Sales Enablement vs. Sales Engagement

The CSO Insights definition of sales enablement is: A strategic, collaborative discipline designed to increase predictable sales results by proving consistent, scalable enablement services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value in every customer interaction. Starting with a company’s leadership recognizing the need for a sales enablement charter, cross-functional collaboration and coordination, and ongoing investments in systems and skills to delight customers.

The definition of sales engagement is: Doing it.

Salespeople remain disengaged. CRM user adoption is poor; sales training is only sporadically practiced; and there is generally a lack of sales uptake (i.e., utilization) of tools purchased to improve their performance.

An analogy we’ve made in the past is a company investing in its employees’ fitness. The company pays for a gym membership and full monthly fees for each person. Does this enablement translate to greater fitness? Not if no one goes to the gym and actually works out. Enabled, yes. Engaged, no.

The dollars continue to be spent, and yet the company and its employees enjoy zero benefits. No savings in reduced sick time or overall healthcare costs; no weight loss, lowered blood pressure, or improved energy levels.

The analogy can be carried further. It has often been said that sales is the lifeblood of an organization. Think of analytics as blood chemistry. When a blood panel is run, tests can be run for various conditions and ailments (e.g., high cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes). And as databases are built, more innovative and forward-looking tests are being developed (e.g., pre-cancer, Alzheimer’s testing).

Similarly, as a database is built up across the sales organization, other insights and trends can be gleaned from the group statistics that would never become available for an individual user. Sure, you can see individual’s win/loss patterns and may be able to divine an area needing developmental coaching/training. But shifts in market conditions, or losses due to new competitive offerings, will not be picked up as readily, or at all, if stats across the entire organization aren’t available.

What we see here is either a vicious or virtuous cycle. Management invests in CRM, the sales team rejects the idea and user adoption remains low. Account information is incomplete, out of date or inaccurate. Collaboration suffers since there is no single – or accurate – version of the truth and management writes the investment off as just one more initiative that failed to live up to its promise. Sales are sometimes good, sometimes bad, other times terrible. Forecasting is hit-or-miss.

Technology vendors continue to present the latest innovations (CPQ, AI, geo-intelligence); management scoffs at the idea of throwing good money after bad. Sink or swim, the strong will make up for the losers.

The alternative is for sales leadership, management and reps to get on board with the CRM system. It’s not perfect, but with a steady flow of data being input and feedback-based improvements being made, it’s definitely getting better. With adoption above 85%, other investments can be made to save time and/or address primary complaints. “Pricing is too difficult; entering contact information is a waste of time; new marketing messaging isn’t working; relevant content is too hard to find.” These are addressable problems when everyone is using the system!

When salespeople and managers continue to keep separate spreadsheets for opportunities, bookings, commissions, and territory planning, everyone loses.

Beyond the current team members, each organization’s culture will attract its own kind. The non-users will attract individual contributors that resist process and transparency, and the only accountability is whether or not they make their number. Alternatively, high adoption organizations will attract salespeople who are interested in leveraging the latest insights, best practices and coaching to improve their performance. Which would you rather attract? And which do you think will better position your company over the next two to five years?

Sales enablement (SE) needs sales engagement (SE). Sales engagement feeds sales enablement. It’s not SE vs. SE. It’s SE = SE.

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