc.

No training without content

However, behavioral change never comes alone. Behavioral change always requires foundational knowledge so that people can learn and understand what it is they should apply. And knowledge transfer is based on content. This is why I am always hammering home that there is no training without content. That’s why learning content or training content (whatever you want to call it) is the essential prerequisite for any kind of sales training.

How is sales training provided?

According to the MBA students, sales training (and that’s what they perceived as sales enablement) comes in various electronic formats. “E-learning” and “webinar” were the terms that were dominant in the discussion. A few also mentioned “onsite events.” Apparently, in a few organizations, this training modality was almost stopped and is now coming back because those events were perceived as more valuable to initiate bigger programs that could then be continued or refreshed in various electronic formats. Networking (especially in international teams) and sharing were mentioned as the reasons for a changed approach.

As with a lot of sales enablement approaches and modalities, the best way for one organization is not the best way for another. Organizational culture, available resources, current skills levels, sales enablement maturity, as well as other contextual factors like geographical presence play a big role in determining training formats.

Sales enablement: from content to training to a hopefully holistic and integrated approach?

Now, let’s change perspectives and look at how sales enablement was perceived a couple of years ago. At this time, sales training was still called sales training, and the term sales enablement was very focused on sales content and how to share and provide it in a way that allowed salespeople to easily find what they needed using their preferred methods of content access. And that was the beginning of so-called “sales enablement content management” (SECM) solutions that became more mature every year. The market evolved from a few point solutions almost ten years ago to a fragmented market with an exploding number of SECM solutions: small ones, big ones, mobile solutions, enterprise solutions, solutions that are more focused on the sales engagement part, and others that are more focused on the readiness aspect. Many more facets can be observed. The trend nowadays is toward SECM solutions integrated into CRM systems to provide a one-stop shopping solution for salespeople.

I have always had a hard time convincing people, even in my previous role as VP global sales ops in a large tech company, that sales enablement has to cover content AND training aspects (and coaching), and that the connecting element is content in different forms and shapes, and yes, value messaging. Content has three facets: learning/training content, client-facing content (which is not the same as just “marketing content” because proposal templates or contract attachments may come from legal or operations), and internal enablement content (playbooks, messaging guidelines, briefs, configuration tools, etc.).

Understanding this broad range of the term “content” shows why it is so essential to be consistent with ALL enablement services. Training content has to be consistent with your value messaging guidelines and the client-facing content if you want your salespeople to use it. If this is not the case, you run into one of the biggest traps out there… and that is inconsistency in enablement.

Hopefully, the future will guide the market into an era of a strategic, holistic, and integrated sales force enablement approach that covers all aspects of training, content, and coaching services for both, salespeople and their managers.

Related questions:

  • What is the scope of your sales enablement initiative, function or program?
  • If you are focused on the training domain, how do you ensure consistency with the sales content?
  • If you are focused on the content domain, how do you ensure consistency with the (product) training services?
  • What criteria do you apply to decide on the right training format?


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