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About the Author:

Kerry Sokalsky (LinkedIn), Co-Founder and Managing Director of Tech Sales Mastery, is a 20-year Presales veteran, thought leader, and architect of the industry’s most comprehensive demo performance scorecard.  He brings his clients a wide breadth of diverse perspectives from working with dozens of presales organizations across the globe.

The Case for Dedicated PreSales Enablement 

Most (61%) PreSales teams have an enablement program, but less than half actually run their own programs (2024 State of PreSales Report). As a result, many Solutions leaders consider their enablement destiny as out of their own control, or too effortful to fix. 

Enablement must be a priority for every PreSales leader in today’s market to gain and preserve your competitive edge. The volume of information SEs must master, from your products’ features and functionality to competitors’ offerings and industry knowledge, is rapidly increasing. 

To keep pace with innovation, SEs are in a tighter race against time than ever before. At the same time, as customer switching costs decrease, the consequences of falling behind grow proportionately steeper. 

When done right, PreSales enablement is a strategic lever to improve sales performance and influence key business outcomes, including not only customer retention and churn risk mitigation, but also SE retention and morale.

Moreover, you can use enablement outcomes to make key management decisions, justify PreSales investments, and allocate resources in a do-more-with-less world.  

But, implementing effective enablement practices at scale is easier said than done, and many teams struggle. Why?

Why Most Enablement Doesn’t Work

First, Solutions teams spend very little time on training and development (~5% of total activities). When enablement does happen, research shows it doesn’t drive improved performance, meet learners’ needs, or align to business goals.

Key contributing factors include program structure and content delivery. Enablement is often delivered in one-off sessions that lack reinforcement. Often, large amounts of information are presented in a lecture style, lacking interactivity and real-world applications.  

Qualities of an Effective Program

For learning to be successful, enablement efforts must be connected to outcomes, and the content of your program must be specific and actionable, be reinforced with repetition, and prioritize coaching.

For more detail on how to operationalize and apply this in your org, see the below framework:

A 3-Part Framework to Scale Effective SE Enablement

1) Identify Desired Outcomes and Participants

Without connecting enablement initiatives to specific business outcomes, it’s impossible to determine where to intervene and whether your efforts are effective.

Start by identifying 1-2 key lag measures (quantifiable business outcomes) that you are looking to influence. Which metrics you choose depends on your organization’s strategic priorities. 

Lag measures take a long time to impact, so you need to track 1-2 lead measures to ensure you’re on the right track. Your lead measures gauge progress toward business-level outcomes.

You’ll need to benchmark all of these measures against your current state (over the past X months, ideally for both the whole team and for individual participants). 

You should also purposely select and define your target audience, because a one-size-fits-all approach will often waste time and resources. Selected participants may vary based on your org structure, size, segmentation, and business priorities, as well as specific skill and knowledge gaps across teams.

If your team has a large variety of expertise and experience levels, you might consider training more senior SEs first and getting their feedback, then helping them train the rest of the group. This will help focus on relevant content, increase buy-in, create opportunities for recognizing seniority, and reinforce a top-down culture of continuous learning.

2) Deliver Targeted Enablement

Focus content on 1-2 new skills/techniques for each lead indicator, where training is highly targeted to individuals’ needs and learning styles.  Group participants by cohorts (role, geo, experience level, skill gap, etc) to focus on specific and actionable content for each group.  Design a modular curriculum, comprising focused, more easily consumable standalone units that can be pieced together specific to a learner’s needs. And don’t overload SEs with information, as human working memory has a very limited capacity.

Your curriculum should also be applicable to SEs’ real-world job scenarios, not solely based on simulated or hypothetical situations or exercises.  And Just as you can’t learn to ride a bike by watching videos, SEs need to practice skills. Craft assignments for SEs to apply each new skill, with prompt and specific feedback.

Everyone learns differently – content delivery should be flexible and multi-modal (delivered in different formats) to accommodate different learning styles and preferences, and experience levels.

Consider incorporating certifications into your enablement program. This signals to SEs they should prioritize training and provides them with a tangible outcome for their efforts. Moreover, simply setting the expectation for SEs that they will be tested can increase how seriously they approach new learning. Tests are most beneficial if given soon after enablement, and can be formal (quiz) or informal (team calls/discussions) in nature.

Survey your team to let them know you’re open to their feedback and to ensure enablement is effective for them.  Doing so creates collective buy-in and ownership over enablement outcomes, Also, where appropriate, consider gamifying enablement by rewarding SEs (both formally and informally) on their progress or relative improvement.  Introducing friendly competitive elements will increase engagement and make enablement more enjoyable.

3. Reinforce Learning and Measure Progress

For sellers to retain and apply new skills, learning must be reinforced through multiple exposures to topics over time. Consistent, spaced reinforcement can yield a 20% increase in salespeople achieving quotas. This can be accomplished via follow-up assignments or videos, coaching, gamification, and microlearning. 

Measurement mostly speaks for itself, but you need to track progress on lead and lag indicators and compare to your starting benchmarks and each iteration over time. Start with a simple rubric that frontline managers can complete relatively easily to increase compliance.

By measuring progress, you can more easily identify which individuals or groups need improvement and in what areas, for future enablement program design and enhancement.

It’s not just about identifying deficiencies, though. Measuring progress allows you to reward improvement over time, reinforcing the actual behavior of enablement compliance. 

Connecting rewards (formal and informal) to enablement outcomes makes enablement more effective and provides a natural opportunity to boost morale. Highlight model behaviors and successful results via shoutouts, badges (internal and external), company awards, etc. 

If you have the flexibility, you might consider tying a portion of variable compensation to enablement performance, or have a cash reward pool (additive to the comp plan).  It can also be a qualifying factor for President’s Club. 

For best results, reward both absolute performance and degree of improvement in order to make rewards attainable and keep everyone motivated yet striving for continual growth.

You Must Train Your Trainers

Coaching is imperative to scaling an effective enablement program. CSO Insights found that companies with dynamic coaching programs have over 25% higher win rates. This starts and ends with your frontline managers. 

Prioritize training managers so they’re well-equipped with the tools to coach SEs and reinforce the learning in PreSales training. Creating a culture of coaching and open feedback yields consistently higher SE morale and retention.

Prioritizing Enablement Improves Your Decision-Making

As a busy PreSales leader, it can be difficult to justify making the time to implement and sustain a program like this. However, effective enablement can get you much of the data you need to make more effective management and operational decisions.

Successful enablement helps you better allocate resources, prioritize additional investments, and justify the business case for funding.  Better-enabled SEs allow additional flexibility when it comes to assigning them to deals, reducing the risk of bottlenecking deals or overloading certain experts, by balancing proficiency and skills across the team.

Moreover, if you can quantify enablement outcomes, whether that is a positive impact on business objectives or a skill or process gap, you can build a better business case for investment in your team including headcount (i.e.specialists), additional tooling, or external enablement.

Further Learning

For more information and resources, visit www.techsalesmastery.com, follow Kerry on LinkedIn, and check out his Demofest 2024 presentation on this topic.

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