The Evolution of Sales Enablement

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades, sales reps have become more adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them solutions  – generally complex combinations of products and services” confides Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman in The End of Solution Sales.

Let’s face it, buyer’s have become better prepared and use every available resource before calling you as a vendor. “In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision – researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on – before even having a conversation with a supplier” shares Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

I can validate this as I speak with dozens of buyer’s each week and when I ask, “How did you find the vendors to short list or talk to?” I hear a wide range of response from, “We Googled some phrases associated with our problems...” to “We had a set of requirements and an approach that covered technology, companies, price and other key areas and we researched from there…” or “We know other companies and we called a few to see what they’d done and what vendors they reviewed.


Let’s face it, the buying process will never be the same. Sales enablement is evolving and product marketing, has to evolve with it.

“The best salespeople are replacing solution selling with insight selling – a strategy that demands a radically different approach across several area of the purchasing process” shared Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

Product Marketing has a great opportunity to evolve as sales evolves and continue to refine its planning, delivery, style and process to impact traditional sales teams. If insight selling emerges, will your traditional tools and efforts be viable?

Adamson, Dixon and Toman further suggest that high performing sales reps will:

– Look for agile organizations in a state of flux, rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs.

– Seek out a very different set of stakeholders, preferring skeptical change agents over friendly informants

– Coach those change agents on how to buy, rather than quizzing them on about their company’s purchasing process

As solution selling evolves into insight selling, product marketing has to establish itself as the body of knowledge and this knowledge has to be based on an outside-in view.

How will you be able to tell stories and share market insights in support of sales if you don’t understand buyer roles, the buying process, personas and what change agents are influencing the buying process.

“Unlike traditional solution sellers, these star performers lead with insights meant to upend a customer’s approach to its business, and they aren’t afraid to push customers out of their comfort zone” confides Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

It doesn’t matter if it’s solution selling or insight selling, product marketing has to coach sales and potential buyers on how to buy. Remember, if you aren’t enabling sales, sales will enable themselves.

I acknowledge Harvard Business Review and the authors for their contribution to this post. The opinions are mine and do not reflect those of HBR. To read more on insight selling, please follow this link. Looking for new ways to enable sales? Check out the New Rules of Sales Enablement, by Jeff Ernst.

I welcome any comments, opinions and feedback on how sales is evolving and what product marketing is doing to keep pace.

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  • Under 10 Templates  On December 12, 2012 at 5:44 am

    I’ve said for years that product management and marketing shouldn’t be trying to tell sales people how to sell; they should be telling sales people how buyers buy. Yet I talked to a sales guy recently who said, “People won’t buy my stuff unless we force them to.” Yikes!

    The key to today’s product marketing is to provide content for the buyers, not the sellers. Coach the buyers through the sales cycle so that they’re ready to buy when they first talk to the seller. And that’s where social media comes in–buyers start on Google, not on your web site. Then they come to your web site and download everything.

    I spoke with a buyer not long ago who said he did exactly that: he searched Google, he came to the web site, he read the ebooks and articles, and convinced himself that my firm was the right choice. By the time he got a sales person on the phone, he only needed to know some deal specifics. In fact, he probably knew more about the products than the typical sales guy.

    (PS. The New Rules of Sales Enablement is great! I highlighted something on every page!)

  • Bart Norré  On January 2, 2013 at 8:37 am

    The awareness has come to tell us how important the buying process is. In fact there is no sales anymore, only helping buying. Which means the sales dep does not have to monopoly of the byuingprocess and does not need to push but help pull.

    The buying process helps us understanding which message is when important and to create the appropriate message/media mix which is also useful for the sales guy.

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