b2b marketing & sales

5 takeaways on the current state of Sales Enablement

What is the current state of Sales Enablement in Europe and especially in the UK? A recent SeismicLXA survey carried out amongst 1,000 UK, German and French professionals produced some very useful insights regarding the current transformation of the sales process. It shows how sales are becoming increasingly complex and how organisations are adapting to the new situation. Sales Enablement is more than ever at the heart of these changes. Here are my five takeaways from this very noteworthy report. #Disclosure: Visionary Marketing worked with Seismic in 2022.

5 takeaways from the 2023 Seismic-LXA State of Sales Enablement report

Sales Enablement Superhero
The state of Sales Enablement in 2023. S.E. can turn your average salesperson into a superhero, but many businesses have to overcome a few challenges before they get there — image generated with Midjourney.

State of Sales Enablement: A Survey of 1,000 European Professionals

 LXA conducted this survey in Europe and focused mostly on the UK (72% of the 1,000 respondents), with a smaller proportion of answers from France and Germany. It allows some sort of comparison between countries with a little bias on the UK, though. Continental Europe is far less advanced in terms of Sales Enablement adoption, this nuance is somewhat important.

State of Sales Enablement report
The state of sales enablement report by LXA is adamant: all respondents in the UK have a Sales Enablement Function.

Most respondents are working in sales, with a fair proportion of managers and top managers. This is a fine sample and the insights we can derive from that survey are extremely newsworthy.

LXA evaluates the Sales Enablement market at $508.9 billion in their report. This number encompasses both SalesTech and MarTech. Sales Enablement is indeed a very broad subject, and one must take this into account.

My commentary is summarised in this post. You will find an unabridged version in the enclosed Loom video. Often, we will abbreviate Sales Enablement as S.E., for convenience.

Exec summary of my 5 takeaways from the 2023 Seismic Sales Enablement report

State of sales enablement
The State of sales enablement report puts numbers on our impressions from the field: Clients are becoming more and more demanding and sales are becoming increasingly complex

My five takeaways from the report are the following.

  1. Selling is getting harder. It takes more steps for you to get customers to come to a decision. And it makes sense in that context that Sales Enablement finds its place within organisations. That said, we still found 32% who are not entirely convinced that Sales Enablement means better performance. And I found this rather baffling.
  2. All respondents believe that S.E. is effective, but there is room for maturity improvement. Let us stress again that the survey is mostly focused on the UK. Sales Enablement is not as developed on the continent and especially in France. Over there it only came to the agenda — if one excludes international businesses — a year ago or so. It may have preexisted but neither with this name nor with a proper S.E. philosophy. Often, there is no such thing as a Sales Enablement Function to start with. A recent interview we carried out on behalf of Sparklane with S.E. professionals in French (including a Seismic representative) confirmed this.
  3. Respondents declare that sales and marketing alignment is a reality. But they keep contradicting themselves. Sales and marketing are increasingly aligned, that’s the good news. When I looked into the details, in the light of other surveys that we have analysed, I had my doubts and questions.
  4. S.E. deployment is suffering from a lack of “sales professionals and necessary data skills, content sales, operation skills and knowledge…”. I wondered whether such people exist or whether the crux of the problem isn’t the collaboration between teams. As well as the way one has designed and implemented sales organisations.
  5. Lastly, most respondents concur that processes and tools to drive their content strategy effectively are in place (but are content strategies implemented effectively?)

Clients are becoming increasingly demanding, and the sales process has changed and become more complex

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents agree that Sales Enablement is “key to driving business performance”’. But at the same time, one still finds 16% who strongly disagree and another 16% who feel “neutral” regarding that statement. And 32% still makes up one third of the total population.

Does this opinion relate to the tool itself or to how it was implemented? We witnessed similar reactions with CRM implementations, some 30 years ago.

Worthy of note is the fact that clients are becoming increasingly demanding as 47% think that it takes 10+ interactions with the average customer before they land a deal. It is an undeniable sign that sales are becoming increasingly complex and that complex selling is becoming the norm.

This is very consistent with what we see happening in the field.

Changing the way one engages with customers

The way you engage with customers has changed. Customers want to be challenged, and they’re also keen to learn from you as a supplier. You need to be seen as an expert – they want facts and credibility and expect you to know about them before you even pick up the phone. The planning, investigation and discovery that you do as a seller is probably one of the most important aspects of any customer engagement

Liz Waugh, Global Director of Sales Enablement, Crayon

The change in buyer behaviour has an undeniable impact on the discovery phase. This is probably where modern-day salespeople have the greatest shortcomings. We see a lot of sales reps who are feeling incredibly helpless regarding this changing sales process.

They know that they have to work differently and stop pushing their products and understand the customers better before they try to sell and close. They understand all the words but it’s very hard for them to put this new vision into practice.

A matter of education

Sales Enablement can help but it’s mostly an educational issue with the overall approach of sales. One needs to change the way one does sales and turn the process on its head.

The Sales Enablement landscape is more mature in the UK than on the continent. Still, none of LXA’s 5 Ps gets a 5/5 mark. S.E. contributes to all the stages of the sales process and nearly 30% of respondents stress a split of responsibility between sales and marketing. This still leaves 70% of respondents where it’s not the case.

Sales and Marketing alignment: the good and the bad

Sales and marketing alignment has been on the agenda for so long that the fact it is still on the agenda shows clearly that there is still a problem.

Where does alignment fit in a Sales Enablement deployment strategy? Well, that item is very confusing.

About sales and marketing alignment

80% of respondents declare that sales and marketing alignment is a reality. When we look at the ownership of the S.E. function, though, this is a very different kettle of fish.

Most of that ownership seems to be in the hands of the sales function and marketing is only marginally in charge. Marketing, therefore, is kept on the side even though 30% of them are sharing the “responsibility for managing sales enablement” with sales.

I would like to see marketing a lot more involved in such projects and even possibly the merger of the two functions.

Beyond this, Liz Waugh has another good point.

Sales enablement doesn’t just land within sales. It should thoroughly involve the whole business. Everyone should be able to have a high-level discussion on what sales enablement does and the impact it makes. If you’ve made sure that there is consistency between sales and marketing, then everybody can land the right message

Liz Waugh, Global Director of Sales Enablement, Crayon

It’s not even a matter of sales and marketing alignment. That’s probably where it starts, but it’s a matter of really aligning the entirety of the company and focusing on customers’ needs and satisfaction.

Customer Success

We hear a  lot about this new “customer success” function, yet we still have a long way to go before customer success is sales’ primary aim. As it should be.

Thus, I think it is high time that marketers change the way that they work, and it’s high time that sales started working better with marketing too.

Maybe it would be a good idea to stop calling them marketing and sales, to start with. Should we call them Smarketing from now on?

ABM and Sales Enablement

All of that is the essence of ABM — Account-Based Marketing — an area where marketers and sales are heavily focusing on deals and account planning together, not as separate entities trying to align with each other.

Now, despite all the talking, the way that sales have developed in the past decade has been going backwards in my honest opinion. Inbound and lead gen on one side, inside sales on another, Business development elsewhere, product development working separately, and yet another function, customer success, to patch things up.

Rethinking the way sales and marketing are run

It’s probably time to rethink the way that sales and marketing organisations are run, one cannot split all functions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, talk about “alignment”. This doesn’t make sense and organisations should be simplified and made leaner for the sake of customers and sales efficiency.

Talent issue?

On another level, 72% of responding organisations strongly agree with the fact that the market is lacking “sales professionals with the necessary SalesTech, data, sales content or sales operations skills and knowledge…”

This is consistent with what Tony Hughes describes in “Tech-Powered Sales”.

My experience in that area is somewhat different, though.

Such full-stack marketers/sellers exist, and I’m probably one of them, but I doubt that this is replicable on a large scale.

Sales and content

Let’s take the example of sales content only. Certainly, far easier than mastering SalesTech and data management and other technical things. Despite my efforts and the fact that I managed to implement large organisation-wide UGC-based content teams in many countries, the only population I’ve never been able to convince was sales.

I think that getting sales to contribute to a blog is understandably more difficult.

For one, it’s harder to ask them to concentrate on chasing new deals and be in the field and ask them to sit at their desk writing content. This is something that we knowledge workers and consultants do all the time. It’s part of our job and taking hindsight and writing is part of our selling process and skills. It’s not naturally so for salespeople.

I know that Tony Hughes disagrees, but I’ve tried too many times to bring salespeople to the water and I couldn’t make them drink.

So, what if one tried, once more, to work as a team rather than ask people to do other people’s jobs?

Upskilling the sales force

Now, when it comes to upskilling the sales force, it seems that respondents primarily focus on personal selling skills like deal closing and negotiation. Obviously, one needs to learn and master selling skills.

Yet, the fact that the respondents place “understanding customers, ICPs and personas” second seems to me to be the crux of the problem.

Indeed, as the sales process is getting increasingly challenging, salespeople have to convince prospective customers differently and stop pushing their products and features.

A new requirement for sales teams

Hence, what used to be a nice-to-have for upper-level KAM in large organisations such as value selling and solution selling is now becoming a must-have in this world where every sale is complex.

It seems to me that this is the area where salespeople must improve the most and where they feel awfully isolated. Therefore, they need a lot of coaching in this domain, and this is particularly where marketing can help.

Sales reps must learn to focus a lot more on their customers and targeted industries’ pain points and how to solve them. They must become trusted advisers, to put it in David Maister’s words. This is no small task.

It seems to me a lot more important than becoming a SalesTech wizard or a content specialist. For these last two items, I think it’s a lot more effective and scalable for businesses to rely on the help of marketers whom they should include in their account-management teams.

The commissioning process

To this end, I also think that beyond the rethink of the sales organisation, one needs to re-engineer the commissioning process to encompass marketing. How can you call for more marketing and sales alignment and not compensate them when they play a major role in identifying new deals and even more, closing sales?

It happened to me a few times in the past when I was playing a major role in an account team in paving the way to success for a large multimillion-dollar deal. At the end of the process, only the salesperson was raking in the money.

I always found this unfair and not conducive to inciting marketers to join the account teams.

Certainly, a lot of people disagree with that and think even that compensation should be taken out purely and simply. And I often hear that you do not need to be compensated to be motivated to sell. But I’m rather sceptical about this and it doesn’t fit with my field experience.

I believe on the contrary that this is a major trigger for motivation in sales and it is a good thing that marketers learn to work in that way as well.

A helpful survey for understanding the state of Sales Enablement

To conclude with this analysis, this survey was incredibly helpful in showing the progress made with Sales Enablement deployment. It also highlighted the areas where there is room for improvement in sales and marketing alignment.

There is undoubtedly a huge gap between the US and the UK, and continental Europe, though.

One would have welcomed a more thorough comparison with other European countries and maybe Seismic will deliver this soon.

State of Sales Enablement report: download the entire pdf presentation

A more in-depth analysis is available in the recording which I have included hereafter.

Yann Gourvennec
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Yann Gourvennec

Yann Gourvennec created visionarymarketing.com in 1996. He is a speaker and author of 6 books. In 2014 he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur, when he created his digital marketing agency. ———————————————————— Yann Gourvennec a créé visionarymarketing.com en 1996. Il est conférencier et auteur de 6 livres. En 2014, il est passé d'intrapreneur à entrepreneur en créant son agence de marketing numérique. More »
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