- An Effective Sales Enablement Strategy
- Feedback Loops
When I talk with product marketing leaders, the topic of conversation often turns back to enabling sales and customer success teams. Product marketing teams have all of the product and market knowledge that sales and customer success teams need and, in many circumstances, we also have a relationship with those teams that allows us to understand what they need and how we can help.
Unfortunately, sales enablement is an often overlooked strategy. In my experience, it’s tacked on to product launches, tossed around like a hot potato and generally approached as a vague tactic instead of a fully formed strategic discipline.
This is obviously a big mistake! Sales representatives who have the content and training they need not only stay at an organization longer, but they also are more able to engage buyers.
There are two main aspects of sales enablement to consider here, one of which makes sense for the sales leader to own, and the other that doesn’t.
- Sales fundamentals (process, best practices for calls, coaching)
- Customer, market and product knowledge
This article focuses on how product marketing can help provide the second one, customer, market and product knowledge, to sales and customer success teams. Just that one bullet alone is a BIG job, so let’s break that down even further:
- Training (including onboarding and ongoing trainings that provide market, customer and messaging insight)
- Resources (both internal and external)
- Feedback loops (structures that help you get their feedback and give them your insights)
An Effective Sales Enablement Strategy
An effective sales enablement strategy will include all of these in some form. I recognize this is a tall order, which is why I’ve often made sales enablement my first hire when I’m building out a product marketing team (more about that later).
One thing before we jump into each of the areas I mentioned above: a successful sales enablement strategy is highly dependent on your company culture, the relationship between sales and the rest of the organization and your relationship with the team. You can do all of the training, deliver all of the right resources and open up feedback and it will be mediocre at best if the relationship isn’t on point.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned when building a relationship with sales teams:
Tip #1: Don’t come in hot and change things
No one likes to be told what to do, and they like it even less when they don’t understand or agree with the changes. The best thing you can do when forming a relationship with your sales team is take the time to listen, understand and implement meaningful changes that reflect what you hear.
Tip #2: Start with a few willing people
As you start talking to people in the organization you’ll probably notice that there are some that are available and willing to collaborate, and some who aren’t (for a variety of reasons, many that have nothing to do with you!) I’ve had great success working directly with a few people on projects they’re passionate about. For instance, there might be someone who’s been begging for more competitive information. If they’re willing, you might ask them to take a look at a battlecard or two before you give them to the rest of the team. You’ll get their feedback and they’ll be able to help be a champion to the rest of the team.
Tip #3: Above all, make partnership the priority
Your sales team will be resistant to any change, resource or training you provide if there isn’t true collaboration and partnership. That means you’re consistently listening to them, you’re responding with actions that show you’ve heard them and you’re open to feedback.
Overall, a good sales enablement strategy hinges on your ability as the product marketing leader to truly understand and empathize with your sales team. Think about it: they’re in a uniquely vulnerable context multiple times a day. They go into calls without knowing if the person will be friendly, if they will ask a question they’re not prepared for or if they have the right competitive information.
When I truly stopped and listened to my sales and customer success teams, my entire approach to sales enablement changed. I heard things like:
- “Being blindsided by a question on a call is the worst. I hate feeling like I’m fumbling for information that I feel like I should have known beforehand.”
- “I wish I understood better how we stacked up against competitors. I feel like I’m repeating lines that don’t really resonate and losing deals as a result.”
- “I feel disconnected from the rest of the organization. I don’t know what’s launching, when or why.”
Sure, sometimes I had to sift through layers of frustration or blame to get there, but when I took the time to really listen, I found that I could actually help resolve some of those concerns. If I hadn’t taken that time, I would have probably jumped in with a well-intentioned strategy that didn’t hit the mark.
Now, let’s go into each of the three areas of sales enablement that belong under the product marketing
I can hear the collective groans when the word “training” comes up. I get it! No one wants to sit through another meeting, especially with goals and quotas looming.
Training is one of those necessary aspects of sales enablement that no one is particularly thrilled about, but there are ways to make it more engaging and useful for your sales and customer success teams.
Because training carries the connotation of being boring and low-impact, you have to make sure you craft a strategy that:
- Delivers the right information at the right time
- Takes as little time as possible
- Provides follow-ups, recordings and “just-in-time” training
Your job as a product marketer is to give customer-facing teams the information and context they need in order to have successful conversations with customers – no more and no less!
Each training strategy will be dependent on your team. Some will prefer quick, short videos that you send over and expect them to watch on their own time. Some will prefer scheduled training sessions. If you have the resources, you might even consider building interactive training modules.
No matter what your organization needs, here are some guiding principles to keep in mind:
Tip #1: Ruthlessly edit your training content
It’s often tempting to give all of the information, context and insight that you can, but I can tell you from experience that it’s a mistake! That leaves the people you’re training to do the hard work of sifting through everything you’ve presented to find the pieces of information that are most helpful to them. (Spoiler alert: they probably won’t do that which will leave you all frustrated).
For instance, if you’re training sales and customer success teams on a new feature, skip the deep dive into how the product works. You can always provide that in a follow up video or with links to help articles. Instead, focus your training on a quick demo, why customers care, talking points to use, and relevant competitive intelligence. The point is to focus on only the most important pieces of information in the precious training time you’re given.
Tip #2: Provide extra resources and follow-ups for people who want to go deeper
If you read through the first point and thought “But what about all of the other information they’ll need? What if I leave something out that ends up being important to someone?” I get it! The training content should be enough to get your team interested and equipped for initial conversations, but they’ll quickly need more information. That might include:
- Sales materials like one sheets, decks, competitive intelligence and more
- A recording of the training
- Quick videos that show the product or feature in action
- Industry articles, posts or webinars that support your message, approach or launch
If you have it, you can include these things in whatever sales enablement platform you’re using. If you don’t have that, just make one consistent, easy to navigate place for them to find information.
Tip #3: Provide substantiation, customer insights and market research wherever you can
There’s nothing more convincing than hearing what a customer, market influencer or industry expert has to say about the thing you’re launching or the area you’re focusing on. We all know that it’s important to provide external context and substantiation for customers, but we sometimes forget that we have to turn that same attention toward internal audiences as well. In order to give sales and success teams the confidence they need to pitch a new product, feature or narrative, you have to first persuade them that it’s worth their time and their customers’ interest.
Tip #4: Get feedback regularly
It’s not enough just to deliver information, you have to also take an interest in optimizing your sales enablement efforts. The best way to do that is by gathering feedback at every opportunity. Training feedback breaks down into:
- Questions like “how helpful was the content of this training?”
- Insight into what else they’d like you to cover in future trainings
For both of those, it’s helpful to partner with sales leaders. They’ll be able to ask their teams and provide that feedback to you along with any context that you might need. Then, you’ll be able to work with them to identify ways to meet their teams’ needs.
I also recommend that you send out a survey a few times a year to check for sales readiness in a variety of areas. You can then use that information to plan a training schedule and track success over time.
One of the biggest questions I hear from new product marketing leaders is “How do I get sales what they need while prioritizing everything else on my plate? It feels like it’s all too much!”
It’s so common for new product marketing leaders, particularly in environments where there hasn’t been any product marketing in the past, to step into a huge backlog of sales resources and a team that’s eager to have their voices heard. They may even have access to some resources but they’re either out of date or simply not enough.
This is a critical time for you as the leader to balance giving them what they need with setting up effective processes that guard your resources and make sure what you do provide is intentional and high quality.
As you think about what makes up an effective process, it’s helpful to set up some criteria for what you can take on, some general timelines for when you’ll be able to complete those, and some information or context that will be required from the person asking.
For instance, you might say:
- Product marketing is responsible for one sheets, updates to battlecards and slide decks
- We ask for 2 weeks for one sheets, 1 week for battlecard updates and 2-3 weeks for slide decks
- When you’re submitting your request, please give as much information as you can including examples, instances where this would be useful, the types of customers it might be useful for and any call recordings or customer communication where this would have been needed.
There’s another aspect to sales resources that is just as difficult as creating new things: keeping the older things updated and ensuring that everyone’s using the right version.
This is the purpose of most sales enablement platforms, so if you’re able to invest in one of those, congratulations! This particular problem is mostly solved.
Even if you’re not, it’s best to create one single source for sales resources. When you update something or add something new, be sure to sing it from the rooftops and really promote it to make sure people know it’s there.
Here are some additional tips that will help you deliver impactful resources:
Tip #1: Give Context For Use
This might be the number one reason why excellent resources aren’t used by sales teams – they don’t understand the context that it’s meant for. When you release something new, deliver it with a quick note about when that thing will be most useful. That might include specific personas, stages of the sales cycle or discussion that make this resource most valuable.
Tip #2: Go a Layer Deeper Than the Initial Request
We’ve all been there – someone says “I need a one sheet that describes this new feature”. So you produce it and then… nothing. What happened? Usually it’s because there was a disconnect between what the person asked for and what was actually the most impactful way to deliver that information. The next time someone asks for something, dig a little deeper. Where do they want to use it? Are there specific conversations they’re struggling with? Then, you can use that information to come up with the best solution to the problem.
Tip #3: Keep it Simple
When in doubt (or with limited time), find ways to make the most of a few impactful resources. That might look like prioritizing case studies, product-specific webpages and product demo videos that can be used for both marketing and sales.
The key with all sales enablement resources is to deliver them, gather feedback and insights and then optimize.
That leads us to the next aspect of sales enablement which is feedback loops
Here’s the kicker: none of the previous two work if you don’t give significant attention to this one.
These feedback loops are not only critical to the success of your sales enablement efforts, but they’re also critical to the success of your sales team. They need the information you can provide and you need their information to refine materials, messaging and product launches.
At its very best, the relationship between sales and marketing is a true symbiotic relationship. Each party gets the things that they need when they need them. Everyone comes away from their interactions feeling more prepared and unified.
We all know that’s not always how it turns out. The good news is that my experience leads me to believe that a strong, intentional, PMM-led feedback loop can fix most problems and improve the sales/marketing relationship.
Your feedback loop will change based on your team and organization, but here are a few ideas for setting up feedback loops that I’ve used:
- Have a standing one-on-one meeting with the sales leader(s). Make sure the agenda and value to them is clear.
- Slack channels for specific topics like competitive information or win/loss information
- Create a core group of sales, customer success and marketing people who have the charter of gathering and delivering feedback. Meet on a monthly basis and change the topic each meeting. For instance, one meeting might be about a specific persona, one might be about an upcoming launch, etc.
No matter what you choose, just make sure you give specific attention to getting and using feedback from your sales team. You’ll earn yourself some goodwill from them and you’ll be well-equipped with insights that help you do your job better.
Your sales enablement strategy will be as unique as your role, organization and team. The most important part is developing a relationship with the team that serves your customers by delivering the training and resources they need, and providing opportunities for them to give you feedback.