What is Sales Enablement and Why Is It Important?

What is Sales Enablement and Why Is It Important?

Defining sales enablement is a tricky task. While some of you reading this guide might have a title with "sales enablement" in it, many of you probably don't and may have titles like product marketing, sales operations, or even customer success. That's the problem with a discipline that is still yet to be standardized across organizations. Each company will have a unique take on sales enablement and what the role entails. But to get a good grasp on what sales enablement actually means, let's take a look at some definitions by industry analysts:

TOPO Group: "Sales enablement focuses on building scalable, replicable programs vs. one-time training events, delivering the right help to the right sales person at the right time."

Forrester: "Sales enablement is 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."

We love both the above definitions but to put it in more layman's terms, sales enablement people are like handymen. While your reps are on the frontlines selling your product, they are in the background creating the system that allows them to access all the information they need to close more deals. Without them the system is broken. Knowledge from experts on your team is inefficiently delivered in one off conversations, causing a leaky flow of sales knowledge. Maybe one or two of them get information when they directly message your experts, but knowledge is not captured efficiently and flowing to your whole team. When you do have a sales enablement person on your team and implement a proper sales enablement solution, the system flows perfectly, with no leaks. Knowledge is routed to the right people, in the right place, and at the right time. Now that is a beautiful sight to see. But what areas of the business does sales enablement touch? Let's start with sales.


Taking a look at the funnel above, sales enablement touches all parts of the sales cycle from prospecting, to email outreach, to on the phone demos, and to the final sale as well. But the real impact of sales enablement on your sales team is not just equipping your team with the knowledge they need to close deals, but increasing the velocity of your sales process. "Sales Acceleration" is a term that has been becoming more and more popular within fast-growing startups. What that exactly means is trying to quicken your sales cycles and enable your reps to handle more deals, so that they can close more of them. So how does sales enablement exactly do this? Let's take a look at the organizational problems sales enablement aims to solve, in order to achieve the objectives we've listed.

How Sales Enablement Accelerates Sales Cycles (What Problems Does it Solve)

Your Reps Waste Time Just Searching For Information

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According to a McKinsey Report, almost 20% of your reps' time is spent just searching and gathering information. The more sobering stat is that they only spend 39% of their time on role-specific tasks AKA selling your product! CMO Council goes even further to note that around 40% of a rep's time is actually spent searching for content created by marketing or customizing content because they can't find a relevant asset for their prospect. Sales enablement plays a critical role in reducing the amount of time rep's spend searching for information. Less time searching, means more time selling, which accelerates your sales cycle as reps are able to close deals faster. One simple way they can lower time spent searching is establishing a knowledge repository as the single source of truth across the sales organization. According to HubSpot, sales content is being stored across 5 or 6 different repositories which makes it impossible for reps to find content in an efficient manner. By keeping everything in one place, reps don't have to think about where to go, and they can at least trust that what is in there is approved for them to use.

Another huge contributor to time spent searching is that your content is not accessible where your reps work. Your reps primarily live in their inbox and CRM software. Having your sales knowledge and assets surface directly in their CRM or inbox can eliminate search altogether! This focus on workflow and "pushing" content directly to where your reps live is something we will be diving into in detail later in the book. While all of this can reduce time spent searching, none of this matters if your content is not up to date.

Your Content & Knowledge Quickly Becomes Stale

For many companies, content marketing is the lifeblood of their marketing efforts. A survey by UBM Tech showed 88% of technology professionals valued timely and up-to-date information as the most important criteria they look for in content from vendors. If that's the case, sales enablement and your marketing team need to be constantly keeping content up-to-date in order to ensure your reps are selling with the most impactful content they can. Making content easily customizable for the reps is also a great way for them to be able to quickly plug-in relevant information they know their prospect's care about. In doing so, marketing gets less ad-hoc requests, which allows them to focus on new content ideas, instead of constantly playing catch-up to update older content.

Just as important though, is the internal knowledge your sales reps need to leverage on a daily basis whether that's competitive positioning documents, product FAQ's, or technical documentation. If your wiki, or other knowledge repository is not trusted, then the experts on your team are constantly having to field one-off questions that hampers their productivity. Solving this problem is one of the most impactful ways sales enablement can accelerate sales and one we will be focusing on throughout the book.

"We have found that it is either 'all or none' on the stale versus up-to-date content issue. In other words, there are companies whose reps only use stale content (not their fault. They don't know where to find it or marketing is not providing anything.) There are companies that are keeping sales up-to-date but because of the inability to manage and monitor content usage - they still have a stale issue - 35-40% of the content sales provides to customers is old and out of date." - Robert Koehler, TOPO Group Senior Analyst

You do not Understand the ROI of Your Content

Forrester published a study citing 85% of B2B marketers fail to connect their content activity to business value. Perhaps an even more sobering stat published by Sirius Decisions states 60% of all marketing content goes unused by your sales team! A primary role of sales enablement is making sure that your team does know what sales assets are leading to closed deals. Lots of technologies out there can help support you to understand for example, what specific slides in your deck prospects spent the most time looking at. By understanding which content leads to more closed deals, you can better inform your marketing team to create content that is more aligned to your prospect's goals. However, content ROI is not the only thing you need to be measuring.

You do not Know the Knowledge Your Team Uses to Close Deals

Not only do you not know the knowledge your team uses to close deals, your sales team doesn't either. According to Sirius Decisions, 71% of sales reps said their lack of knowledge was the reason they could not close deals. Taking a look at the definitions we laid out earlier, the whole role of sales enablement revolves around arming your sales team with the knowledge and assets they need to close deals. The first step in closing the knowledge gap, is creating a comprehensive sales playbook for your team to help guide them throughout the selling process. It's your sales bible and something we will discuss in-depth in chapter 3. But it's not enough to just create the playbook and be done with it. Best in-class sales enablement teams will dig deeper to understand what specific knowledge led to closed deals and try to understand the gaps in their enablement strategy. In doing so you can start to answer questions like what are my reps searching for in our knowledge repository and not finding? Which competitors are my reps constantly getting asked about? What are the main objections our prospects are telling us, so that I can inform our product team?

"The % of sales team who know which assets are leading to closed sales is very low. Most companies do not have a process or system for determining which content is effective nor do they map content to specific stages of the sales process to 'audit' content coverage vs. collateral/content needs at each stage of the sales process. The number of companies who have a process for determining which assets are leading to closed sales is even smaller." - Robert Koehler, TOPO Group Senior Analyst

Onboarding Ramp Time of New Reps is Too Long

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As the image above shows, training and development was the the clear "top challenge" for sales leadership according to a 2015 inside sales report done by AA-ISP. As a fast-growing organization, you are constantly hiring and onboarding new reps. According to TOPO Group, onboarding ramp times of the best in-class sales organizations is around 3-6 months while other organizations can take 9 or more months to get reps to full quota. A reduction in their ramp time can have a significant impact on accelerating your sales cycles. To further compound the problem according to the same study, average sales rep turnover rates are in the 25-30% range. So not only is it taking a long time to onboard your new reps, many of them are also leaving, forcing you to hire even more new reps! Sales enablement and the tools they employ play a critical role in ensuring new reps get up to speed as quickly as possible.

How Does Sales Enablement Impact Other Parts of Your Organization?


"Sales-Marketing Alignment" has become a buzzword in the SaaS industry for a few years now, but it certainly is merited. There are lots of misconceptions sales people have of marketing and vice versa. As the sales enablement person or team you will be collaborating with marketing on a frequent basis. When you are evaluating sales enablement solutions you might even have someone from marketing involved as part of that decision. Thus, whether you realize it or not you are a crucial bridge between these two worlds.

While you are probably writing a lot of the internal sales documentation around competitive battlecards, objection handling, or sales processes, marketing is creating most of the sales assets your team will leverage including case studies, decks for demos, and industry white papers. In creating those internal assets, sales enablement has it's own unique lense on messaging and positioning that should make its way into the assets marketing creates.

It's also your job to ensure that your sales team is always using the latest and greatest assets marketing creates. The worst fear of every marketing team is creating a new, nicely-designed sales deck template to only find that none of your reps are using it and instead are using the old versions. A key part of your role is just making sure the newest assets and knowledge are actually being seen by your reps, sounds so simple doesn't it!

Great sales enablement will also play a role in marketing attribution. It's not just a matter of how many MQL's marketing can give to sales.  More importantly, it's about what pieces of content lead to more closed deals? When choosing an enablement solution, tying back knowledge and content to closed deals is a necessity.

Customer Success and Support

If you take a look back at Forrester’s definition of sales enablement they focus on all of your "client-facing" teams, not just sales. When you think about it, we think that makes a ton of sense. Every year the lines between customer success and sales are blurring more and more. In SaaS especially, the responsibilities between the two groups is not all that different. Sales focuses on closing the initial deal, but customer success is selling just as hard for upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

While support is a bit of a different beast from sales, customer success and support lines also are blurring more and more. Who should be handling requests when they come in? While simple technical issues clearly call for support to take ownership, more complex issues can complicate who takes ownership over the request.

Suffice it to say, we think sales enablement plays a role for all your client-facing teams. The more enabled all of these teams are, the more successful all your prospects and customers will be. For every customer-facing team in your organization, investment in enablement is needed in order to scale and handle the increase in pipeline, support tickets, or customers. If sales enablement is solely focused on the sales team, you may be losing out on opportunities and providing an inconsistent experience for prospects and customers as they move down the sales funnel from prospect to newly onboarded customer to engaged advocate of your product.



As the graphic above shows, for each new client-facing team member that joins your team, shoulder taps and distractions for your product team goes up in a linear fashion. Even worse, the same questions are getting asked of your product team over and over again. Your job as a sales enablement team is to ensure you minimize the distractions your product team faces, so they can focus on executing and delivering on initiatives on the roadmap. Your product team will be your #1 advocate, if you can keep these distractions to a minimum.

Enabling Your Sales Team Requires Understanding Two Key Persona

Introducing Subject Matter Experts And Knowledge Consumers

In order to succeed at sales enablement it’s essential to understand two key personas: subject matter experts and knowledge consumers. They both value different things and they both have unique workflows that will determine the best ways to help make their jobs easier. If product managers are the bridge between technical and non-technical people, then sales enablement professionals are the link between subject matter experts and knowledge consumers. While some may play both of these roles, most will identify with one of these personas (if they do heavily associate with both personas, they may be a great candidate for a role in sales enablement! Something we explore in-depth in the next chapter).

Your subject matter experts might have titles like product manager, VP of sales, product marketing, sales operations, and many others. If the 80/20 rule holds true, around 80% of the tribal knowledge created in your company is primarily driven by 20% of the people; subject matter experts are these people.

Your knowledge consumers are primarily your client-facing teams and may have titles like sales development rep, account executive, support agents, or customer success rep. One thing to note is that in your organization, knowledge consumers most likely outnumber subject matter experts by a sizable amount (at HubSpot, there are 4 sales enablement employees to support 180 reps!). If that’s the case, it’s probably a good sign. It means your sales pipeline is growing rapidly so you need more reps to take on the increase in deal flow or your support team needs more agents to answer the increase in support tickets from your growing customer base. The downside of that is since you only have so many subject matter experts, when your knowledge consumers need help, they all are shoulder tapping the same few domain experts, which only gets worse as your company scales and grows.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at what each of these personas value in the context of your role in sales enablement.


What subject matter experts value

1. Stop distracting shoulder taps and one-off messages

Like we mentioned earlier, your subject matter experts will love you if you can eliminate the shoulder taps and one-off messages that distract them from their job. And distracting experts is costing your company real money; a recent study shows that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from an interruption! One-off messages and shoulder taps don’t scale, especially when a few experts get engaged by tens and eventually hundreds or thousands of colleagues all needing their help as your business grows. The diagram below illustrates the problem of the one-off messages/shoulder tapping workflow. When reps shoulder tap experts, the rep gets the answer they are looking for, but it’s not captured for the rest of the team. Individual silos of knowledge are created, which lead to the experts on your team getting asked the same questions over and over again.


2. Capture knowledge in their workflow

For subject matter experts, creating knowledge is extremely easy. All they have to do is open a Google Doc and start typing away. This is "top-down" knowledge creation, where your experts are intentionally creating new knowledge. But what about "bottoms-up" knowledge creation? This is exactly the situation we described in the last point where your experts are getting one-off questions via shoulder taps or messages. How do you capture that knowledge and make it available to your whole team to have access to? And bearing the costs of these interruptions, how can you allow them to capture knowledge in their workflow, so they experience time saving benefits?

3. Keep content up-to-date: without you having to remember to do it

Like we just said, creating knowledge is easy. Updating that content, however, is not as easy. Especially as your business grows, your experts are tasked with not only creating net new knowledge, but also responsible for updating existing knowledge. It sounds easy, but keeping content up-to-date is hard. When you encounter new information, you first have to connect the dots and remember that you actually have content already related to that subject (especially hard if you weren’t the one to originally author the content). Then you have to find that piece of content (as we’ll discuss in depth later, search doesn’t always work). Only then can you actually update it. That whole process was a reaction to new information, but wouldn’t it be great if there was a more proactive workflow that reminded you to update content every so often? You guessed it, we’ll be exploring this idea further in later chapters.

4. See what content is performing well

All of this is for nothing, if you don’t understand what content and knowledge performed well. The payoff for your subject matter experts creating all this knowledge, is knowing that it’s tangibly impacting the business in a positive way. If you get them to understand their positive impact, then you bet they will stay motivated to create new knowledge and keep existing content up-to-date. Nothing crushes morale harder, than not knowing if what you are doing actually means anything.

What Knowledge Consumers Value

1. Consume content in their workflow, not open another destination

This is the knowledge consumer equivalent to subject matter expert’s distaste of shoulder taps and one-off messages. Your knowledge consumers heavily depend on well-oiled workflows to get their jobs done in the most effective and efficient manner. Nothing is more annoying to them than having to do something outside of their normal workflow. So it’s your job to put the knowledge and content they need to do their job, where they live: whether that’s their inbox, messaging app, CRM, support ticketing system, etc. The rise of browser extensions and bots has made this a whole lot easier, which we will talk about later.

2. Short, easy to consume content

Imagine this scenario: One of your product managers opens a Google Doc and is typing up an FAQ on some of the most common technical questions that could come up on sales calls. She wants to be thorough (to stop those pesky shoulder taps) so she ends up writing 15 pages. She proudly passes off what she wrote to the sales team, and believes she has equipped them with answers to any question that may come up. Except the messages and shoulder taps don’t stop, in fact, they actually increase. What gives? The crux of the problem is she never thought about how the reps would actually consume the content. When reps are on a call with a prospect, it’s impossible for them to find the specific answer they need in a 15 page document, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack! A key part of your job in sales enablement is to ensure content is easy to consume for your reps to use in any situation.

3. Trust that content is still accurate

Another key reason why your subject matter experts keep getting shoulder taps and one-off messages is because your reps don’t trust that the content in your knowledge repositories is still accurate. Due to the rapidly changing nature of your business, your reps want a stamp of approval from one of your experts to ensure they are still using the latest and greatest content. Without it, they will try to search once. If they aren’t satisfied with what they find, they will resort to the fastest and easiest way to get an answer: either message your experts (the real-time nature of chat is both a blessing and a curse) or literally walk up to them and tap them on the shoulder.

4. Easy to search, guaranteed to get answer if no results (Optimize for getting them an answer)

Looking back at that scenario we just mentioned, you might think we are implying sales reps are selfish for optimizing for what’s "fastest and easiest". But really, the problem is that they don’t have another way to get an answer if they are unsatisfied with what they find. What they need is a guarantee that they will get an answer if there is no result. Many people will point to Q&A software as something that solves for this, but in chapter 4 we will dive deeply into the many reasons Q&A software often fails. The workflow should look something like this:


The whole point of this is to create a closed loop and ensure the answer given by the experts on your team are captured for all of your reps. Today, there are too many different systems reps have to navigate to replicate the workflow we just described. We will certainly be discussing this in depth later :)

Now that we have defined sales enablement and why it’s important, let’s examine more closely what makes a good sales enablement hire. Whether you are reading this and your role is sales enablement, or you are looking to hire your first sales enablement person, the next chapter will be a great primer on the traits, skills, and responsibilities a modern day sales enablement hire should have.