Sales Enablement – Not Much Value, Good at Parachute Time

By Jay Valentine

Parachute Time
Parachute Time

When your B2B reps are struggling, SPAM is yielding Gmail addresses and the board is on your ass, sales enablement buys that quarter to find a new job. Parachute time!

So what is sales enablement?

CSO Insights says:

Sales enablement is “a strategic, cross-functional discipline designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training and coaching services for salespeople and front-line sales managers along the entire customer’s buying journey, powered by technology.”

Sales enablement is to B2B sales what DevOps is to app dev – in multiple ways, most of them bad. 

Google “sales enablement” and you will find literally scores of companies who are virtually indistinguishable. Big players like Gong.io and SalesLoft raised tens of millions in VC funding and offer wide sets of services. Little guys like SalesHood look to be niche players trying to stand out in a sub-category of a market sliver, like coaching or something. Looks like they just want to get bought for their feature.

“Sales enablement” sounds great, seems to make sense and may give incremental, slight benefit. Effectiveness increases the more transactional your product is and the higher your sales turnover.

If you sell strategic stuff, like software that impacts a company’s trajectory in a big way, it is likely a waste. This stuff is for the kids in the cubicles, dialing for dollars all day, endlessly pitching. This is the stuff you use RoboKiller on your phone to keep away from you.

Like DevOps, sales enablement is a wonderful job protector during the long time it takes to set it up. Results are a quarter or two out and the entire industry is infested with gurus and venture capital companies saying it is the thing to do – thus there is air cover to implement it.

Sales enablement provides management and boards something actionable to report supported by conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is almost never right.

An inherent problem with sales enablement is that it is brought in by the marketing or sales VP. Usually the latter. Sales VPs fail about every 18 -24 months and the new one often has their preferred sales enablement platform. You can see where this is going.

The key term in our definition is “strategic, cross-functional.” Anything cross functional is something the entire organization buys into – and of course they all support it.

This insures nobody questions why the company is spending this money.

Let’s go to a typical B2B tech company selling in today’s market and look a little deeper into the difference between what sounds good and what is true.

Marketing continues to fail with forgetful messaging, sales teams cold call dead leads now called “personalization at scale” and the VC-inhabited board asks why nobody can make the impossible goals it set in that D round.

This is the spawning ground for sales enablement. This is what their reps define as the “profile.”

The first question one needs to ask, unless you are a VC board member, is “what is the reason our team cannot make its numbers?”

The answer, in the B2B space is often the one they NEVER want to hear. 

Why are so many, think 95% levels, of B2B sales forces failing? Well, reason number one is their product is just like everyone else’s. Damn! 

This little sales objection is invisible to the VC board and cannot be uttered by the poor employees at the B2B company. Why?

The B2B company spent almost the entire A Round on marketing that “differentiated” their offering against competitors. Theirs had “AI driven” whatevers every prospect surely would want. But they don’t.

The hapless VC bought into this nonsense and invested in the A Round, then the B Round then sold other VCs on investing in the ongoing rounds based on – yup!, on the product being differentiated. But it isn’t.

You cannot go to the board and say “hey, all that stuff we told you about how our widget is massively differentiated, well, it isn’t. Sorry.”

You can say that, but the board will fire you. A hidden objection of sorts. And it stays hidden.

What does sales enablement do to solve this little gem of a problem? Nothing. 

If the product is indistinguishable from competitors, you just bought into long, expensive sales cycles, endless financing, no profit and eventually being sold for scrap. Just look at DevOps software firms. Or, look at the sales enablement companies! 

They themselves are making squat and they have no profit! You have to study the sales enablement market to even understand what one does the other does not. 

Technology comes in baskets called categories. We have database, middleware, the security stuff with its own categories and scores of other baskets. Once customers implement a few items from each basket, they repel at buying more. How many different databases do you really need?

The second reason B2B reps fail, and will continue to do so, is the customer has enough stuff. Thus, they do not take the time to chat with well-meaning cold callers, optimized by sales enablement platforms, seeking that elusive appointment.

An even uglier hidden issue is the omnipresence of Salesforce.com. Almost everyone uses Salesforce. Salesforce is at its heart a sales enablement platform. Thus, every call, every reach out, every customer touchpoint in this sector needs to overcome the hurdle “doesn’t Salesforce do some of that?” This is not where you want to be as a sales enablement marketer.

What does sales enablement do to help an exhausted category? Nothing actually. 

Here, again, this is a little secret the executive team cannot tell the board: “everyone has one of these now so we have to displace another to get in. Thus, sales cycles are forever.”

Cannot tell the board that kind of bad news because it is counter to the marketing narrative this little team built when it brought in the 4th tier VC suckers two rounds ago.

The most common reason sales teams fail and will continue to fail, no matter how much funding they get is a product problem. Say it: “it’s the product.” 

Say it a few times because in well over 95% of cases, the product is undifferentiated, late to a category, too early for the customer’s need, too hard to implement, needs another feature or is just a feature itself.

Sales enablement will not solve these issues; nor is it intended to do so.

Sales enablement tools like Gong.io, SalesLoft, SalesHood are pretty much useless for the real problem. 

Some platforms implement SCAM marketing like enabling your sales rep to con the prospect by faking their calling phone number for the prospect’s area code.

So the prospect, who is awaiting a call from the doctor about that cancer test takes the call from the unknown LOCAL number and hears that chirpy voice “….I see you downloaded…..”

Sales enablement products suffer from the same issues: they all look the same, many are partial products, customer already has Salesforce and cannot see the difference. Do the funding math by looking at Crunchbase and you can see many of these firms are many years old yet still probably unprofitable.

If their stuff could solve the real problem, they would be “sales enabled” and exploding their revenues.

The fact that the B2B product is really the problem is not a secret. It’s not like we are the only ones who see this. 

There is something else going on and it is far more sinister. Those already invested in B2B firms, as VCs or employees, need to keep the gig going, no matter what. They are all in for sales enablement because it should provide them cover for a quarter or two.

The B2B DevOps software employees and investors have been keeping these walking dead alive for over a dozen years, still sucking in enough funding to make sure they are not fired while the kids are still at home. Look at Chef, Puppet, Perfecto and a dozen others.

The VCs learn quickly they invested in a dead stick ride. They keep the scam alive another few years to get another sucker to invest at a higher valuation thus making their portfolio look good for a few more quarters.

The big winner however, is the one with critical thinking skills. He or she, likely the Sales VP, can see quickly their product sucks. They cannot say that, of course but they know it.

They can get everyone all in with some sales enablement scam that will take 3 – 6 months to implement, thus providing cover while they get out and find a job where the product is not such a disaster.

So when your B2B team is bringing in sales enablement, think twice.

Are they protecting their gig or donning a parachute?

You can bet that most of the time, it is one or the other.

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