Every salesperson has experienced that moment when a prospect is interested and a little extra something will close the deal. But if your sales team’s promises set expectations that differ from the company’s strategic plan, long-term trust and credibility will be sacrificed for a shorter sales cycle—and a quicker road to a commission.

When this happens, it reveals less about the skill of the salespeople than it does about the need for a clear sales enablement strategy. While everyone acknowledges the need to equip the sales department with the information and tools to understand buyers, providing these often takes a back seat to demand generation activities. Salespeople are left to beg for help or simply figure out the answers on their own.

An effective sales enablement program provides salespeople with the information, content, and tools that help them sell more effectively throughout the buyer’s journey. This includes everything from sales sheets and infographics to providing the best practices and research that back up sales efforts. It extends to analyzing sales key performance indicators (KPIs) and resource effectiveness to optimize future sales initiatives.

These efforts create a sales team that is not dependent on a few heavy hitters, but one in which everyone is ready and equipped to contribute. With an effective sales enablement program, salespeople are ready with the return-on-investment (ROI) calculator, comparison table, or whatever the buyer needs. Plan for Empowerment

Strong sales enablement compresses sales cycles, increases conversion rates, and improves sales productivity. Building it into your organization requires four actions:

1. Allocate marketing resources (human and financial) to sales enablement. Sales success hinges on establishing deep relationships with prospects. After marketing has earned the lead, the sales team must strengthen the connection and land the sale.

Too often, though, sales must spend its time finding answers to every question. Relationships with prospects inevitably remain shallow when the sales team’s energy is spent creating sales assets and product messaging.

To break this cycle, marketing must develop an arsenal of assets that the sales department needs. Armed with insights from market research and lead generation campaigns, marketing is well-equipped to provide sales sheets, talking points, decks, or infographics. The marketing team should allocate at least one person whose role is to support and enable the sales team in this way.

2. Make it easy to find existing sales collateral and assets (and to request more). Creating a clear, simple process is half the battle in sales enablement. And it begins with an easy-to-follow process for engaging a lead.

Salespeople should be able to easily find content—case studies, pricing and discounts, references, etc.—in a centralized library. Within that content library, make it obvious where to go to find the best assets for each stage in the buyer’s journey. Clearly identify, for example, which documents should be sent to a new lead and which resources work best to lure prospects who are currently with the competition.

Additionally, marketing must include a process for requesting new resources. If they do not currently have what they need, how do they request it? If a new resource will not be created, provide the reasoning behind the decision. Creating a clear process will smooth the lines of communication and strengthen support without forcing sales to overwhelm marketing with requests.

3. Use smart tools to share content effectively. With more content at their fingertips, though, salespeople can easily be overwhelmed trying to find the most relevant information. In these situations, salespeople use the content haphazardly or ignore it altogether. Salesforce has found that 85 percent of the marketing department’s content goes unused simply because the sales team does not have the time to sort out what is the most helpful.

This is where a smart library comes in. Tools such as Highspot, Brainshark, ClearSlide, and Seismic use artificial intelligence to streamline document management. This software can flag content and provide advanced search functions, making it easier for salespeople to find what they need.

4. Move from enablement to empowerment. Successful sales enablement programs thrive when they are championed by the sales team. The marketing team developing a content repository is not enough.

Top salespeople should collaborate with marketing and help train their peers to enforce the message with the entire team. Sales leadership should include sales enablement engagement in professional development targets, as well as consistent training in how to best leverage sales enablement and tracking of sales collateral and resource use.

The relationship between marketing and sales is the foundation of a company’s growth strategy. By establishing a sales enablement program, even the newest salespeople will be surprised at what they can accomplish.

Christine Alemany is the CEO at TBGA. She has a passion for helping early- to mid-stage companies grow and scale. Alemany has more than 19 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programs, and launching products for start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. In addition to her work at TBGA, she advises start-ups through Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurial Sounding Board and is a teaching fellow at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center.

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