Successful Sales Enablement

Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution

By Wendy Mack

As a sales executive, you are focused on increasing revenue, growing market share, and maximizing customer lifetime value. However, if you are like many sales executives we work with, you may be seeing your salespeople getting mired in information generated by the very teams who are inventing, making, and marketing your company’s product and services. Well-intentioned efforts to help equip your salespeople with knowledge, information, and resources may actually be wasting precious selling time as your sales force struggles to make sense of it all.

Are your support functions getting in the way of sales? To assess whether this is an issue for your company, consider if any of the following are true for you:

  1. Are various internal functions competing for your salespeople’s time?
  2. Are your salespeople receiving conflicting messages from different sources?
  3. Is time being wasted in training that isn’t relevant to the learner?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are not alone. In working with sales organizations around the globe, Wilson Learning has found that everyone wants “a piece” of the sales force. Internal functions such as Marketing, Training and Development, R&D, and Sales Operations all have information they want to get out to sales. When these functions aren’t working together, the result tends to be costly chaos.

A Better Way—Sales Enablement

In the past few years, more and more companies have sought to address the information overload problem by establishing sales enablement programs or functions.

The emphasis on sales enablement grew out of what Harvard Business Review calls “the notoriously fraught relationship between sales and marketing.” As companies sought solutions for aligning sales and marketing to drive better revenue results, people started to talk about how marketing and other functions could and should enable sales.

Recently Forrester Research defined sales enablement as “a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.”

Put more simply, sales enablement is:
An approach that bridges the gap between the sales strategy and execution and provides the salesforce with all of the information and resources they need to generate revenue.

An effective sales enablement function allows you to be deliberate and strategic in managing how information is transmitted and accessed. When well planned and executed, sales enablement can:

  •  Speed time to productivity for new hires
  • Minimize disruption of both sales and sales support functions
  • Accelerate sales force integration following a merger or acquisition
  •  Reduce time out of field
  • Ensure consistent messages to the market regardless of channel
  • Positively impact customer’s perception of their experience

As an example, one organization who adopted a new sales enablement structure was able to increase sales productivity by 15%. They achieved this by reducing time out of the field, increasing available selling time, reducing travel costs, and providing enhanced technology that made it easier for sales representatives to find and share resources based on individual buyer needs.

What Enablement Isn’t

Sales enablement is a new term and many companies make the mistake of applying the new term to old ways of doing things. They rename “sales training” to “sales enablement” or they decide to create more mobile or other technology assisted selling tools and call it sales enablement. The reality is that learning and technology are important to sales enablement, but they are only parts of the equation, and focusing on any one element in a vacuum is likely to produce limited results.

A Systems View of Sales Enablement

Based on Wilson Learning’s ongoing work in the arena of sales effectiveness, we have identified four elements that must be aligned and fully integrated within an enablement operating model in order for any sales enablement approach to be fully effective:

  • Sales Processes and Systems
  • Information and Resources
  • Learning Strategy
  • Leadership Practices

Decisions about each of the four elements must be grounded in the organization’s strategy and vision for the customer experience.

As Frank Cespedes, a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, and Tiffani Bova, Research Vice President at Gartner write, “It’s important that every group within an organization that deals with customers has a shared vision of how customers buy and, more importantly, a clear sense of their company’s strategy.”

Breaking Down Silos

Of course, it’s one thing to call a person or team “sales enablement”–it’s another to actually have a positive impact on sales performance. Genuine sales enablement requires cross-functional dialogue, shared commitments, agreements, and accountability among multiple functions, including:

  • Sales Leadership & Management
  • Sales Operations
  • Marketing
  • Product Development/R&D
  • Learning & Development
  • Legal/Finance/IT

According to a Forrester report, “. . . you need to develop a team to work across traditional organizational boundaries and reporting levels within your company–and that’s a big challenge. But eventually, to be successful with sales enablement, you will need to break down the walls between organizational silos to get customers the information they need.”

In order for any organization to realize the many benefits of sales enablement, stakeholders from all functions who touch or impact sales need to first agree on and commit to a common enablement operating model. Some companies choose a fully centralized model, some utilize a decentralized model, and others land in between. Achieving alignment among stakeholders requires analyzing and understanding the pros and cons of the various approaches, considering all of the organization’s circumstances, and developing detailed agreements about the enablement team’s purpose, roles, and work processes. For example, our consultants worked with one client team who agreed to allow individual functions to create their own sales tools and resources, yet they were required to follow templates and guidance to ensure effectiveness and consistency. In addition, they committed to coordinating efforts so that multiple initiatives weren’t launched to field all at once. This team’s decisions about how to operate were reinforced via concrete performance objectives that held each team member accountable for upholding their commitments.


An effective sales enablement approach can yield increases in sales as well as cost savings by allowing an organization to be more strategic in managing how information is shared and accessed. Done well, it will reduce redundancies, eliminate time spent searching for information and resources, and will limit time spent out of the field. Done poorly, sales enablement is a just another fad that will disappoint and then disappear.

Sales executives do not need to be experts in marketing, technology, and training. However, it is critical that they drive and facilitate alignment and coordination across all of the functions and people who support sales. We think Harvard’s Cespedes and Gartner’s Bova make the point well: “The cross-functional communication and coordination that is required to navigate this change is the job of leadership.”

How Wilson Learning Can Help

Wilson Learning has specialized in sales effectiveness for 50 years. Our consultants stay on the cutting edge of developments in order to bring you the latest thinking and best practices in integrating your sales and marketing efforts, learning strategy, and technology. By utilizing a collaborative process, Wilson Learning’s consultants can help your organization:

  • Identify barriers and supports to sales effectiveness
  • Break down organizational silos
  • Achieve alignment around the goals of the sales enablement function or team
  • Build buy-in and commitment to an agreed-upon approach and work processes
  • Identify and agree on short- and long-term priorities and action plans
  • Implement action plans and evaluate effectiveness

As an outcome of our work, clients have replaced information overload, inter-team wrangling, silos, and stonewalling with a high degree of clarity, alignment, and collaboration that has ultimately enhanced sales results.

Wendy Mack

Wendy Mack served as Director of Consulting Services for Wilson Learning Corporation. Wendy led the team that is responsible for diagnosing client needs and designing comprehensive solutions that result in sustained behavior change and performance improvement. Wendy’s work blended her expertise in learning and development with her extensive knowledge of human performance technology, change management, and communication. She was a popular speaker at national conferences and client events and has coauthored three books on the topics of learning, leadership, and change.