Over the last 5 months, I’ve constantly been speaking with progressive sales enablement practitioners every week. I do this, because part of my job as a product marketer, is to really understand the market.
After having these conversations, there are a few things I’ve noticed happening in the industry when it comes to the sales enablement tech landscape.
Right now, there are two types of applications in the sales enablement tech space that practitioners mainly use:
- Content Management Systems (CMS), which hold your sales assets
- Learning Management Systems (LMS), which hold your training modules
But there’s a third emerging category, which is the Sales Enablement Platform. We’ll discuss this a bit further in the article, and look at how Gartner is defining this type of vendor.
So, from having hundreds of conversations with enablement practitioners, and having read dozens of industry reports and opinions from analysts, here are my thoughts around the two main gaps I see with vendors in this space.
First, Content Management Systems Dominate The Sales Enablement Definition
I firmly believe that analysts have been defining the sales enablement category incorrectly for almost a decade. If you take a look at the Sales Enablement category on G2Crowd’s competitive grid, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the vendors are marketing platforms to store, deliver, and measure marketing/sales content you send to prospects.
This doesn’t cover the importance and responsibilities of sales enablement in its entirety.
There was a lot of chatter about this at the Sales Enablement Society conference in Dallas back in October 2017.
Many practitioners there didn't agree with the way the market is defined, highly driven by huge investments from venture-backed CMS platforms (over $260M in funding across the top four players) saturating the industry with their marketing message, eventually influencing the industry’s definition of sales enablement technology.
Content is only one component of enablement. There are many other components that enablement practitioners deal with every day.
A CMS solves the problem of marketing attribution to content, not sales enablement as a whole. Damn these marketers always trying to steal credit! Don’t worry, I’m allowed to say this, I’m a marketer myself.
The Market Shift To Sales Enablement Platforms
Gartner published an excellent report in August 2017 titled “Sales Enablement Technology Transforms the CRM Sales Landscape.” They’ve mentioned that some sales enablement vendors have matured into platform solutions that are better suited for sales leaders. And a major shift in this maturation model is the deep integration into the CRM.
Take a look at how complex the sales enablement landscape has become, with CRM/API integrations being at the center of it. If you’re not integrating your sales enablement programs into your CRM (i.e. spreadsheets and corporate/HR LMS), you really can’t call it ‘enablement’ anymore.
Now, let’s circle back to the sales CMS platforms that have been defining the industry definition for a decade. When you look at this graph from Gartner, you clearly see that a CMS doesn’t even scratch the surface of most capabilities a sales enablement platform needs today, not considering the capabilities that will be required by 2020.
Gartner recommends that leaders evaluate sales enablement vendors for their platform capabilities, particularly for quality of API connection to SFA Systems or other enablement applications.
And a marketing attribution integration in your CRM is not enough. That would be the same as equating the entire success of a sales cycle on the fact that a lead attended a webinar.
There’s a lot that goes into an enablement program that drives more and faster close. Education and training, certifications and assessments, content used, practice in the field, hitting milestones, etc.
Anything less than this isn’t true measurement, in my opinion. Which leads me to my second point of the article.
Second, Many Enablement Vendors Can’t Track ROI
To tee up this second observation, let’s take a page from the L&D book for a second, and look at the Kirkpatrick Model.
First, let’s do a quick overview of the theory:
- Reaction: This is the basic first level of assessment. You’re measuring your reps’ initial reaction to the training. Did they like it? Did they find it useful? Was the material good? Did we use the right experts to run the programs? Etc.
- Learning: This is the second level of assessment. You’re measuring how much of the material was absorbed by your reps, and map it to the learning objective.
- Behavior: This is the third level of assessment. You’re measuring how much your programs have influenced the behavior of your reps and how they’re applying it in the field.
- Results: This is the fourth level of assessment. You’re measuring the impact your programs had at the business level, so revenue and pipeline growth in sales, and tying it back to the different parts of the program or individuals.
Even though this is a key concept for L&D practitioners (which I’m not saying is the same as sales enablement - it’s definitely not), it can be applied to program measurement on the sales side too.
Now, let’s look at how this applies to the two main sales enablement applications in use by practitioners today: CMS and LMS.
- Reaction: Both applications do this very well. Reps can leave feedback on most content/training modules, and enablers can track usage/completion of content, giving them a good idea of what’s resonating with the reps in the field.
- Learning: This is the key metric an LMS will measure. Certifications, assessments, quizzes, testing. They do this very well. CMSs don’t really track this, they track external sharing or content downloads.
- Behavior: This is where it gets very interesting. Both LMS and CMS platforms are bad at this. Some claim they can do it, but most can’t. They’re not tying learning programs to real practice in the field. This is usually a manual process that requires a ton of time for enablement practitioners, especially if you’re not using an activity tracker in your CRM or conversation intelligence software.
- Results: Again, both CMS and LMS platforms will claim they do this, but the majority don’t do it well. CMS will tie the content to pipeline and revenue, but it’s an influence metric (marketing attribution), not a program outcome metric. LMS will make claims on training ROI, but when you look what they offer in their analytics, they give you program completion metrics. Not the same as tying your program to a business outcome, especially in sales where everything is revenue.
So you can see, there’s still a long way to go in the sales enablement vendor space when it comes to measurement. There’s some progress made with new and existing vendors building deeper relationships with Salesforce and other CRMs.
However, when a platform first starts off as an LMS or CMS, and then wants to get into the enablement platform space (true enablement, start to finish), it becomes difficult for these vendors to really execute on their promise to enablement practitioners because of the gaps in functionality and reporting.
Do I Need a CMS, LMS, or Enablement Platform?
When looking at enablement vendors, ask yourself this:
- Do we have a content issue? Can reps find the right assets? If so, then a CMS could be a great tool for you to add.
- Do we have a training issue? Are reps not getting the right coaching? If so, then an LMS could be a great tool for you to add. However, I would suggest that you find vendors that focus on Sales LMS, not a general corporate/HR LMS, or you’ll lose a lot of key functionality you need for sales enablement.
- Do we need a robust enablement program across many functions? Do we need both content and training? Do we need to measure business outcomes of our programs? If so, then LMS and CMS might not work well for you, even if you get both. You’ll need a true enablement platform that’s deeply integrated in your CRM.
It’s important as enablement practitioners to understand what are the top priorities. Usually, in sales, it’s revenue growth - it’s the only priority I’ve seen stay constant across companies and industries, regardless of company size.
So if you want to be able to get a seat at the executive table, you need to be able to measure the impact of your programs to revenue growth. When evaluating vendors in the enablement space, make sure you address this.
And probe deep on the API/CRM integrations. Many vendors have one so they can check the box for you during your evaluation. But it doesn’t always do what you need it to do.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in the sales enablement tech landscape today? Where do you see the industry going in the next 5 years? I’d love to hear your comments.