Sales Enablement: Strategies to Drive Strong Results

B2B buying behavior is constantly evolving. Build a sales enablement strategy that keeps up with buyer needs.

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Drive growth with a sales enablement strategy aligned to B2B buying behaviors

Our research shows that 75% of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free experience — but 43% of buyers who use self-service digital commerce report higher purchase regret. This toolkit helps you equip sellers to drive customer loyalty and business growth, with:

  • Guidance and frameworks for virtual selling

  • Sense Making strategies for building buyer confidence

  • Insights and trends impacting today’s sales enablement leaders

Download the Complete Sales Enablement Toolkit and future-proof your sales enablement strategy.

Five core elements of a powerful sales enablement strategy

Sales enablement plays a critical role in improving sales motivation and productivity. Top sales enablement leaders focus on five key areas to improve productivity and boost buyer engagement.

Leverage sales enablement to navigate changes and drive business impact

Sales enablement is a critical function for helping sales teams navigate through the constant change that surrounds them — including the buying environment, the macroeconomic landscape and evolving seller roles. 

Sales enablement leaders have multiple opportunities to provide higher-impact support. These include:

  1. Shift from “sales enablement” to “revenue enablement.” This expansion of enablement’s role drives sales productivity by aligning deliverables to ensure consistency among all roles that interact with customers. For example, more than 50% of CSOs believe that enablement will support marketing and/or customer success roles in the next three years. A broader remit empowers the function to leverage data from across the end-to-end buying journey to guide content and tool creation and elevate commercial team competency development.

  2. Improve the seller experience — not just seller skills and knowledge. Sales enablement’s role is expanding because the function is so intertwined with the commercial team. Driving change across the sales function requires the ability to refine messaging, streamline processes and find other ways to reduce seller drag. With seller burnout at an all-time high, an enablement focus on improving seller experiences can have a substantial impact on reducing regrettable attrition and the bottom line.

  1. Deliver ideal learning experiences to drive commercial team behavior change. Nearly half of all sellers (49%) believe the skills in their current role will be outdated in the next two to three years. Sales enablement leaders must look at a broader set of tools and learning formats to facilitate more self-guided learning, improve knowledge retention and application, and ultimately change behaviors.

  2. Fully leverage the sales enablement tech stack for improved productivity. By 2026, 65% of B2B sales organizations will transition from intuition-based to data-driven decision making, using technology that unites workflow, data and analytics. Yet on average, only 22% of the sales enablement budget is allocated to technology. Sales enablement leaders have an increasing role in promoting adoption of technologies that will grow the enablement organization’s influence and effectiveness. To build the commercial team of the future, sales enablement must adopt a strategic approach to technology use. This includes deploying a tech stack that best supports how the enablement organization completes its day-to-day jobs.

Enhance sellers’ grasp of B2B buying behaviors with an organizational approach

Many sales organizations have developed buyer personas for key individuals or roles. Just as individual personas can vary within the same role, so do organizations vary within the same industry. This requires a tailored approach.

Ninety-four percent of B2B purchases are made amid organizational changes. A buyer’s ability to navigate those changes can make or break their ability to buy and implement a new solution. Recognizing this broader organizational context — and how an organization handles change — allows sellers to tailor their customer engagement and better position their offerings. 

Sales enablement leaders can equip sellers to understand and recognize different enterprise customer profiles and target their engagement approach accordingly. We identified four distinct profiles — broadly distributed across company sizes, geographies, purchase categories and industries — that are highly likely to shape multiple buying decisions at the same company. These profiles include the following: 

  • Traditionalist organizations have fixed structures and systems that avoid risk and change. They typically care about realizing the benefits of a single change, rather than managing complex interdependencies.

    Traditionalists have the longest sales cycles of the four profiles, and they are most likely to report purchase stalls, or multiple points when they stopped making progress. A simple buying checklist can help Traditionalists acknowledge completed tasks and feel ready to move forward. Likewise, messaging that emphasizes low-risk, readily available support can help them feel secure in the face of change.

  • Fence-Sitter organizations fail to commit to a strong culture or direction. They may be looking for proven products and services that support continuous improvement or business modernization, instead of radical innovation.

    Fence-Sitters spend more time on independent online research instead of meeting with suppliers or other members of the buying group. They stick to traditional channels, such as supplier websites, and they report lower social media use. Targeted outreach and guided selling tools should encourage these buyers to consider other stakeholders’ perspectives and needs. Equip sellers with useful commercial insights to shock Fence-Sitters out of complacency and motivate more decisive action.

  • Adventurer organizations have an openness to risk and change that exceeds their readiness. Their leaders prize risk taking and adaptability, yet they have rigid technologies, structures and decision-making processes.

    Adventurers are more likely to experience multiple types of change simultaneously. They also report the highest environmental uncertainty. Adventurers need to slow down and reexamine their own needs and goals. Use digital tools in conversations and direct Adventurer customers to digital experiences. Once they have chosen a path, equip them with introductory enablement resources that contain highly prescriptive advice and practical support for completing specific buying tasks and managing the change surrounding a purchase decision.

  • Transformer organizations have an appetite for change that is backed by commitment. Transformers report the highest number of simultaneous changes, yet they also report the lowest environmental uncertainty. They also have relatively short sales cycles.

    Transformers are the most attractive customer profile for complex solution sales and early-stage markets. Their ambition and change management proficiency make them more likely to generate account growth opportunities. Transformers respond best to change enablement resources that help them reinforce their leadership position by preparing for the next set of emerging trends disrupting their industry.

Balance the opportunities and risks of generative AI to enhance seller content

Sales enablement teams have been using AI for years, but the path to true value and overcoming skepticism about machine learning algorithms has been long. 

Today, AI is used in prescriptive recommendations, such as next-best actions or recommended content for a seller to share. It’s used in training and coaching to determine sentiment or skill level. A majority of respondents (84%) in Gartner’s 2023 Technology’s Impact on Seller Productivity Survey said their systems provide advice on next-best actions to take with customers/prospects.

The use of those insights and prescriptive recommendations can now be extended to create personalized and relevant content — for example, by using generative AI’s ability to summarize a previous meeting. The intelligence in technology today is the foundation that generative AI will build on to assist in helping sellers create messages and content for buyers.

To many, this new opportunity to shape seller behavior feels new and exciting. But as generative AI emerges, it also has the potential to cause risks that must be mitigated. 

How should sales enablement leaders drive adoption and value with GenAI while protecting corporate intellectual property and their organization’s brand and reputation?

Start by safely and effectively creating and sending messages and content using the concepts of generative value messaging (GVM). Influence seller behavior around generative AI by ensuring sellers understand how to use it. Develop generative AI literacy, and enable sellers to internalize the difference between GVM and low-quality, value-destroying content.

The seller has the responsibility to verify that AI-generated content is accurate and personalized, and that it reflects their own brand. Engineered insincerity has the potential to destroy the trusted advisor relationship. Sales enablement leaders should create content to help identify items that should be reviewed, and how to properly review them, before information can be sent.

Review generative AI outputs with these questions in mind:

  • Does it sound like something the seller would say?

  • What happens if the seller reads it out loud?

  • Does it sound natural? Is the data accurate?

  • Are the points in the email the ones the seller wants to emphasize?

Create training content to cover as many known situations that can occur along the buyer journey and deal stages. This will enable sellers to learn how to use the tool to their advantage while helping to minimize potential risk in information that is sent to buyers. If you have purchased a revenue enablement platform, create role-plays and assignments to develop messaging that can be peer-, manager- and machine-scored. Finally, capture best‑in‑class results in your training content library to ensure that new hires can see “what good looks like.”

Overcome seller motivation challenges to improve performance and retention

Seller energy and persistence are critical to commercial success. Yet many chief sales officers struggle to engage and motivate sellers. Our research reveals two opposing forces at play that influence seller motivation.

  • Drive. We define drive as seller motivation toward work. Sellers experiencing high drive report feeling mentally engaged at work, taking initiative, being persistent and feeling ready to act at any time. 

    • Increasing drive can help raise quotas and lower burnout, making it seem like a promising strategy. Seventy-six percent of sellers experience a high level of drive or motivation toward work. But there’s a catch: Drive is only part of seller motivation. 

  • Drag. We define drag as the feeling of demotivation away from work. To motivate sellers in today’s environment, it’s critical to understand drag.

    • Sellers experiencing drag report feeling bored, procrastinating or avoiding work altogether, struggling to focus, or feeling like they are going through the motions. We found that 83% of sellers experience high or medium drag.

The dynamics of seller drive and drag are complex. For many sellers, these opposing forces present themselves simultaneously in various aspects of their day-to-day work and are not simply two extremes on a single spectrum.

With seller drive already high, the greatest opportunity for commercial returns is to reduce drag

CSOs tend to invest in drive. Yet our research reveals that high levels of seller drag are detrimental to quota attainment and seller retention. Specifically, we discovered that:

  • The average quota attainment for low-drag sellers is 1.7 times higher than for high-drag sellers

  • The majority of high-drag sellers (70%) reported actively looking for a new job, compared to only 7% of low-drag sellers

Four factors contributing to drag have the largest impact on quota attainment and active job hunting:

  • Lack of development opportunities. A lack of internal growth opportunities leaves sellers unable to envision a long-term future within the organization. 

  • Feeling like a cog in a machine. Emphasizing standardized, repeatable sales plays, while generally valuable to the team as a whole, can leave sellers feeling they have little control over their work or value to the organization. 

  • Vague, unactionable manager feedback. Sellers need to know what steps they need to take to improve. 

  • Administrative burden. Burdensome processes and requirements detract from what sellers perceive to be their highest-value activity: selling time. 

Diagnose sources of drag

To boost sales team motivation, diagnose the unique sources of drag within the sales organization. Start with the following steps:

  • Devising a plan to collaboratively investigate seller pain at your sales organization. Any seller feedback approach should incorporate multiple outlets to provide honest feedback, both by name and anonymously.

  • Tailoring investigation process elements. A mix of focus groups, guided discussions and surveys ensures that sellers can share specific pain points and also benefit from the perspectives of their peers.

  • Communicating process objectives, philosophy and steps with sellers. Transparency holds leadership accountable and bolsters seller buy-in because sellers are a critical part of the drag reduction process.

Equip frontline sales talent with the skills to succeed in a virtual selling environment

The 2022 Gartner B2B Buyer Survey shows that 75% of customers often prefer to learn and engage using digital channels. In the virtual environment, sales enablement leaders must ensure their sellers have appropriate virtual selling competencies.

The increasing technology use required by virtual selling creates significant opportunities for data-literate sellers to extract value from the available data, whether to develop competitive selling strategies or share relevant insights with customers. For instance, tools that capture customers’ digital body language and turn the findings into insights can help create a more tailored and high-value sales experience.

To elevate sales performance in the virtual environment, add these three key seller competencies to your seller competency profiles:

  • Digital dexterity. A seller’s digital dexterity can take various forms. It includes basic behaviors, such as using digital tools to effectively collaborate with remote colleagues. It also includes higher-order activities, such as leveraging an organization’s artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive modeling capabilities to decide the next selling motion.

  • Data literacy. Data literacy captures sellers’ ability to understand relevant data and create insights to inform next steps in a sales interaction. Closing this data literacy gap is important since sellers must be data literate to draw relevant, actionable insights from data for improved sales decision making, such as next steps in a sales interaction.

  • Sense Making. In the past few years, buyers have reported a dramatic shift to virtual buying, while also struggling with the difficulty of making a purchase decision in an information-saturated environment. Sense Making, helping customers make sense of the information they’ve encountered to make confident purchase decisions, is a skill to help sellers address this challenge.

Before introducing or developing training for virtual selling competencies, align with sales leadership to determine the need to update seller competency profiles. This alignment will ensure that the urgency for updating selling skills becomes a sales organizationwide priority and supports the company’s long- and short-term strategic objectives. Ask the following questions to help initiate these discussions among leadership:
  • What are our current business and related talent objectives? Does our current competency framework continue to support these objectives?

  • What do our sellers need to know about how their customers’ buying process has evolved, and how should this knowledge affect how our sellers engage with their customers?

  • What can enablement and other organizational resources provide to help promote and develop these virtual selling competencies?

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FAQ on sales enablement

Best practices for enabling sales include identifying the behaviors that sales reps should model; finding best-in-class examples of these behaviors for every play and sales stage; and creating an interactive curriculum for sales reps to learn from these examples.

One of the most influential factors in today’s B2B buying journey is the availability of quality information through digital channels, which makes it far easier for buyers to gather information without engaging with sales reps.

Suppliers can streamline the B2B buying journey by providing information and resources that help prospective clients identify the problem they must solve; explore possible solutions; establish requirements for what the purchase should help them do; verify their choice of supplier; validate the decision; and drive consensus among all internal stakeholders.

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.