Sales enablement is an often-overlooked part of the sales and marketing spectrum. However, it is becoming increasingly important in a content-heavy world. There are also some important overlaps with content marketing—and therefore an important role for thought leadership. But what actually is sales enablement, and how does thought leadership fit?
Understanding sales enablement
Sales enablement is the umbrella term for anything that helps sales teams to sell better. It therefore includes strategies, content, technology and training. One suggestion is that it covers four areas:
- Sales capabilities, or the skills needed by sales teams to sell effectively;
- How to sell, or the process of selecting the right sales methods to use with each buyer persona;
- What to sell, or the products and services that are selected to market to each buyer persona, and the content that is used in the marketing mix; and
- Closing the deal, or the practices required to sell, upsell and keep customers happy.
These four are useful ways of thinking about where to focus to improve your sales enablement. Is the issue that your sales teams do not have the skills? Or are you using the wrong methods with particular buyers? A little analysis and thought can help to focus on the right issue.
Sales enablement vs marketing?
The next question is how sales enablement fits with marketing, and especially content marketing. There are considerable overlaps between the two, particularly in terms of the content used to support them. The key difference is the purpose for which the content was produced. Marketing content is aimed fairly and squarely at prospective customers, as a way to convert them into leads or actual customers. It is therefore outward-looking, and designed to be found directly by customers.
Sales enablement content, however, is aimed at sales teams. They will use those materials and content to move customers through the sales process quickly and easily. They will choose which content to provide to particular customers, and how to use the content in their interactions with those customers.
However, the line between the two is quite blurred. For example, case studies may be used for both purposes. It is also unclear at what point the customer moves into sales enablement and out of marketing. Marketing content may therefore be used to enable sales—and customers may be attracted by published sales enablement content that they find as part of their initial research.
Thought leadership in sales enablement
This suggests that thought leadership content can and should become part of the sales enablement mix. The real question is how can thought leaders create content that will contribute effectively to sales enablement? FT Longitude, the B2B thought leadership agency, defines five ways in which thought leadership can be used for sales enablement purposes:
- Helping customers to define their needs
Prospective customers often start searching for help before they have fully defined their pain points. Thought leaders who can articulate those pain points clearly can often help customers to define their needs and think differently about potential solutions.
- Creating urgency to act on needs and pain points
Sales enabling thought leadership content should include evidence for the need for change. It may also supply case studies and examples of use cases to help potential customers to see how the proposed solution might help them.
- Giving customers a ready-made solution against which to benchmark
If your thought leadership content resonates, it gives your brand an automatic head start in the sales process. You will effectively become the benchmark against which others will be measured.
- Providing ideas that will appeal at all levels in potential customer organisations
B2B sales almost always need to engage potential customer organisations at multiple levels. The use of buyer personas means that thought leadership content is generally designed to achieve this anyway.
- Creating long-term value for both you and your customers
One of the important differences between thought leadership and traditional sales is the move from transactional to relational marketing. Thought leadership is designed to build a relationship with potential and existing customers. That relationship continues after the sale has been closed, through ongoing consultation and sharing of ideas.
Identifying the gaps
Many of these five are also the aims of thought leadership as part of marketing. They are likely to be addressed by very similar content—but there may be gaps. To fill those gaps, thought leaders should be asking sales teams what other content would be useful.