• May, 26 2017
  • By Jim Dickie, partner, CSO Insights

Sales Is Like an Orchestra. Sales Enablement Is the Maestro

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The evolution of sales enablement is a development I’ve been watching with a great deal of interest over the past few years. Momentum on this front has been gathering. As part of CSO Insights’ 2013 Sales Performance Optimization study, we asked “Do you have a sales effectiveness/sales enablement function to support your sales teams?” Nearly 23 percent of the sales executives participating in the study answered yes. When we posed that question in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization study, that number had nearly doubled, to 45.1 percent.

Clearly, it’s a concept getting a lot of buzz, but are real results getting generated? When we asked sales executives in the 2016 study to rate the outcome of sales effectiveness initiatives that they had fully implemented over the previous two years, only 19.1 percent of the firms without a sales enablement function said that they achieved the majority of their objectives. But that number more than doubled, to 43.2 percent, for firms that had implemented a sales enablement role inside their company.

So why is there such a big disparity in performance? An issue I have seen repeatedly over the years is that when a company decides to tackle a sales performance challenge, multiple functional areas within the company leap into action, often at cross-purposes. Take the issue of increasing revenue per salesperson, for instance. Sales management might decide to do more coaching; HR could implement an on-boarding process for new sales professionals; marketing could launch new lead generation campaigns; finance could modify the commission plan; sales operations could reshuffle territories; IT could roll out new CRM capabilities; and so on.

All of these initiatives are well intentioned, but all too often the efforts are totally uncoordinated. Think for a moment of an orchestra where the violins are playing classical music, the brass section is playing jazz, the drums are laying down a rap beat, the bass is cranking out the blues, etc. The end result is chaos. So too is the impact on sales reps when they are pulled in a variety of directions by a number of functional areas within a company. Multiple attempts to address a sales performance problem can actually end up exacerbating it.

Our research shows that one of the main goals of sales enablement is to coordinate the efforts of all these different parts of the company, as we can see in the chart.

Just like an orchestra conductor, sales enablement does not play the “instruments” of sales effectiveness. Instead, sales enablement works with sales operations, marketing, finance, sales management, HR, and so on to ensure that the strategies and tactics needed to effectively leverage people, process, knowledge, and CRM technology are successfully blended together to overcome the challenges the sales organization is facing.

Does sales enablement require yet another investment to implement? Sure it does. But recall the success gap between firms that have a sales enablement function and those that do not. The return on investment is compelling enough for companies to find space within their budgets for making sales enablement a reality, because failing to do so will handicap the performance of your sales teams going forward.


Jim Dickie is cofounder and independent research director of CSO Insights, a division of Miller Heiman Group, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales enablement initiatives. He can be reached at jimdickie@icloud.com or on Twitter @jimdickie.

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