What is the primary role of B2B marketing in today’s business environment? It’s certainly no longer just about the traditional “awareness and preference”, or how many website visitors you attract or how many as-yet unqualified enquiries you generate.
In fact, many of the traditional marketing focuses, priorities and metrics are downright dysfunctional in the modern B2B landscape. There’s no point in generating even more “leads” that the sales force can’t be motivated to follow up. And there’s even less point in being rewarded or applauded for doing so.
A new primary role for marketing
Particularly in the high value, complex sales situations that characterise most of the clients I work with, the primary role of marketing must surely be to play their full part in targeting, identifying, attracting, qualifying, and persuading more of the right sort of prospects - and turning more of them into customers.
In this environment, B2B marketing must surely be measured primarily on the value it adds to the qualified sales pipeline, and the impact it has on converting that qualified pipeline into revenue. If "awareness and preference" can be shown to contribute to that, all well and good, but it's only part of the story.
In today's business environment, we surely can’t perpetuate the thinking that says that marketing is responsible for the top of the funnel and sales for everything after that point. And we surely can no longer tolerate the often fractured and fractious climate that still characterises so many sales and marketing relationships.
Sales enablement is the critical bridge. It encapsulates all those things that marketing can do to facilitate the buying decision and support the sales process at every point in the funnel or pipeline (choose either metaphor - they are both equally convenient yet equally flawed).
Enter sales enablement
Sales enablement is a hot topic, but it’s also something of a recent concept. I can’t find many references to it that are more than a few years old, and the definitions vary and (depending on whether a vendor is involved) are often self-serving.
But one thing is certain: it certainly does not involve the provision of a heaving pile of product datasheets that neither the sales force nor (even more important) the customer finds of any value whatsoever other than as kindling.
I rather like the definition that Scott Santucci of Forrester came up with:
"Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer's problem-solving life cycle to optimise the return of investment of the selling system."
The key elements of enablement
If you buy into this line of thinking (and it’s certainly as good as any other I have stumbled across), the definition gives us some handy clues about what we need to have in place before we can claim to have really got a handle on sales enablement:
- It must be managed as a strategic process, not a tactical event
- It must embrace and involve all customer facing employees
- It must be a joint effort between sales and marketing
- It must serve to facilitate valuable customer conversations
- It depends on sales and marketing agreeing what a perfect customer looks like
- It depends on sales and marketing jointly identifying the key stakeholders in the typical buying decision process
- It depends on sales and marketing jointly understanding the key stages in typical customer buying decision process
- It requires that all marketing messages and sales tools are targeted at a defined stage in this buying decision process
- It requires that we measure the return on marketing and sales investments in terms of the value of the pipeline created, the efficiency with which we convert prospects into customers, and the ultimate revenue generated
The essential bridge
I see sales enablement as the essential bridge between the modern B2B marketing and sales functions. It plugs the critical gap between messaging the masses (albeit in a highly targeted way) and having productive sales conversations with the stakeholders in an individual prospect.
It supports repeatable scalable processes that serve to target, identify, attract, qualify, and persuade more of the right sort of prospects - and convert more of these qualified prospects into customers more quickly and effectively.
Shared goals and a common cause
It also requires and expects that everyone at every level across the marketing and sales functions has a positive answer to the question “is what I am doing the best way of using the resources at my disposal to build qualified pipeline value and generate revenue?”
And if the answer is “no”, or “I have no way of measuring that”, then I suggest that it’s a pretty convincing indicator that the sales enablement journey is not yet complete. Of course, in truth it never is. But with the right mind-set, more of us could be further down that path.
Enabling sales enablement
Oh, and one last thing: effective sales enablement is, as I suggest above, impossible unless the sales and marketing functions can agree on what an perfect customer looks like and what motivates the typical key stakeholders. You might find this guide helpful.