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B-to-b marketers need to keep sales enablement at the top of their to-do list

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What is “sales enablement”? In IDC's research, we observe the broad and long process of how marketing assets are created, and then how those assets are provisioned and used by the selling teams. IDC's definition of good sales enablement is: "Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward."

Two key pieces of IDC research point to a very broken sales enablement process at many organizations. First, we know that tech sales reps are overwhelmed with sales tools, collateral, presentations, etc. Over several years of surveys of tech sellers, IDC has asked: "What percentage of marketing assets provided to you as a sales rep, do you actually use?" The answer is, invariably, "We use perhaps 20 % to 25% of the total." Sales reps use just one of every five "things" that marketers produce for them! They spend a lot of time trying to get prepared and ready and smart—or in other words "enabled"—but more often than not they leave the office to go on a sales call in a state of un-readiness.

This disheveled "state of enablement" is validated by the customers. Tech buyers give tech sellers consistently poor scores on preparedness. Year after year, IDC research has shown that tech sellers are ranked poorly on product knowledge, account knowledge, relevance of their presentations, and other factors. The purchase cycle from awareness through to P.O. (purchase order) is now 19 months for big-ticket IT purchases, and this expanded by two months just in 2011. Tech buyers would love nothing more than to greet at their office door a better prepared, better-enabled sales rep who can help reduce the time that it takes them (the buyers) to make a purchase decision. 

Here are two ideas on how to improve sales enablement. There's an easy one and a harder one, depending on your level of enthusiasm and energy for this subject.

The easy one: Perfom a major marketing asset audit with the goal of literally "getting stuff off the table." The sheer volume of marketing assets in an organization that has perhaps dozens of product lines is overwhelming to sellers. There is no way the sellers can successfully sort through and find and deploy the "right content at the right time and place" in an efficient way. So what happens? They leave the office "disabled" versus "enabled" and the buyer sentiment reflected earlier goes into effect.

The harder one: There is a fundamental organizational dynamic that can lead to poor sales enablement and then to frustrated buyers.

Large tech vendors with multiple product lines typically have very large and powerful business units that carry P&L for their products or services. Within these product lines are the product managers and product marketers who make up the vast majority of the marketing staff. Because of this revenue-center or profit-center structure, these product lines have every incentive to firmly "push" their marketing content, tools and training directly into the field marketing units. This content then makes its way into the hands of the sellers and then into the hands of the buyers in the process described above. This process forces the field seller, or even the buyer himself, to become the "solutions integrator" for the vendor’s products and services.

To improve this, a better path of marketing content flow would start within the product lines, but then move through a "campaign management" function that integrates messaging and offers. Fewer but better integrated marketing assets can then be provided to the sellers.

Keep sales enablement on top of your to-do list for 2012!

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