There are a lot of firms who have a sales support function masquerading as marketing. So what are the things marketing should be doing in professional services firm to enable sales, rather than just support it?
About the Episode
In this episode, Jason and Jeff look at the difference between sales enablement and sales support as a role of marketing inside of professional services firms. They quickly define sales support and spend the rest of the episode talking about the things marketing should be doing to enable sales.
To start the episode, Jeff refers to the smart stuff list from a prior episode (Smart Sh*t Marketing Should Be Doing).
“Client’s perceptions of our firms…they don’t make this distinction between sales, marketing, and client service delivery. They’re all one unified client experience. It’s that mindset that sets up the importance of sales enablement versus sales support, because sales enablement at its highest level enables that integration across those kind of three traditional silos.”
Jeff answers the question “What is sales support?”
“In my experience, traditional sales support in professional services probably falls into three buckets or tasks. The first one is making PowerPoint presentations pretty for client meetings, or writing a proposal, and/or managing CRM.”
“There are a lot of firms that that is the entirety of the marketing function. Which means they really don’t have a marketing function, they have a sales support function masquerading as marketing.”
And he provides some contrast between sales support and sales enablement.
– Feels very reactive
– Is more productivity oriented
– Is more about enabling the productivity of the seller
– Is behind the scenes
– Comes after the sales process
– Is more proactive
– Is more growth oriented
– Is very integrated
– Is ahead of the sales process
Next, Jason and Jeff begin to dive deeper into what sales enablement is.
“There’s account planning, account capture plans, key pursuits, win strategies. Getting out in front of opportunities and planning for how you’re going to win them.”
“[Defining] who is our ideal client? Once you hone in on the market segments that you’re going to serve or your ideal client, sales enablement begins by dissecting the buyer’s journey… so that you can equip the sales team to anticipate those [needs] and respond to them. Enablement starts with understanding that ideal client better than anybody else.”
“If you think back to our framework for the client’s journey, the four stages of buying; the first stage being learning, the second stage being vetting, the third stage being discussing. The discussion stage, the stage that occurs when the client starts to have real dialogue with someone in the firm about how the firm could possibly help them is where sales enablement lives. Whatever marketing is doing to enable that phase of the buyer’s journey to be the right one, is what sales enablement is really about.”
“I think sales enablement for marketing means helping the sales team shape the RFP ahead of time for prospects, or even better, to avoid RFPs altogether. Not all industries, professional services industries work like that. But, to the degree they can enable their consultants and business developers to shape the RFP or eliminate it all together, that’s a critical role of sales enablement.”
“One of the things that I find is critical in sales enablement is enabling the sales person to sell from the firm’s thought leadership. We don’t want them to experience this really compelling, powerful insight, only to have that insight be poorly communicated, misunderstood, or nonexistent in the discussion stage of the journey.”
“The goal of sales enablement is to make the business development team more productive. That means more sales for less work. Marketing can add a lot of value by analyzing the selling and buying cycle, and looking for ways to remove friction in that process. That can be messaging, that could be approvals, that could be any number of things that get in the way. But, marketers need to be analyzing CRM data and anything they can to gain insights.”
“Related to that, I don’t think most salespeople have the time to go out and identify new tools that make it easier for them to sell. But, there is always something out there that can replace, enhance, or bring new capability in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of business development. I think marketing’s best positioned to find that, because these technologies are about meeting the client where they are, and marketing should be on top of these as part of their market understanding.”
Jason Mlicki: Jeff, it feels like we haven’t talked in like, oh I don’t know, 10 minutes. The topic for today, which I actually think is a really good topic following on the call we had with David Ryan a week or two ago, is sales enablement and sales support. David took us into some of his methodologies and frameworks around how to improve sales effectiveness of subject matter experts. I think both of you, both you and I left that conversation going, “Boy, we really need to talk about what does that look like from the marketer’s perspective.” Let’s start there. Maybe let’s just start with what is the difference between sales enablement and sales support? Now, when we use these phrases, what does one mean versus the other?
Jeff McKay: Before I answer that, I’m going to take a step back and we talked about something on the smart stuff list that was related to client’s perceptions of our firms and that they don’t make this distinction between sales, marketing, and client service delivery, that they’re all one unified client experience. It’s that mindset that sets up the importance of sales enablement versus sales support in this conversation, because sales enablement at its highest level enables that integration across those kind of three traditional silos. That’s why this is important to our listeners.
What’s the difference between the two? And we may get some pushback from our listeners, but in my experience traditional sales support in professional services probably falls into three buckets or tasks. The first one is making PowerPoint presentations pretty for client meetings, a pitch if you will, or writing a proposal, managing all the inputs to the proposal, proofing the proposal and getting the proposal done on time and/or managing CRM. Whether that’s the data or managing the pipeline and activity reporting in it. I see that’s where most professional services firms play in what I would call sales support.
Jason Mlicki: The funny thing about that is, and we’ve talked about this before, I know we have, is that there are a lot of firms that that is the entirety of the marketing function. That there was nothing else going on from a marketing perspective than that, which means they really don’t have a marketing function, they have a sales support function masquerading as marketing. But, what struck me that was interesting about what you just said is that when you think about sales support versus sales enablement, is there some compare and contrast we can make between the two? Support feels very reactive.
Enablement is more proactive. The things you described are very reactive things. Someone’s asking you to do these things and you’re responding to their requests. Sales support feels very productivity oriented. Sales enablement feels very growth oriented. Back in at least in your framework of productivity school versus the gross school of marketing, the support function feels more about enabling the productivity of the seller, the silo that is the seller. And, in the last one I kind of had was that sales support feels very behind the scenes and sale enablement feels very integrated.
This idea that, well, if we’re applying a sales enablement approach to our marketing efforts then we’re really endeavoring to deliver a seamless client experience. From the first moment they hear of us through the client service delivery, and that’s a very integrated piece, which means that the marketing function in an essence is going to face the client a little bit more than they might otherwise.
Jeff McKay: I think that’s a good summary. Sales support is behind the sales process. Sales enablement is ahead of the sales process, in my mind.
Jason Mlicki: We’re calling this podcast Sales Support Versus Sales Enablement, but yet that’s almost an unfair title for it because we’re gonna probably spend 95% of the time on enablement. We’re not gonna give support really much day is my sense, because you already described in its entirety what sales support looks like. But, to me, the question is what does sales enablement look like, because I think it looks very different.
Jeff McKay: And they both have a place. Sales support is important, so I don’t want to lead our listeners to think that those three things I just articulated are not important. I think the question is, is that something that marketing should be doing or is that the total of what firms should be looking at marketing to do is as you said?
Jason Mlicki: Well, you’re right. Before we talk about enablement, what’s interesting to me is should those traditional things that get lumped into marketing be in marketing? Should marketing be preparing the proposal itself? Should marketing be cleaning up the PowerPoint? Should they be doing those things or should that be a function called sales support that’s embedded inside of the practices and just that’s what it is?
Jeff McKay: I think that comes down to the firm, the firm’s culture, and the firm’s level of investment. Most often marketing falls into sales support because there’s a limited investment in the resources needed to get and close business that generalists generally often fill those roles and they end up just doing it all. There are some firms, and we have listeners I’m sure, that are doing all of the marketing and all of the business development because they’re one person. It just evolves out of investment levels and firm culture and size.
Jason Mlicki: That was no fun. It depends. Classic consultants answer, right? All right, well lets flip the table then, so then in sales enablement is proactive. Let’s talk about some of the things that should be going on there from a sales enablement perspective. To me, there’s a couple, maybe there’s a continuum here. I mean, a couple things come to mind. I mean, depending on the type of firm that you have, there’s account planning, right? There’s account capture plans, key pursuits, win strategies. So if you’ve got an AEC firm or some type of firm that’s predicated on big competitive project work, large scale projects that are competitive no matter how you slice them, then that’s a big piece of it is really getting out in front of those opportunities and planning for how you’re going to win them. So I would argue that that’s a piece of sales enablement, or should be a piece of sales enablement in this context.
Jeff McKay: I agree.
Jason Mlicki: But, that’s not all firms.
Jeff McKay: That’s true. I think it dovetails the firm’s positioning, but specifically, who is our ideal client? We’ve talked about this before, but which clients value our core capabilities and worldview, and how do we find more of them is the starting point, I think, for a smart marketing strategy and a precursor for sales enablement. Because once you hone in on the market segments that you’re going to serve or your ideal client, sales enablement begins by dissecting the buyer’s journey, which is becoming a trite term. But, understanding what prospects are thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage of that buyer’s journey, so that you can equip the sales team to anticipate those and respond to them. We’ll probably talk about this in the future, but it’s very much the insights selling or Challenger Sale of understanding your clients and bringing them new insights and teaching them. But, you can’t do that unless you really understand and listen to them as well. I think enablement starts with understanding that ideal client better than anybody else. I think that’s one of marketing’s key roles.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I mean, if you think back to our framework for the client’s journey, that four part framework that we did in a podcast early in this, the four stages of buying. The way I always tend to look at it is that the four stages, the first stage being learning, the second stage being vetting, the third stage being discussing. To me, the learning stage is the core domain of marketing. That’s really where marketing has its biggest responsibility in shaping the issues and the firm’s point of view on how to address those issues in the marketplace before a conversation’s ever happened. The vetting stage is obviously that transition point from learning how to solve a problem to exploring possible partners.
Where I’m going is that, to me, the discussion stage, the stage that occurs when the client actually starts to interact and start to have real dialogue with someone in the firm about how the firm could possibly help them, that to me, is where the sales enablement lives. So whatever marketing is doing to enable that phase of the buyer’s journey to be the right one, is what sales enablement is really about. I mean, we tend to focus, as an agency obviously we focus a lot of our energy and time on the learning stage, really helping our clients cast that net that’s going to bring back those ideal clients they want to have conversations with. But, then what do they do with them once they have the conversation? Once they’ve got them teed up and they’re ready to go, how are they going to translate whatever it is they were educating the marketplace on into a healthy next step in the buyer’s journey?
Jeff McKay: I’m going to respond to what you just said with a yes—and. I believe that marketing has a role on that back end stuff as well. While they may not be necessarily writing proposals as a sales support capability, I think sales enablement for marketing means helping the sales team shape the RFP ahead of time for prospects, or even better, to avoid RFPs altogether. Not all industries, professional services industries work like that. But, to the degree they can enable their consultants and business developers to shape the RFP or eliminate it all together, that’s a critical role of sales enablement.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, I don’t think I implied that marketing doesn’t function on that right hand side of the model. I think I would just say that my sense is that if I had $100 of marketing resources, I would be inclined to put more than 50% of those resources on the left side of the model, because my sense is that my job as the marketer is to go out into the marketplace, create demand, create leads, and bring them back for that sales leader or whoever to turn into revenue. But, that’s not always the case, to your point, I mean, there may be instances where it makes more sense for that to be flip flopped. It depends of every good consulting engagement, right?
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason Mlicki: To me, one of the things that I find is critical in sales enablement is enabling the sales person to sell from the firm’s thought leadership. So if a thought leadership exists in order to shape the client’s journey in the learning stage of their buying process, then we have to do everything we possibly can to make sure that when the client initiates the dialogue, everything that they learned, everything that was so powerful that brought them to the table in the conversation comes through and into the conversations themselves. So we don’t want them to experience this really compelling, powerful insight, only to have that insight be poorly communicated, misunderstood, or nonexistent in the discussion stage of the journey. That happens frequently.
I’ll give a very specific example. A friend of mine actually has taken a sales function at an IT consulting firm that focuses on security issues. So he’s come in to talk a little bit about our security situation in our agency and digital security. What I find fascinating is that our current IT provider, the manage services provider that works with us on a regular basis, we’re not having any conversations about digital security right now with them about are we securing our infrastructure correctly, that kind of a thing.
Simultaneously, the CEO of that particular provider is offering a lot of stuff about security on Linkedin. He’s the CEO of this firm, he’s writing about this extensively in a critical nature of how they should be approaching it. To me, that’s just a pretty significant disconnect in your client experience model, right? The CEO is talking about one thing, but in the delivery stage no one’s having those conversations. That’s a failure of sales enablement, right? Nobody’s taking the ideas of the CEO and bringing them down to the delivery teams to talk about with the clients.
That’s one of the things that we’ve found is critical for sales enablement, is educating the delivery teams, whether they’re new business people or client account managers on what’s inside the firm’s intellectual property, what’s inside the thought leadership we’re producing, and how should it be applied, and what does it mean. That’s a big one that jumps out to me, in terms of what firms should be doing from a sales enablement perspective, or what marketers should be doing from a sales enablement perspective.
Jeff McKay: They are the bridge.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah. I mean, the interesting thing about this too is, by the way, I mean, I know you’ve seen our, because we talked about it in a podcast, but the seven capabilities of exceptional thought leadership marketers that Bob and I have derived from our research, and one of those seven capabilities is what we call sales accelerators. It’s just this idea that if you’re going to be phenomenal at thought leadership marketing, then building a critical skill at translating your insights into sales process is really important. One of the points of data in there I was gonna share because I find interesting, is that the most exceptional thought leadership marketers recognize that how their approach to training the sales team is more critical to success than the content itself. It’s more important than big novel insights. Having unbelievable content is less of an influencer on outcomes and success than really doing extensive training of the sales team on what’s in the content set, which I think is a pretty big statement.
Jeff McKay: That is a great insight and that encapsulates sales enablement to a large degree, is teach your salespeople how to teach these insights to their clients to position them as the preferred provider in whatever solution they’re selling. I think that is … that sums it up nicely, without a doubt.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah. It surprised us, to be honest. I mean, it really did. I mean, just in a sense that, as people are in the business of thought leadership marketing, your expectation is that it all comes down to having a really compelling point of view, or really substantial research to back it up, or great proof points. All the things that you classically think of in developing intellectual property. But, that’s just not what we took back from the marketplace. Not saying those things aren’t important, because those are all critical and they’re parts of the model. But, the fact that the best of the best in this game said, “Well, man, how we train our salespeople is everything.” That tells you something about how important this should be to the marketer. Maybe my model from before is wrong. I said I’d spend more than half of my dollar on the left side of the model. Maybe I should be spending more on the right side. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it at that level of granularity yet.
Jeff McKay: It’s nice to see you growing like this, Jason.
Jason Mlicki: It doesn’t happen often. You might want to write it down.
Jeff McKay: I want to kind of shift from the point of view and the thought leadership and the idea in teaching to something else that you said I think is important, and it’s account based marketing. There is, or I should say there are two mindsets of what account based marketing is and it’s important to ground it. Some people think account based marketing is targeted messaging on social media to key buyers and your key accounts or something like that. That’s not what I think we’re talking about when we talked about account based marketing. We’re talking about how you enable your salespeople to stay focused and to manage a complex sale in, more often than not, a large Fortune 500 type of company. It’s about making sure you have the coverage of the buying committee, or whatever you call it, and that you’re equipping your sales people to tell the messages to those various buyers, in terms of features and benefits of solutions.
Personas go to this somewhat, but I’ve written about, and you’ve talked about the limited application of personas in the complex sale. It really is about equipping salespeople to have very personalized conversations that speak to the benefits and outcomes and fears of these buyers involved in purchasing these solutions. You can’t boil an ocean, so sales enablement and account based marketing, in particular, needs somebody to keep it focused, because salespeople, God love them, they’ll chase almost anything that will get them sales commission, and I get that. But, part of sales enablement is making it easy for your sales people to focus on the right clients. The right clients are those that value the services that we offer, are willing to pay the premium, or at least the price we want to charge for them and not discount them. It gives us scale, so we’re not reinventing the wheel every time we close a deal. Account based marketing is critical in that, so I’m glad you hit on that.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, we should definitely do a podcast just on account based marketing, just because I think it’s such a misunderstood topic and it’s been sort of, like everything else I guess, maybe in our Marketing Ruins Everything podcast, I’ve been ruined by marketers. I mean, when you think about the premise of account based marketing was that you’re marketing to an individual account. So you’re building, like you said, a very … you’re enabling an account manager to manage a complex sale. You’re giving them tailored thought leadership, or giving them tailored marketing assets. You’re giving them all kinds of tools and resources to penetrate that account more deeply.
Somewhere along the line it’s been turned into like, I don’t even know, like an account scoring model in a marketing automation platform or something. Accounts have been rolled together into groups of accounts, which really is just a market segment, so why is it account based marketing? It would be really interesting, I think, to dive on that deeper, because I agree that that is a critical piece of sales enablement. But, there’s so many different flavors of what it can look like for a firm, and I think if we delve into that and gave a little more vision on that, that would be valuable.
Jeff McKay: I agree. The final thing, because we probably need to wrap up, that marketers need to be doing around sales enablement on the backend, but not as far backend as writing proposals and doing PowerPoint, which we started. But, the goal of sales enablement is to make the business development team more productive. That means more sales for less work. Marketing can add a lot of value by analyzing the selling and buying cycle, and looking for ways to remove friction in that process. That can be messaging, that could be approvals, that could be any number of things that get in the way. But, marketers need to be analyzing CRM data and anything they can to gain insights.
Related to that, I don’t think most salespeople have the time to go out and identify new tools that make it easier for them to sell. We’ve talked SaaS and all the solutions that are out there, and how these things can be integrated together, that finding the systems that work for your culture and your sales process is critical. But, there is always something out there that can replace, enhance, or bring new capability in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of business development. I think marketing’s best positioned to find that, because these technologies are about meeting the client where they are, and marketing should be on top of these as part of their market understanding.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that. I hadn’t really thought much about that, but you’re right in the sense, bad analogy, but it seems like the sales function, or the business developers of a firm, are a little bit heads down, right? They’re focused on the prospects, they’re focused on the engagement, they’re focused on navigating the complexities of the deal, trying to lead the firm to success. It’s probably very rare where they can step back and say, “Well, could I have done this differently, a better way? Was there technology that could have made this smoother, simpler, easier or effective.” So having someone objectively approaching that is probably really critical, and yeah, it makes logical sense that it would come from marketing.
There we go, another 20 minutes of our lives, it goes so fast. This was really good conversation. I look forward to, I think ,the next conversation that we’re going to have as well, which is really going to be about sort of different competing points of view on selling. Not that I want to get into an in-depth conversation about those points of view, because I don’t think either one of us fashion ourselves as sales trainers. But, I think it’s a really interesting marketing discussion to look at those different philosophies and how they fit into your point of kind of the seamless customer experience. So I look forward to that.
Jeff McKay: Yeah, that’ll be a critical discussion.
Jason Mlicki: All right, man. Talk next time.
Jeff McKay: Have a good one.