For the most part, sales enablement is poorly defined and often misunderstood. Across the world conversations take place, day in, day out between business leaders as they decide the part that sales enablement can, should and will play within their organisation.
At a high level, they recognise the value and importance of a team whose role is to help the sales organisation become more productive and ultimately, successful, but when it comes to the finer details, they can often struggle to crack the code and identify what will have the biggest impact.
When I started my role leading sales enablement for HubSpot in EMEA the situation was no different. We consider sales enablement to be a bottom of the funnel (BOFU) function, but after listening to the sales and marketing leadership it became apparent that I could have the biggest impact by strategically focussing on the bottom of the BOFU, and providing “deal closing optimisation” activities to the business. The chart below shows a standard sales and marketing funnel - essentially my role is helping get deals over the line as much as possible.
Back to starting my role at HubSpot. Within a few weeks I made it a priority to speak with sales reps to understand what was going well, what wasn’t, as well as their biggest pain points and challenges. While the data and earlier discussion with the management team gave an indication of what would have most impact, the meetings with sales reps provided a deeper level of insight into how sales enablement could most effectively support sales reps.
After the meetings it was clear that in many respects things were going well. However, time, and time again, sales reps did mention that they wanted support and coaching to be available during a deal. One of the key insights was that taking a deep dive on a deal after it was lost was not considered helpful - sales reps require support during a deal, not after.
To tackle this challenge head-on and meet the needs of the sales organisation I launched a deal support programme consisting of customer reference calls, competitive intelligence and deal strategy, all of which are available on-demand.
Candidly, for the vast majority of deals, sales reps require no extra support, but there are edge cases that we can and should win, and that’s the moment a sales rep will likely request deal support. As HubSpot has made the move to become a truly multi-product company (today HubSpot sells marketing, sales, customer service and CRM tools) our sales process has become more dynamic. In short, there are now many more permutations and opportunities for sales reps to sell different products, but they also need more on-demand support. Their role is evolving from that of a product expert to an agile generalist, who can move between products and personas, and orchestrate the right team for a particular deal.
Why does sales enablement provide deal support?
I’ll answer this question by taking a step back. Philosophically, I think the best way for a sales enablement team to be aligned with a sales organisation is by sharing a quota attainment goal. At HubSpot I have both a quota attainment goal and influenced revenue goal, which arises from deal support. The quota attainment number is my North Star goal, and the most important metric for our sales organisation (quite simply, we have to be heading in that direction), and the influenced revenue goal is how I’ll personally contribute to it.
When I share with industry colleague how we approach deal support at HubSpot, I’m often asked, "shouldn’t sales managers be playing this role?" The answer is, “yes” - and they do, to some extent. However, I liken a sales organisation to a professional sports team - there’s a manager and many players, however, there will often be specialist skills coaches and backroom staff providing support, and that’s how I think of deal support. Using my expertise I’m able to help sales reps during a particular part of a deal, or to continue the sports analogy, I coach them to execute on a specific play or improve a skill.
I also think it’s important to state that while I have an influenced revenue goal from deal support, which is inherently measurable, sales enablement often influences revenue in many more, but less measurable ways. For instance, you may run a training programme on negotiation skills and see discounting reduced or create email templates for sales reps that increase the number of meetings booked. While these examples will likely fall under the remit of sales enablement, precise attribution is a challenge.
However, just because measuring the impact of sales enablement isn't easy, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I’m comfortable living in a world of imperfect data and have found that a blended approach of high impact metrics, such as quota attainment, plus clearly attributable metrics like deal support annual recurring revenue (ARR) or sales enablement NPS is effective. It helps me remain focussed on the most impactful work and drives alignment between sales and marketing.
What is deal support?
As I’ve mentioned deal support at HubSpot is an on-demand service provided to sales reps by sales enablement. I use the term “deal support” as a catch-all phrase when talking about the following activities:
1. Customer reference calls
This means setting up a call between a happy, successful client and a prospect, where the client shares their experiences of HubSpot. The client is often from the same industry and location as the prospect, and has overcome a similar challenge to the one that the prospect is looking to solve. A common customer reference call request would be setting up a call with a client that previously used a competitor (which the prospect is currently evaluating) or if the prospect operates in a niche industry, putting them in touch with a client from the same industry.
Customer reference calls tap into social proof and often provide added reassurance to the prospect, and this is important for several reasons. First up, while HubSpot’s Dublin office opened in 2013, we have been selling into EMEA since the company was founded back in 2006. This means in many markets there are few innovators left - instead we’re selling to early adopters and the early majority, who in many cases are more conservative and require greater persuasion.
This is where customer reference calls come in - they’re one of the many ways that we leverage social proof at HubSpot, but arguably the most impactful. There’s a slew of research out there which shows the power of social proof, such as the annual Edelman Trust Barometer which highlights how highly people trust their peers, as well as the growing importance in the buying process of third party review websites like G2 Crowd and TrustRadius.
Back to customer reference calls. At HubSpot sales reps can request a customer reference call once a deal is at the post-demo stage - this ensures we’re setting up calls with prospects that are highly qualified and ready to buy. We’ve found that customer reference calls are an effective way to nudge prospects towards buying, and we carefully track the outcome of each call.
Importantly, nobody from HubSpot joins a customer reference call - this gives the prospect and client the opportunity to have an open, honest and frank discussion. We also think this approach shows a lot of confidence in the strength of our product, support and services, all of which leads to the prospect having a more meaningful call.
2. Competitive intelligence
Sales reps also have the option to request competitive intelligence support during a deal. We have a fantastic wiki full of great resources and information on our competitors, and this is always the first port of call for sales reps. However, sometimes sales reps need guidance that is heavily tailored to their deal and that’s when they leverage competitive intelligence deal support.
Typically, when sales reps request a competitive intelligence consultation we discuss what’s happening in the deal, where it’s heading, what the prospect is telling us, as well as try to anticipate what the competition will be doing and saying - based on this information we build a plan to win. During competitive intelligence sessions I’m very much an advisor and provide a second opinion on how sales reps should approach the deal.
Competitive intelligence support is offered at any stage of a deal and I track the outcome if I spend more than 20 minutes supporting the sales rep. Candidly, 20 minutes is a completely arbitrary figure, but it feels about right. If I spend less time on a deal it feels a stretch to say I influenced it, but over 20 minutes, which is pretty typical, then I do feel I’ve influenced a deal in a significant way.
In addition, to this high value, high touch support we’ve also created a bot which provides competitive intelligence information, so sales reps can get answers to their competitive intelligence questions immediately, at any hour of the day and on any device.
3. Deal strategy
Thirdly, I also provide deal strategy as a service to sales reps. This type of deal support is extremely varied, but is best thought of as building a strategy to win the deal. As mentioned, deal strategy takes various guises, however recent examples include advising sales reps on how to position our products when a prospect wants to implement account-based marketing (ABM) with HubSpot (our product is built for inbound marketing, but can be utilised for ABM). Another common request is supporting sales reps that are selling to a company with multiple brands and advising on how many HubSpot instances they should buy (there's no standard answer here - it depends on the business).
During deal strategy sessions I’m often asked to review what resources a sales rep is leveraging and make recommendations. For instance, it may be that the sales rep should call in additional support from our legal, sales engineering or marketing teams for a deal or that they should consider using sales collateral that speaks to the prospects’ specific challenges or objections.
Again, deal strategy is not right for every deal. However, we recognise that selling our expanded range of products creates a more fluid sales process and there will be edge cases and scenarios that sales reps have not experienced before. In many instances wo do win these deals, and sales reps value being able to call upon someone who can provide strategic guidance.
Putting the right processes in place to provide deal support is important, but how you prioritise and deliver the service is what matters most. I’m an individual contributor (IC) partnering with more than 100 sales professionals, so how I prioritise deal support is extremely important. I personally use a 2X2 grid to help prioritise work - it’s simple, adds clarity and is an effective way to communicate with the business what work will and won't get done.
The chart below shows that I prioritise deal support at HubSpot based on estimated revenue from the deal (importance) and close date (urgency). This helps me focus on the deals that will have the biggest impact.
Why sales reps leverage deal support?
Put simply, sales reps leverage deal support as it’s a service to help them close deals. It’s certainly not right for every deal, but they appreciate having support which they can call upon when needed. We’ve found it’s particularly effective when the prospect may need additional reassurance (customer reference calls) or information (competitive intelligence and deal strategy) before buying HubSpot.
In addition, we’ve seen a viral loop of sorts unfold. When I launched the programme we had some good early wins from deal support. This in turn led to sales reps telling their colleagues about deal support, and subsequently more sales reps requested it, closed deals, told their colleagues about it, and then the cycle has continued to repeat itself and gather momentum.
So far the programme has supported 400 deals, which resulted in more than 150 wins and generated over $3 million in ARR. But here's the thing. Deal support is not a silver bullet for sales reps - instead it's best thought of as a specialist tool that sales rep have at their disposal for a particular moment. In terms of data, we see a lot of promise in the programme and anecdotally, sales reps tell us how much they value it - currently, we’re figuring out ways to scale our deal support programme, so more sales reps can benefit.
And if you’re leading a sales enablement team my advice is to “get as close to the close” as possible with deal support. By providing this type of on-demand service and owning a revenue goal you will become a driver of growth. And when that happens you’re well placed to be assigned bigger budgets, increase your sphere of influence and grow your team, all of which will elevate you and the practice of sales enablement within your business.