We spent the last chapter breaking down why your current solutions aren't adequate for your team's sales enablement needs, so it's only fair that we examine in as much detail what you actually should be looking for in an ideal sales enablement solution. In order to do so, we first need to preface that discussion with an overview of some of the emerging trends in the SaaS industry that are key in shaping what an ideal solution looks like. It's important to note that trends are exactly that: trends. Some die very quickly, while others prove to be sustainable for the future. But, the best in class solutions in all categories of SaaS make strategic bets on which trends will sustain; and it's those products that tend to stay around for the long haul.
As you are reading this eBook, how many tabs to different apps do you have open right now? Well, if you are the average user, you will have at least 5 different SaaS-based business applications open, with that number predicted to double in 2017. Having multiple log-ins and user interfaces to navigate, it is now more important than ever to reduce the noise and clutter of SaaS products.
A basic problem with too many destinations is the lack of adoption of those applications. Too many places to go combined with no compelling reason for you to go there means you don't use it. For example, in the marketing technology industry alone, there are 1,876 different SaaS applications competing for adoption. In fact, 50% of companies use more than one marketing automation solution. So, for these companies the solution for a lack of engagement with their current apps, is to purchase more apps with similar functionality.
The lack of adoption has been compounded by the growing trend of a "bottoms up" sales model, where centralized IT departments are subverted and new SaaS products are purchased by the individual teams themselves. This has driven average revenues per customer down from $96k in 2011 to $13k in 2014. With virtually every B2B SaaS product employing either a free trial or freemium offering, there is now a huge incentive to use the shotgun approach and try as many products as possible in the hopes that one sticks. As a result, the average SMB company uses 14 different SaaS apps, and for large enterprises that number balloons to 66. So what then is the key to unlocking organizational adoption of new SaaS applications?
It's not just the sheer number of apps though, that causes low adoption for most of your apps. Compounding this is the fact that most apps are outside of your normal workflow. Think about some of the situations we described in the last chapter: Wikipedia's declining readership due to Google's knowledge graph, or your sales reps defaulting to messaging apps to get their questions answered instead of your Q&A platform. Both of these situations demonstrate how we tend to default to what will get us our result in the fastest and easiest way. It's the path of least resistance. Remember, sales enablement platforms differ from most other solutions in that in order for them to add any value, both workflows of the knowledge consumer and subject matter expert must be optimized for. Similar to a marketplace that needs to attract both buyers and sellers to gain any traction, your sales enablement solution needs to gain adoption from both experts and consumers to be successful.
So, instead of a sea of browser tabs that we must find, open and use, apps in the future will flip this pattern upside down into a discrete collection of services and workflows based on the job that we need to do. These services will come to us, we won't go to them anymore, and underneath the hood a workflow will emerge with possibly dozens of "apps" built by dozens of different companies each serving their own very specific and valuable purpose. And these discrete services will leverage whatever data we choose to share such as our email, our location, our likes, and give us a simple and intelligent experience.
While many talk about the notification being the future of how we interact with services on mobile devices, we feel one of the best analog experiences for the desktop today is the browser extension.
Browser extensions change the way we work. They let you rethink how you do facets of your job, and mix up the apps you rely on such that they conform to your workflow vs. you opening up 17 separate browser tabs just to complete a simple task. In a non-extension world, you open up a window or browser tab for each app you need. You end going to 2 or 3 of them to get a job done. If you are a sales rep and someone wants to schedule a demo with you and get one of your case studies, you would need no less than 3 apps: (1) your email app, (2) your calendar, and (3) your cloud storage app to look up that case study. And that's a simple task! Today we live in an app centric world, where it's on us to open up all these different things and piece together the "sub-tasks" to get that job done. It is slow, inefficient, distracting, and error prone.
The extension world signals a shift in this change. With extensions, it's now a job centric world. Now when you read that same email we just described above, without leaving your inbox you can pick free time on your calendar, look up that case study, confirm its right, grab a link to it, and send all that back to your customer in one click. This is what makes extensions such a big deal. They flip the app model inside out; now the apps come to us based on the job we need to do.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Google's Knowledge Graph brings key content from sources like Wikipedia and embeds it right alongside your search results so you don't even have open a new window. At work, think about the various aspects of knowledge we need to do our job, and then think about when we need it.
Notice in all of these examples there is a job being done, and referential knowledge is needed in order to complete the task. Currently, to solve problems like these, you would have to "pull" (search) this information yourself, forcing you to leave your workflow. But what if that information just comes to you right when you need it? Instead of having to react to the situation, this contextual awareness allows the right knowledge to get pushed at the time of need, right in the workflow of the person doing the job. In the case of sales enablement, context awareness allows knowledge consumers to search less and proactively find exactly what they need, which reduces one-off messages and shoulder taps to subject matter experts so they can focus on executing on their role specific tasks. At the end of the day, the solution that saves someone the most time and effort leads to a better user experience which always wins in the long run.
The key trend driving and creating these contextual experiences is the rise in predictive (ambient) services. What are they exactly? A great example currently would be Google Now, with its ability to anticipate what you need before you even ask for it (push). This is in direct contrast to Siri, which requires you to ask what you want first (pull). The true beauty of ambient services is that as they gather data, they become even more simple and personalized to help you succeed. Pre-ambient services on the other hand, as noted by Expensify CEO, David Barrett, "will continuously get ever more complex, because more functionality means more and more buttons."
One important aspect to note about ambient services is that they are designed as systems, not destinations. Using the example above, Google search as we know it today is like Siri, a destination where we must actively type or say our query. Google Now, on the other hand, is not an app, but a system composed of individual, context aware units that work in the background to serve information to us, when we need it.
Thus, a critical element of ambient technologies is their predictive-first or proactive nature. Through machine learning, natural language processing, and modeling techniques these products can produce insights that it serves to you directly within your daily workflow. The key to then unlocking the productivity challenges of the sales rep today, may lie in these technologies that are always working in the background, saving sales reps time and allowing them to focus on what they do best, sell.
Last chapter a common theme to emerge was that long-form, "document" based content was not effective for instant consumption of knowledge. Not only that, it was also hard to analyze its effectiveness. In this chapter, we've dug deeper into why apps in your workflow are so important, and the importance of push vs. pull. Cards are what tie all of these trends together. Cards emerged from the mobile world, but are now seen everywhere. They are meant to be short, discrete, and easily consumable pieces of content. Instead of many pages of content that is linked together, with cards you can aggregate individual pieces together to create one experience.
Take a look again at the image of Google Now in the last section. There's a boarding pass card, weather card, and a card on the Tate Modern museum in Britain (with links to Google Maps embedded). In one glance, this person can see everything they need about their upcoming trip to the UK. Now think about how an experience like that can translate to the business world. Instead of one, long FAQ document, imagine creating 20 individual cards that each answer one specific question in your FAQ. These shorter pieces of discrete content are much easier to instantly consume for your reps. Additionally, now that each answer is it's own piece of content, your analytics become much more powerful. You can now point to which specific answers were used most, not just broadly saying your FAQ document was viewed most often. Now, think about how much easier it will be to update that content. Asking experts on your team to update a 15 page document is a huge ask. Even if only a small thing is changing the very length of the document is intimidating and seems overwhelming to them. Asking them to update one answer to a question is much easier, and something they can do in between tasks. Cards are extremely powerful and their flexibility makes them perfect for enabling your sales team.
When you think about your job and the apps you use at work, one thing they have in common is they are mostly web based. Most of us spend our entire day with our web browser open, with multiple tabs for the various SaaS apps we use to accomplish our jobs. When you look at Slack's metrics one thing that is clear is Slack has now become a destination. On average, Slack users spend 2 hours and 15 minutes per day in Slack. This means Slack is also sitting open all day, just like your browser. On December 15th 2015, Slack launched their Slack App Directory and Slack Fund, which has opened up a huge opportunity for Slack bots to augment user's Slack experience.
With its app ecosystem maturing, Slack has now become the communications and notifications hub for your team and will only continue to grow in influence. But it's not without its problems that effect the productivity of your sales teams. Chief of which are the noisiness of Slack and the "instant response" culture it tends to create.
Think about your slack channels, or even your own personal messenger threads with friends. They are filled with noise. A thread started at 9 AM can quickly become out of sight, out of mind by lunch. How do you reduce the noise for your reps and enable them to easily find the information they need? How can your team capture the knowledge that gets created everyday in these organic conversations for reuse for the entire team's benefit?
In terms of the instant response problem, it isn't just something your team experiences, but your customers are experiencing too. Live chat has become the leading contact source within the online channel, with 42% of customers indicating use of a live online chat feature vs. email (23%). The speed (and accuracy) of your responses are critical to ensuring your prospects and customers have valuable conversations with your team. But your reps still spend more than a third of their workweek just searching for information! How do you arm your reps and agents with the knowledge they need to respond to prospects and customers as quickly and effectively as possible?
Thinking about the benefits of messaging apps, most of them lie in the ability for your team to quickly communicate, in real-time to solve problems. Knowledge is created everyday in the various conversations we have in chat. But, what messaging apps aren't built to do is capture knowledge for re-use. Just try and search in your team's messaging app for something and you will quickly see what we mean. Searching in messaging apps is noisy, but searching in our knowledge base must lead to clean results. There is a huge opportunity out there for sales enablement solutions to augment your team's messaging experience and leverage all the knowledge that is already organically created from conversations.
While most sales tools have not yet cracked mobile, it is still crucial that your sales enablement solution is fit for an increasingly mobile world. We've already discussed in detail how web portals are dying, one of these reasons is they don't transfer well to mobile. For example, take a company wiki. It is probably filled with tons of long-form content that is easy to browse on your desktop, but very difficult to consume on mobile devices. Now think about some of the trends we have discussed here like browser extensions, the rise of messaging and "push vs. pull". Just the form factor of an extension alone looks to transfer much nicer in a mobile world, and push notifications aren't just a trend in mobile, they are an already established paradigm. So while mobile is yet to dominate the sales landscape, you should be keeping one eye to the future when evaluating a sales enablement solution.
Every year, Gartner releases their hype cycle for new, emerging technologies. At the very tip of the curve or the "peak of inflated expectations," lies machine learning. That means in 2017, AI and machine learning may enter the "trough of disillusionment" where people quickly realize that many companies may be talking about artificial intelligence, but few are able to deliver on their promises.
So how do you determine what's real and what's just hype? AI-enabled technologies can potentially add value to your sales teams only if they meet these criteria:
With these trends in mind, it's now time to discuss how to evaluate a sales enablement solution. The ideal solution for your business will definitely depend on the unique needs of your organization. Since the enablement space is a relatively new one, there isn't a lot of information out there to help you out when you're evaluating solutions. But what follows are what we believe are the "must-have" features you need in a solution. We are defining "must-have" features as those that: 1) solve business problems of both knowledge consumers and subject matter experts 2) increase adoption for both personas. There are a lot of "nice-to-have features" that won't be discussed as they don't have an impact on the above (things such as the ability to export content, advanced permissions, or roles).
"We have very simple criteria: 1. Does it solve an identifiable roadblock? 2. Does it fit within sales workflow? (or said another way: does it require sales to create a new process) 3. Can 3 customers who have a similar use case, vouch for its effectiveness." - Robert Keohler, TOPO Group Senior Analyst
To aid you in your evaluation of sales enablement solutions, we've compiled a list of some questions you should be asking yourself while you are in the evaluation phase:
A common theme in our last chapter was that current solutions are great for the purposes of browsing, but not for instant consumption. So it should be no surprise, one of our "must-have" features in a sales enablement solution is the ability to account for both use cases of the knowledge consumer: 1) instant consumption of knowledge and 2) browsing or studying knowledge for onboarding or ongoing training. The reason this is so important is the differences in intent between instant consumption and browsing/studying. For instant consumption, the workflow must optimize for predictive, fast search, and present information in a concise, easy-to consume way. If information isn't available, a workflow must be created to allow knowledge consumers to easily ask your subject matter experts to create new knowledge. While for browsing or studying, the workflow is not as important as much as the presentation layer. subject matter experts must be able to organize and present content in an intuitive way based on topics of interest to knowledge consumers.
Another important difference is that instant consumption helps your reps learn better on the job. Research on training suggests there is a 70:20:10 model that describes the optimal sources of learning for individuals. This model holds that individuals get 70% of their knowledge from on-the-job experience, 20% from interacting with other, and only 10% from studying and reading. So while you can tell your reps to study an objection handling document in the hopes that they will be more prepared when on a call, it's easier said than done. For a short period of time, they might remember what they studied, but retaining and recalling that information on the fly over time is extremely difficult. Much like in the classroom, rote memorization is not as effective for long term retention of information as actually solving problems on your own. This model has even bigger implications when you consider all the new sales reps you need to hire and onboard as your organization grows. With 70% of learning coming from on-the-job experience, handing new reps a link to your massive onboarding/training documents is not enough. A sales enablement solution that solves for the instant consumption of knowledge use case should reduce the time it takes for new reps to onboard (attain quota) much faster than a solution that cannot.
A key theme that emerged when we discussed why current solutions don't work is the lack of trust knowledge consumers have that the content they find is still accurate. The reason they can't 100% trust the content you put inside these knowledge bases is because it's static. We can only be sure that content is accurate at that specific moment in time, as there is no explicit stamp of approval which denotes that content is still "sales ready." While time is a great indicator, it's still very subjective, especially at the rate in which your business is changing. A competitive positioning document that is 2 weeks old might not be accurate anymore due to a new feature announcement, but it only changes a small part of the document, so 90% of it is still accurate but 10% of it isn't. How is the rep supposed to pick up on that subtlety while trying to reference that information on the phone with a prospect?
It's easy to point the blame at subject matter experts whose job it should be to keep content up to date, but it's not that easy. Remember the push vs. pull concept we discussed earlier? The same issue applies for content creators as well. Can you really expect them to remember to update every single piece of content whenever it changes? There is nothing that "pushes" them to proactively update content, so it's no surprise that sometimes things slip through the cracks, especially when it's not in their workflow.
The implications of reps not trusting content in their knowledge base is the root cause of a lack of adoption for current solutions like wiki's, enterprise Q&A, and enterprise search. What this lack of adoption leads to is more shoulder taps and one-off messages to your experts (as reps default back to what's fastest and easiest for them), which kills their productivity as they are forced to repeat themselves over and over again. Thus, it is critical that above all else your sales enablement solution: 1) has a workflow to ensure subject matter experts keep content fresh 2) For anyone searching and browsing this content, it should be very clear who verified the accuracy of the information, when it was last verified, and how often it is reviewed. In doing so, your solution can become the single source of truth for your organization and you give your reps the confidence they need while on the phone with prospects.
So what should this trust workflow accomplish? It should do 3 things: 1) Assign knowledge to the experts on your team (or a small group of them) when it is first created 2) Incorporate "push" tactics to proactively remind them to verify content is still accurate 3) Allow them to update content in their workflow
The frequency of verification should be determined by the nature of the knowledge being captured. If a company releases new versions of their products quarterly, then knowledge about that product should be reviewed quarterly as well. When a team member finds content they need and they can clearly see that it was recently verified by an expert, they are much less likely to shoulder tap or message your experts. This is true scalability.
In doing so, you can actually create accountability for both parties. When content is initially created, it is immediately attached to an expert on your team, which creates a sense of ownership. For the experts, there are also no more excuses for not updating content. Since they are given reminders every so often to update content (every week/month/quarter/year depending on the content) and that process is native to your workflow, your knowledge base should be accurate at all times. For the reps, there's no excuse for using the wrong or outdated information. They can easily tell in one glance: when the content was last verified and which expert on your team verified it as accurate.
When examining the jobs of the subject matter expert they primarily create knowledge two ways: 1) proactively or "top-down" - when experts are intentionally working to create new knowledge (similar to wiki's) 2) reactively or "bottoms-up" - when answering one-off questions, experts want to be able to capture that knowledge for the whole team (similar to Q&A).
This distinction between creating and capturing knowledge is critical to understand. Knowledge creation can be intentional, but also unintentional. What many sales enablement solutions forget to account for is this unintentional, "bottoms-up" way of knowledge creation. This occurs when they weren't actively thinking about creating knowledge, but instead reacting to someone else's request for knowledge. In these situations, it's common for that knowledge to exist in a silo, where only that one person who asked about it (usually via email, chat or ‘shoulder tap'), learns it, to the detriment of the wider team. Since that knowledge wasn't captured for the whole team, each person that encounters the same situation is forced to ask the experts on your team again for the answer. "Bottoms-up" knowledge creation, which is primarily driven by your sales reps, is crucial in understanding the gaps in your enablement strategy. No matter how hard you try to account for every objection, or every competitor, you will always be missing something. But if you're sales enablement solution has Q&A baked in, you will be able to keep your ear to the ground and ensure you enable your sales team with information prospects care about.
"Bottoms-up" knowledge creation, which mirrors Q&A tools we discussed earlier, allows you to capture that knowledge your reps are missing. "Top-down" knowledge creation is very similar to the wiki solutions we discussed in the last chapter as they are driven by the subject matter experts. So, it is not enough if your sales enablement solution only accounts for one of these ways of knowledge creation. An ideal enablement solution will have dedicated workflows for both "bottoms-up" knowledge creation via Q&A, as well as traditional "top-down" creation driven by the experts on your team.
"The next generation of enablement tools will have to deliver the right answers at the right time to sales reps. But they have to deliver this value in their current workflow or sales won't adopt." - Robert Koehler, TOPO Group Senior Analyst
After our discussion on trends like the rise of browser extensions, bots, and the importance of push vs. pull, it should be no surprise that we think the ideal sales enablement solution is built with this at the core of the product. By living everywhere your team works, your sales enablement solution should facilitate access to your knowledge native to your rep's workflow. For the sales rep (knowledge consumer), who needs access to information in the quickest way possible, browser extensions act as an overlay on the apps they live in: primarily their inbox and CRM. So now, when they are on the phone with a prospect, they can instantly access their knowledge base in one-click to answer a technical question, while being able to reference prior conversation in their inbox or notes in the opportunity record. By not having to switch tabs, they can access the information they need to in the proper context.
Similarly, bots for messaging apps enable you to quickly interact with a product without even having to open a browser! As we've discussed earlier, messaging plays a huge role in the transfer of knowledge across your organization. And since, they are becoming more and more of a destination in their own right, it will be increasingly important for your sales enablement solution to augment your messaging apps as well.
Some use cases for this bot would be:
New technologies and communication mediums like browser extensions, messaging apps, and bots are changing the way your sales team works and interacts with prospects. However, implementing a sales enablement solution that can surface knowledge to your sales teams wherever they work will make your team's job that much easier.
The grand promise of "push" is the ability to create contextual experiences and augment the apps that you use everyday. In the case of sales enablement for your reps, that means surfacing relevant sales knowledge while they are doing jobs like:
Thus, it is critical that your sales enablement solution can integrate with your reps' most used tools like your inbox, CRM, or LinkedIn so that they can respond to prospects faster. Since you are surfacing that knowledge to them in context, your whole team also becomes more consistent and on-message.
While we would love to say that "push" eliminates the need to search, that would not be correct. Search will always have a critical role to play. One bad search experience, where the knowledge consumer cannot find what they are looking for, can break the trust they have in your solution and lower adoption. But there are 2 main ways it can be improved in order for it to resemble "push" and increase adoption amongst your team: 1) Be based on usage, not just keywords 2) have a robust tagging system that creates an organizational layer.
Often times, search algorithms in a sales enablement platform are solely based on keywords. But when you think about how Google's search algorithm works, it's obviously not that simple. A whole industry has been created around search engine optimization which takes into account backlinks, meta-tags, and much more. Google has also begun to shift search away from keywords and more towards natural language processing. What that means is that they are making search more tailored to answer questions like "What is the price for a business to use Salesforce? vs. only focusing on keywords like "price, small business, and Salesforce". The benefit of this is that search is more intent driven and more intuitive for knowledge consumers to find the content they are looking for.
Similarly, for your sales enablement solution, it's important that their search algorithm has its own concept of SEO for your internal knowledge base that takes into account natural language, usage metrics (has this content been used frequently or not?) and verification status (is this content trusted or not?). In doing so, the best content that is most accurate and being used most will rise to the top, while stale and unused content goes to the bottom. As your company scales and grows, your search will actually become even smarter as it is able to leverage more and more data surrounding usage of content.
When you have a small knowledge base, it is easy to keep track of content and find what you are looking for. But as your team scales and grows, search becomes increasingly noisy and finding the right information is harder. A robust tagging system allows you to create an organizational layer to make it easier for your reps to drill down into the specific topics they are searching for. When implemented effectively, it standardizes naming conventions and creates shortcuts that enables your reps to quickly find knowledge they need. When search actually works, knowledge consumers begin to form trust in the solution, that further drives adoption for your solution.
Sales enablement is such a cross-functional role that when evaluating sales enablement solutions there are often many stakeholders that want to get involved. One key stakeholder is the product marketing team, who wants to ensure the content they create (case studies, white papers, etc) is being used by the sales team. As a result, a way to measure the effectiveness of the content you send to prospects is often high on the list of requirements for your sales enablement solution. A whole category of solutions under the sales asset management umbrella are built to exclusively serve this purpose.
But your sales enablement team is also creating content like competitive battle cards, overcoming objections, messaging & positioning statements and other internal sales knowledge that your sales team is leveraging as well. Isn't measuring the success of this type of content important too? This tension between the needs of product marketing and sales enablement often results in purchasing a solution that only fulfills one team's requirements.
To truly understand the effectiveness of all your sales knowledge and marketing content and drive alignment between sales enablement and product marketing, it's important to find a modern sales enablement solution that takes into account both types of content your teams create.
While product marketing and sales enablement may have different priorities, there is surely common ground that can be reached when it comes to content performance. Here's a question both sets of teams probably want answered:
"What knowledge and assets are resonating most with prospects, at each particular stage? And how can I leverage these usage statistics to create better marketing assets and to better enable our sales team?"
Simply put, measuring content performance becomes much more valuable when you can analyze all the sales knowledge and content your sales team uses. Purchasing a sales enablement solution that houses both your internal sales knowledge as well as external assets will give you the usage data you need to understand what your reps search and use the most. Content performance tracking like clicks can give insight into assets your prospects value most. But, that's not enough.
Tying that knowledge back to the stages in your sales process, including won and lost deals is the real differentiator. If you followed our recommendations for short, concise content you will be rewarded with more granular insights into what specific, situational knowledge led prospects through the various stages of your sales process. Imagine finding out that knowledge around the technical aspects of your Slack integration is consistently leading to more qualified opportunities, engaged pilots, and closed deals. From this data, you can create a nicely designed one-pager on your Slack integration to give to your reps so they can send it to your prospects after a demo. For your SDR's prospecting and executing your outbound sales strategy, you can push them to target companies who use Slack. Finally, you can inform your product marketing team about this and suggest they create new demand generation campaigns surrounding your integration with Slack to drive more qualified, inbound leads for your sales team. With better insights into the specific knowledge and content that is resonating best with your prospects at each stage of your sales process, you can better enable your sales team by creating relevant material for them, and your organization as a whole as well.
The end result, is tighter alignment amongst your sales enablement and product marketing team. Previously, you were piecing together separate strategies as a result of using data from different softwares. Having a single source of truth for measuring content performance will ensure both teams have a comprehensive and consistent strategy toward building internal sales knowledge and external assets across the sales funnel.
Your sales enablement solution needs to be evaluated imagining a future world where you have thousands of pages of content stored in it. In that world, how do you quickly find top performing knowledge and content? What about stale and out-of-date content? How can you quickly change the owners of that content? if you are talking about any solution involving documents, it's not a sustainable solution at scale. That objection handling document has ballooned from 2 pages when you first created it to 10 pages as your team moves upmarket and enterprise prospects demand more robust details on security and flexibility in pricing. With traditional solutions, as the volume of your content increases, the time it takes to manage it increases with it. An ideal sales enablement solution will minimize the time it takes to manage content as the volume of it increases (as the image below shows).
Also, as we discussed back at the beginning of the book, the lines between sales, customer success, and support blur closer every year. If your sales enablement solution can be rolled out horizontally to these departments as well, your subject matter experts will love you. When each department rolls out their own solutions, your subject matter experts are forced to learn three separate workflows for each of those products. Worse yet, some of that knowledge is probably applicable to all three departments, which means they have to try and keep that content up-to-date in three different places. That won't scale, which makes it increasingly important to find a solution that works for all of your client-facing teams.