How to Solve For Sales Enablement, Once and For All

Michelle Markelz
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Sales and marketing relationships are historically fraught in businesses.

So what? The point of contention is usually a reluctance by both sides to acknowledge that the customer is in control of his/her own journey.

Now what? Sales enablement doesn't have to be an enigma. Start by understanding your customer and how marketing can help sales meet that customer on their journey, not determine the path.

Christine Crandell has been showing businesses the way to sales enablement for two decades. She explains the new partnership between sales and marketing as they pursue the empowered consumer.

Sales enablement is one of the most complex and common challenges facing businesses, and without a plan to achieve it, it can be a roadblock to revenue growth. Tech-based solutions and CRM systems make claims of solving for sales and marketing misalignment, but seasoned consultant Christine Crandell, president of New Business Strategies (NBS), says enablement starts from the top down, with both an acknowledgement that the customer is in control of their journey and a willingness to accommodate that path.

Her methodology, which she refers to as the “Seller’s Compass,” grew out of necessity. As a CMO at technology company Ariba during the company’s customer-focused turnaround in 2007, she found it difficult to promise to her CFO that the marketing team could deliver in revenue what it was allotted in the budget. Four years spent unraveling that Gordian knot, as she calls it, and she emerged with a process for customer alignment that works for every sector from higher education to B-to-B. Marketing News caught up with Crandell to learn how sales and marketing teams can find their true north. 

Q: You’ve been with NBS for 20 years, helping companies improve customer retention by focusing on expectations. How have you seen the challenge of sales enablement evolve over that time period alongside the evolution of customer expectations?

A: Let’s go back 20 years. There was a very different environment at play in which the salesperson was very much viewed by the buyer as the source of information. We didn’t have the wealth or breadth of the Internet we have today. We didn’t have the access to information that we have today. In many ways, particularly in the B-to-B world, those salespeople were the conduit for information to buyers—and that was everything from in-depth analysis to white papers. There were tight relationships between vendor and buyer because it was symbiotic. If we look at what’s happened since then, it hasn’t just been the rise of the Internet and the ubiquitous nature of information. It really has been also a backlash from buyers who spent a lot of money on technology in the 1990s and early 2000s … only to find it didn’t work, they didn’t get the ROI, and, in many cases, there were personal consequences as a result. There was this skepticism that started to rise, meaning [buyers are] no longer viewing the vendor as [their] primary conduit of information, as [their] primary confidant, as [their] primary coach to help [them] be successful. [They] now no longer need the salesperson because [they] can now turn to [their] social graph, [they] can turn to the Internet, and [they] can get access to the information that the salesperson doesn’t even have access to. 

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That was the fundamental pivot that happened in the economy when the buyer, who really was always in control and just never knew it, basically said, “I now no longer need the salesperson, I now no longer trust marketing, I now no longer trust the salesperson. I will forge my own experience. I will make my own decision.” That is the environment we’re in today. We went from an environment in which the salesperson had very clear role, and the value chain was very clear, to a role today in which marketing and sales have a very secondary role as it relates to that buyer achieving their particular outcome.

Now, for sales and marketing, the enablement part of this is not about generating more content, and it’s not about generating more tools. It’s really about gaining credibility and trust in the eyes of those buyers, and doing it on their terms. That is a very different game than it was 20 years ago.

Q: The Seller’s Compass methodology suggests salespeople build trust by delivering an experience customers expect. How do marketers build trust when consumers have come to expect content marketing, they have the literacy to recognize it, and they often disregard it as advertising? How do marketers approach this new educated and somewhat wary consumer?

A: Let’s shift from seeing the world through the eyes of the vendor to seeing the world through the eyes of the buyer. … That wariness is symptomatic of vendors that really don’t get it. Even though the customer controls the relationship, there is this belief, and it’s very prevalent within the customer experience management technology space, that you, the vendor, can actually craft the journey your customer will go on. That’s total nonsense. That’s why [customers are] getting bombarded with all of this [content]. Because the vendor has bought into this belief from customer experience software and CRM vendors. The vendors who are actually very successful step back and say “I get it.” 

A while back, I had spoken with the CMO of HP Software. He’s very progressive. I said, “What is it you guys are doing differently in terms of marketing?” and his response was, [they] stopped fighting the customer and trying to control the customer. … [They asked customers], “What is the journey that you go on, and how can we play in that journey?” And that is the fundamental shift that companies need to make. This is where sales and marketing have a completely new role in this relationship. It’s not looking at it through the eyes of the vendor, but it’s stepping back and saying, “I need to go understand and walk in the shoes of my customer.” ... Companies that do that are seeing phenomenal growth without additional significant investment in product features. … The customer will reward you for aligning and understanding what they want to achieve and enabling [them to achieve it]. 

Q: In your experience, where does the understanding of buyer experience and customer expectations break down in organizations?

A: There [should be] no line between the border of my company and my customer. ... [I should] engage in co-creation with [my] customers on everything from marketing to company strategy to products. Organizations that have a philosophy that comes from the CEO, that’s baked into their culture, have a much more holistic understanding of the customer and the sales-marketing partnership to enable that customer is very fluid and very effective. In the case where the philosophy of the CEO is that [enablement] is a marketing thing or a sales thing ... you see the rub between sales and marketing because the ownership of that customer relationship has been delegated to some part of the company that really doesn’t [oversee sales and marketing] nor the engagement with the customer.

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Q: There have been differing opinions about to whom sales enablement reports within a business, especially on small teams. Who should take the lead on sales enablement: marketing or someone else? Is this an initiative for more than the sales and marketing departments?

A: If you have a very strong and seasoned CMO who is progressive and has a relationship with the CEO in which the CEO truly understands the role of marketing, which is a very strategic role, then it makes sense for that project to be initiated by marketing because they’re able to have much broader access to customers. Marketing tends to have a much broader view of the customer lifecycle. In cases where marketing is relegated to nothing more than tactical execution of activities often defined by what sales wants, you may have the sales organization be in a much better position. I find that to be a minority. In those particular cases where marketing is not very strong and sales rules the roost, what you find is that your customer service and your customer support organization are in a much stronger position to undertake this understanding and to push it from the back-end up into the sales process.

Q: It seems much of the friction in sales enablement does come down to finger pointing. What are some of the biggest contributors to the disconnect between marketing and sales? Are they the same among small and large operations?

A: The skills you hire in marketers are different than the skills you hire in sales, and as a result, they are motivated differently and they have a very different language. When salespeople talk about a lead, they may have a very different mental definition of a lead than a marketer. That marketer could be talking about an enquiry, an MQL (marketing qualified lead), or SAL (sales accepted lead). We wind up having the case of Venus and Mars where we may be using the same language, but we’re really two very different people, and we have two very different languages. 

The other source of this disconnect is compensation. Sales is driven by the deal. I call them revenue junkies. Marketers aren’t compensated that way. They might have a base salary, and they might have a bonus that may or may not be tied to some metric that sales is compensated on. … A lot of companies today are giving marketing a quota, and they’re drilling that quota down to product marketers and demand generation [marketers], to tie what marketing needs to focus on, their performance and their bonus compensation, more closely to what sales is also being compensated on.

The third [source of friction] is cultural. In many organizations, sales gets this hall pass on bad behavior. Anything goes because they bring in the revenue, and marketing is often the stepchild—especially in budgeting where you have a zero-sum game. There’s this annual debate that says, “If we don’t put this money into marketing, we could hire this many more salespeople.” It sets up this adversarial relationship between sales and marketing. What I’m seeing in some companies is that budgeting is done at the market level, and sales and marketing create their consolidated budget as one entity. Marketing has input on what revenue numbers should be for a product or market, and sales has inputs on what the route to market should be and how much ought to be invested in repeat business versus new acquisition. That is a way of starting to tear those barriers down.

The next piece is in the business planning process. Often marketing and sales are measured by very different KPIs. In best practice, you find that there are shared metrics. … It could be number of new customers, it could be reduction of churn by a certain percentage. Having these shared objectives usually causes these two organizations to resolve their differences in language, compensation, touchpoints—who’ll do what when and who’s accountable to whom for what—and that gets them on the road to actually functioning as one team.

Q: The majority of salespeople feel marketing does not enable sales. One 2013 survey by Sirius Decisions ​suggested 60-70% of marketing-produced B-to-B content isn’t used. Is the traditional role of the marketer in line with the business objective to generate revenue? If not, should the next generation of marketers be thinking differently about their contribution to the business? Do you think it’s up to marketers to redefine their role?

A: I absolutely do. We all talk about how sales isn’t very productive and [there’s] this huge debate about how predictive analytics has made sales lazy, but we don’t talk about marketing. There’s this plethora of tech and new approaches, everything from ABM (account-based marketing) to you name it. It really comes down to the marketer not taking the easy way out and starting to ask the tough questions. That’s my biggest beef with marketers: Just as they are pointing the finger at sales and saying, “Sales is waiting for the predictive analytics to tell them which deal to go chase,” marketers are equally sitting there and saying “My marketing automation system said this campaign performed, so the leads ought to be closed, and I’m not going to question the results.” Marketers are not questioning what the technology is telling them, and they’re not questioning what they’re hearing from customers. In fact, many marketers never go out on sales calls and never go out and talk to the customer. … Until they go and do that, they’re not going to magically fix themselves. There’s a lot of blame that needs to sit with marketers because they aren’t undergoing self-reflection to see how they can improve themselves.

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Q: How can marketers incentivize sales to use enablement materials and marketing-generated content?

A: Generally, if sales doesn’t use what marketing produces, no amount of arm twisting will convince sales to use that tool. It’s just a bad tool. It misses the mark. I always chuckle when I see sales enablement platforms that have baked-in gamification as a way of getting salespeople to use the tool, because if it was really worthwhile, salespeople would be using that tool. What’s often missing in this equation is teaching sales how to effectively use that tool. Marketing populates the sales enablement platform with videos, form letters, content, and a lot of stuff gets stuck out there. What doesn’t happen is that granular use case that says if you have a buyer in this industry, that fits this persona, that’s in this particular part of the journey, and has asked these questions, then this is the playbook and these are the pieces you ought to use and for whom you ought to use them. It becomes a decoder ring for the sales organization, but that’s often what’s missing. 

Q: If marketers aren’t providing the right information in their materials, what are they offering that’s not lining up?

A: Classically what will happen—and this is my beef with lead scoring—[is that marketers will] have all these campaigns. In some cases leads may be journey-based, in many cases they’re not. And just because a prospect attended two webinars and downloaded three white papers, they accumulated the points that have been set in the marketing automation system and reached that lead threshold. That gets flipped over to sales. While sales may see Joe Smith at XYZ Company, what’s missing is context. What is this company about? What do we know about Joe Smith? How should we have that first conversation?

Q: What questions should sales be asking of marketing and what questions should marketers ask of sales to create the best materials and resources?

A: One of the questions marketing should ask of sales is, “What is actually happening in that interaction between the salesperson and the customer? In essence, repeat for me what happened on that last sales call.” Half of it is just guiding sales to make sure they find out not just what [the customer’s] problem is and [his] budget, but [his desired] outcome and how [he is] measuring success. The questions need to be focused on the customer, not what sales did or did not do. What behavior is creating a positive reaction in the customer and what is creating a negative reaction? Marketing needs to ask sales what content the customer asks for. And when sales gives the customer a white paper, what is the reaction? They need to draw in sales to get feedback through the eyes of the customer on marketing work and whether it was actually helpful [to sales].

On the sales side, they need to go back to marketing and say, “Before you give me this lead, I need a full background on this company. What’s their past interaction with us? Have they been on our website? What did they engage in? Did they download white papers? Did they do a webinar? Did they come to our trade show? Can you give me a longitudinal history of our engagement with the customer? Can you give me a profile of this buyer? … Equip me to have an intellectual conversation about emerging issues for the customer.”

Q: You’ve talked about the best sales enablement as a product of strong marketing leadership. In organizations where marketing is a small shop or doesn’t have a C-suite representative, is it possible to optimize sales enablement?

A: It’s easier to do in a smaller company because it’s easier to communicate. … Having a small team, you can get everyone in the room once a week and start to change that conversation. Everyone can focus on what happened to the pipeline this week, what happened to orders that closed this week, what happened to outbound calls to prospects, how many of them were fruitful, and what it was that the call center needed. Marketing can come in and say, “Sales, what is it that you need to be more successful?” It’s much easier at a smaller company because the conversation doesn’t involve hundreds of people. People can very quickly figure out how to do one or two things differently, see if they work, and move forward. The key is a CEO who is very supportive of experimentation. By sales and marketing figuring it out themselves, they learn to appreciate each other and place less focus on who did what wrong, and more on what happens to that customer and how they make that customer happy.


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Author Bio:

Michelle Markelz
Michelle Markelz is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. She can be reached at
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