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Sales and Marketing Alignment vs Sales Enablement: What's the Difference?

Sales and Marketing Alignment vs Sales Enablement: What's the Difference? Blog Feature

November 30th, 2016 min read

shutterstock_142719649-compressor.jpg

If you’ve been around the inbound marketing community for a while you’ve probably heard the term “sales and marketing.” The concept is a way to make sure those two teams of your organization work and execute around a common goal -- revenue.

Now, there’s a new term being thrown around: Sales enablement.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering, “What is sales enablement?” “How is it different from sales and marketing alignment?” and “Why are all these marketers talking about sales?”

Well, let’s start at the top.

What the Heck is Sales Enablement?

HubSpot said it best when they said, “sales enablement is seeing somewhat of an identity crisis.”

The fact of the matter is the definition of sales enablement is vast and it means different things to different people. To one, sales enablement is CRM software and implementation. To someone else, it’s sales content and to another, it’s training.

When I first started researching sales enablement, I was expecting a narrow definition and a succinct strategy on how to implement it. I quickly learned, however, it’s not that kind of thing.

Sales enablement is a concept, just like sales and marketing alignment or inbound marketing.  That concept of sales enablement is formed around a single assumption.  

“We can improve the buyer’s experience by improving how sales professionals identify, engage, explore and advise.”

An inbound marketing expert, Max Taylor’s, definition sticks out to me: “This is what sales enablement means to me: Give your sales team the knowledge, tools and content to deliver a more valuable buyer experience.”

If you’re curious why this matters, we’ll get to that, but before we do, let’s cover what I’m guessing is your biggest question:

Isn’t this just sales and marketing alignment?

To help answer this, I walked around the office and asked a handful of my colleagues what sales and marketing alignment was in their words.

Ok - I didn’t actually walk around, but I sent everyone a quick Slack and here’s what a few of them said:

“Having the two teams share their expectations of each other so that group success can be achieved. That’s as simple as understanding the expectations for lead hand-offs, when leads should be contacts, and what information marketing can use to produce better content (given from sales) to drive more qualified leads.” - Vin Gaeta, Creative Director

“When the two teams join forces to work towards an overarching goal; usually driving more qualified leads or closing more of them.” - Ramona Sukhraj, Content Marketing Manager

As you can see, sales and marketing alignment is all about sales and marketing working together.  Sales enablement, however, is all about improving the experience sales provides to their prospects.

Having strongly aligned sales and marketing departments helps sales professionals provide a more timely and relevant conversation, but sales enablement is much more than that.

Referencing to Max’s definition, sales enablement is the knowledge, tools, and content you empower your sales team with. So, that begs the question, “why does this matter to you?”

Why are all these marketers talking about sales?

I was tempted to title this section, “Why should I care?” because that’s what I can see running through the mind of many marketers.  

I get it. The relationship between marketing and sales teams is generally not one that’s described as cohesive.

Inbound marketing exists because we have changed the way we buy. As buyers, we are enabled to do our own research when making a purchase and frankly, the sales professional has lost their leverage.

The question I want you asking yourself is this: “Has our sales team adapted to this?”  

If your answer isn’t “yes” without hesitation, think of the implications that has on the leads you generate through inbound marketing.

Here are some of the examples of bad sales behavior:

  • leading with a pitch
  • not prioritizing leads
  • not engaging prospects on their timeline

And from the resulting perspective of buyers:

  • This salesperson is pushy
  • This salesperson is annoying
  • This salesperson isn’t there when I want them

We have all had experiences like this, yet your marketing isn’t like that.

The whole premise of inbound marketing is building a marketing strategy that empowers buyers.  Buyers see a blog that helps educate them and eBooks that nurture them. It’s the opposite of pushy, annoying, and tardy.

Now, over the past year, I’ve watched this become the weak link in organizations revenue generations strategies. While marketing has realized the shift in the typical buyer’s journey, sales needs to play catch-up in many scenarios.

So, the answer to “Why are all these marketers talking about sales?” and “Why should I care?” is the same -- because the success of sales lies heavily in the hands of marketers.

Marketers are recognizing that the sales strategies, tools, and content of the past don’t work for the modern buyer and they need to help their sales team’s better understand what will. They need to educate sales on the modern buyer and help them create and distribute the content that they need to successfully connect and close.

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