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In this post I laid out IDC’s original definition of sales enablement (i.e., “putting the right information into the hands of the right sales professional at the right time, in the right place, and in the right format to move a specific sales opportunity forward.”) and discussed some reasons for why we wanted to expand on it.

As part of that, I outlined three core sales enablement activities and discussed the first of these at length:

  1. Education enablement
  2. Analytics enablement
  3. Asset enablement

In this post, we’ll turn out attention to analytics enablement.

Analytics Enablement

Analytics enablement describes the software workbench that is jointly used by marketing and sales to closely monitor the buyer’s journey, with the objective of assessing their areas of interest, purchase intent, and urgency so that a smooth and timely introduction from marketing to sales can be affected when the time is right. When this introduction is made, analytics enablement also provides salespeople with as much information about the buyer as possible (e.g., footprints of interest left by the buyer during their online exploration), so that salespeople can quickly and efficiently pick up the interpersonal dialog while incorporating the knowledge already gained during the digital dialog.

It’s fairly obvious from the above description that I’m describing an idealized version of how things work in large organizations where the customer-creation process is divided into at least two major parts: the first covered by marketing, the latter covered by sales. I’ve also used a couple of terms that require definition: digital dialog and interpersonal dialog. The digital dialog is that part of the customer-creation process, managed by marketing, that engages the buyer through digital means, including advertising, Web sites, and email. The interpersonal dialog is that which ensues after sales engagement takes place, and is managed by the sales organization.

Thanks to the advent of marketing automation solutions, interaction during the early stages of buyer engagement can be very sophisticated, tracking buyer interest based on which emails and Web pages the buyer viewed and providing progressively more relevant information as a profile of buyer interest is developed. Thanks to this modern approach to lead nurturing, prospects can be scored so that only buyers most likely to be genuinely ready for sales engagement are passed along as leads.

In reality, this is rarely a perfect process, with the quality of leads being handed to sales a source of constant debate. That said, this digital dialog has had a dramatic impact on the customer-creation process, enabling a great deal of self-education to take place by buyers. Buyers like this ability and take advantage of it to better understand their options prior to engaging with sales.

This delayed engagement with sales means that today’s sellers have a smaller window of opportunity in which to influence the buyer’s journey as they pick up the interpersonal dialog that is theirs to manage. It also means today’s buyers are a whole lot smarter than they used to be and are looking for a different type of interaction. Gone are the days where buyers are happy with a long, drawn out sales process in which sellers can get to know the buyer as they impart hard-to-find product knowledge. Today, buyers get this information online and often understand their options better than many sales reps, especially when we include an understanding of the competition. This lost opportunity to gain buyer knowledge is why the Market and Buyer Education I discussed in my last post is so important. It’s also where analytics engagement can really help.

By providing information about specific buyers and selling opportunities, analytics enablement can send important signals to other parts of a selling organization’s enablement framework. For example, data indicating a particular prospect is a chief security officer at a healthcare company can trigger the delivery of training content tailored to that industry and persona-specific conversation guidance. Likewise, this same prospect might trigger a suggestion that the sales rep share a recent blog post or other thought leadership piece that is of particular relevance to that persona and industry.

This need to provide training that supports interaction with a particular buyer profile associated with a specific opportunity is a key driver of the trend toward microlearning. As described by Brian Leach in a blog post on the topic, microlearning is “the practice of delivering training in smaller, more focused chunks that learners can easily digest without committing large amounts of time to training.” Given the greater diversity of today’s buyers, this kind of “just in time” sales training, empowered by modern analytics enablement, can do a much better job of delivering sales enablement content exactly where’s it’s needed, just when it’s needed.

In addition to signaling when and where to deliver what sales enablement content, analytics enablement can also greatly enrich the lead handoff process. Just as a buyer’s interest profile developed by marketing automation systems can inform the lead nurturing process, it can also be used to educate salespeople about the leads they are being handed. Sadly, however, this information is rarely transmitted along with the lead. When it is, it usually takes the form of a raw data dump: pages visited, filed downloaded, etc. To understand the buyer’s areas of interest, the rep must go and view those pages and files and infer why the prospect chose to view them.

A much more valuable and efficient use of this data would be to pass along insights about what a prospect’s behavior during the digital dialog tells us about their interest and how and where the rep should pick up the conversation when they are engaged. This approach provides a much smoother transition between the digital and interpersonal dialogs and a better experience for the buyer. I can’t emphasize this last point enough—failure to provide reps with as much insight-level information about the buyer as possible during lead handoff forces the buyer to hit the rewind button and educate the sales rep about their areas of interest. This is a waste of everybody’s time and a big driver of buyer frustration.

It’s worth noting here that lead generation campaigns that make use of online tools to trade valuable information (e.g., technical maturity or business value assessments) for detailed prospect information (some of which is gathered as part of the assessment; some of which is requested in exchange for downloading the assessment report) can be another source of invaluable data. By embedding the collection of valuable prospect data within an experience the buyer finds worthwhile, marketers can not only learn a great deal about their target audience but also collect information of high value to downstream selling efforts. It’s well known that asking for prospect information lowers the likelihood that documents will be downloaded, but tools that provide real perceived value — benchmarking against peers is an excellent example — can often overcome this resistance and get prospective buyers to share their info.

As I’ve emphasized above, the more prospect information that can be gathered prior to sales engagement, the better enablement activities can be activated to produce highly relevant sales conversations

Sales enablement content flow

This discussion of how analytics enablement can be a vital part of your sales enablement strategy has surfaced an important concept: information gathered by marketing about the buyer should inform downstream sales activities. This notion of upstream/downstream information flow as part of the sales enablement process is important and points to the necessity of good sales and marketing collaboration. Given this imperative, I’ve been thrilled to see the massive uptick in marketing’s involvement in sales enablement over the past few years. That said, many organizations still have work to do.

A while back, I was in a meeting with the CMO of a large, enterprise software company where it was clear that he understood the value of sales enablement. What wasn’t clear was how much he understood the necessity of close collaboration with the sales organization to do it right. He did a wonderful job articulating how much work had been done by his organization to understand the buyer’s journey, so that they could map marketing content to that journey to ensure buyers were getting just the right information when they needed it. Referencing this work, I asked him if he was similarly mapping sales enablement content to the seller’s journey. He literally put his hand to his forehead. “You’re just throwing it over the wall, aren’t you?” I asked. “Yup,” he admitted. He is far from alone.

The information that marketing provides to sales as part of the sales enablement process will be of significantly higher value if it is delivered based on an understanding of the sales process. Just as the different stages of a buyer’s journey require different types of information, so too does the seller’s journey demand relevant and timely content delivery. In my next post on “What is Sales Enablement?” I’ll share a table Rich Vancil and I created to outline some sales enablement process roles for marketing and sales. I offer the tale above and that table in the hope that they can facilitate and foster an important dialog on how sales and marketing can partner to improve sales enablement content delivery.

For information about Sales Enablement, please contact Keith Gaffney – kgaffney@idc.com