Sales enablement has the potential to transform performance, productivity and profit. But you need to be in step with senior leadership, and aligned with business goals, to build a program that’s respected, credible and delivers what sales needs. To have a real impact and activate its full potential, your sales enablement program needs to be visible, credible and deliver what sales needs. To do this, as with any business initiative, you need active support and investment from senior leadership.
Senior leadership support:
- Raises the profile of sales enablement, champions its implementation and influences and reinforces its perceived value and significance among other stakeholders - not just sales management and reps, but also HR, IT, marketing, product management, and product development.
- Makes resources available to take a strategic approach, in terms of budget, allocating time to other teams/departments to contribute, and recruitment.
Senior management sponsorship impacts your SE model - and success
Formality matters. According to CSO Insight’s 5th Sales Enablement Report: “Engaging senior executive sponsors and gaining organizational buy-in can help you overcome significant hurdles.”
The report identified four models of sales enablement approach, each with varying degrees of success:
- Random: sales enablement is seen as a tactical, one-off project (perhaps crisis-driven) with no formal vision and strategy.
- Informal: implies a certain understanding of what sales enablement should look like, but this vision is not well-defined or documented.
- Formal: includes a well-documented vision and strategy, including a thorough analysis of the business strategy and the current state of the sales strategy implementation.
- Formal with charter: builds on the formal approach to include a sales enablement charter or business plan where sales enablement’s vision, goals, strategies, and road maps are clearly defined. This charter also contains additional details, e.g., enablement services to be provided and for which audiences, necessary investments that need to be made, actions to be taken, and how success will be measured.
It won’t come as a major shock that the latter two approaches (which more than half of respondents said they used) saw significantly higher rates of success, as the diagram below demonstrates. The report even goes as far as claiming that random or informal approaches to enablement can be detrimental to sales success and “may be worse than doing nothing”.
Steps to successful senior management buy-in
Do your discovery
Begin by assessing your business’ current sales strategy to identify the real challenges your salesforce is facing right now and then develop a sales enablement strategy to address those challenges.
This way, you can approach senior management armed with facts and solutions, not vague claims and problems. Good research will give you insights that will help you gain support.
Identify core, top-level business goals, which often fall into the following categories:
- Revenue: deal-win rate; competitive wins; conversion rates.
- Cost: time spent selling; time to onboard; time savings.
- Risk: corporate messaging; compliance language.
Where does the status quo fall short? Analyze existing sales data from your CRM, inbound marketing platforms, or learning management systems to identify where there could be room for improvement.
Do reps spend a lot of time they could be actively selling on activities such as putting product demonstrations together? If this is an activity that, say, the product marketing team, are better equipped to carry out, how many more selling hours would this allow to be allocated to selling? What impact could this have on potential $$$s of revenue?
As Brainshark’s Chief Readiness Officer, Jim Ninivaggi, puts it:
“[Sales reps] are not low-cost. Every hour they’re spending in non-productive, non-revenue generating activities, it’s costing you money. The more you can have them focused on activities that are actually going to help pay for themselves, [the better].”
Scope out areas of frustration by speaking with managers across the business (and sales reps, albeit tactfully and anonymously if necessary). This will also help you to establish relationships with key people you will need on-side to make the strategy work.
Have previous sales enablement initiatives failed? Why? How can you avoid the same pitfalls?
Get your messaging right to help them understand
To get buy-in from the very top, you need to create a solid business case that demonstrates the value of a sales enablement program, and how it aligns with the executive team’s strategic goals, which you identified in the step above.
Prepare your pitch
Think of it in the same way as you would setting up an enterprise sales pitch to the VP of a prospective client: prepare well, practice your presentation, and get feedback on your messaging.
How can you frame the role of sales enablement in a way that meaningfully conveys how it will tactically solve day-to-day problems, as well as enhance scalable, long term results that complement existing strategies?
Lay out the business case
Clearly set out how the sales enablement function will align to business strategy and goals, how it will address the challenges to achieving them and, importantly, tie these goals to quantifiable results. For example, specific new and growth revenue, increase in hours clawed back for selling, etc. Keep circling back to the ROI in each point you make.
Focus on the value-add
Emphasize that you’re not proposing creating more work, or complicating an existing structure or hierarchy; that the role of sales enablement is to facilitate existing activities, such as customer experience, sales effectiveness and talent retention, by developing a more integrated, holistic approach and improving internal communications between teams and/or departments.
Know your audience
Sales enablement is a cross-strategy function, so your strategy for getting buy-in needs to be, too.
When preparing your pitch, ensure you take each executive’s role and priorities (and leadership style) into account, with a tailored message prepared for each and responses to concerns you anticipate.
Your CEO might be most swayed simply by proposed improvements to profitability and retention, however, your HR Director or Chief HR Officer, may be apprehensive about how this will affect existing training programs. A good response could be that sales enablement would actually help to streamline and focus training packages by focusing on skill development in areas that have specific impact on sales productivity - that you’re not proposing ripping up the rulebook, but working with them to make sure sales training delivers maximum impact.
Your IT Director or Chief Technology Officer could jump in with concerns that “our budget is already stretched - and you want to invest in more software?!” Well, no, this is an opportunity to involve them in a review of where their current budget is being spent, the effectiveness of the status quo, and look at solutions that could save money and mutually benefit everybody.
You can continue to address these concerns through spin-off meetings, informal catch-ups, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect to win everybody over in the course of one presentation.
Anticipate and minimize conflict
Following on from the points above, with any proposal of change comes the potential of ruffling feathers and agitating internal politics. Keep framing your pitch in the context of collaboration and helping each team in the company to contribute to maximizing sales. Rather than interfering or stepping on people’s toes, demonstrate that the function of sales enablement is to encourage support from other teams by clarifying their role in the sales process, and providing them with the strategy and tools to help them to do this alongside achieving their individual goals.
Create a charter
This is a document that outlines the steps you need to take for your sales enablement strategy to be successful.
Clearly and comprehensively map out sales enablement activities alongside the buyers’ or sellers’ journey, and which teams/departments/individuals are involved at each stage, who is responsible and how it will be tracked. Also, establish who has ultimate ownership of the program as a whole.
When it comes to sales, we often hear the phrase: ‘Everyone owns sales enablement, and everyone owns revenue generation’,” says strategic sales expert and keynote speaker, Amy Franko.
“However, if everybody owns it, then nobody owns it. In creating a business case for new sales enablement initiatives, there needs to be a person or a group that owns the leadership and the execution of it, in partnership with other areas of the organization. This approach earns credibility because it creates accountability.”
Approach it like you would a business plan and base it on your research rather than assumptions or vague statements of intent.
At this stage, the charter will be a framework for discussion with senior management, and to bring to life how you propose sales enablement will operate within your business. Obviously, activities and accountability will need to be discussed and negotiated with individual teams/departments before being rolled out.
As with any major sales pitch, getting buy-in from senior management isn’t often achieved in one meeting - nor is it a one-off process. Convincing them of the business case for sales enablement is just the start. It’s the catalyst for building partnerships, follow-up meetings, informal discussions, etc, to convince, embed, and maintain momentum. Plan small, short-term wins to demonstrate proof of concept, whether this be creating and rolling out a playbook, or creating a straw man proposal for an enhanced training schedule which has been informed by a needs survey among sales reps and managers. Demonstrate ongoing, incremental value as well as focusing on the big-win metrics.