5 Sales Enablement Trends You Should Watch in 2018

As we enter 2018, sales enablement remains a misunderstood sector (what is sales enablement, anyway?), which makes it difficult to predict what the next big sales enablement trends will be.

And with more products available each year, the definition of sales enablement is likely to remain fuzzy for the foreseeable future. Just check out Nancy Nardin’s epic graphic of the 2017 sales enablement landscape to grasp the current extent of the space.

With all that technology available, you may be tempted to think getting customers to say, “Yes!” will be easier than ever. But the fact is, increased competition, evolving buyer expectations, and the need to hear “Yes!” from not one, but 6.8 buyers, the sales process continues to grow more complex.

No wonder 77% of organizations now rely on some form of sales enablement to assist reps in meeting—and hopefully exceeding—quota.

2018 Sales Enablement Trends

But, what’s next? What hot sales enablement trends should you be watching in 2018?

We’ve listened to our clients, analyzed their pain points, and asked which sales enablement trends they’re eyeballing. Overall, we’re seeing sales enablement branch beyond content to address sales efficiency.

Here we go.

sales enablement trends - one-stop technology#1: One-Stop Technology

For a sales rep, there’s a golden moment when, after experiencing a well-crafted, personalized presentation, your wowed customer is ready to sign. What’s more anticlimactic than explaining that you’ll need to go back to the office, export the file, re-key it in the order entry platform, then email them later―dampening their enthusiasm and possibly jeopardizing the sale?

It’s embarrassing.

Sales teams have been feeling the pain for years. It’s inefficient, frustrating, and time-consuming to muddle through multiple log-ins to collect the data and content needed to build a personalized sales presentation.

So we’re listing one-stop technology as the number one sales enablement trend in 2018. This year, we’ll finally start to see more sales enablement tools serve multiple purposes and address multiple stages of the buying journey.

These new, modern sales enablement tools will streamline functions and data, becoming a one-stop shop that benefits reps, customers, and managers. Needs analysis, presentation-building, customer-facing sales tools, CRM, training, customer communication, and analytics come together in one powerful solution. And all of these functions communicate with pricing, product databases, and location―further enhancing the platform.

With a one-stop solution, reps can analyze customer challenges, suggest the ideal solution, create a quote and then―with the tap of a button―place the order to close the deal. All from the convenience of a tablet!

sales enablement trends - personalized buying journeys#2: Highly Personalized Buyer’s Journeys

Personalization enhances loyalty, drives conversion rates, and grows revenue. Monetate says that 79% of organizations exceeding revenue goals have a documented personalization strategy.

Historically, it’s been difficult (and really expensive) to unite all the specific customer data needed – demographics, engagement with marketing content, answers to needs-based questions, etc. – from multiple legacy systems to create a personalized buying journey.

Off-the-shelf platforms can’t manage such a complex feat. But adaptable sales enablement solutions will begin to make this easier in 2018. As solution providers and IT departments continue to move into the cloud, expose APIs, and build integration points, flexible and customizable tools that can adapt to your infrastructure will be something we see more of in 2018.

Also, personalizing your buyer’s journey is one of the best ways your organization can create a competitive advantage. Our clients tell us that sales reps love delivering custom presentations because they’re unique, impressing customers. One client even shared, “I like that it’s interactive, so customers don’t play on their phones while we’re talking.”

“I like that it’s interactive, so customers don’t play on their phones while we’re talking.”

sales enablement trends - manager enablement via data#3: Manager Enablement Via Data

Sales enablement trend #3 is all about data and how sales leaders can use this data to their advantage.

A collateral benefit of improved data integration is what we call “manager enablement.” More data gives managers a huge advantage in coaching reps to perform better based on real-time results.

Sales manager dashboards are not a novel idea. But increased reporting insights are going to revolutionize how managers measure and manage data including productivity, pipeline analysis, understanding the buyer’s journey, forecasting, and marketing insights that maximize sales performance.

As one example, by aggregating data on the most highly recommended and popular products—in addition to the rarely recommended ones—reps and managers can discern:

  • which sales tactics are most effective
  • what content has maximum impact
  • which solutions reps should be recommending
  • which methods convert best
  • what point in the sales pipeline customers are most likely to drop out

Using this data, managers will have a roadmap to coach reps and suggest training and strategies to maximize conversions as they adapt to new buyer behaviors and expectations. The results: more accurate forecasting and revenue target attainment.

sales enablement trends - automation and artificial intelligence#4: Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Automation and AI are revolutionizing sales enablement, and we believe it will be one of the hottest sales trends to watch in the coming years. However, let’s make something crystal clear: AI won’t replace sales reps any time soon, and certainly not in 2018.

AI can’t achieve quota on its own. It can, however, make reps more productive and efficient with their time, shifting the human role in the sales journey.

What AI does best is provide data, insights, and information in an accessible way. What humans do best is make meaningful connections to other humans that result in depth and understanding of needs. AI is critical in decreasing the amount of time consumed by administrative tasks, freeing up more time for reps to do what they do best: sell.

Reps devote as little as 22% of their time to selling, yet spend at least 50% of it on administrative tasks. Done right, the goal of automation/AI is to decrease reps’ administrative task load, freeing up time to build solid client relationships mid-funnel.

With more time to focus on selling, reps come in at the dynamic moment when customers are informed but seeking guidance in making their best decision.

sales enablement trends - continued focus on digital sales tools#5: Continued Focus on Being Digital

Does your organization have a Digital Transformation or Innovation team? If it doesn’t―it will soon. To keep moving forward, companies large and small will be required to adapt to more modern ways of doing things.

While digital and mobile technology have been sales trends for years, many organizations are just now launching mobile apps. As mobile technology expands, Digital Transformation and Innovation Teams help organizations navigate issues around aging IT structures and the challenges enterprise mobile device management (MDM) brings.

While these teams help companies go digital and cater to their unique requirements, most organizations don’t have the in-house expertise or IT capacity to go it alone. The challenge is twofold: how to equip teams with mobile tech―and then manage it.

The movement from on-premise servers and aging IT infrastructure to cloud-based, on-demand, BYOD, digitally transformed companies is well under way and will continue in 2018. But this year, we’ll start to see organizations rely more heavily on trusted partners with proven experience to guide their transformation and help them think through challenges like MDM, security, data integration, accessibility, etc.

Identifying a partner who’s already been there, done that, and understands that change (including the pain of the change and how to make it easier) is critical.

What Sales Enablement Trends Will You Watch in 2018?

Sales enablement is rapidly changing. But hopefully the sales enablement trends we’ve listed above will help you focus on what you can do this year to improve the efficiency of your sales team.

Which of the sales enablement trends we’ve identified will you watch, or even implement this year? What’s missing from our list?

Share below or give us a call and let us know how we can help you achieve your goals—we’d love to talk sales enablement with you!

What is Sales Enablement? Hint: It’s Not Just an App

Google what is sales enablement, and you’ll find varying definitions alongside dozens of companies offering apps that claim to be the silver bullet. We’ve seen first-hand that companies are often grasping at technology as a quick fix, rather than slowing down to align on a comprehensive initiative. However, making it easy for an entire sales force to use consistent messaging, keep up with product knowledge, add value to the customer experience, and drive sales growth can’t be accomplished with a single app. We must think bigger.

According to CSO Insights, while sales enablement is a growing trend, overall sales performance is not improving. In fact, while sales enablement as a discipline grew from 19.3% in 2013 to 32.7% in 2016, quota attainment actually decreased from 63% to 55.8%.

What’s happening?

what is sales enablement

How can you expand your sales enablement efforts into a 360-degree strategy? We have some ideas.

What Is Sales Enablement: THe Unboxed Definition

To start, here’s our answer to the what is sales enablement question.

We define sales enablement as:

A strategic initiative that aligns sales, marketing, and training to equip sales teams with the training, technology, content, and ongoing coaching they need to increase productivity, sell more, and improve the customer experience.

Let’s break that down.

IT’s a strategic initiative

Sales enablement is a comprehensive, forward-thinking initiative that employs a smart mix of technology and training. It’s not a quick-fix or a shiny new tool that lacks staying power.

If every employee company-wide embraces a mindset that they are either salespeople or sales support, your success will skyrocket. According to Salesforce’s State of Sales Report, 60% of sales professionals say collaborative selling increases their productivity by 25% or more, and over half say it also increases their pipeline.

It aligns sales, marketing, and training

In our experience, sales enablement originates in marketing. It’s marketing’s responsibility to position products, create talking points, and create a value proposition to make the customer experience more consistent.

Sales reps are your organization’s frontline revenue drivers. They build strong relationships with customers, provide solutions, and close deals. But it takes all three departments―sales, marketing, and training― working together to cultivate a successful, cross-functional sales enablement initiative.

Marketing typically owns the budget, sales executes the strategy, and training fosters the necessary skills and behaviors to sustain it. When this powerful trifecta aligns, the ultimate customer experience emerges.

It demands training

Sales reps require knowledge, skills, and behaviors to effectively sell to modern buyers. Without great training, they won’t share your value proposition with ease or overcome difficult objections.

Unfortunately, 80% of marketing content is rarely or never used by sales, according to ITSMA. Without strategic, insightful training on how to use them, high-end sales enablement tools and content are useless—but with the right training, these tools are priceless.

And with microlearning, reps can make the most of small chunks of time and train on the go. They can access training information whenever they need it. Quick refresher course before a big customer meeting? Yes, please.

It’s powered by technology

CSO Insights explains your organization can create the right tools, training, messaging, and content, but if your sales team can’t access them easily, you’re effectively fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

The sales productivity gap―widened by administrative tasks, manual data entry, and time spent searching for the right content―means less time for what sales reps do best: selling. Selling Power says some reps spend as little as 3% of their time actually selling. That’s shocking!

That’s where sales enablement technology comes in. And remember, don’t look for a silver bullet. Your reps will likely use different tools for different tasks. From rep-facing tools like CRMs and sales training platforms, to customer-facing solutions like guided selling tools and customer feedback platforms.

It centralizes content

Message consistency is vital to your organization’s brand. Sales enablement gives every rep access to the same high-caliber marketing content. Customers in every region are guaranteed to receive the same (stellar!) level of information and service. Marketing consistency thus becomes reality.

Easy access to interactive demos and content serves a dual purpose: they’re customer-facing (hello, customer experience) and also help keep your reps’ knowledge on point.

Let the content do the talking: interactive demos can explain your products quickly, while some sales enablement tools recommend the right training content at the right time to help reps close a deal.

Enablement? We’d call that empowerment.

It requires ongoing coaching

According to Topo, “Most sales training programs suffer from a fatal flaw―they happen once a year.  As a result, salespeople forget what they’ve learned.”

Products change, messaging evolves, and competitors encroach. The solution? Make sales enablement training a continuous, cyclical effort.

Conduct regular training sessions and provide reps with refresher training to maintain their competitive edge. The more modern and interesting you make it, the more your team will engage with it.

And coach, coach, coach. Observe your reps in action and provide feedback. They want to be better. Help them.

guided selling as a part of sales enablement

The Goal: Increase productivity, grow sales, and improve customer experience

When sales enablement is done right, the benefits are three-fold.

First, reps are more productive. They spend less time on administrative tasks and more time selling. And don’t forget about onboarding. Getting new reps up to speed is a challenge. With the right sales enablement strategy, reps are more productive, sooner. Often twice as fast.

It empowers reps to educate customers and make smarter recommendations about the best product/service for their needs. When customers experience this transparency and see that a rep isn’t just suggesting a solution to meet quota, they start to trust. And trust quickly morphs into increased sales.

Finally, it simplifies the increasingly complex buyer’s journey and adds value. A comprehensive sales enablement strategy makes it easy for your reps to sell and easy for your customers to buy from you. When you create a unique and exceptional customer experience, customers will buy from you again and again, and tell their friends to do the same.

Think before you launch

Without a well-planned strategy to accomplish your organization’s sales enablement objectives, you could waste time, effort, and money on so called “silver bullets” without achieving results.

Avoid failure to launch. With good planning, and a smart mix of training and technology, your sales force will be enabled, empowered and unstoppable.

So what is sales enablement to you? Share your definition in the comments below.

Should I Build or Buy a Sales Enablement Solution

You’ve identified a problem in your sales organization. So whether it’s better training or more powerful technology, you begin the search for a sales enablement solution that will solve this problem. After browsing the market and speaking to a few vendors, the build or buy question pops into your head and you start to wonder, “Could I do this in-house?”

Sales Enablement Solution - Should I Build or Buy?

There are plenty of benefits to building your own solution.

  1. You own it.
  2. You can build it to your exact specs.
  3. You can use existing resources.
  4. And, with technology so readily available, the hurdles to creating your own solution are lower than ever.

But before you pull the trigger and decide to build your own sales enablement solution instead of buying an existing one, here’s a few questions to consider.

WILL IT BE A STRATEGIC DIFFERENTIATOR?

If the answer is no, save yourself time and money and go with an off-the-shelf solution. There’s plenty of options on the market that can solve a variety of problems and automate processes to make you more efficient.

If the answer is yes, you may be a good candidate for creating something in-house. Plus, if you want something no one else has, building it yourself may be the only way to get a solution that is a strategic differentiator.

That being said, another option is to find a solution that can be customized or configured to match your specific needs. Look for more than simple branding changes like adding a logo or changing colors.

Take our sales enablement platform as an example. Every part of the platform – the needs-based questions, recommendation algorithm, customer segmentation, etc. – is uniquely configured for each client. Even though it’s a SaaS platform, no two end up being the same. Options like these allow you to have a strategic differentiator without the cost of building something from scratch.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO BUILD IT INTERNALLY?

Many people believe there’s three things necessary to take on a project like this: resources, time, and money. And you can’t cut corners on any of them.

There’s a fourth requirement that many people don’t consider, and it can have a big impact on the other three. It’s experience.

Let’s look at these four components individually.

Resources

If your solution is software, you’ll need to assemble a team of UI/UX Designers, Software Engineers, Content Strategists, QA Testers, and Project Managers. Software solutions also require the technology infrastructure to host what you build.

If your solution is better sales training, you’ll need a team of Instructional Designers, Content Strategists, Visual Designers, Animators, Videographers, and Project Managers, as well as the technology to create and host the content. Pro tip, your reps want a more engaging experience than what PowerPoint can offer.

Do the math before you start! For a software solution, your technology team alone could cost upwards of $500,000 just to build your tool. That doesn’t include hosting or maintenance.

Time

How long will it take you to scope, build, and launch your solution? And is this a guess, or have you done the research and feel confident about your projected timeline?

Another way to think about it is how long can you stand to wait? What will you lose in sales opportunities and potential revenue if it takes longer than planned?

According to Standish Group’s 2015 CHAOS report, companies who build their own software solutions go over their timelines on average by 230%. Sales reps waiting that long for a tool they were promised a long time ago will eventually doubt it’s ever coming, which will have a negative impact on adoption, and could eventually lead to failure.

Cost

Similar to time, how confident do you feel about the budget you’ve allocated?

Here’s a great way to determine the budget for a project like this. Understand the payoff if the solution works, and use that insight to determine your budget. For example, a $250,000 investment may sound like a lot of money for a sales enablement solution, but if it helps you generate $1,000,000 in additional revenue, the investment is worth it.

When building on your own, include a contingency plan in your budget. The CHAOS report referenced above also states companies who build their own software solution, on average, exceed their budget by 178%.

To continue the example from above, take your $500,000 software team and multiply it by 178%. Your resources required just increased to $890,000.

Experience

This is where many companies don’t place enough emphasis. Without experience, expect your project to require more resources, take more time, and cost more money. Without experience, you’ll also need to plan for iteration, unless the (unreal) expectation is to get it 100% right the first time.

You may be very confident in your team’s abilities, but have they created software or training like this before? If so, do they have a proven track record to support their claims?

This is where buying a solution from an established partner has the greatest advantage. They’ve “been there, done that.” They’ll be more efficient, more cost effective, and, depending on the vendor, able to deliver a solution with proven results. All this should give you confidence in your decision to buy instead of build.

ARE YOU ABLE TO MAINTAIN IT?

Maybe you do have the resources, time, budget, and even experience to build and launch your custom sales enablement solution. The final question to consider is will you be able to maintain it? Launching a solution is not the final phase. You have to iterate and maintain it to make sure your reps have exactly what they need to be successful and reach their quotas.

Consider also what happens if the team who built it decides to move on from your company, or onto your company’s next initiative. Does that knowledge go with them? Plus, can your internal IT team support this project in addition to their existing workload?

Based on our experience, we suggest budgeting 25 % of the build cost for maintenance. Sales enablement solutions need to be fluid and evolve with your business. If they’re static, reps will lose interest and go back to their old ways.

AVOID THE “BLACK SWAN”

Harvard Business Review published an article in 2011 that shared stories of top companies who decided to build their own solutions and the results that followed. They called situations like these “black swans.” Avoid these at all costs.

  • Levi Strauss stitched together a $5 million IT project that ended up costing over $192 million.
  • When Hershey’s home-cooked order taking and fulfillment system prevented shipments during Halloween, they suffered an 18.6% drop in earnings that quarter.
  • Kmart realized they couldn’t afford to maintain their $1.4 billion internal IT modernization project, so they spent an additional $600 million to update existing software. The “Blue Light Special” retailer filed for bankruptcy that same year.

Know this. You’re not the first person to ask yourself the build vs. buy question. There are benefits to building your own sales enablement solution, but there’s also risks. If you’re wrestling with this, we’d be happy to chat you through it. Comment below, contact us online, or give us a call to get in touch.