Where Do Sales Enablement Professionals Come From?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been involved in many conversations regarding the professional background of people who are now in a sales enablement role. Many people have opinions, but few have data. “They are mostly from sales training,” “They come from L&D,” “Aren’t they just low performing sales managers?” “As far as I can see, many are sales ops people who never carried a bag.”

Really? I work with a lot of enablement leaders. And the majority of them have had sales roles, sales management roles, and sales excellence roles. And if I look at my background, I had roles in sales, consulting, and business development. I led an industry-specific team that was focused on business development in the utility industry before I got into sales enablement, before I became an analyst.

However, experiences are not data. So, we decided to look into the matter and analyze what’s actually happening in reality and bring some data to the discussion and the many perceptions. As an element of our 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, we also analyzed all LinkedIn profiles of professionals that had a current sales enablement role and a description of their current role and responsibility. Let’s debunk two myths and then discuss two facts.

Myth #1: “Sales enablement professionals have never carried a bag. Or they only have a training and L&D background.”

This is simply not true. In fact, most sales enablement professionals have a sales management background (44.8%), followed by sales (27.9%) and marketing roles (25.9%) and sales effectiveness roles (23.4%). Then we have sales training and sales process roles 17.4%, sales operation roles (15.4%), and finally L&D (11.9%) and HR roles (4.5%).

Aggregating the first two roles leads to the fact that more than 70% of today’s sales enablement professionals know what it means to be in sales, because they had quota carrying sales roles in their previous lives.

Myth #2: “Sales enablement is a women’s domain”

Yes, there are many women in enablement roles, but they don’t represent the majority. The majority – 53.5% – of sales enablement professionals are men, and 46.5% are women. The fact that 44.8% of sales enablement professionals have a sales management background could explain why the majority of enablement roles are in men’s hands. However, the 46.5% of women in enablement roles is encouraging, as the number of female sales managers and leaders is much smaller.

Truth #1: Enablement roles are not yet on an executive level

Yes, this is true. The majority (74.1%) of the enablement titles are manager (36.8%) or director titles (37.3%). Another 14.4% are practitioner roles. There are just 9.0% of enablement professionals who have a VP title. And that says a lot about the current maturity of enablement as a discipline whose purpose is to create a significant impact on sales results. As the titles suggest, many enablement teams are hampered because priorities are set in a project manner or in an informal way, simply to get things done instead of following a formal, more strategic approach that targets the selling challenges at its core.

Truth #2: Many people are new in enablement roles

Due to the fast growth of sales enablement (remember the 19.3% in 2013, and the 59.2% in 2016), many new people got into enablement roles and responsibilities in a short amount of time. More than 60% of sales enablement professionals have been in their current roles for less than three years (and of those, more than one-third less than two years).

The fast growth of sales enablement should be followed by a period of consolidation where organizations and their leaders can catch up, digest their lessons learned, educate themselves, assess their current level of enablement maturity, and formalize their enablement strategies and visions. As we see year after year in our data, organizations with a formal, charter-based enablement approach achieve significantly better results than others.

Questions for you:

  • What is your professional background if you are now in a sales enablement role?
  • If you are hiring sales enablement professionals, what’s the background you are looking for, and why?
  • Would this data change your approach and why?

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