Sales Enablement VS Sales Operations: What's Even the Difference?

The match has beeeeguuuuun! In the blue corner, weighing in at zero pounds zero ounces is the fan favourite, the master, the O.G.....sales operations! In the red corner, standing in at zero foot nothing, is the newcomer, the upstart...sales enablement! Ding Ding Ding! Wait...they're not fighting? They're collaborating? They're sharing a hearty handshake? What's going on?!
Despite their distinct roles, sales enablement and sales operations are closely aligned in their objectives, as both teams strive to optimise the sales process and drive revenue growth.
Sales enablement and sales operations are not enemies, but friends. Maybe sometimes frenemies. I know, the title of this article would suggest otherwise. But we wanted to give you a surprise.
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The two work so well because they act together to drive sales productivity and revenue growth. While they have distinct roles, they are closely intertwined and collaborate to achieve common goals. This is particularly important in the sales process.
So, let's have a look at some definitions:
Sales enablement focuses on providing sales teams with the tools, training, and content they need to effectively engage with customers and close deals - everything they need to be successful in their role. This can include creating sales collateral, developing sales messaging and positioning, and providing training and coaching to sales reps.
Sales operations are focused on the day-to-day management and optimisation of the sales process. This can include managing the sales pipeline, forecasting revenue, and setting sales targets. It is also responsible for creating the infrastructure and processes that allow the sales team to work efficiently.
While sales enablement focuses on empowering sales reps with the tools and resources they need to effectively engage with prospects and close deals, sales operations are responsible for streamlining and managing the entire sales process, ensuring efficiency and tracking results.

By working together, sales enablement and sales operations can create a seamless and synchronised sales ecosystem.
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But let's jump in.

What is Sales Enablement?

There is no widely accepted definition of sales enablement. Some may define it as providing sales professionals with tech, tools, templates and great processes to help them to succeed.
Others see it as the onboarding of new sales executives – building the skills and knowledge to improve their long-term sales success.
It may also be the process of ensuring that a company’s content, messaging, and positioning
is deployed consistently to prospects and customers.
The reality is that sales enablement is a combination of all these components and more.
Sales enablement is a strategic collaborative discipline designed to increase predictable sales results by providing consistent scalable enablement services that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers to add value to every customer interaction.
Pam Didner, Author and Keynote Speaker
Sales enablement is not a single position within a company, but an ecosystem that crosses
all functional and hierarchical boundaries.
It’s the process and best practice that breaks down department silos and builds alignment between departments from Sales, Marketing, HR and Operations, to Customer Success, Professional Services and the leadership team.
It isn’t a single tool or a one-off initiative, but a strategic discipline that improves the longterm
effectiveness of sales, which involves training and coaching processes as well as the use of tools to improve sales intelligence and performance, and to automate tasks and processes which don’t generate revenue.
Sales enablement isn’t a task for just one person, it’s the whole team.
A best-in-class sales enablement programme can deliver benefits such as:
  • More effective sales recruitment. Sales enablement plays a central role in the
    sales recruitment process by defining the candidate competencies and traits
    needed for success. Better recruits achieve better results.

  • Improved sales training. From designing and implementing team-wide training
    initiatives to providing managers with coaching material, sales enablement can
    help to deliver more effective sales training.

  • Improved tech implementation. Sales enablement helps to integrate and
    configure the sales stack to optimise the sales team’s ways of working. This
    means tools are adopted and used by sales professionals to drive their efficiency
    and effectiveness.

  • Improved content performance. Sales enablement helps to align various
    departments to produce the sales content that prospects require at each stage of
    the sales cycle.

  • Increased customer loyalty. Sales enablement is about creating more meaningful
    customer engagement which boosts overall satisfaction scores. When customers
    are helped to make well-informed buying decisions, sales teams are more likely to
    secure repeat business and referrals.

  • Retaining top performers. Sales enablement programs can help to retain top
    talent through coaching and support to keep developing their skills, career and
    pipeline, and increasing their potential commissionable earnings.

  • Reducing risk. Employees have access to updated support resources regarding
    company policy, rules, protocols and legislation. This reduces risk - especially in
    highly-regulated industries.

  • Improve training ROI. A more effective training resource can upskill and reskill
    team members and ensure that investment in training is repaid.

  • Better qualified leads. Sales enablement helps to qualify leads and improve
    speed, relevance, and intent.

  • Improved conversions and speed to deal. Ultimately, sales enablement improves
    conversion rates and speed to deal.

Why do you need Sales Enablement?

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, the purchasing process has become increasingly complex due to technological advancements and changes in customer behaviour. B2B buyers now expect quick access to information, personalised interactions, and self-service options throughout their buying journey.

Research indicates that, on average, it takes about 9.2 sales interactions before a deal is closed, highlighting the importance of sales teams having a deep understanding of the market, their products, customer pain points, and industry competitors. Furthermore, the number of decision-makers involved in complex B2B purchases has increased over time, with each decision-maker possessing different pieces of information.

This makes the decision-making process more challenging for buyers and creates additional obstacles for sales teams to navigate. Consequently, sales teams need to develop sophisticated messaging and content to effectively engage prospects.

In order to engage buyers effectively, sales representatives now require a higher level of technical knowledge.

This makes it crucial for sales enablement functions to be adaptable and provide continuous support to sellers as buyers' needs evolve. Moreover, organisations face added pressure to manage their workforce efficiently due to increased employee turnover resulting from global market downturns.

To navigate these challenges and improve overall sales performance, leading B2B sales organisations are embracing sales enablement practices.

By leveraging sales enablement and operations, they can enhance their ability to manage the complexities of the modern buying journey, operate more efficiently, and achieve better sales outcomes.

What are Sales Operations?

Sales Operations encompasses a broad range of responsibilities aimed at streamlining the sales process and maximising the productivity and success of sales teams. This department undertakes various tasks, including lead management, sales strategy development, territory structuring and alignment, sales process optimisation, compensation plan design, sales automation implementation, training, and data analytics and reporting.

The primary objective of Sales Operations is to minimise friction within the sales process, enabling salespeople to operate more efficiently and achieve sustainable growth. They undertake diverse responsibilities that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a thriving sales function.

Here are a few examples of the day-to-day activities typically carried out by individuals in Sales Operations:

  • Analysing data and reports to identify bottlenecks in the sales process and make informed decisions on how to address them.
  • Assisting sales teams in identifying and pursuing new leads and prospects to expand their customer base.
  • Implementing sales technologies and adopting best practices to enhance sales effectiveness and efficiency.

Why do you need Sales Operations?

Sales operations professionals are the unsung heroes who help sales teams reach new heights, achieve their goals faster, and navigate smoother sales processes. Their expertise is invaluable to senior leaders and sales managers, as they harness data about the sales experience to enhance its effectiveness.

Sales ops achieve this by providing comprehensive support to both sales leaders and reps through optimised technology that drives strategic decision-making and boosts productivity. Sales leaders benefit from tools like performance dashboards and automated forecasting, empowering them to plan effectively and make informed decisions. Sales reps, on the other hand, receive enablement tools and AI-powered recommendations that simplify and expedite the selling process.

The outcome? Revenue, revenue, revenue. In fact, according to McKinsey, companies with world-class sales operations teams witness a remarkable surge of 20% to 30% in sales productivity.

It's all about bringing order to the wild, wild west of sales. Picture a dusty scene where sales reps bicker over accounts, drown in administrative tasks, rely on instinct in every sales conversation, and wing it when it comes to the next steps. Meanwhile, sales leaders struggle to access the necessary data to set confident targets and identify obstacles in the pipeline that jeopardise those targets.

Enter sales operations, the antidote to improvisation. It replaces guesswork with data-driven actions, maximising the return on investment of time and energy across the entire sales team. In the following section, we delve into how this transformation occurs.

Sales ops continue to empower sales leaders and reps with cutting-edge technology, revolutionising their strategies and enhancing productivity. Sales leaders gain access to performance dashboards and automated forecasting, providing vital support for planning and crucial decision-making. Sales reps receive enablement tools and AI-powered recommendations that simplify and expedite the selling process.

Thanks to sales operations, improvisation takes a backseat to data-driven action, revolutionising the sales team's time and energy investments. 

What's the Difference?

Sales operations and sales enablement may sound alike, but they serve distinct purposes. Sales enablement focuses on enhancing sales productivity and boosting revenue, just like sales operations. So, do you really need both? Absolutely.

It's worth mentioning that sales enablement tends to be more active in the early stages of the buyer's journey, prioritising training and educating prospects. On the other hand, sales operations primarily handle the negotiation, closing deals, and higher-level aspects like territory design and sales compensation.

Sales Enablement VS Sales Operations

To ensure that your sales ops and sales enablement teams work together harmoniously, it is advisable to establish a clear division of responsibilities. Each department should have separate goals, deliverables, and key metrics. (We will discuss the sales operations team structure further below.)

Regularly encourage both teams to come together and discuss their ongoing projects to prevent duplication of efforts.

Now that we have provided an overview of sales enablement and sales operations, let's highlight some key aspects that differentiate these functions.

Sales operations:

  • Responsible for hiring and onboarding new sales representatives.
  • Takes a tactical role in ensuring smooth and efficient operations within the sales organisation.
  • Assists in managing the sales technology stack and reporting on performance and key business outcomes.

Sales enablement:

  • Plans content for employee onboarding programs, training sessions, and coaching.
  • Creates sales collateral based on insights.
  • Embodies an overarching strategy aimed at aligning and improving marketing and sales efforts.
  • Assists with content creation, prospect discovery, analytics, sales readiness, and more.

Sales enablement involves aligning your sales and marketing teams to ensure they have the necessary resources to close sales and improve the bottom line. This alignment with the marketing team is just one of the many essential cross-functional relationships that organisations must develop to achieve success. Sales enablement also needs to work closely with the product team to train new reps on releases and functionality, as well as collaborate with customer success to ensure that the existing sales process generates valid post-sale renewal and upsell opportunities.

Sales operations ensure that day-to-day sales tasks run smoothly, from documenting prospect information to prioritising leads for follow-up. The sales operations team is responsible for overseeing the daily activities of the sales team and utilises data to measure the effectiveness of sales initiatives.

Bridging the Gap Between Sales Operations and Enablement

Effective collaboration between sales enablement and sales operations is crucial, but it can be challenging to achieve.

Aligning the efforts of the sales operations and enablement teams leads to a streamlined sales process and better-equipped sales representatives for engaging with prospects. The key ingredient that fosters this alignment is sales enablement technology. Suppose your company decides to implement a new sales enablement platform.

In that case, the sales operations team takes the lead in setting up the tool and making it ready for the sales team's use. This involves tasks such as configuring dashboards, creating user accounts and integrating the CRM system. Subsequently, the sales enablement team comes into play. They assist sales reps in effectively adopting the new platform into their daily routines to maximise their productivity. The enablement team ensures adoption by providing best practices, training materials, content, and more.

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A suitable sales enablement platform integrates seamlessly with your CRM system, enabling the sales operations team to manage and organise contact data efficiently. This integration results in a smoother process for sales reps as they can easily access and send relevant materials to the contacts in the database.

The CRM system remains updated with accurate information, eliminating the risk of using incorrect data. Additionally, the sales enablement platform provides valuable insights into overall sales performance, target KPIs, and historical data. This empowers the operations team to develop effective sales strategies based on data-driven decision-making.

Regarding sales enablement, the platform serves as a centralised repository for all sales collateral. This enables sales reps to quickly locate up-to-date content needed for engaging with prospects.

Moreover, the platform serves as a valuable resource for conducting sales training sessions and monitoring the performance of sales reps. Sales managers can utilise the platform's data to gain insights into areas where a rep may be struggling and develop tailored improvement plans.

In summary, by fostering collaboration between sales enablement and sales operations and leveraging the capabilities of a robust sales enablement platform, companies can enhance their sales effectiveness, improve training and performance monitoring, and streamline their overall sales processes.

The Challenges of Collaboration

One of the primary challenges faced by sales enablement and sales operations teams when collaborating is the existence of different priorities. Sales enablement focuses on equipping sales representatives with the necessary tools and resources to close deals, while sales operations concentrate on managing the sales process and tracking outcomes. Misalignment of goals can result in conflicts and misunderstandings between the two teams.

Effective communication is often lacking between sales enablement and sales operations teams. This can lead to duplicated efforts, missed opportunities, and a lack of comprehension regarding the challenges each team encounters.

Furthermore, sales enablement and sales operations teams often have distinct cultures. Sales enablement emphasises creativity and customer experience, while sales operations prioritise analytical thinking and operational efficiency. These cultural differences can impede effective collaboration between the teams.

Additionally, the absence of support from leadership poses a significant obstacle for sales enablement and sales operations teams. Without adequate backing, acquiring the necessary resources becomes challenging, hindering their success.

To overcome these challenges, several tips can be followed:

  1. Align goals: It is crucial for sales enablement and sales operations teams to align their objectives. This involves establishing clear, shared goals and a comprehensive understanding of how each team's efforts contribute to the overall success of the sales organisation.
  2. Foster effective communication: Regular and transparent communication is essential for sales enablement and sales operations teams. Sharing information, updates, and ideas openly, and attentively listening to each other's perspectives are vital. Collaborating to find mutually beneficial solutions is also important.
  3. Build relationships: Developing strong relationships between sales enablement and sales operations teams is key. This entails gaining familiarity with each other's work, personalities, and priorities. Trust and collaboration should be cultivated to facilitate joint projects.
  4. Gain leadership buy-in: Securing support from leadership is critical for the success of sales enablement and sales operations teams. It is important to ensure that leadership understands the significance of the teams' work and is willing to provide them with the necessary resources.

By addressing these challenges and implementing effective strategies, sales enablement and sales operations teams can establish a powerful partnership that enhances overall sales performance.

The Future of Sales Enablement and Sales Operations.

The future of sales enablement and sales operations is bright. Both roles are becoming increasingly important as businesses look for ways to improve sales performance and efficiency. In the years to come, we can expect to see these two roles continue to evolve and merge as they become more closely integrated.

Here are some of the key trends that are shaping the future of sales enablement and sales operations:

  • The rise of data-driven sales: Sales enablement and sales operations teams are increasingly using data to drive their decisions. This includes using data to track sales performance, identify trends, and optimise sales processes.
  • The growth of automation: Automation is also playing a growing role in sales enablement and sales operations. This includes using automation to automate tasks such as lead generation, qualification, and follow-up.
  • The increasing importance of customer experience: Sales enablement and sales operations teams are also becoming more focused on the customer experience. This includes providing sales reps with the tools and resources they need to deliver a great customer experience, as well as using data to track customer satisfaction.
  • The rise of remote work: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of remote work. This is having a major impact on sales enablement and sales operations teams, who need to find new ways to collaborate and communicate effectively when their team members are not in the same place.

As these trends continue to evolve, sales enablement and sales operations teams will need to adapt and change in order to stay ahead of the curve. By embracing these trends and investing in new technologies, sales enablement and sales operations teams can position themselves to be successful in the years to come.

Here are some specific examples of how sales enablement and sales operations teams are using data and automation to improve sales performance:

  • Sales enablement teams are using data to track sales performance and identify trends. This information can be used to create more effective training programs, develop better sales materials, and identify opportunities to improve the sales process.
  • Sales operations teams are using automation to automate tasks such as lead generation, qualification, and follow-up. This frees up sales reps to focus on more high-value activities, such as building relationships with customers and closing deals.
  • Sales enablement and sales operations teams are working together to create a more personalised customer experience. This includes using data to segment customers and deliver targeted content and offers.
  • Sales enablement and sales operations teams are using remote work tools to collaborate and communicate effectively with team members who are not in the same place. This allows them to stay connected and continue to drive sales performance, even during times of disruption.

By embracing these trends and investing in new technologies, sales enablement and sales operations teams can position themselves to be successful in the years to come.

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