Sales enablement’s recent maturation into an independent function in many B2B organizations represents an important milestone and can empower enablement to launch larger, more complex initiatives to improve sales reps’ ability to execute. But it can also come with growing pains.

SiriusDecisions SummitHistorically, sales enablement has worked within sales operations, making interlock easy between the two functions. Sales enablement’s new independent status means that it can drift too far from operations, said Mark Levinson and Steve Silver during their presentation last week at SiriusDecisions’ Summit 2014 in Orlando.

“It strains the interlock between sales operations and sales enablement,” Mark explained. “When the interlock breaks down, organizations begin to struggle to drive sales productivity.”

An instant poll at Summit indicated that sales enablement and sales operations are currently two distinct functions at nearly half – 40 percent – of attendees’ organizations.

Thirty-four percent of attendees participating in the poll indicated that enablement is a separate group within operations, while at 14 percent of organizations, sales operations is responsible for enablement. Interestingly, 12 percent of attendees admitted they didn’t even know what sales enablement is. These percentages are all in line with what SiriusDecisions sees in the broader market, Mark said.

Whether or not sales enablement has already formally separated from sales operations, the key to success is effective collaboration. This includes first defining what falls under sales enablement’s scope, and then measuring the impact of all sales enablement initiatives.

Generally, sales enablement focuses on onboarding and certification, sales asset management, sales communications, and coaching and training skills. Sales operations, on the other hand, handles planning, territory optimization, compensation, sales analytics and technology.

Measuring the impact of sales enablement initiatives calls for a three-step process for each initiative (e.g. deploying a set of updated sales content for a new product offering).

“If you’re not measuring, you guarantee that you’re wasting precious time and resources that could be used in more impactful areas,” Mark said.

The first measurement step, production, calls for identifying the required metrics or data (e.g. lead conversion rates, cycle time by buying stage, win/loss analysis), assigning resources, and then collecting the relevant data.

Next, organizations must interpret the data – first, by validating that it is high-quality and has been measured for a significant length of time. Interpretation also requires normalization. For example, differences in rep tenure or territory characteristics should be taken into account to avoid false conclusions.

After data analysis and interpretation are complete, sales enablement should share its findings, whether through the sales force automation system and dashboards or in monthly team meetings or other reviews.

The findings that should be shared depend on the specific initiative and the audience. For example, if reps were sent to an off-site training program, sales executives may be especially interested in seeing data to verify that the investment was worthwhile and justified taking reps out of the field.

With proper role definition and ample measurement, sales enablement and sales operations can work together to drive rep productivity and prevent misalignment – no matter how the functions are structured.

“Make sure that you have communication and collaboration in place,” Steve said. “Define the specific, measurable and time-bound goal, and then outline the roles for sales enablement and operations – as well as marketing – to ensure the goal is met and no efforts are duplicated.”