Sales force automation systems 15 years later

Lauren Carlson, CRM Analyst, Software Advice, blogged on December 14, 2011. Her premise is that 15 years ago, Sales force automation (SFA) systems hit the market and had a bad rep among sales teams. Fast-forward to now and most sales organizations are singing the praises of SFA. So, what changed? Her article highlights the four innovations that she thinks transformed SFA into a sales rep’s best friend and the tide is still turning. We didn’t even hit on social media / web 2.0 she points out. For me the impact of the web 3.0 and its semantic approaches to search, summarizing and customizing content, and combining data from different silos will also be interesting to see especially in the part of SFA that is called Sales Enablement. See her full blog post here.

Legacy sales portals provide no feedback to ensure marketing produces valuable material. Sales is too busy to address the issue

feedback from sales

On February 7, 2010 posted ‘Sales Enablement – An Inverse Definition’:

“Instead of defining sales enablement, I prefer to focus on the inadequacies of the existing legacy sales portals (many large companies have more than six). Sales Portals widen the gulf between sales and marketing.

An investment in sales enablement pays dividends in several ways but perhaps the strongest benefit is the alignment of a customers marketing investment with their sales resources. The legacy sales portals that are still being used by most businesses actually reinforce the practices that keep marketing and sales teams misaligned. Marketing teams are rewarded based partially on their ability to create sales collateral, brochures, presentations, campaigns, and such; whereas sales teams are rewarded based on their ability to retire quota. Legacy sales portals provide no feedback mechanisms to ensure the marketing team is actually producing valuable material to aid the sales effort, and the sales teams are too busy working to meet/exceed their numbers that they can’t take time out to address the issue.

The longer this problem goes unchecked, the more systemic it becomes. The only time anyone in sales talks about it is when they don’t make their numbers or hit their accelerators, at which point the “complaints” are largely ignored. The problem is compounded year after year as more marketing materials get posted onto the portal with little or no governance in place to remove “dated” items, making finding useful material even more difficult. The useful material that is found typically has to be reworked, taking valuable “selling” hours away from sales.

It is estimated that from 70% to as high as 90% of the material produced by marketing goes unused by sales. (IDC). […]”

I could not have described these pain points better. I’m sure that pretty much everyone in the B2B environment can relate to the them. No matter which Sales Enablement vendor you decide to work with, what needs to be done is the following:

  • Implement ‘Content Governance’ (automate a life cycle for content, define responsibilities for roles, send them automated reminders to rework what the life cycle has pulled off the portal, …)

life cycle for content

  • Add ‘Social Features’ everyone is familiar with from the web 2.0 like rating, commenting and uploading of their own content or links (gets everyone engaged and gathers feedback on the content as well as new insights from the field)


  • Analyze (‘Content Intelligence’) the usage of your improved sales portal and how the two steps above yield fruit
  • Take action with ‘Content Planning’ based on your findings

Content Intelligence
The example above shows that there are 19 customer reference documents for EMEA but not a single one about a customer in Luxembourg. If you wanted to target a prospect in Luxembourg that might be a problem. A dash board overview for your Content Intelligence like the showcased Content Landscape from BizSphere helps you to identify gaps in your content inventory.

Way too much stuff and far too little information about that stuff – Context matters

On November 29, 2009, Seth Godin wrote about what we in Sales Enablement for b2b enterprises are focused on:
Context matters!

Getting meta

Wikipedia contains facts about facts. It’s a collection of facts from other places.

Facebook doesn’t have your friends. It has facts about your friends.

Google is at its best when it gives you links to links, not the information itself.

Over and over, the Internet is allowing new levels of abstraction. Information about information might be worth more than the information itself. Which posts should I read? Which elements of the project are at risk? Who is making the biggest difference to the organization?

Right now, there’s way too much stuff and far too little information about that stuff. Sounds like an opportunity.

I couldn’t agree more with Seth that this is an opportunity. Successfully using this opportunity will have to do with web 3.0 (semantic) approaches being applied to the stuff from web 1.0 and web 2.0 as well as understanding what information architecture is and how it can be set up for complex organizations.

For the approach to Sales Enablement I have been working with at a company with 4,000+ sales people you could say:
SharePoint (or similar) has your marketing assets for sales reps.

Sales Enablement – as the layer on top – has the facts about your marketing assets:

  • Which assets/links/comments should a sales rep read for a specific sales situation?
  • Who is the contributor of marketing assets or comments that really drive sales?

Sales Enablement in a nutshell

Sandeep Pandit asked the following question about Sales Enablement on LinkedIn Answers and got the great answers below:

“What are the best practices of Sales Enablement? Also please list down the activities which are required to enable Sales in IT industry.
Sales Enablement is the fine art of enabling Sales function with the tools, knowledge, resources and processes so that Sales community can go and book orders, get the same delivered and subsequently be ready to service it.”

Garry Mansfield:

“[…] Each aspect is focused on providing the customer facing teams with the material to have a real conversation with the target customer. They may be the CEO or a telecoms manager but all of them will likely be involved in the buying decision and will talk. Therefore consistency in the message is key and you should invest time to get this message clear and relevant.

From my experience the materials that helps most are those that give confidence in those conversations; this can come in the form of training, collateral, fact sheets, account planning, deal/opportunity strategy etc. Ultimately the value of what you are offering needs to be expressible in terms that the customer would understand, recognise and be able to act on.

A clear description and information on customers likely issues will help the client facing teams to engage in conversations to understand the customer better. they can then probe further for evidence and supporting facts to build an offer that is more compelling.

Also, a clear articulation of what you do, backed with the SO WHAT? answers and suitable proof points will also help to build credibility with the client.

When I speak with clients and buyers, each of them say the same thing. Broadly there are three stages to the buying process:

  1. you have to help the customer to understand that they have a problem that can be solved. and it is important enough to invest resources in to fix.
  2. you have to help the customer to explore the options available to them in solving the problem and demonstrate why the option you have is best suited to their need.
  3. you have to prove that your organisation is best placed to deliver this option in the competitive marketplace. […]”

Bob Apollo:

“[…] Sales enablement is – as you’ve no doubt concluded – a critical success factor for B2B companies. I’d suggest that there are four key elements that need to be mastered:

  1. Clarity about who your best prospects are and how to recognise them
  2. A deep understanding of the business issues that are likely to cause them to take action
  3. Clear insights into the sources of information they trust when they start researching solutions
  4. A profound appreciation of their decision making process and how and why they choose to buy

In my experience, it is critical that sales and marketing work together in a truly collaborative fashion to develop a common agreement and a common language in each of these areas.

If you can develop a clear picture of the buying decision process that your prospects go through, you’ll be in great shape to create the tools and programs that are going to have the most impact on facilitating the buying process.

You’ll also avoid the huge amount of wasted effort that most companies put into the creation of sales and marketing deliverables that at the end of the day have no impact what so ever the on chances of a prospect buying the solution. […]”

I would like to respond to the discussion above with a slide by BizSphere. It shows how the Sales Enablement approach I have worked with [at a corporation with over 4,000 sales people world-wide] provides a context sales and marketing can collaborate in to equip the customer facing teams, who have to sell very complex portfolios, with the right…

  • core messages;
  • resources;
  • internal contacts;
  • and [cross-selling/up-selling] relationships

…for the right audience at the equally complex client:


AMD blogs on Sales Enablement

David Kenyon, VP of WW Channel Marketing for AMD says “making channel & sales enablement a critical priority” & “just combined three disparate groups into one enablement team that is metric- and objective-driven, tasked with improving the content and training experience for […] sales teams and channel customers.”

At David posted ‘Sales Enablement: Finding what you are looking for in sales and marketing content’:

[…] “Have you ever looked for something you knew that you needed, but couldn’t find it?” Of course we all have those experiences – some more than others, depending on your organization skills. What about when that happens to you electronically? What about those times when you are looking for content, training materials, or have a question that you know is answered in some obscure presentation that you’ve stored somewhere, but you just can’t find it?

In the channel partner community, I imagine that this happens even more often.  Today’s channel partners participate in multiple vendor programs, are barraged by content everyday from over-eager marketing product managers, and likely have terabytes of storage taken up with stale presentations that are never opened once they hit the spinning platters. Sales enablement of channel partners through well-placed and designed content, training and knowledge management, is not just a critical competitive advantage for manufacturers, it’s an experience as rare as a hole-in-one in my lackluster golf game.

How do you make it easy for partners to get information, training, and answers without them having to call tons of 800 numbers or salespeople, or search Web sites for what  seems like hours? It is a question that perplexes most companies, and I believe few actually address. At a recent channel conference I attended, a speaker asked the audience of 300 or so channels executives: “Who believes your intranet or company site is easier to navigate and find things than the global Internet?” Only two people raised their hands. The speaker then made the point that companies devote teams of IT individuals and professionals to design these properties to no productive avail, it seems.

The question then becomes:  how can a company enable its sales team via private portals and electronic communications to provide the easiest possible experience for its partners and customers? It’s a question we are facing at AMD alongside the other hundreds companies represented at that channel conference, and thousands of others around the world. In fact, we are making channel and sales enablement a critical priority.

We have just combined three disparate groups into one enablement team that is metric- and objective-driven, tasked with improving the content and training experience for our sales teams and channel customers. As we transition into a single, integrated sales enablement team, our online resources are front and center in our line of sight. Looking at successful models across industries, a few key attributes stand out: global integration; one interface to partners for all types of interaction; simplified and consistent timing and communications.  And, most importantly: simplify, simplify, simplify web interfaces to external audiences.

In short, it’s time to get serious about improving sales and channel enablement.  At AMD, we want to make this not just a good experience, but also an advantage to doing business with us.  We’d love your feedback as we work through the plans over the upcoming weeks and months. Just like you, we don’t have the time or the patience to spend hours looking for things that should take us seconds to find and activate. Who does? […]”

How many emails do your sales people write to find a contact they are looking for?


This post is with regards to cutting down the time wasted by your own employees (and your channel partners) researching who to contact or which contact details to pass on to the customer when it comes to a specific kind of expert for a specific offering in a specific country.

Real life example

Don’t you know these email trails of at least 10 emails which started off like this: A sales rep asking his boss who in product marketing to contact for the product BCM50 when it is about a customer in Poland?

Sales writes to marketing and marketing writes to each other and before there is a meaningful answer you easily have had ten people involved and a lot of time wasted. (Business cases for how much time of information workers is worth here.)


70% of all attempts to find an expert by email are unsuccessful
according to

What can Sales Enablement do about it?

Let me show you how the sales enablement application I’m looking after for our 4,000 sales people world-wide cuts down the time to research this kind of contact information. Actually it works just the same if you searched for documents, tools (like ROI calculators), relationships (like cross-selling opportunities), summary descriptions (like updates when a product will be GA) etc.:


This is what we train our marketing and sales employees to do.

  1. You drill down from ‘Global’ to ‘Poland’ on the top of the screen or by clicking on a Google Maps like map.
  2. In the search form in the upper right hand corner you type in the full name or the acronym of the product/service you are interested in.
  3. In the left hand side navigation you pick the kind of information you are looking for.
  4. Given that you have now set the context you can pick from the list of experts in the middle of the screen and even call them with one click (UC / Unified Communications that is).

How long does that take? 10 seconds for one person instead of ten emails from different people that everybody is then copied on each time.

Why is it possible to save so much time? The reason is we established an information architecture and lots of people are empowered to keep it up to date by just doing a right click on a piece of information to edit it.

For contact details the following happens: Information that is missing will be filled in the moment the contact from the higher level gets all the requests. He/she will be quick to provide the contact details of who should really be contacted for the specific situation. Basically “forced crowd-sourcing”.

The areas where all this helps you can call sales enablement, conversation enablement, channel enablement or just knowledge management.

What salespeople really want to know is what other salespeople are using and doing to win deals

Well worded post by Jeff Ernst @jeffernst, from June 11, 2009:

Read and discuss the full blog post at

“[…] what salespeople really want to know: What other salespeople are using and doing to win deals

No matter how much time marketers and product managers spend with salespeople and customers, they just don’t see enough of what happens at the moments of truth—the points in time at which the buyers are receiving and responding to the messages the sales team delivers. Look how fast the competitive landscape, the needs of the marketplace, and the product portfolios change.

A top-down approach will never keep up. So salespeople spend way too much time creating their own materials and rarely reach out to marketing unless they want that new product data sheet or more company-branded tchotchkes they can give to customers. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they ignore 90% of the “stuff” that the folks in corporate give them.

OLD RULE: The folks in corporate know best what the sales people need in the field.

NEW RULE: The most effective selling content, messages, and strategies are discovered from experience with buyers. […] this is the hardest mindset shift for marketers to make […] If you are a marketer, don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault. We’ve been classically trained to work this way. […]”


Do you want your sales people to spend their time customizing slide decks?

Many Sales Enablement startups are citing Forrester’s Scott Santucci’s ‘Uncovering The Hidden Costs Of Sales Support’ from April 13, 2009 to make a business case for their services:

“Technology vendors are spending, on average, 19% of their selling, general, and administrative (SG&A) costs or $135,262 per quota-carrying salesperson in support-related activities. Few are aware of this enormous amount because the costs are hidden — tucked away in many different budgets dispersed throughout the organization. Corralling these random acts of sales support presents a golden opportunity. By creating a strategic sales enablement program, marketers can drive significant cost savings in the short term, while improving their companies’ competitiveness to thrive in the new growth cycle.”

On July 7, 2009 Michael Gerard (VP, Research for IDC’s Executive Advisory Group) posted on his blog:

“[…] IDC research shows that over 40% of all marketing assets handed over to sales are not in use today (IDC’s Best Practices in Sales Enablement – Content and Marketing (to be published end of July)). This includes assets that have been developed for sales, channels, prospects and current customers. IDC estimates that at least 30% of companies’ marketing investment, including program and people spend, is dedicated to creating content and marketing assets. Clearly, marketers can leverage cost reduction opportunities if they take the time to improve their content management process and technologies.

– “Our content is all over the place…a more formalized content portal is being created to get our sales team the most relevant materials when they need them.”
– “…marketing is funding an improved marketing asset management system and we are hoping to achieve 3% – 5% reduction/reallocation of spend on annual asset development and improved production efficiencies.” (improvements in production efficiency, reduced program time-to-market, and reduced re-work).

In the next several weeks, IDC will be publishing a sales enablement report highlighting best practices in marketing content management from a lifecycle management, technology, and measurement perspective. Detailed company case studies will be also be included. […]”

In 2004 it was IDC’s ‘The Cost of Information Tasks to the Enterprise’:

Whitepaper IDC Hidden Costs 0405

OK, we are in 2009 now and a lot of productivity enhancing apps are popping up on the iPhones, LinkedIns and CRM platforms of today. Information workers in marketing and sales departments have many tools available to them that will free up time when used wisely. When Google Wave becomes available in the fall, searching in conversations you had with your team or in the history of documents you collaborated on will become much more enjoyable. However, when it comes to gathering information for documents, creating images, creating documents/presentations, editing/reviewing, filing and organizing documents, we all still lose a lot of time that should be spent on bringing in additional revenue.

How often do you find yourself copying and pasting value propositions, customer references from different industries and product images from older documents into new versions that are targeted at a slightly different audience?

ABC: Always Be Customizing (Sales Decks, Value Props,…)

We need to be able to generate highly customized documents on the fly by selecting the offering, the audience, the industry vertical etc… and we do not want to spend time re-formatting anything. We just want to chose a template that is then applied to all the content.

document generation feature tour

document generation


Save yourself and your sales people a lot of time and nerves, better spent with the customer!

Go beyond slides libraries! Basically bring it to the next level by breaking up slides into ‘content nuggets’ and use web 3.0 concepts to auto-generate customized files out of a mind-bobbling number of possible combinations. Saves real dollars / time normally spent on designing PowerPoint or other doc types. No more outsourcing to graphics agencies. Just pick the template and hit “generate”. The result will be polished and include cross-selling opportunities and case studies from the chosen country…

Social Selling

I guess the term ‘Social Selling’ is equivalent to the term ‘Sales 2.0’. On June 09, 2009 wrote…

“[…] as buyers started to research their purchases online, preventing the sales rep from deciphering the buyer’s intention from their physical actions. So sales professionals reacted, spending their time pouring over online data, trying to understand what made a good buyer. Because it was difficult to tell which online behaviors were part of the buyer’s decision path, sales couldn’t just focus their energy where there would be the biggest payoff. And when they did reach the buyer, it was often after they had made much of their decision, leaving the sales rep to negotiate price and mail out a contract. Marketing tried to help by scoring leads and only passing the ones that met certain criteria, but this still meant a heavy burden for sales, who had to look through pages of online data for the leads that were given to them.

Sales is now ready to take back some of the control, with the evolution of social selling. Social selling is the use of web 2.0 technologies merged with traditional sale strategies, enabling sales to prioritize their time again, and help serve as experts in the product selection process instead of just serving as negotiators. But there are many misconceptions about its use.

Misconception of Social Selling

True Social Selling

Sales is notified when leads visit your site

Sales is notified when a qualified lead does something interesting on your website

Sales can view a list of all of their leads in their CRM

Sales can sort their leads in their CRM by priority, allowing them to contact leads when they need the most attention

Sales can see all the companies that visit your website

Sales can see the companies in their territory that visit your website, and can access and import key contacts at those organizations into their CRM

Sales must go to multiple websites to find contact information

Sales can access Jigsaw, Demandbase, & LinkedIn directly through the tools they are already using

Sales must learn to go through all their lead’s web activity and email activity to identify the best leads and to figure out when to make contact

Sales is alerted when leads participate in interesting activities that indicate they are a hot prospect

Sales must learn to use new email tools inside their CRM or other external tools requiring training

Sales can use Outlook to reach prospects, and data is sent to their CRM, with enhanced information about opens and click-throughs

Email templates are kept in the CRM

Email templates are accessed in Outlook

Sales must sit in front of their computer watching for interesting online body language from prospects

Sales can subscribe to receive Facebook style status updates for the prospects, companies, and actions they think are most important, allowing them to work on the go without missing an opportunity

Marketing tells sales when they need to work with a prospect

Marketing passes leads to sales, and, if needed, sales passes leads that need nurturing back to marketing

Sales must spend hours looking through information in multiple systems to understand what is going on with a prospect

Sales can use RSS to send all the different types of prospect information into one system, saving them time and effort


While sales may not go back to days on the golf course, with social selling they are able to go back to prioritizing their time, focusing on the qualified leads that will be the biggest sales earlier in the buying process. This will not only cause for increased success, but increased margins and shorter sales cycles, making their contributions evident to the entire organization.”


Finding the right Sales Enablement documents

Imagine the following scenario at a corporation selling to businesses:

One of their sales people is searching on the intranet or on their Sales Enablement site for the search term “Case Study”. Wouldn’t that lead to hundreds of search results even if the corporation was not that big?

Of course you would know better and do a more specific search but the question remains how a large number of search results can quickly be narrowed down to just documents of the type “Case Study” (as oppose to other types of documents that just happen to reference case studies) and how you then drill down to the most recent ones or to the ones your fellow sales people have rated as the most valuable?

Applications that allow this, amongst other things, with an amazingly low number of required mouse clicks are the ‘BizSphere Resource Browser’ and ‘Content Landscape’ from BizSphere.

Content Landscape

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