I lead sales enablement for HubSpot out of Dublin, Ireland and my role encompasses sales content, sales training, deal support and sales productivity.
While my attention is laser focussed on helping our sales organisation hit quota, lately I’ve been thinking about how HubSpot’s partner marketing and sales agencies, of which there are more than 3,400 can sell sales enablement as a monthly recurring service. Most agencies that are part of the HubSpot Partner Program have figured out the marketing services side of the business, but only now are agencies considering how they can best package their sales offering. That’s where sales enablement comes in.
Sales enablement is a relatively new, but rapidly emerging discipline that’s most common among software as a service (SaaS) and enterprise sized businesses. While each company and context is unique, the goal of a sales enablement function typically is to support the sales organisation so they can succeed. The rise of sales enablement is a golden opportunity for agencies to influence more of the buyer’s journey and become responsible for revenue generation.
But how can sales enablement be packaged? It’s a tough question, and I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer yet, but the agencies which it figure stand to create a whole new line of business. One thing is certain however - sales enablement services can and should be sold on a monthly retainer. And agencies naturally want to sell services on this basis, as predictable recurring revenue helps build a predictable and repeatable business.
Before you understand the impact sales enablement can have on a business, the best way to sell it as a monthly service or the most impactful sales enablement metrics to track, you first need to clearly define what it is.
Defining sales enablement
How we define sales enablement is absolutely crucial. 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.”
We appreciate the definition is not 100% perfect and that it currently excludes sales managers, but for the moment we’re okay with that. It will evolve over time, but for now it offers much needed clarity and perhaps more importantly, answers the basics of who we are as a sales enablement team, what we do and how we do it. Once agencies have a definition that is understood by their clients it’s time to start building the business case and communicate the value created by sales enablement.
The benefits of sales enablement
As sales enablement is an emerging and relatively immature discipline, there’s a distinct lack of sales enablement thought leadership or standardised measurement and best practices. While that is true and people often struggle to fully understand the role, there is now data to show that investment in a sales enablement function delivers a significant return - indeed research by Miller Heinman Group found that companies with a formal sales enablement plan are 10.2% more successful than those who don't.
Similarly, research from the Aberdeen Group discovered that sales enablement “Leaders” (the top 30% of surveyed companies based on quota attainment and revenue growth) have significantly more sales reps achieving quota (72% vs. 51%) and higher lead conversion rates (14.4% vs. 13.0%) than sales enablement “Followers” (the remaining 70% of surveyed companies). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows that having resource dedicated to supporting the sales organisation helps sales reps close more deals and hit quota.
Pillars of sales enablement
For the most part, sales enablement activity is characterised as practical and tactical (these tactics help deliver the strategy). When defining the activities and plays that contribute to successful sales enablement I think of it in terms of four pillars, they are sales content, sales training, deal support and sales productivity.
It’s worth acknowledging that some sales enablement teams may skew more towards sales content, while others will focus more on sales productivity and technology - it depends on their phase of sales enablement maturity. However, the key point here is - once agencies have defined the activities which form the pillars of sales enablement, they can then start thinking about packaging them into services for clients.
How to productise sales enablement
While organisations should invest in sales enablement, there’s a big difference between having an in-house sales enablement function versus paying an outside consultancy. Sales enablement is a highly strategic function, but in truth, it’s application is tactical, in the trenches stuff.
This makes productising sales enablement a challenge. But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it should not be attempted. Agencies need to strike the right balance between offering both strategic and tactical sales enablement. However, I do believe some aspects of sales enablement work should always remain in-house, such as (but not limited to) deal strategy, competitive positioning and customer reference calls.
How can an agency best productise sales enablement? It all starts with identifying the sales enablement activities that will have the biggest impact and then deciding if these are most suited to being once-off or recurring activities to be sold as either a project or on a retainer. Once you have completed this exercise you’ll see there’s three distinct buckets of sales enablement activity ready to be productised, they are Set Up, Recurring and Campaign activity. Now let’s look at those in more detail.
1. Set Up
When an agency starts selling sales enablement services to a client there will inevitably be an initial Set Up phase. Essentially, this will be used to create the right foundations for the subsequent work that will take place. Depending on the client and its industry this phase will typically last from a matter of weeks up to several months. It’s important to recognise that many of the Set Up activities only need to be completed once and that they will likely require ongoing maintenance and optimisation, rather than creation.
Activities within this phase include a sales process audit, which is a detailed analysis of a company’s sales process. I would also recommend persona development, so the sales organisation clearly understands who they’re selling to. These exercises will help inform further activity and enable the consultant to understand where an organisation is strong, weak or underperforming. In addition, agencies can add huge value by helping clients develop, formalise and optimise their sales process. Many organisations have modernised their marketing, but they’re often let down by a legacy sales process.
There’s also some foundational pieces of work that need to be completed. Namely, tracking and reporting needs to be set up, so results can be tracked and success measured. There’s also an opportunity for agencies to create templates and content for sales teams - this could range from email templates to sales collateral to video case studies. One other key way agencies can sell sales enablement is by creating workflows with marketing automation - this will ensure sales reps have the best leads routed to them quickly and with context.
Next up are the Recurring services, and as their name suggests these are carried out on a consistent (I suggest monthly) basis. Let’s be completely clear - Recurring sales enablement activities need to be performed each month to ensure agency clients are successful with sales enablement.
There are a plethora of services that could be sold as Recurring sales enablement services, but sales training and coaching should feature. The quality of training and coaching is absolutely crucial, but it’s a service that agencies are well placed to offer. Marketing agencies, particularly those with content marketing chops should develop sales collateral for their clients - they can do this by understanding the challenges of sales reps, and then coming up with strategic solutions.
Sales collateral could include, but is not limited to sales decks, case studies, videos and tools like pricing calculators. Competitive intelligence is also a continual challenge for sales organisations, so agencies can build initial competitive intelligence materials and then sell the maintenance of these resources as part of a retainer. The competitive landscape is in a continual state of flux, so this could be a high value service provided by agencies. Within the Set Up phase workflows and lead routing were created, however these activities are not a set and forget piece of work - they should be continually fine tuned and optimised over time.
The third part of selling sales enablement as a service is the Campaign phase. These are projects that happen at a regular cadence throughout the retainer (I recommend quarterly or every other month). Campaign programmes can have a big impact on the sales enablement function and are performed in addition to the Recurring work.
The types of Campaign activities agencies sell will depend on its client and their needs, but a common Campaign activity is an up and cross-selling programme. This is a great chance for an agency to offer value, and drive revenue. Other Campaign activity that needs to take place is quarterly reporting and analysis - this will enable the agency and client to get a full picture of results, but more importantly equip the agency with the data they need to make any changes to improve activity. If sales training and coaching is a big part of an agency’s sales enablement offering they should also provide cohort specific training - for instance a programme could be designed for sales reps that average 80-95% quota attainment.
Using insights from reporting and analysis the agency should create sales collateral which resolves a specific challenge - it might that there’s an issue within a particular region or the company’s messaging is failing to resonate within a specific market. Another Campaign activity could be the creation of customer reviews on websites like TrustRadius and G2 Crowd. These websites are frequently leveraged by prospects when buying software and running campaigns to increase reviews would create valuable and trusted sales collateral.
Sales enablement as a recurring service
Agencies want to sell recurring services as this is what helps them create a predictable, consistent business, but what does sales enablement as a recurring service look like? I firmly believe that agencies should be selling sales enablement services packaged as a 12 month retainer.
The chart below shows that much activity would take place within the first three months before settling into a recurring cadence.
Pricing sales enablement
Sales enablement creates value for a business as it has a direct and measurable impact on the bottom line. That’s why agencies should use value based pricing when selling sales enablement services. Basing a product’s price on how much the client believes it is worth is a better strategy than having arbitrary, cost-plus pricing. For example, let’s say an agency sells sales enablement services and helps both a Fortune 500 company and a fast growing SaaS company increase revenue by 10%. There’s a big difference in results, revenue and subsequently the value created, and that’s why the pricing should be different.
Once you’ve decided on your pricing strategy you can then calculate the annual cost of the retainer. You can do this by adding up the year’s worth of work and then dividing it by 12 to give you the monthly retainer cost. That way there’s a consistent fee being charged each month (in much the same vein as growth-driven design), even though some months the agency will do more sales enablement work and in others, less. This provides much needed consistency for both the client and agency. Ultimately, sales enablement creates value for organisations and agencies should not be afraid to charge accordingly.
Where to start?
Want your agency to start selling sales enablement services? You can begin by identifying the areas that will provide the most value and contrasting these services with the skills and attributes of your team. You may find that you need to develop your team or make some new hires, but it’s an investment worth making now. Building an effective sales enablement practice within an agency takes time, but get it right and you can create a new line of business that is responsible for revenue and generates value.
In an increasingly cluttered and commoditised marketplace, sales enablement offers agencies the chance to innovate and expand their offering. The question is whether agencies are fully equipped to take advantage of and seize this opportunity. I sincerely hope they are.