The results of CSO Insights’ Sales Enablement Optimization Study for 2017 are in, and the subtitle for this year’s findings could very likely read, “A Tale of Two Strategies.”  What’s clear in the most recent data is that there’s a stark contrast between those organizations still performing “random acts of sales enablement,” and those that are approaching their program in a strategic, aligned and collaborative way.

The effort required to achieve a thoughtful, well-crafted strategy is not trivial, but neither are the potential benefits: the data shows that when sales development efforts hit their marks, both win rates and quota attainment improved dramatically. (More on that later!)

In the first of a 2-part post, we’ll highlight some of the study findings and talk about their practical impact for organizations investing in sales enablement. But before we get into the differences, let’s talk about some shared trends seen across organizations that signal good news for both reps and sales enablement pros alike.

Sales enablement is moving from the margins to the mainstream. In fact, 59% of organizations surveyed reported having a dedicated sales enablement function, a YOY increase of more than 26%. Another 8.5% cited plans to add this function in the next 12 months. Budgets for sales enablement increased as well: 21% of respondents reported a budget of more than $500,000 compared to just 16% a year ago.

From our seat, this is a positive development and validates what we’ve seen anecdotally in our customer base as well: companies are recognizing the benefits of a focused sales enablement team (as distinct from sales operations or more general training or learning and development), and assigning resources and budgets accordingly. But some barriers to success remain, principally in the ways companies set and communicate goals, and then measure progress against them over time.

To remedy this, CSO Insights’ advises companies to develop a formal sales enablement charter that aligns program and productivity objectives to performance goals. A charter is really the “business plan” for your sales enablement program, and should revolve around the company’s key business goals. Just 13% of companies surveyed by CSO Insights’ are operating with a formal sales enablement charter today (an actual decline vs. 2016), while 54% of organizations were still setting sales enablement priorities on either an ad-hoc or informal basis.

The value of creating a formal enablement charter, however, is indisputable: survey analysis shows that companies operating with a charter saw a 27.6% improvement compared to average quota attainment of 57.7%. Given that only 1/3 of respondents said they had achieved the majority of their stated objectives, the work to develop smart goals and architect the business processes to meet them seems more than worth the effort, but specificity matters. As the survey authors explain, “enablement is not about getting a little better at everything; it’s about becoming great at a few important things.”

Alignment to larger sales and company business goals matters as well. In nearly three-quarters of cases (72.5%), sales enablement now reports directly to senior sales management (as compared with 60% in 2016), but alignment requires more than just the right organizational structure.

Many of our customers, such as HubSpot’s Ben Cotton, have actually taken on their own specific quota targets, ensuring they’re well synched with the reps they support in terms of both program execution and measurement. Respondents to the CSO Insights’ study cited a number of key performance objectives. Not surprisingly, an increase in revenue topped the list (52%), followed by increasing margins, new account acquisition, and forecasted win rates. But considering the variables in play for every deal, and every rep, how much of an impact can sales enablement really make when it comes to overall revenue achievement?

As the function matures, sales enablement must strive to integrate and align both functions and business processes too, each of which can then accelerate their influence on larger business goals such as revenue. From CSO’s perspective, this requires sales enablement to be increasingly customer-centric and focused on the buyer journey, striving for what they call, “dynamic alignment.”

This can seem obvious on the surface. Understanding your customer’s buying journey is fundamental to sales success. In turn, sales enablement focuses on helping reps understand and respond to customer preferences for engagement, as well as how they want to buy and implement your products and solutions. Yet few training and enablement programs place the customer at their core. In fact, according to 2017 survey stats, 44% of respondents had no purposeful alignment of their sales process to the customer’s journey.

For CSO Insights, dynamic alignment is characterized by the mapping of internal processes to the customer’s journey, supported by ongoing review and feedback loops and leveraging sales analytics, so that sales teams can remain as agile and responsive as possible. Implementing dynamic customer journey alignment requires adaptive capabilities from both individual salespeople, as well as the teams that enable them, helping the organization to:

  • Collaborate more effectively across customer-facing teams, including marketing, sales operations, customer success, and IT
  • Build open channels to capture and act upon the voice of the customer
  • Leverage technology for fast recognition and adoption, and
  • Align training and other sales development programs based on key analytics, both qualitative and quantitative

 But achieving dynamic customer journey alignment remains a challenge for more than 70% of today’s sales organizations. Additionally, 56.2% of reps said that customer journey training needs a major redesign or needs improvement, so clearly there is work to be done.  But here’s why it matters: the better the customer’s journey alignment, the better the sales results – improving win rates by 15% and quota attainment by 13%.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about how continuous sales enablement, supported by solutions like Qstream, can make dynamic alignment a reality, as well as how a new generation of analytics is helping both reps and managers to evolve skills and processes and improve over time, supported by smart coaching.

Looking for more insight into this year’s study findings? Join report author Tamara Schenk and Qstream’s Steve Preston for a live webinar this Thursday, November 2.  Register here to save your spot.

Interested in reading the full survey report? Download a complimentary copy here.




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