Where Does Sales Force Enablement Belong? Update 2017

Enablement, sales force enablement as we call it, is a growing discipline. Only 19.3% claimed to have an enablement function back in 2013, but 32.7% reported having a dedicated enablement team in 2016. That’s an impressive growth of 13.4 percentage points or 69%.

Now, more and more players are joining the movement. I just asked LinkedIn and got more than 250,000 results for the search term “sales enablement” in people’s tag lines. People involved in sales enablement have very different roles in terms of scope and level, and they are paid differently. The enablement teams have different sizes and different reporting structures, and these are our topics for today. We will look into the role, level and payment structure in a follow-up blog post.

Sales force enablement often begins as a project or a program, before a function gets established. As we have seen in the data over the last two years, it depends on an organization’s context, culture, and enablement maturity, where sales force enablement, as a program or function, reports into.

In our first CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study back in 2015, we had to debunk a myth, based on the answers we got. In the past, the question was often asked like this: “Is sales enablement in marketing or sales?” We had to restate the question as: “Where in sales is sales enablement?” Now, what does the data say in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study?

The data shows a stable trend: Sales force enablement belongs in sales

Reporting structureMore than three quarters (87.7%) of all organizations we surveyed placed the enablement function within the sales organization (77.8% in 2015). Only 7.6 % indicated their enablement function reports into marketing (7.1% in 2015).

Another 10.7 % said enablement reports into various functions such as product/portfolio management, human resources and others (15.1% in 2015), and 3.2% report into Training or L&D.

Now, the question is the same as last year: Where in sales should enablement be located?

More than half of the participants in our study said their sales enablement function reports to executive sales management (60.8%). The next most common placement was within sales operations (20.9%). In 2015, the results were 52.5% executive sales management, and 25.3% in sales operations. The data shows that the trend to have enablement within the sales organization is stable.

The organization’s size matters

The bigger the organization, the more important sales operations becomes as a home for sales enablement. Organizations with annual revenues > $250M reflect the trend of having their enablement program or function within the sales organization (79.7%). But within sales, sales operations seems more often to be the home for enablement (31.8%) compared to the data across all organization sizes (20.9%).

In smaller organizations (< $50M) we also find the enablement-reporting-into-sales trend with 88.6%. But here, enablement reports most of the time into executive sales management (79.75%). Sales operations doesn’t play an important role with 8.8% because it either doesn’t exist or is only focused on basic sales operations tasks.

Marketing is most relevant as enablement’s home in medium-sized organizations. Organizations with revenues between $10M and $50M as well as between $51M and $250M are more likely to provide enablement a home within marketing (12.7%) compared to all respondents (7.6%).

What does the data mean for sales enablement leaders?

The more enablement matures and the more the discipline has to integrate content, training, and often also coaching services, the more likely we will find enablement in the sales organization as mentioned above. If sales force enablement also takes on the enablement of sales managers, it’s even more likely to find it in the sales organization.

For organizations considering switching their enablement practice from a program to a function, or evolving their enablement practice from a domain focus to a more integrated approach, these data points may help you to make the right next decisions – always specific to the needs of each particular organization.

Your context, your culture, your specific selling challenges, and your enablement vision and scope should determine the best organizational home for your enablement initiative or function. And this organizational home can change over time, and that’s perfectly fine. Because context matters.

Questions for you:

  • If sales enablement is a function in your organization, where does it belong?
  • If sales enablement is a program, how it is set up and which role is the executive sponsor?
  • As enablement evolved in your organization, did you change its organizational set-up?


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