Sales training and sales enablement both empower salespeople with the skills and resources they need to close more deals. But that doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable. 

You’ve hired a team of talented, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed sales reps. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and as their sales leader, it makes you want to do everything you can to set them up for success. You know, in your heart, that the perfunctory sales training and onboarding process your company uses, just won't cut it

Today, deal cycles are longer and more complex, prospects and buyers are more informed, and competition is fierce. With remote selling being added to the mix, sales reps need enhanced knowledge and skills more than ever before, to better engage with prospects, delight customers, and keep closing deals.  

When your sales team meets with the proper training and the right enablement tools, everyone wins. Sales training and sales enablement have different definitions and implications for your team’s development. Training & enablement work together, but they each serve separate purposes. And no, they aren’t interchangeable. Sales training is to sales enablement, what attending a language course is to living in a foreign country. 

What is sales training?

Sales training is the process of teaching sales reps selling skills and strategies that will help them generate more closed deals. Sales training focuses on: 

  • Optimized processes for maximum efficiency and sales

  • Deal coaching

  • The art of negotiation

There are generally two types of sales training programs.

The first is product sales training. This covers the product knowledge your sales reps need in order to sell your products or services. It consists of all the practical and technical details of what you sell, from service-level agreements to technical specifications. These types of training sessions are aimed to make your salespeople understand what they’re selling, and give them the confidence to help prospects with any questions they may have, driving prospects’ purchasing decisions.

The second type is process sales training. This teaches salespeople the procedures your organization uses to conduct the sales process. It consists of both philosophies (sales culture) and institutional exercises that are unique to your business. Process training covers everything from the type of sales tools you use to the sales strategies and soft skills salespeople need to use as they interact with prospects.

The most obvious benefit of good sales training is a boost in revenue. Well-trained sales reps can close more deals, faster. Training is also a great platform to better communicate within the organization - it's easier to discuss products, processes and methodologies during training because your reps are insulated from their other duties, and you have their undivided attention. If you've identified kinks and problems, it also works as a great remedial tool. 

The downside, however, is that training is often considered as paid time off by sales reps. Understandable, right? It is time away from the usual grind, and people tend to be more relaxed. This can affect what (and how much) they take away from training. There is also the distance, figuratively speaking, between the classroom and the real world. Often, salespeople revert to their old ways of doing things the moment they step out of training. 

While the ROI of well-designed sales training is often quite high, it doesn’t change the fact that creating a top-quality sales training program may require a significant upfront investment. Also, the quality of the training depends entirely on the trainer’s qualifications. If your trainer is not great at interpersonal skills, lacks industry experience, or isn’t sold on your sales processes, the results might not be worth the expense. 

What is sales enablement?

Contrary to popular belief, sales enablement isn’t just a fancy buzzword for sales training. Although it does encompass sales training, the scope is much larger. Sales enablement is a strategic approach to enhancing sales performance that requires participation from the entire organization—not just the sales department.

Sales enablement is all about providing sales reps and sales managers alike with the information, content, and tools they need to perform at the highest possible level. This begins with details about the buyer’s journey and buyer personas, market and industry intelligence, enablement content such as sales call templates and product guides, tools designed to optimize an organization’s sales process, and continuous feedback from product teams and user groups. The focus is on: 

  • Improving the sales process

  • Testing and implementing effective technology

  • Tracking and utilizing data analytics

In many ways, the sales enablement team serves as the research and development arm of your sales department, regularly looking into new strategies, market updates, tools, and tactics that are designed to optimize a company’s sales performance. 

Sales enablement helps unify the sales and marketing teams towards a common goal. Customer insights and data are freely shared between the two teams, which leads to streamlined messaging from all quarters of your company. With access to better quality data, tools and industry information, sales reps can perform their tasks more efficiently and build a stronger case for your product to the prospect. 

However, it is expensive. Good data and great people aren't cheap! Additionally, implementing sales enablement measures can be a challenge as it is a break from the norm in your organization, and requires additional effort from groups that don't see a clear 'what's in it for me. The process of sales enablement typically requires testing, training, learning, and implementing new tools and strategies, which requires dedicated and motivated monitoring, from someone deeply invested in the program's success. 

Why do you need both

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. The effects of training are linear - you added a new training module, and you can measure the effect almost instantly. A new trainer - immediate effect. It is also a lot less expensive. It is, however, limited in its effect, and requires repetition when the change you're looking to bring about is a cultural one. 

Sales enablement, on the other hand, is systemic. It involves buy-in from a larger group and a continued commitment from all parties involved. However, once you've set it in motion (and created the ecosystem that monitors progress), it brings you ever-increasing returns. 

No organization is the same, but in my experience, Sales Training and Sales Enablement when used together, make sales teams stronger. They are two sides of the same coin - different but complementary. Each amplifies the effect of the other. 

A strong enablement team is what allows the seller to sell. Sales training is what instils the behaviours that lead to better sales outcomes.  As selling and buying become more complex, you need help in navigating these changes for your teams by giving them the tools they need (sales training) and then making it very, very easy to apply them (sales enablement).  

I don't need to tell you that the world is changing and that disruption is the new norm. You see it every day. Sales were hard even when you were engaging with clients in-person, in the same time zone, with a clear understanding of the market, the competitive landscape, and your product. In the shifting sands of the SaaS landscape in a post-pandemic global marketplace, your team can use all the help and support you can get them.