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Top 5 Takeaways From the Sales Enablement Society Conference

October 22, 2019 / by Spencer Grover

SES19 Conference

 

Last week, the LevelJump team and I went down to San Antonio for the 2019 Sales Enablement Society Conference. Our goal? Talk to lots of people, learn as much as possible about the sales enablement space, and eat some killer BBQ.

I’d say we knocked it out of the park on all three. Here are my top 5 takeaways from the 2019 Sales Enablement Society Conference.

LevelJump at Valentinas

1. Sales enablers are expected to measure to revenue

In every session we attended at the Sales Enablement Society conference, there was almost always a question on measuring the impact of sales enablement programs.

 

And to be clear, this isn’t a new trend. At the Sales Enablement Soiree in Boston earlier this year, Mary Shea drew the parallel between sales enablement now and marketing automation in the early 2000s. Closely tied to the emergence of marketing automation was the shift in thinking about marketing as something necessary but nebulous to making concrete contributions to revenue growth.

From presentations at the conference, it looks like the sales enablement field is going to follow the same trajectory.

A good example of this focus on impact came from Kristen McCrae, the head of sales enablement and performance for core acquisition at Intuit. In her excellent presentation titled Creating Urgency & Endorsement with a Data-Driven Mindset, Kristen argues that sales enablement needs to take a consultancy mindset and approach to prioritizing, running, and measuring sales enablement programs:

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 10.36.32 AM

And the first step? Quantify the impact of your program on KPIs that the business cares about. It’s not enough to just have a KPI number. You have to have a number that is going to be discussed by senior leadership and is a needle they’re trying to move. That means understanding what business goals the organization is trying to achieve at the top, then what KPIs they’re using to determine if they are successful or not in their achievement of those goals.

 

That sort of impact-driven thinking was more common this year than anything we’ve seen before, and it’s clear that enablement is increasingly going to be asked to prove their impact on the metrics business leaders care about.

2. Sales enablement serves the business, not sales

The second major trend to come out of the Sales Enablement Society Conference was that sales enablement is here to serve the business rather than the sales teams.

Enablement professionals are a naturally helpful bunch, and for a long time now they’ve been extremely effective in helping sales achieve their objectives. However, the shift in reporting structure (more on that in a minute) and shift in measurement means that increasingly, sales enablement mandate is to serve the business first, sales second.

Of course, these two things might be – and often are – the same. But the change from one to the other represents enablement starting to get the long-sought seat at the table (especially enablers who speak the same metrics as the boardroom) and start to move away from tactical support.

For example, the directive from a VP Sales might be something like “You need to provide a training program to help my reps hit their quota!” whereas a directive from the boardroom might be “we’re projected to have a revenue gap that we need to close in the next 6-12 months.”

The answer to the boardroom might very well be to create programs that improve the close rate of existing reps. But that’s only one lever enablement can pull. It might be more efficient to:

  • Ramp new reps faster and close the revenue gap that way
  • Isolate salespeople who have a high ACV and identify what they’re doing, then build a program for everyone else based on that information
  • Design a program for CS teams to drive down customer churn

From talking to people over the last week, this shift towards outcome-based enablement – driven by directives from the top – is starting to move to the norm, and as a result, enablement is shifting to serve the business, not the sales team.

3. There’s still a lot of new sales enablement blood (and no “right” path to sales enablement)

As the sales enablement profession continues to mature, we’ll see a natural balancing out of where sales enablement professionals are in their tenure. For now, though, there’s still a lot of new blood circulating around. Companies are hiring sales enablers at an incredible rate, and this means that there are people flooding into the profession from all sorts of directions.

 

sales enablment job titles_SES19

 

One person we spoke to had started in sales ops then moved to sales enablement as they progressively outgrew each role; another had worked in sales for 14 years before jumping to be the first enablement hire.

 

There’s no single path towards sales enablement, which (we think) is a good thing.

One person we spoke to had started in sales ops then moved to sales enablement as they progressively outgrew each role; another had worked in sales for 14 years before jumping to be the first enablement hire.

With people coming from all sorts of perspectives and backgrounds, it makes the profession, in general, more dynamic, more conducive to being the connective tissue between different teams, and more capable of growing and adapting quickly as the field changes.

4. Sales enablers are tactical… but its starting to shift

There are a couple of trends to pull out here.

First, sales enablement is still, for many, a tactical function. The Fifth Annual Sales Enablement Report that came out earlier this year found that the number of sales enablers who report into operations is falling, it’s still a significant number at 17%.

17% of sales enablers report into sales operations.

At the same time, given the other trends we’ve talked about here like the shift towards impact metrics and serving the business, it’s not surprising that we’re starting to move towards enablement being a strategic function. This is when everyone gets excited and talks about charters and vision and alignment.

But the reality is, there’s still a ‘boots on the ground’ feeling around sales enablement, especially for those new to the field. I was speaking to one person who said:

“I just started in this role. I was really excited about building a charter and getting buy-in from everyone, but on my third day my boss told me ‘we need a new onboarding program, and we need it now.’”

And this story isn’t unique. Most enablers I spoke to are excited to move in a proactive, strategic way, but so often end up getting sucked into reactive, tactical projects.

As the field matures, we’d expect to see more pushback on ad hoc project requests, and a stronger focus on defining – and sticking to – an overarching enablement function.

5. The sales enablement tech stack

Lastly, let’s talk tech stack. We tried to pry into what tech everyone is using to get a sense for the best sales enablement tools out there, why people love them and, selfishly, to build our own product roadmap.

And three things emerged:

1. Call recording software is no longer optional

gong dog eating BBQAgain and again (and not only because of Gong’s super cute dog!) call recording came up as a must-have piece of sales enablement technology. Not only does it make coaching and training easier, but it also delivers huge value for reps to listen to each other’s calls and understand what’s working and what isn’t.

For sales enablement who are focused on building programs that replicate top performers and aim to make middle performers better, call recording is the single best tool to uncover differences that you can then ‘programatize’ for the wider sales team.

2. Content organization is still a core requirement… but the tools are as varied as enablers themselves

HighSpot and Seismic are, of course, the frontrunners in the content management game. What’s interesting though is that while mid-market firms eventually end up with HighSpot or Seismic as they grow, there’s a big chunk of organizations that have turned to other sales enablement tools to manage their content – systems they hang on to for a long, long time. These include:

  • A Google website
  • A spreadsheet
  • Shared drives (PointDrive, G Drive, etc…)
  • Pinned messages in Slack
  • Manuals and binders (for internal content)
  • A book (also for internal content)

So while content organization seems to be the first or second significant project that enablers take on, the way that they solve that problem varies a lot depending on things like amount of content, budget, organization size, and organizational complexity.

3. Pitch rooms are table stakes

Lastly, pitch rooms – the ability to go in, record a practice sales pitch, and have it scored by someone – is now table stakes. Virtually every major sales enablement or sales readiness platform can do this, and there is a raft of new, extremely affordable products that do this and nothing else. That means that sales enablers can simply expect this functionality when they’re completing an evaluation.

Sales Enablement Society Conference wrap up

As usual, the Sales Enablement Society did an amazing job, not only of bringing the profession together but actually elevating the field and helping the people in it grow and improve.

From what we saw, the future of sales enablement is looking pretty good:

  • Practitioners are starting to get a seat at the table, and measure the impact metrics that business executives care about
  • Initiatives are becoming proactive and strategic rather than reactive and tactical
  • The tech landscape continues to develop as both the market and enablers learn what tools they need to be great at their jobs.

 

Of course, there’s still a long way to go (and a lot of BBQ to eat!) but all in all, the Sales Enablement Society conference was good place to spend the week.

 

Topics: Sales Enablement Best Practices

Spencer Grover

Written by Spencer Grover

Spencer is the product marketing manager at LevelJump. He comes from the world of content and loves helping B2B SaaS companies find exactly the right people who love a product, and figuring out exactly how to tell that product story so it resonates and compels action. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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