• June 1, 2016
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Enabling Behavior

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Once again, my fascination with words comes to the rescue when I need something to write about. This month, class, we discuss enablement. It should surprise few of you that we will focus on it through the lens of sales enablement, because I’m an infamous sales bigot.

Enablement by itself is a dull word; it just means “the act of enabling.” Enabling is the present participle of the verb enable, which has the following meanings (according to Webster): 1. To give strength or ability to; to make firm and strong. 2. To make able (to do, or to be, something); to confer sufficient power upon; to furnish with means, opportunities, and the like; to render competent for; to empower; to endow. 3. To allow a way out or excuse for an action.

Now, it’s pretty clear that the intended definition for the sales context, and business in general, is the first and/or second. The way we usually hear the word used in mundane conversation, though, is undoubtedly the third, as in the example Wiktionary provides: His parents enabled him to go on buying drugs. Cross-referencing to enabler gives us “One who encourages a bad habit in another by his or her behavior.” I don’t want to accuse salespeople of anything, but most of the times I’ve gotten staggeringly drunk in a business context, they’re the ones who were buying. So technically they were enabling me, but that just means we all need an intervention.

Nobody ever talks about marketing or contact center enablement; sales seems to be the only part of the company that needs to be enabled. What sort of behavior are we enabling for them? If you ask a sales bigot like me, you’ll get a ton of negative answers. “Salespeople will tell you what you want to hear, and promise you anything.” “Salespeople are loud and aggressive.” “They’re selfish.” “They’re disloyal and will switch jobs at the drop of a hat.” That sort of thing, and worse.

The truth of the matter is almost completely the opposite. InsightSquared put a terrific slide show (“13 Stereotypes of Salespeople, Debunked”) on SlideShare last year, and it shoots holes in all those negative stereotypes. Salespeople can’t be like that, or they will find themselves to be not only unemployed but unemployable. Good salespeople know their products and never promise what they can’t deliver. They listen to customers and colleagues, they know the sales team is more important than individual success, and they know that they get better with age and experience—especially when they stay at the same company.

Driving those positive behaviors and supporting the building of deals is what sales enablement is all about. In fact, I propose that it’s not enablement at all—it’s sales empowerment. Back to the dictionary, we see that the closest meaning of empower is “To give someone more confidence and/or strength to do something, often by enabling them to increase their control over their own life or situation.”

Fine, so enabling is in that definition too. But where enabling has some negative connotations in common parlance, empowerment is almost entirely benign. Empowerment means to be all you can be, to overcome obstacles and succeed, and to accomplish things that were previously much harder, if not impossible. Sales empowerment is thus a set of tools to supercharge sales effectiveness, which is absolutely true.

Interestingly enough, I ran across a sales enablement app that appears to empower salespeople by enabling their more twisted side. Spiro, available for iPhone, Android, and Chrome, lets the user choose a personality for the app. These include R-Rated, Surfer Dude, Coach, Gossip Girl, Jewish Mother, and Fabio. These personalities use humor to keep you engaged and working while machine learning adapts to your work style to make you better at your job.

And there is enabling behavior going on. When interviewed by Venture Beat in November 2015, CEO Adam Honig noted, “The highest-performing sales reps use the ‘R-Rated’ personality in Spiro.” That includes Honig himself. It looks like sometimes you gotta be bad to be good.  


Marshall Lager runs amok as the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, and nobody can make him stop. Join the chaos at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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