Despite the popular image of a salesperson relentlessly pursuing prospects and then closing deals with their charm and persuasion, the reality is buyers avoid salespeople until they have already educated themselves through publicly available data and online networking with peers.

Buyers have taken control of the sales cycle, and successful salespeople are those who can consult with prospects to simplify their decision-making process, understand their needs and behavior, and deliver immediate value.

A new e-book from marketing automation vendor Eloqua, “The Grande Guide to Sales Enablement,” reviews this concept of sales enablement (or sales readiness). In essence, sales enablement means delivering the right content at the right time to the right person to make a sale. Sales enablement assumes a largely independent buying process, where the sale is facilitated more than “driven” or “closed.”

Sales Enablement -- The Basics

Sales enablement covers the revenue side of the sales cycle. This includes determining which prospects are displaying behavior and engaging in activity that makes them promising buyers, what topics salespeople should focus on to engage each prospect in a high-value, relevant dialogue, what tools and techniques are available to track their prospects throughout the buying cycle, and what information salespeople can quickly access, customize and send to prospects to help them navigate the buying process.

Properly performing sales enablement requires certain tools and technologies. These include a CRM or salesforce automation solution to handle basic daily tasks, a marketing automation engine to bridge marketing and sales databases and connect marketing activities to sales leads/ opportunities in CRM and other favored tools, and tools to perform activities such as send real-time email alerts, analyze the online activities of prospects, and allow salespeople to access and customize pre-built templates and track recipient response directly through their email program.

Sales Enablement -- The Best Practices

Fortunately, sales enablement does not require a radical set of best practices, but mostly follows established best practices of selling goods and services. These include sharing relevant marketing data with salespeople, identifying and passing on techniques of top-performing sales reps to other team members, and providing tools and information in salespeople’s existing email, CRM and mobile applications.

To illustrate the potential results of investing in sales enablement technologies and practices, Eloqua quotes Aberdeen research statistics from 2009 which indicate businesses that invest in sales tools to provide more insight about prospects see an average 71% improvement in year-over-year sales cycle time, 51% year-over-year improvement in lead conversion rates, and 54% year-over-year improvement in sales reps meeting quotas.

However, Eloqua also cautions organizations not to force sales enablement on their salespeople, but to collaborate with them to demonstrate the effectiveness of enablement tools and then publicize successes to the rest of the sales team.

Sales Enablement -- The Future

Eloqua predicts that the sales enablement process will continue to become more integrated with the mobile environment, with tools providing all the necessary information and insight about prospect behavior, needs and wants via mobile devices.

In addition, there will likely be greater integration between sales tools like CRM with social media channels and a heightened emphasis on predicting future prospect behaviors, needs and wants as well as analysis and insight on their current status.

Sales Enablement Consolidation May Be Coming

Another possible future trend in sales enablement is consolidation in the sales enablement vendor space, driven by larger CRM vendors looking to add more immediately useful features to their applications in an attempt to become more social.

Chris Buchholtz, editor of CRM Outsiders, made this prediction in a December 2011 CMSWire column, stating

The ability to offer new features that help salespeople sell better and faster is attractive because it results in immediate revenue and it drives higher rates of CRM adoption, providing ROI in the short term and the long term.”

However the future of sales enablement pans out, it is not going away and will only become more important as the Internet and social media continue to put more information and connectivity in the hands of customers. A persuasive approach and a convincing close will always be valuable sales skills, but knowing your customer at an intimate level is quickly becoming the foundation upon which all other aspects of the sales approach rest.