Whenever sales enablement is mentioned, the discussion tends to center around enabling and supporting reps who are earlier in their sales career.

There are countless resources teaching you the best way to enable business development reps (BDRs), sales development reps (SDRs), account exectuives (AEs), and even customer success and marketing reps when we enter the realm of revenue enablement.

While these are undoubtedly useful, it can be trickier to find guidance on how to maximize the potential of more senior salespeople.

As a sales enablement practitioner, you should be focused on just that - enabling your sales team to be the best version of themselves, and having a repeatable, scalable system to do that. But sales doesn't just consist of BDRs, SDRs and AEs.

Sales leaders and management need support and guidance too, and as a sales enabler you're in the position to provide it.

Even more importantly, getting leadership buy-in is vital to sales enablement success. Including them in your enablement strategies is a great way to prove your department's value to them and gain their backing.

In this article, with the help of sales enablement experts from around the world, we'll explore the key points to consider when dealing with leadership as a sales enablement professional, including:

  • What sales enablement needs to provide to sales leaders
  • Why sales enablement and sales leaders need to understand each role's duties
  • Why you should coach sales leaders
  • Why sales enablement needs to provide a fresh, performance-oriented perspective to sales leadership

What sales enablement needs to provide to sales leaders

The best way to define sales enablement is to describe what it isn't. Sales enablement cannot be siloed, or separate from the rest of the sales organization. It's not about doing some training, then disappearing until it's time to provide some content, not being seen until the next coaching session.

Felix Dumitrica, Head of Sales Enablement and Productivity in Europe at FreshWorks, explained the importance of this unity at SEC's October 2020 Sales Enablement Festival.

We need to be a strategic partner for the sales leadership, and we need to support the overall sales strategy

So step one to enabling sales leadership? Align yourself with sales leadership - if your objectives are in sync, your organization will see the benefits.

However, it isn't just about alignment. Felix added that: 'We need to manage the management, as sales leaders are usually looking for quick wins or quick fixes to achieve quotas'.

What does that mean? Two things.

Firstly, it means that your sales enablement strategy has to take this fact into consideration: your overall sales enablement strategy should both align with sales leadership's direction, in addition to focusing on long-term, repeatable, and scalable solutions for the sales teams.

Quick fixes are great, but if you can't create a systematic, repeatable way of improving performance your sales enablement department will be less successful.

Secondly, you have to enable management and provide them with alternative perspectives. Work with them to help them develop a long-term success-oriented mindset. Enable them to see the bigger picture, which lies not just in results but in how you achieved those results too.

Sales enablement and sales leadership: understand each role

Andrea Rist, Director of Sales Enablement at Elsevier, believes "knowing and having a mutual understanding" of each department's role is important when you're approaching the issue of enabling management and leadership.

"We in sales enablement can build programs all day long but if sales management doesn't hold their teams accountable for completion and application of what is learned to the job, then it's really hard for us to move the needle."

Andrea concluded by quoting Sheevaun Thatcher, RingCentral's VP for Global Digital Learning and Enablement:

Sales enablement is responsible TO sales, not responsible FOR sales.

Why you should coach sales leaders

Why should you coach sales leaders? It's simple: they're on the frontline, they're leading by example. If sales leaders are working alongside enablement to improve and develop their abilities, then the rest of the sales team will follow suit.

At May 2020's Sales Enablement Festival, Steve Hamilton, Director of Sales Enablement at Sage, had this to say: "You should ensure that your coaching is to the behavior and not to the result."

Steve believes a lot of sales leaders coach to the result, and instead, he advocates for working with sales leaders on the behavior that is driving that result.

It becomes part of your operating rhythm in a sales organization. You're establishing a culture as to what it means to be a sales leader - you have a sales coaching methodology in place, it's supported across the organization, and you get to see the results from effective coaching

Areas of focus for sales leader coaching

So, quick recap; you know why you should work with sales leaders to enable both them and the wider sales organization; you also know that focusing on behaviors and performance (the repeatable, scalable stuff) is more valuable than being totally results-oriented.

But how exactly can you support sales leaders, and what can you do to enable them to improve?

Well, Catherine Freeland, Director of Commercial Accounts for the Americas at Nylas, told us that the notion of time management is a key one to convey to managers.

I'm always trying to tell the importance of time management: there are always going to be 1,000,001 things to do. But where is your time, effort, and energy best served?

She also added that: "Checking in and making sure that they're making the most of the systems available to themselves, and spending the time that they have in the right places, that are going to make the largest impact for their time investment" is another key element.

When working to enable management and leadership, it's about being on the same page and remembering that you all have the same ultimate goal: organizational success.

Enablement has to push for results AND performance

Michael McGowell, Director at Sales Virtual, stresses that sales enablement should work to shift sales leadership's mentality:

The elephant in the sales enablement room is that about 20% of sales managers and leaders care about performance and results in that order. The remaining 80% are pushing for results and couldn't care less about performance improvement.

"I am not saying your company is like that, but if there is a challenge linking enablement to outcomes, the answer generally lies in sales management."

So, if you're heading the sales enablement department in an organization where results take all the attention, and actual performance sits in the background, how do you approach the situation and begin to instil a culture change in the sales leadership? Michael shared his tactics:

I would recommend identifying the 20% who 'care' about performance improvement. They will help you show what raising the bar is really like and how it feels.
The metric to watch is the accuracy of the current forecast. When forecasting is wrong, everything is wrong. When a manager is performance-oriented, their people are calm, steady, predictable and keep raising the bar.
Only then do the other 80% start to pay attention, because you can't argue with performance. Enablement is often pitched as 'scaling' performance. It can, even one manager at a time."
There is far too much focus on salespeople and far too little focus on the quality and performance of sales managers in the sales world.

Michael believes that enablement is at its most impactful when it is strategically rolled out as a "performance initiative, not an IT initiative". While enablement platforms and tools are incredibly valuable, enablement is performance and people-centric at its core.

He added that "the toughest but most important part of your enablement implementation will be the active participation of frontline managers and their managers".

Key takeaways

So the verdict from our sales enablement experts is pretty clear: work alongside, and support sales managers and leadership to get the most out of your sales enablement strategies.

Otherwise, you'll find that you'll struggle for buy-in, clash over business objectives, and lack alignment.

The key takeaway is that sales enablement is for the entire sales organization, not just sales reps. Plan your strategy accordingly, and reap the benefits.

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