Sales enablement is one of the murkier terms in the sales and marketing sphere. Like big data, everybody has their own definition for it and how to go about it. But in the end, when we drill down, we get what it says on the tin: enabling sales people to do their jobs better.

That used to mean the ‘high school classroom’ approach: an all-knowing marketing teacher handing out brochures to the sales students, telling them “study these, and raise your hand if you have questions!”. But that doesn’t work anymore – because a salesperson’s product knowledge isn’t worth much when the prospects have already made their choice.

This is especially prevalent in the B2B technology market, where an estimated 80% of purchase decisions are made even before reaching out to a sales rep. Thanks to the digital revolution, buyers no longer need sales people to educate them. The role of sales in the buying process has changed.

This means marketing, too, must shift gears if they are to enable sales people to do their jobs better.

Sales Enablement Beyond the Brochure

Social Sales Enablement

Now that interruptive tactics like cold calling are on the decline, sales people are reaching out to prospects where prospects like to be approached: social media platforms.

But these are not just places to engage the crowd and build fan bases – these are data gold mines that can give marketers useful insight into their audience. In the B2B space, LinkedIn’s potential for marketing research cannot be understated. Nowhere else in social media do users provide information on themselves with the accuracy and care of a job application – organisations, roles, industries, locations, and even interests.

All these are ripe for marketers’ picking, and LinkedIn has even given us the tool to pick with.

Sales Navigator enables filtering and segmenting of potential leads on the LinkedIn network by company size, industry, search behaviour, and other criteria. From a marketer’s standpoint, this is perfect for doing two things: finding the right people to target, and litmus-testing personas.

The trouble with personas is that they are often trend-based, with little allowance for the unique character of business entities. After all, there will always be cash-strapped companies willing to invest what they have in a new solution, or companies breaking their industry norms to consider products they normally wouldn’t. Deeper knowledge of the people behind these decisions can make all the difference between uncovering opportunities, and trying to sell antidotes to healthy people.

Building and validating personas is, therefore, a key application of Sales Navigator. By researching the backgrounds and LinkedIn search activity of decision-makers and purchase influencers, marketers can piece together a more complete picture of prospects and customers. This translates to better-informed sales teams, who can tailor their approaches to specific personas as needed.

Enabling social sales

Taking it a step further, the advent of social CRM means marketers can now have visibility into what prospects are thinking, tweeting, and toying with in their digital lives. This lends a crucial personal touch to the long and involved B2B engagement process. Tools from Salesforce (after the Radian 6 acquisition), Nimble, Insightly and SugarCRM, to name a few, comb the social landscape for clues to contacts’ areas of interest, helping sales people and account managers to add depth to their conversations.

With tools like these now readily accessible, the line between marketing and sales is getting blurred: it takes both to make the most out of social engagement. Marketers can, and should, encourage the sales people to avail themselves of the ‘inside info’ social CRM can provide, while backing them up with research and persona validation through LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

Content for Sales Enablement

But finding people to target is one thing, and actually reaching out to them is another. Many sales people dread ‘touch-base mails’, because they lack compelling and relevant offerings to incentivise those emails. Or, more likely, they don’t know if marketing has such material in the first place.

Database is only as useful to users as how accessible it is. Likewise, the content a marketing team produces shouldn’t just be distributed ad-hoc. It should be consolidated into a single, easily searchable repository.

This benefits both sides. Marketers get an inventory of their deliverables, and sales people get one-stop access to helpful and interesting things that their prospects and customers will appreciate.

Perhaps the prime example of such a repository is Cisco’s SalesConnect, a mobile app which enables on-the-go access to Cisco’s comprehensive content library. With this on their phones and tablets, Cisco partners are never caught unprepared – even in the midst of a meeting, a few keystrokes can bring up the content they need to help drive conversations and close deals.

The utility of a content repository goes far beyond introductory emails. Armed with this access, sales people can build credibility through social channels and position themselves as trusted advisors.

Thought leadership is not just for corporate brands – sales people have their own personal brands, which should be aligned with the organisation’s. Carte blanche access to marketers’ content empowers a salesperson to become a true brand ambassador, and ‘earn their way’ into prospects’ and customers’ trust (per David Meerman Scott) by sharing useful material and insights. This both supplements marketing activities and creates another pipe into the funnel.

Much has been said about the value of agnostic content and addressing customer needs over self-promotion. But without a system in place to get it into the right hands when needed, even such content can be woefully underutilised – and in addition, once the people in the field do have their repository, its value can only be maximised when used for personal brand-building.

Getting sales and management involved

Selling these ideas to the sales team, and to the management, will call for more than a good pitch. Both are numbers-oriented, so the first step in convincing them is showing hard data.

The good thing is that this has never been easier. The proliferation of Marketing Automation and analytics tools in the market gives any marketer the ability to track and measure the ROI of social and content initiatives, and present a solid business case. These tools also help marketers further enable sales by monitoring the buying journey, and only handing over sales-qualified leads while nurturing the rest.

Another step is winning over the internal influencers – salespersons and account managers who have the social and professional clout to drive adoption of the new sales enablement measures. Finding these people and making ‘champions’ out of them will go a long way towards showing the management that the new way is both popular and effective.

Now that buyers are in control, especially in B2B, it is essential that marketers step up and work more closely with sales people than ever before. By supporting them with pre-sales research, and helping them engage better using the right content and social insights, the old, wearisome marketing-sales gap can finally be bridged for the benefit of the business as a whole.

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