It’s Time to Rebrand Sales Enablement

The business function called Sales Enablement hasn’t been around very long.  But because it’s still relatively new, is defined differently at nearly every company that has it, and has grown so rapidly, this could be the perfect moment to give it a new “brand name”.

In 2012, back in the good old days of going to the office and maskless travel, I was approached by our Chief Sales Officer about starting up our company’s first Sales Enablement program.  I told him that I was honored, was up for the challenge, and had no earthly idea what “Sales Enablement” was.

Fast forward to today.  We are starting to return to normal selling activities, but there is still confusion about the term “Sales Enablement”.  As someone who has built several organizations with that name, here are my thoughts about what the term means:

The Broad Definition for Sales Enablement

Initially, Sales Enablement had a broad definition that went something like “A centralized function that performs functions that are sales-related, but not directly tied to the act of selling.”  There were an increasing number of functions that were necessary in a complex selling world, but were not the most effective use of a salespersons valuable time.  Typical examples include:

  • Sales Demonstrations – Increasingly technical solution reviews
  • RFP Responses – Many salespeople are both effective and accurate in their writing skills.  Many more are…well…not.
  • Outbound Lead Generation – The process of getting prospects to show initial interest.  This has become a function of digital marketing, social media engagement and e-mail.
  • Managing the Sales “Tech Stack” – With the proliferation of sales tools, from the CRM system to the content delivery system to sales cadence software, sales organizations needed someone to “own” which tools were acquired and administered.
  • Sales Operations – The process each company has for getting sales negotiated, executed and booked is often a challenge.  Increasing legal and security requirements make this function even more critical.
  • Content Development – Presentation decks, FAQ’s, ROI Calculators, and demo scripts are just a few of the pieces of content that sales executives began to lean on as ways to communicate the value of their offerings.

There are other functions that I have seen included in “Sales Enablement” organizations that are less common.  Sales training, sales hiring, management of the sales methodology and compensation management are just a few examples.

The NARROW Definition for Sales Enablement

In recent years, the term “Sales Enablement” has increasingly been tied more directly to function number 6 above – the development of and training related to the content provided to a sales team that helps them to communicate their solutions to clients.  In many ways, this definition makes sense.  Getting a clients attention is often the hardest part of the sales process.  The key to helping sales sell – to ENABLING sales – is getting them the right tools to capture that attention.

This narrower definition can bring with it some organizational confusion between those old “frenemies” – Sales and Marketing.  My first Sales Enablement teams reported to a Chief SALES Officer.  But for most companies, it’s the MARKETING professionals who are entrusted with crafting value statements, collateral, and sales tools that all protect the corporate brand.  For organizations defining Sales Enablement this way, the function will report to the head of marketing.

The confusion this can create can cause real turmoil.  A few years ago, I had built another Sales Enablement (broad definition) at another company.  After 2 tough years, we had pulled together the functions that needed to be centralized and improved and we were finally making our Sales Enablement brand known around the company.  Then, during a company-wide meeting, the head of marketing announced a new hire to “manage the sales enablement process”.  Marketing defined the term more narrowly, and inadvertently created confusion between sales and marketing.  

But after we cleaned up that particular mess in Aisle 3, we gained a glimpse of an opportunity:

The dual definitions offer a golden opportunity

If you spend any time in sales or marketing, you will attend a HUGE number of meetings in which “Sales-Marketing alignment” is a topic.  I’m not sure why its such an intransigent problem.  Selling and Marketing should both be client-centered.  Both functions are about communicating value.  Typically, I find that the personalities of sellers and marketers are similar.  The two groups are natural partners.  But all too often, they seem to be disconnected at best, in direct conflict at worst.

But these differing definitions of “Sales Enablement” might offer a golden opportunity to bring these groups together.  By settling the argument in favor of the more NARROW definition, Sales Enablement becomes a marketing term that demonstrates alignment to the sales team.  The sales team understands that this group is the one delivering the content and tools they need to be successful, and the (Marketing-based) Sales Enablement team clearly knows who their internal clients are.

Sales Enablement “Rebrand”: Revenue Operations

If the industry settles on the more narrow, marketing-centric definition of Sales Enablement, we will need a new term for the group of functions that collectively help make the sales organization as effective as possible.  At TechCXO, we believe the right name for this critical collection of functions is “Revenue Operations”.   “Operations” clearly denotes the fact that these are functions that are meant to professionalize, streamline, and improve the process of acquiring new revenue for the company.  And by using the work “Revenue” instead of “Sales”, this team can focus on helping to capture ALL types of revenue – new logo bookings, back-to-base expansion, rapid implementations and contract renewals.  

Bert Harkins
Bert HarkinsPartner - Revenue Growth; Interim & Fractional CSO, CRO