Sales Enablement vs. Sales Engagement: What’s the Difference, and Why You Need Both

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The sales and marketing landscape is fast evolving thanks to new technologies that enable sales teams to engage prospects during the sales process. Access to customer data, metrics, and workflow automation makes selling easier. So do you need to purchase sales enablement software...or do you need a sales engagement platform? Do reps make more sales because they are enabled or because they can more easily engage?

Sometimes terminology can be a bit confusing, so let’s get to the bottom of things.

What Is Sales Enablement?

Nancy Maluso of SiriusDecisions has stated that “the goal of sales enablement is to ensure sales reps have the right knowledge, skills, and process to maximize every buyer interaction.” So what does that actually require? It really depends on the expert you ask.

For this article, we’ll use the following list of activity categories provided by Salesforce.com to define what sales enablement entails:

  • Recruiting and hiring—getting the right people.
  • Training and coaching—educating and motivating reps.
  • Equipping—providing reps with the right tools to do their jobs.
  • Assessing—measuring who and what is working to increase sales.

Sales enablement involves different activities with the goal of giving sales teams the tools and resources they need to close more deals.

Recent changes in customer expectations mean the sales process has become more buyer-centric, necessitating close collaboration between sales teams and other internal departments or specialties, such as marketing, human resources, product marketing, field marketing, customer service, account-based marketing, and more. As such, sales enablement is essential for the orchestration of these various elements, so they all work together for sales reps to deliver a seamless customer experience.

What Is Sales Engagement?

According to Forrester Research, sales engagement platforms “enable digital, inside, and field sales personnel to be more productive and efficient. They automate highly manual tasks such as dialing customers, leaving voicemails, tracking emails, logging notes, and initiating outgoing correspondence with prospects and customers. They also support the creation of both manual and automated engagement processes for sales prospects.”

So, while sales enablement aligns the sales process internally to ensure success, sales engagement focuses on helping sales professionals to communicate effectively with prospects and customers. 

You may be thinking, “We have CRM and marketing automation. We’re all set.” Well, no—these technologies alone are not enough. In fact, they should be considered basic tools, like a phone or a computer. Sales engagement bridges the gap between marketing automation and CRM.

Need more proof that CRM and marketing automation alone are not enough? Consider these three questions:

  1. Does a CRM alone help an individual rep engage with his or her prospects? Hardly. Most organizations use CRM as a data repository to capture contact information and track sales activities against those contacts. Sales engagement software ensures those reps have the integrated tools they need to connect with and engage their prospects via their preferred method of communication—email, phone, even SMS.
  2. Can a marketing automation platform improve the one-on-one engagement activities of your sales reps? Not really. Marketing automation is more about large-scale reach and inbound marketing. The right solution will help you score leads and move the qualified ones over to sales but, unlike sales engagement, marketing automation doesn’t empower the individual rep to engage one-on-one.
  3. Are your reps responding to new leads within minutes rather than days, and are they making a high enough volume of outreaches, based on a defined cadence, to engage with your target audience? Doubtful. Most reps take days to follow-up on new leads despite research showing conversion rates being dramatically higher if the new lead is contacted sooner. Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you their No. 1 complaint is that sales doesn’t follow up on leads fast enough and they become stale or lost to the competition. Sales engagement software empowers reps to easily and quickly engage with the next best lead based on data captured via marketing automation, and guided by criteria-based, automated workflows.

Sales Enablement and Sales Engagement: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Although each has a different focus, sales enablement and sales engagement solutions complement one another. They both play a role in enabling the sales team to engage effectively with prospects and customers to meet revenue goals.

In the case of sales enablement, work with other internal departments to ensure that sales enablement is part of the corporate culture. Work with other executives and managers to find solutions that support the overall sales efforts and goals.

When it comes to sales engagement solutions, the choice is up to your sales management team. You own the one-on-one conversations and relationships during the sales cycle. Demand the platform that will make every conversation count and move the prospect closer to a sale.

Darryl Praill is chief marketing officer of VanillaSoft. A high-tech marketing executive with more than 25 years of experience spanning start-ups, re-starts, consolidations, acquisitions, divestments, and IPOs, Praill has been a guest lecturer, public speaker, and radio personality and has been featured in numerous podcasts, case studies, and best-selling books. Praill is a former recipient of the coveted Forty Under 40 Award, and has held senior executive roles in leading companies including Sybase, Cognos (now IBM), webPLAN (now Kinaxis), and CML Emergency Services (now AIRBUS). He has raised over $50 million in venture funding across multiple organizations and consulted with world-class corporations including Salesforce, SAP, and Nielsen. He is a computer science graduate from Sheridan College.

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