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The elasticity of sales enablement

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Trendy consulting advice suggests that, since marketing ROI improvement is ultimately limited by the effectiveness of the marketing/sales handoff, “sales enablement” is crucial to success. Consequently, in the present results-now environment, marketers (particularly b-to-b and high-tech) are re-examining their processes and dedication to provide sales with the right materials, tools and training to unleash the power of the imbedded marketing ideas. I mostly agree with this. If there's any hesitation to offer full-throated support, it's just that it seems to me to be a bit of a penetrating glance into the obvious. Of course marketing programs cannot succeed without reliably strong sales execution. But let's not put too many eggs in that basket just yet. The hard reality is that, in the short term, there is only so much sales enablement one can achieve. Magic sell sheets do not turn mediocre sales reps into revenue superheroes. Online demo tools don't revolutionize categories or spark unprecedented demand. Those sorts of changes come about through: 1) Sound sales management process. 2) Compensation structures aligned to promote the right behaviors. 3) Methodical, continuous training based on observed effective practices. 4) Regular pruning of the bottom 25% of performers (and a few nearer the top who neglect the means for the end). Those familiar with the concept of “elasticity” understand that there are limits to just how much improvement we can achieve with sales enablement given any three, six or even 12-month horizon. So, pressed for better results now, sales enablement may be more of a feel-good response than an effective one. Don't mistake the message here. Sales enablement is always important. But unless the foundational elements above are being properly managed, marketers' efforts to enable sales may result in some great meetings and a few positive anecdotes but fail to achieve improvement of any scale or sustainable basis. So allocating more resources to sales enablement may not provide the expected returns. If you want to get a better handle on the elasticity of your sales force, try performing a deeper analysis of recent buyers versus nonbuyers, being sure to sample prospect leads from both high- and average-performing sales reps. Get a clearer understanding of why rejecters are not buying (or stalling longer) and analyze the data until you can clearly determine the factors that make the higher-performers more effective. If you conclude that those factors are mostly innate skill, personality or motivation characteristics, then the elasticity of your sales force is likely very low. This suggests that sales management has work to do in the fundamentals arena before marketing can help much. However, if you observe that better needs discovery, stronger communications or enhanced preparation explains most of the difference, then your sales elasticity is likely higher and you should focus more on sales enablement in the near term. When times are tough and time horizons are shorter, we all want to help as much as we can. But let's not mistake hope for judgment when reallocating resources from marketing programs to sales enablement. Pat LaPointe is managing partner at MarketingNPV. He can be reached at pat.lapointe@marketingnpv.com.
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