Sales Readiness vs. Sales Enablement: The Case for Separation of Church and State

I have to admit, I’m worried…

When I attended and spoke at the inaugural Product Marketing / Sales Enablement Summit, multiple speakers reported that it’s a regular part of their charter to also include Sales Readiness.

It’s understandable that these terms would be lumped together. But each are distinctly different. Product Marketing is different from Sales Enablement is different from Sales Readiness.

Furthermore, they should remain separate to avoid any one of them influencing the others.

Let me explain…

Don’t Readiness and Enablement Mean the Same Thing?

In short, no. They’re not the same.

Here’s the difference between sales readiness and sales enablement:

Sales Readiness is the tactical tools that are at the disposal of the customer-facing teams, so that they can pull up a content or message when needed.

Sales Enablement is more broad. They work with many departments to organize, activate, and create an organization that knows where, how, and when to use the tactical tools effectively.

Think of readiness as the church and enablement as the state.

The church (readiness) teaches the community that stealing is wrong, and gives you faith that your neighbor won’t steal from you because it is wrong.

The state (enablement) is the formal structures of law that enforces and promotes the moral “wrongness” of stealing.

It creates a legal structure that says, “If you steal, there will be consequences.” It is both a deterrent and a structure that offers strength, reciprocity, and predictability to the idea that stealing is wrong.

This isn’t to say that sales readiness isn’t an essential part of the product marketing role — it is. But to keep conflict to a minimum, you should create some structure to ensure that there is a clear line in the sand about when and where to work.

Why Do We Need Separation?

The separation of church and state was a revolutionary idea back in the 1700s, when the founders of the United States introduced it.

One of the key reasons for this was to limit foreign influence over the leaders of the young nation. I may disagree with the founders on a lot of things, but they got this one right.

How is this relevant to sales enablement?

Just like our young country in the 1700s, the enablement role is “growing up.”

Growing up requires us to clarify what the role of enablement involves, and more importantly, what it doesn’t.

This is particularly important for the single-person “shops” of enablement, where the role is pulled in multiple directions and has many masters to support.

It doesn’t make sense to give this role to a generalist, who is only somewhat good at one thing and so-so at another. It benefits the broader business to establish clear expectations for the functional partners.

Thankfully I’m not alone in this opinion.

According to Sales Enablement Pro’s 2019 report, formalizing enablement in organizations results in higher win rates, as well as overall better quota attainment.

Just as marketing has had to mature over the past decade, it’s time for enablement to do the same.

Product Marketing, Sales Enablement, and Readiness can clash regularly. A little bit of competition and friction is good — too much can cause a breakdown.

A Programmatic Example of Church and State

Let’s look at an example of why separation is so important.

Going to market with a new offering, new SKU, or even a new region involves an entire organization. However, it has often fallen to Product Marketing to do the majority of the heavy lifting, both internally and externally.

Product Marketing and Enablement have two very different goals. One works with the customer in mind; the other with the sales rep in mind. One develops customer content; the other creates tools and resources that facilitate the sales process.

Let’s look at GTM (go-to-market) processes.

In the GTM process, there are two parallel priorities — one focused on the external, the other on the internal. There is the go-to-market motion, which is different from GTM plan itself. Both are strategic and both are parallel.

The intention of a GTM plan is to create initial engagement with the customer — piquing their interests, challenging their status quo, engaging their needs, and ultimately providing a solution.

The parallel aspect of GTM motion is to establish the needs and information required for internal readiness.

Put more plainly, this is the internally facing work that ensures all customer-facing employees can understand, handle, and execute on the value, messages, and expectations that this new GTM process entails.

This is not the same as a feature dump, or a single deck released a day or so before go-live.

In the same way Product Marketing has taken a playbook from process improvement theories like agile project management and others — so too does Sales Enablement.

Product Marketer’s specialization is specific to market insights, product placement, and pricing. To ask them to also take on the aspect of education, behavioral change, and sales motions is more than a little unrealistic.

Still Don’t See The Difference Between Readiness And Enablement?

Ultimately the point of the enablement team is to activate the PMM’s customer-facing content.

Customers need to be challenged, educated, and informed. That is a unique journey, and the education and support that goes into it is different from the requirements and expectations of the internal revenue functions within your organization.

The sales team’s focus and activities are different. They need to clarify, probe, and enumerate:

  • Specific corner cases
  • Hesitation
  • Infrequent issues that the customer may encounter during the sale

You cannot anticipate all of these kinds of questions when drafting a GTM plan. It’s also possible that the product marketer may have deliberately chosen to keep those specific edge cases quiet, as there was nuance and complexity that couldn’t be sussed out in any digital format.

Additionally, these corner cases won’t often present themselves until AFTER the GTM plan is in full motion and encountering real customers.

These are the things that salespeople can excel at in the moment, but cannot always be written out.

Product Marketing is focused on developing the content and plan that will guide the customer through the funnel.

Sales Readiness is focused on developing tools for the sales team to utilize this content.

Enablement is focused on helping the sales team USE the tools and training Readiness provides, and to help the reps deal with the edge cases and issues once the GTM plan is in motion.

PMM shouldn’t shoulder the whole burden.

The venture of crafting and guiding both the customer’s perception as well as managing the internal processes and company outputs is an ineffectual use of time and energy.

There are three separate teams here. You should be utilizing all of them.

So let’s go back to the church and state analogy. It’s not enough to write out your belief and preach it from the pulpit. You need to have a formalized structure in place to support and reinforce that belief. You need to create specific, actionable guidance on what to do — and what not to do — to make sure that the belief takes hold.

Suggested Reading:

Kira does Global Sales Enablement for Hired, Inc. As a senior market and sales readiness leader, she has spent 20 years developing & executing programs for companies to target vital organizational needs. She spends her days improving performance and generally being the humble worker bee making everything work seamlessly.

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