What Does Best-in-Class Sales Enablement for SaaS Businesses Look Like?

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. I’m privileged to lead sales enablement for HubSpot out of EMEA. Helping our sales teams in Dublin, Ireland to hit quota is challenging, rewarding and lots of fun. We have a world class sales organisation and it’s my role to partner with them to ensure they succeed.

I’m always thinking about how we can get better and become a best-in-class sales enablement team. But what does this look like? What behaviours, attitudes and characteristics must a team exhibit to become genuinely world class? Are there skills and experiences your team simply needs to have?

What constitutes best-in-class sales enablement is a tough question, but one that needs to be asked (and answered). Rather than try to answer this complex question on my own, I met with a bunch of sales enablement colleagues I admire at Facebook, LinkedIn, Dropbox, AdRoll and Intercom to try and figure it out. Let's dig in.

What is sales enablement?
How we define sales enablement matters. Indeed, my colleagues and I at HubSpot spent considerable time crafting the following definition of sales enablement:

“Sales enablement is a strategic discipline that partners cross-functionally to help the sales organisation succeed. We are advocates of sales reps and support them by providing content, deal support, training, best practices, knowledge, tools and technology throughout the sales process.”

The definition is not 100% perfect, but we’re fine with that. It will inevitably evolve over time, but it offers clarity and importantly, answers the basics of who we are as a sales enablement team, what we do and how we do it. The definition is the foundation on which the team is built, but it’s the plays and tactics which drive results, gain attention and get measured.

At HubSpot I invest my time in the following plays and tactics:

  • Sales training - product,  sales technique and competitor training

  • Deal support - deal strategy, competitive intelligence and customer reference calls

  • Sales projects - sales rep productivity and sales and marketing alignment

  • Sales content - sales collateral, demo deck and case studies

Although, the plays and tactics are important, execution trumps everything else. Recognising that is key. Now let's get back to what it takes to be world class. 

Based on discussions with leading technology companies and my own analysis, here’s 10 attributes that best-in-class sales enablement teams exhibit. I’ve created this list through the lens of a software as a service (SaaS) business, but many are applicable to most types of businesses:

1. Consultative approach
The best sales enablement teams are trusted advisors of the sales organisation, and partner with sales, rather than serve it. To be clear - there’s a big difference between providing consultancy and taking orders from the sales organisation. To elevate the role of sales enablement to that of a trusted partner, you must take the time to understand the challenges facing the sales organisation and come up with recommendations to improve performance. The leading sales enablement teams provide counsel and deal strategy, and are akin to a sales performance consultant.

2. Data driven and insight led
The best sales enablement teams distil insight from data to inform decision-making. They have a deep understanding of how the sales enablement function impacts the business and influences revenue. World class sales enablement teams are comfortable using disparate sources of data - they track and analyse sales enablement activity, and know which levers will optimise performance. These teams leverage data to build cohort specific programs that are tailored to the needs of sales reps, rather than using generic criteria like start date, tenue or market.

3. Deep commercial awareness
Sales enablement teams must possess great commercial awareness and appreciate how a SaaS business makes money. Equipped with this knowledge they should create programs that encourage the right types of behaviour from sales reps. This would include initiatives that improve the company’s lifetime value to customer acquisition cost ratio (LTV:CAC). Examples include, but are not limited to identifying and qualifying right fit customers, up and cross-sell strategy and negotiation technique.

4. Strategic mindset
For a sales enablement function to succeed it must understand and be aligned with the business and sales strategy. However, the challenge for many sales enablement teams is balancing and prioritising the often complex (and sometimes competing) needs of the sales organisation and individual sales reps. Sales enablement team members must be able to retain focus on the overall strategy and prioritise activity that will have the biggest impact, rather than getting pulled into tactical execution.

5. Sense of urgency
If the sales enablement function wants to become true partners of the sales organisation they have to move at the same speed as sales reps - exceptionally quick. A sense of urgency, being nimble and recognising the impact of getting work done this month is essential. Sales enablement teams must avoid the trap of becoming a think tank of sorts, and appreciate that speed is a competitive advantage. For SaaS businesses, there’s a material impact of closing a deal this month (and quarter, if publicly listed) instead of next.

6. Excellent stakeholder management
High performing sales enablement teams share a common trait - they successfully partner with a coalition of other teams. In short, they value and are highly effective at stakeholder management. Sales management and sales reps will likely be the key stakeholders for most sales enablement teams, but they often have to work alongside and influence other teams to succeed including marketing, training and sales operations. The ability to develop and nurture close working relationships with other teams is crucial, as is understanding which stakeholders to involve and at what time.

7. Empathetic
All sales reps fit into one of two categories - those that hit quota and those that didn’t. There’s no hiding place and at any given time sales reps know exactly how they’re doing, and how this compares to their colleagues. This transparency brings its own pressures, so sales enablement has to be empathetic to the feelings of sales teams and individual sales reps. The best sales enablement teams effortlessly put themselves into the shoes of sales reps, actively listen and understand their world, while remaining strategic and making tough decision for the benefit of the business.

8. Creative problem solver
Often sales enablement is tasked with solving a specific challenge or improving a key sales metric like sales team attainment, demo to close rate or competitive deal win rate. This requires the sales enablement function to be creative and able to effectively deploy a range of tactics within programs. Key to this is understanding the latest trends, tactics and technologies that can make sales reps more productive. As SaaS companies enter a different stage of grow, new programs and initiatives are required. Subsequently, being comfortable driving change is a perquisite for world class sales enablement.

9. Effective communication
Sales enablement teams need to be made up of natural communicators. Clear and concise communication, as well as the ability to authentically speak the language of sales reps and managers is important. As is having the skill to tailor discussions based on the audience and situation. This means the sales enablement team must be able to influence, as well as communicate change, results achieved and best practises they want to implement.

10. GSD - they “get shit done”
Ultimately, sales enablement is judged by results and business impact, and while it can be tough to precisely attribute sales enablement influence to business results, sales enablement has to GSD. Winning sales enablement teams identify what high impact work needs to be done, influence stakeholders to gain buy-in, before executing on the work and seeing it through to delivery. They then provide program measurement, analysis and optimisation. These are the basic ingredients to world class sales enablement.

Want your organisation to take the first steps towards best-in-class sales enablement? You can begin by asking your sales enablement team and key stakeholders from across the business to rate your team on each of these 10 attributes. From there you can benchmark and identify areas for improvement, and more importantly build a pathway to becoming best-in-class.