Building a Sales Enablement Function

Building a Sales Enablement Function
Christi Wall has led sales enablement at Chainalysis and Ping Identity, and has supported 250+ sellers over the course of her career. In this guide, she describes the responsibilities of sales enablement, how to set up a function, and how to measure its success.

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Questions covered in this guide

What are the responsibilities of Sales Enablement?

Ongoing training and development – on regular cadence, sales enablement should have trainings with everyone (more senior sellers and green reps).  

Onboarding new hires – onboarding needs to be a blend of both self-paced learning alongside in-person conversations and a certification to validate knowledge.

Content management – sales enablement is responsible for both creating content (training materials, sales tools) and organizing relevant materials in a knowledge center.

Communication – sales enablement needs to be able to capture and keep the attention of salespeople to do the job effectively, which requires empathy and creativity.

What might an onboarding program look like?

Week-by-week training with activities – set up the content that you want new hires to go through (maybe that’s on-demand videos if you’re at a scale where that makes sense, or conversations if you’re not) and pace it out over a few weeks (duration of onboarding depends on business maturity and resources).  Example: You might have a simple elevator pitch activity for week one, then get into corporate messaging or they start re-articulating on what they’ve learned, and then put it all together in a Capstone exercise.

Final exercise as assessment – set a certification knowledge check activity; performance will indicate whether they’ve been diligent in the rest of the activities.

What might ongoing training look like?

Product training – covering the product roadmap, diving into the technical solutions or services or whatever the actual product is.

Competitive intel – this could be a battle-card of strengths and weaknesses or broader competitive or how you ask trap-setting questions. Ultimately, it’s going through how you strategically position yourself vs. a competitor upfront in a sales conversation as opposed to trying to constantly catch up. 

Value messaging – sales enablement needs to take the product information and flip it or tweak it, reposition it so that you’re not just talking about what it does, but how it helps the customer move their business forward. It’s a matter of training on that kind of rephrasing, to explain to a prospect how it’s going to help his business, not just sharing the tech specs.

When does it make sense to build out an SE function?

If you’re growing fast with an enterprise product, especially with a complex product or sales cycle – when you’re in a high growth stage and you start hitting the gas in terms of hiring; as a full-time sales enablement person, I have consistently come into established startups looking to secure the next round of venture capital funding (but you can and should think about sales enablement before you hire an FTE). Enterprise products benefit more from sales enablement—at ASPs of $25-50K+, products and sales cycles get more complex.

Who does this before you hire a full-time person?

HR – people in HR fit well with SE because they’re used to onboarding new employees and understanding people.

Marketing – there’s a lot of content that both marketing or product marketing touch.

Sales ops – this tends to go well from a process standpoint. If the process is an issue and you need to move things through the cycle and say “use this order form, don’t write a contract that way.” However, if you need more of the softer skills, it’s not always as great.

Avoid using a customer or partner training team – quite frequently training teams are too focused on the customer facing that it’s a completely different audience and it doesn’t translate well.

Who should sales enablement report to?

Ideal for SE to roll up to sales – the strength of it rolling up to sales is that you stay focused on the most important thing, which is revenue.

SE can roll up to product marketing if there’s a strong sales mentality – when you’re under marketing it becomes easier for the focus to get lost on a marketing perspective as opposed to getting the sales people what they need to close the deals for this quarter. However, marketing is helpful in that it is close to the external messaging/positioning of the company’s solutions, which can translate well into more sales-specific messaging. 

What other functions does SE work closely with?

SE serves as a conduit for sales ops training – in a lot of ways, sales enablement is the organizer for the sales ops team to help them spread certain pieces of information- such as a video, email, or live training. Sales ops should express what they need and the sales enablement team can move forward from there. (this goes for other internal organizations too – legal, security, 

SE links product marketing and the sales team – enablement’s job is to take the outward product marketing message and translate it for salespeople. SE should help teach the sales reps how to interpret the product roadmap and sell it to customers, focusing on selling value vs. features.

When you hire for SE, what should you look for?

Empathy – enablement comes down to understanding your immediate audience (salespeople) as well as their audience (the customer). You don’t have to have “carried a bag” to be a good enablement practitioner, but you do need to understand what salespeople go through. Invest in empathy and understanding for strong sales enablement.

Creativity – enablement MUST keep the attention of salespeople. If you don’t, enablement’s teachings will always be the last thing on their mind. They’re deal focused, they’re money focused, they don’t care about your training- unless you’re making it interesting and creative. For example, I once created and sent out sales enablement rap videos that were totally ridiculous, but everyone looked at them and got the information. I knew they were going to delete my email unless I made it notable. 

Self-starter – a good SE hire is a self-starter, because they need to be a good program manager and make things happen on their own. They need to be able to create every aspect of a training program, and be responsible for running it.

What are good backgrounds for SE?

External hires with a background in HR or marketing with program management employees with a HR background typically have that people-person dynamic, so they’re a good fit. Look for people with program management and organization skills. 

Internal hires from sales development or marketing with domain knowledge – internal hires can be successfully moving into enablement because they gain institutional knowledge from being in the organization so they can be beneficial quickly to the enablement program. I’ve hired from sales/business development teams in the past because they tend to be hungry and want to learn, grow, and get involved. 

What are the key activities for a sales enablement function?

Weekly – managing new AE onboarding is critical, you have got to stay on top of it and make sure that people are getting what they need to be successful. 

Monthly – messaging and training around product updates and rolling out any operational updates.

Quarterly – contributing to the Quarterly Business Review (QBR) 

Annually – organizing the Sales Kickoff (SKO)

What materials does this role create?

Produce tactical tools – salespeople most want to know what they can use tomorrow to position themselves against specific competitors and for specific accounts. A lot of what we do is quickly create battle cards for a specific account, but the trick is making sure that they can still be applied for other accounts and other sales reps, for scalability.

These tools might include:
  • Competitive positioning tools
  • Messaging guides
  • Calls scripts
  • Pricing guides to showcase how the pricing works
  • Process documents (with the help of others)

Influence marketing materials to inject sales voice – too often, if salespeople disagree with the marketing voice, they’ll just come in after the fact and say “I won’t use that. I use completely different language and come from a completely different standpoint because I know the customer.” To avoid that, it’s important to make sure you have a sales voice in the marketing production. It’s pretty easy – just get sales reps in the conversation and co-creating content with the marketing team.

How do you enable newer vs. more experienced AEs?

For more junior salespeople – a newer rep needs coaching on things like positioning and how you level up your conversation to get to the right people at your customer’s organization. 

For more senior salespeople – the more senior salespeople are more likely to do things their own way, and need to be reminded about the specific systems the organization has in place.

What’s in the tech stack?

A content management system – that doesn’t mean you need a fancy platform, it just means you need a place to keep everything. Right now, I’m in Google – everything is centralized, organized, and available. Previously, I’ve used content management systems like Brainshark and Highspot and when you have a lot more content to shift through it makes more sense to get one of those.

A learning system – sometimes content management systems will come with a light LMS, and that typically works, but eventually you need something to be able to store videos along with scalable ways to get information. You also want to be able to track views/completion, especially for onboarding to be able to make sure that people completed the training they were supposed to.

A coaching tool – once you get to a certain stage there’s value in a tool like Gong. Sales reps can upload a pitch and then a sales leader can go in and give a rating and feedback.

What coaching should sales leaders do vs. sales enablement should do?

Sales leaders provide more deal-specific help; sales enablement can reinforce higher level concepts – I always found that when sales leaders do the coaching, they’re always really good at coaching on the nitty gritty “here’s how to talk about this competitor, here’s how to talk about this solution.” They know the deal conversations really well. Where I felt that SE always added value in reinforcing some of those high level concepts “here’s the value.”

How do you measure success?

Measure success using the different components of sales velocity – part of the problem with sales enablement is that you can’t directly tie enablement activity to sales success because there are so many other factors that tie into whether or not a particular rep is successful or if the business is successful, but if sales enablement is working, sales velocity should improve.

Sales Velocity = (# of opportunities x $ per opportunity x % win rate) / Length of sales cycle

Match training with areas where reps are struggling – one rep might have a long sales-cycle length, all of their deals are dragging on. Another one might be losing everything; they have a ton of opportunities, and they close them very fast, but they also have a higher loss rate. When you have those insights and see the behaviors that are going on within your team, you can start attaching your sales enablement activities to those issues.  For instance, If we’re just losing deals left and right, as a sales enablement person I’m going to go “okay we need to talk about competitive positioning, we need to talk about value messaging, we need to work on how we’re talking about our business.” Then those tracking numbers is so important because we see how sales enablement is impacting our sales velocity. 

Activity metrics to track – you can also track of things like training programs, new hire certifications, and content views.

What are the most important pieces to focus on (e.g. if you don’t have a full-time sales enablement person)?

Ramp time to productivity – improving ramp is the most powerful sales enablement lever. Invest heavily in new AE training and onboarding. 

Selling proficiency – make sure that every single one of your sales reps has the training and the tools to thoughtfully talk about your product.

What are the common pitfalls?

Becoming irrelevant – don’t send boring emails. It’s all about being creative, being engaging, and forming personal relationships across the sales team where they feel comfortable coming to you with a request for help.

Forgetting who your audience is – you can think there’s a great way to do something, but if the sales people don’t think so, it won’t work. You have to keep that constant dialogue going between sales and enablement to make sure what you’re working on is important and relevant and that they’ll use it. You have to make sure it’s not just you in your own echo chamber.

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