Sales Engagement vs. Sales Enablement: What’s the Difference?

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The sales and marketing landscape is fast evolving thanks to new technologies that enable sales teams to engage prospects during the sales process. Access to customer data, metrics and workflow automation makes selling easier.

You just need to look into purchasing sales engagement software. Or do you need to go buy a sales enablement platform?

Well, wait a minute. Do reps make more sales because they are enabled or because they can more easily engage with potential customers?

Feeling a little confused?

Sometimes the sales tech stack terminology can be a bit confusing, so let’s define “sales enablement” and “sales engagement,” then talk about the differences between the two platforms.

What Is Sales Enablement?

Nancy Maluso of SiriusDecisions explains sales enablement as follows, “The goal of sales enablement is to ensure sales reps have the right knowledge, skills, and process to maximize every buyer interaction.” So what does that actually require? It really depends on the expert you ask.

For the sake of this post, we’ll use the following list of activity categories provided by Salesforce.com to define what sales enablement entails:

  • Recruiting and hiring — getting the right salespeople on the team
  • Training and coaching — educating and motivating sales reps
  • Equipping — providing sales team members with the right tools to do their jobs
  • Assessing — measuring who’s working and what’s working to increase sales

As you can see, sales enablement involves different activities with the goal of giving sales teams the tools and resources they need to close more deals.

Recent changes in customer expectations mean that the sales process has become more buyer-centric than ever. With this new buyer-centric reality, sales teams must closely collaborate with other internal departments or specialties, such as marketing, human resources, product marketing, field marketing, customer service, account-based marketing, and more.

With the need for so much interdepartmental cooperation, a sales enablement platform is essential for the orchestration of these different elements. Your sales enablement platform should help sales reps deliver a seamless customer sales experience by bringing these elements together.

What Is Sales Engagement?

While sales enablement platforms and practices align the sales process internally with other departments to ensure success, sales engagement platforms focus on aiding sales professionals to reach and communicate effectively with prospects and customers.

Here’s where thinking gets fuzzy for some sales & marketing leaders. After all, you’ve already got a customer relationship management (CRM) tool as well as marketing automation software. Those two solutions should handle all that sales engagement activity, right? No. These two technologies alone are not enough to garner one-to-one engagement between salespeople and prospects and leads. In fact, these platforms should be considered “givens” like a phone, computer,  workspace.

A sales engagement platform bridges the gap between marketing automation and CRM software. How’s that? Think about it like this. Marketing automation helps marketers move leads into the system. CRM is the system of record for customer relationship management. What about that space between becoming a lead and converting to a customer?

As we like to say, CRM is for managing relationships. Sales engagement is for starting them. But what’s beyond the cool phrasing? Let’s look.

Why CRM and Marketing Automation Aren’t Enough for Excellent Sales Engagement Experiences

You may not believe me when I say that CRM and marketing automation simply don’t do the trick when it comes to sales engagement activities, but give me a chance to explain before you roll your eyes and click over to LinkedIn to peruse your activity feed.

Start by asking yourself these three essential questions.

  1. Does a customer relationship management platform alone help an individual rep engage with his or her prospects? Hardly. Most organizations use CRM as a data repository to capture contact information and track sales activities against those contacts. There are very limited features in most CRM tools that help sales reps actively engage with leads.
  2. Can a marketing automation platform improve the one-on-one engagement activities of your sales reps? Not really. Marketing automation is more about large-scale reach and inbound marketing. Sure, you can create personalized, relevant landing pages and emails, but that’s not the same as one-to-one, person-to-person engagement and relationship building.

    The right martech solution will help you score leads and move the “sales qualified” ones over to sales quickly. However, marketing automation doesn’t empower individual sales rep to engage one-on-one with prospects and leads.
  3. Are your sales reps responding to new leads within minutes rather than days, and are they making a high enough volume of outreaches, based on a defined cadence, to engage with your target audience? Doubtful. Most salespeople take days to follow-up on new leads despite research showing conversion rates drop dramatically if the new lead isn’t contacted within an hour of a web form submission.

    Ask any marketer and he or she will tell you that the sales team doesn’t follow up on leads fast enough, and the leads become stale or lost to the competition. This problem occurs despite there already being a CRM in place. Clearly, a CRM solution alone doesn’t facilitate effective sales engagement.

So, What Is a Sales Engagement Solution?

First, let’s define what “sales engagement” means. This sales engagement definition on CIO.com is the perfect place to start:

“Sales engagement is more than just sales outreach (how many people sales teams are contacting). It also involves the quality of that outreach, the efficiency of prospecting activity, and the effectiveness of conversion efforts. Better sales engagement generates higher sales, a pretty straightforward correlation.”

CIO.com explains that the right sales engagement solution will provide the following must-have features to sales teams:

  • Sales content management — easily accessible product and marketing information — a content or document library — that provides content that sales reps can modify to address each prospect personally.
  • Integrated communication features — email, phone, SMS text, and web conferencing to meet a variety of prospect communication preferences.
  • Guided selling tools — dynamic call scripting, automated lead routing, sales cadence management, and other features that help guide the sales representative on what to do next in the sales call process.

Sales Engagement & Sales Enablement Platforms Can’t Do It All

Wouldn’t it be nice if the majority of your sales managerial woes could be alleviated with sales engagement and sales enablement software? Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Software alone can’t replace great management practices.

Sales leaders have to take an active role in ensuring their teams are primed and ready to crush their quotas. Sales engagement and sales enablement tools can facilitate efficiencies and productivity, but they don’t prepare people to bet better sales reps.

Here are tips to help you cultivate sales skills so that you and your team can maximize sales enablement and sales enagement technology.

Provide appropriate onboarding to new sales reps. Want to get the best sales performance out of your new hires? Ensure you’re sales organization has a solid onboarding program in place. CloserIQ offers the following food for thought when it comes to new rep onboarding best practices:

  1. Great onboarding should start before day one of the job. Call the person before his or her first day to welcome the new team member. Ensure all tech and tools are ready before they start. Finish up paperwork. Have a “welcome” kit awaiting them.
  2. Allow your new hires to get in-depth product training. Not only should you train them on the product itself, but you should also connect them with other departments who help build and market your offering. Arrange meetings for new reps with marketing, product management, development, and other teams who can give new hires insights into the why/how/what behind your product or service.
  3. Be realistic with your ramp-up time for onboarding and sales training.
  4. Give new reps the opportunity to see your best sales reps in action.
  5. Don’t forget training on your sales technology. Sales engagement, sales enablement, phone systems, and other tools may have their own learning curves.
  6. Connect new reps with current customers, so they can hear firsthand why customers use your brand’s offerings.
  7. Think about creating a mentorship program.

Provide ongoing sales training to existing team members. Even your rock star reps can learn a thing or two. After all, think about how quickly the buyer’s journey has evolved. The most effective sales teams will evolve with buyers. Keep your team’s sales readiness in mind and provide them with access to training on classic skills like cold calling as well as modern selling skills like social selling.

Commit to coaching. A lot of managers think of themselves as “coaches” or embracing a sales coaching mentality. However, very few embrace a systematic, formal approach to coaching. Sales coaching is one of the best ways to reinforce skills gained during training and to ensure salespeople understand how to be successful in your organization.

Forge an alliance with marketing. Marketing can be your greatest partner or an annoying department you have to “deal with,” and you share responsibility in how that relationship plays out if you’re the sales leader. Work with your marketing team to formalize “sales qualified leads” definitions. Talk to them about why leads they deliver may not work for your group. Ask them why they think the leads are good? Both of you may be missing important points — and therefore, missing sales opportunities. You may be tired of hearing about it, but sales and marketing alignment is important.

Create a formal sales playbook. Your sales team needs a formal, documented playbook. And remember — a playbook isn’t a training manual. A training manual builds skills. A playbook helps you take those skills and apply them to a winning sales strategy.

Your sales playbook should do the following for your sales team:

  • Get your sales team “customer ready”
  • Act as a living, centralized document that’s always up-to-date
  • Be measurable to help you assess it’s value
  • Provide your company with a high quality, structured sales process

Take content for sales seriously. Content isn’t just for marketing these days. Your sales engagement and sales enablement strategies rely, to a large degree, on the availability of well-written content for sales reps to use with potential customers.

Even the best sales engagement and sales enablement technology in the world will be ineffective if you haven’t armed your team with the content that leads and customers crave. Ensure you have the following types of sales content available to your team and their prospects:

  • eBooks and white papers
  • Informational and educational blog posts
  • Case studies
  • Customer testimonials
  • Interactive and multimedia content (videos, podcasts, and other audio-visual and interactive content)
  • Social media content
  • Other public-facing content (tip sheets, infographics, and more)

Also, take time to ensure your salespeople have access to important internal documents such as:

  • Personas
  • Sales scripts
  • Communication templates
  • Product training and mastery content
  • Competitor research and analysis
  • Analyst reports

Sales Enablement and Sales Engagement: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Although each of these sales platform has a different focus, sales enablement and sales engagement solutions complement one another. They both play a role in enabling the sales team to engage effectively with prospects and customers to meet revenue goals.

In the case of your sales enablement efforts, work with other internal departments to ensure sales enablement is part of the corporate culture. Work with other executives and managers to find a sales enablement platform that the overall sales efforts and goals.

When it comes to sales engagement solutions, the choice is up to your sales management team. You own the one-on-one conversations and relationships during the sales cycle. You could limp along with a CRM-only approach, but at what cost? Demand the sales engagement platform that will make every conversation count and move the lead closer to a sale.


Want to learn more about the sales engagement solution listed as an Innovator in the Aragon Research Globe for Sales Engagement Platforms, 2019? Contact VanillaSoft today to schedule a demonstration or get started with your free trial.


Darryl Praill

Darryl Praill, Chief Marketing Officer of VanillaSoft, is a high-tech marketing executive with over 25 years’ experience spanning startups, re-starts, consolidations, acquisitions, divestments and IPO’s. He has been widely quoted in the media including television, press, and trade publications. He is a guest lecturer, public speaker, and radio personality and has been featured in numerous podcasts, case studies, and best-selling books.

Praill is a former recipient of the coveted Forty Under 40 Award, and has held senior executive roles in leading companies including Sybase, Cognos (now IBM), webPLAN (now Kinaxis), and CML Emergency Services (now AIRBUS). He has raised over $50 million in venture funding across multiple organizations and consulted with world-class corporations including Salesforce, SAP, and Nielsen. He is a Computer Science graduate from Sheridan College.

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