B2B marketing consultant, speaker and author Pam Didner sat down with our own Alicia Esposito this week for a sneak peek at her soon-to-be released book, Effective Sales Enablement: Achieve Sales Growth Through Collaborative Sales and Marketing. The two discussed the book, Didner’s perspective on the evolving relationship between sales and marketing, and how technology continues to transform the B2B landscape.
Alicia Esposito: You’ve been in the B2B space for quite a while. You were Global Integrated Marketing Strategist for Intel for many years, and now you’re helping other marketers. I’d love for you to share what inspired you to write this book.
Pam Didner: I’ve supported sales, both indirect and direct sales forces, as a marketer in a marketing organization. Supporting sales as a marketer is quite different from doing marketing outreach or a marketing campaign. To collaborate better, the marketer needs to understand sales challenges, processes and sales methodology, then think through how best to use different marketing elements effectively to enable sales.
With the rise of digital, people may not realize this, but many marketing elements can be a part of sales engagements and negotiations. I talk about how to use marketing elements and channels to accelerate sales conversions and engagements. I wanted to share not only my own learning but also other marketing professionals’ wisdom about how to better support sales.
It’s a book written for marketers by a marketer.
Alicia: There’s a lot of nuance there, talking about the differences in mindset and priority for marketers versus sales when it comes to this topic. It’s so interesting how you’re able to tie this concept of sales enablement to your personal experiences and some unexpected anecdotes, like those about Leonardo da Vinci and the Industrial Revolution.
I’d love for you to expand on those points a little bit and how they tie in to modern sales enablement tactics—and why those examples stuck out to you when writing the book.
Pam: Oh, the story you’re talking about is in the first chapter of my book. I visited Château du Clos Lucé in Loire Valley, the last residence of da Vinci. Everyone around me was simply in awe of his vivid imagination and his inventions, and there I was standing and thinking about, “How could I sell and market his inventions during his time?!”
I was imagining myself as da Vinci’s VP of marketing, and I asked myself questions. Would it have been possible to successfully sell da Vinci’s creations in his time, especially in the early 16th Century, if the products were manufactured and the sales team were properly trained? In other words, could I enable my sales team to actually sell his inventions?
I realized that selling wasn’t the issue. The issues are the products and the buyers. Da Vinci’s inventions were beyond anybody’s imagination at that time, so they weren’t relevant to ordinary people. Even if I put a sales team together and we had awesome marketing campaigns, the products weren’t relevant and the buyers weren’t ready. In addition, there was no ecosystem in place to supply the components of those sophisticated devices.
That moment of standing in da Vinci’s study room and contemplating the possibilities of selling his inventions somehow inspired this book. In the chapter, I also went on to talk about how the Industrial Revolution impacted the development of sales enablement. We officially entered the era of machines powered by machines. Humans were able to create complicated machinery and equipment that required sales teams to be trained and educated in order to sell these complicated products. I had great fun writing the first chapter: Sales Enablement, da Vinci and the Industrial Revolution.
Alicia: It seems like this could be a fun and interesting exercise for teams to think about these scenarios. If we were trying to educate buyers on X product or Y technology, how would we position it? It’s an interesting way to start thinking about how marketing can better collaborate with sales teams.
Do you think it’s more challenging for some people to implement marketing best practices within the context of sales enablement?
Pam: The standard definition of sales enablement tends to revolve around sales onboarding and sales training. The quickest and most fundamental way to actually enable a sales team is to train them well and onboard them to the point that they know how to sell.
So what information and tactics on the marketing side can sales actually leverage and use? For the longest time, marketing teams have mostly been charged with providing marketing qualified leads (MQLs). So whenever you ask the sales team what they need, they’ll answer, “I need leads, I need leads, I need leads.”
But in the modern digital era, marketing can do so much more. Marketing is doing a lot of outreach on social media, email campaigns, and creating content—and that content and those tactics can also be used on the sales side.
Or course, you need to be very selective. You can’t just take all the marketing content and dump it on the sales side. You need to think about it in terms of the overall marketing landscape. Try to map some of the content to sales processes and methodologies, work with them to determine the appropriate content that they can use. Occasionally, you’ll need to educate the sales team about how they can use the content.
Alicia: You bring up a good point about all the different channels and tactics that marketing uses on a consistent basis to engage with buyers and extend the brand story.
I’m curious about your thoughts on these different trends, content preferences and technologies. Which ones are having the most impact on the evolution of sales enablement?
Pam: I think the most important trend is the acceleration of technology and its ramifications on both sales and marketing. I consider myself a traditional marketer. I started in print and traditional media. Now everybody’s moving to digital—social media paid ads, programmatic and retargeting ads, webcasts and virtual event marketing, etc. Marketers are overwhelmed. In the past, they probably had eight or nine channels to focus on, and they did them very well. But there are so many channels and platforms that marketers can use for outreach. The key thing is to know your audience well. Know where they go. Prioritize your channel outreach based on your buyers’ personas and budget.
Ultimately, marketers need to figure out which technology will work for them. The reality is, none of us will get it right the first time. There will be a lot of trial and error, and I don’t know if management will be patient with that. But unfortunately, that’s the path marketers will need to go through. The trick is grappling with the complexity of the technology and how we can use it better. It will be different from industry to industry and from company to company.
Alicia: That’s a great point, and it’s one of the challenges of navigating some of these “on the verge” trends. Everybody’s talking about the impact of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). It’s early days, but do you have thoughts about these emerging technologies and how they’ll impact sales enablement, the content being used for sales enablement, and how the whole landscape will evolve as a result?
Pam: Obviously, sales enablement is about enabling sales. We want to look at emerging technology through salespeople’s lenses. They may want to use predictive analytics to forecast the probability of closing deals or a prospect’s propensity to buy. “There’s an 80% chance that I can close that deal,” or “There’s a 75% chance that the buyer will actually make a decision at the end of this process.” Understanding how sales wants to use AI or predictive analytics is a good starting point.
In addition, we can also look at predictive analytics and AI from the perspective of how it will support a different sales stage. One way is to use AI to evaluate the massive amount of data. Sales has targeted some ideal customers that they want to reach. Can we find the lookalike prospects that match the sales team’s ideal customer profile (ICP)?
The trick is to understand your sales team’s processes and see how technology can be used to solve their issues along their sales engagement process.
Alicia: With all these new trends, the ways that sales and marketing teams operate and collaborate will continue to evolve. How is the role of content producer going to change? How are the roles, responsibilities and dynamics within organizations changing as sales enablement has evolved and matured?
Pam: Let’s look at the sales side. There are three types of content (there may be more, but let’s go with 3 for the sake of this interview) for sales: onboarding and training content, content used by sales, and content that sales can pass to customers. As a content marketer, you can give some thought as to how your content can be used in these three situations.
The job of content producers really doesn’t change. Their job is still creating content. What changes is that they need to be cognizant of the purposes of the content usage by the sales teams. If you’re creating content for marketing outreach and you know that some of the content will be used by the sales team, then you need to think about how the sales team will use it. You may need to customize that content.
Alicia: New content platforms and formats, including interactive content and auditory storytelling like podcasts and videos, are shaking up the content landscape. Does that change things at all from a sales enablement standpoint?
Pam: It really depends on how you want to use the interactive content and at what stages. Sometimes you create quizzes or surveys to engage with your audience. You want to get some information from them or you want to understand the stages of their customer journey.
Can that be used on the sales side? Yes, it can be, but it really depends on the different sales stages. Understand what interests your audience, and then determine how interactive content will be placed along the sales stages or purchase channels. Then you can determine whether interactive content really provides value. Don’t create interactive content for the sake of creating it.
Alicia: You bring up a good point around asking those tough questions at the beginning. Hopefully, that will lead to better collaboration or more in-depth planning conversations between marketing and sales, so it’s not just marketing creating content and hoping that sales will use it. They’re co-creating or co-planning for the best return on investment.
You noted in the book that there may be times when sales enablement may not be necessary. I’d love for you to go into this point a little bit more and expand on how organizations can better prioritize sales enablement initiatives and plan, so they can get on the road to success.
Pam: There are times when sales enablement may not be necessary. But at the end of the day, it comes back to the products that companies sell. If the products are very simple and everyone knows how to use them, frankly, you may not need sales enablement. Sales can probably do their jobs fairly well without a team to support them.
However, if your products are more sophisticated and require training of the sales team to sell them and the customers need to be educated about them, then sales enablement is certainly necessary.
In terms of collaboration, it comes down to how the sales enablement is organized and structured. Sales enablement is a group of people with content, tools and processes to make your sales team productive and efficient. It can be sales onboarding; it can be sales training; it can be the product marketing team developing content for the sales team to use; it can be a marketing team working on account-based marketing with the sales team directly. It comes in different forms.
The sales enablement elements or initiatives have been fulfilled by many people within organizations, but they don’t necessarily call themselves sales enablement. So even if you look at an enterprise where there’s no sales enablement group per se, you can’t say that they don’t have sales enablement initiatives. They probably do, but it’s embedded as a part of sales onboarding, sales training, marketing support, product marketing, etc. Many sales enablement elements may have been provided to the sales team, even if they don’t come from a formal sales enablement team.
That being said, you need to understand how the organizations work within the company. Break down the silos, and make sure the product marketing in the business unit, the marketing, the sales, the sales operation and even IT all work together.
Pam Didner’s new book will be available for purchase on October 28, 2018; you can pre-order it here. Learn more at www.pamdidner.com, follow @PamDidner on Twitter, and make sure you attend her session at the B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ, in February.