Sales Enablement Organizational Design: Ownership, Reporting Structure and Ratios
- by Elay Cohen
- June 14, 2022
SalesHood - Sales Enablement Platform
For many organizations, how enablement teams are structured and where they live are not standardized. The function and processes are so new there are no organizational standards yet. These are a big unknown for many executives. Sales, marketing and c-level Leaders often ask me questions like:
The answers to all of these questions is: It depends.
The factors that make it impossible to answer with certainty are the unknowns of the people, politics, and power base in the company. We need to look at the skills of our leaders and employees to understand where enablement can be most effective. We need to understand how decisions are made to ensure the organizational political realities will be an enabler of the enablement team’s success versus a hindrance. And we need to understand where the power base is in the company. All these factors will guide us to create a better organizational structure. How we staff our enablement team and align our people with each other will be a big contributor to their success. The goal of this chapter is to explore the different organizational design scenarios and determine a way to decide what’s best for you and your company.
The first question we’re going to tackle is how many sales enablement team members should I hire? The answer is dependent on your company, goals, industry and competitive landscape. More complex products and more geo-distributed workforces will need more enablement.
Here are some enablement-to-employee ratios to consider. For every hundred employees, you should have an enablement person. When products are more complex and new markets are being opened, you should over-invest in enablement and have ratios be as low as one for every fifty or even one for every twenty-five employees. Here is some specific guidance.
Enablement/Sales Team Ratios
100% remote teams
> 40% year over year growth
Teams are not remote
The next question we get asked is how to structure the sales enablement team and how should it be organized. Every company is different, and all sales organizations are different. Every company and organization is structured differently – can you think of any two companies that are exactly alike and function the same? Even if they are similar, their goals, employee skills, internal politics, sales goals, and values will vary.
Who owns sales enablement should be decided based on many factors:
Your company structure, sales process, and internal culture will all play a role in deciding who owns it. The most important thing to remember is that sales enablement can live anywhere and be owned by one or many teams. It just all depends on the above factors.
First, let’s talk a bit about how the sales enablement team should be structured. This depends on the size of your company. Let’s say you have a very large company, with over one thousand employees across many departments. Your sales enablement team would have to branch out in order to have a powerful and meaningful impact.
In such large organizations, sales enablement needs a lot of supporting pillars that coordinate with each other and every other department.
They will be involved in:
All of these different support pillars would have a competent, credibly and motivated leaders who report to a central head of sales enablement. This can be a separate entity, or this role can be taken over by anyone close to one of your main teams. The structure of such a team would look something like this:
Enablement Team Leader
It’s to be expected that if sales enablement reports to the CRO, their focus is going to be revenue, and if they report to the CMO they’re going to be more marketing-focused. What is best to focus on in your organization?
Don’t think that sales enablement has to stay in one place all the time – as its role changes throughout the company structure, it’s perfectly okay to move it from let’s say sales to the HR department if your expectations change. It’s important to communicate your goals and structure clearly to everyone who is involved.
It’s important to understand that the success of the sales enablement team, whoever owns it, depends on the individuals you have chosen to lead the teams and be responsible for its performance. You have to match the tasks with the leader’s understanding of goals, priorities, best practices, and company needs.
The short answer to the question who should the sales enablement team report to is: It depends. Sales enablement can live anywhere and be owned by anyone. Sales, marketing, HR, and it can even be a company-wide initiative. It can report to a dedicated sales enablement officer, or the CEO, CMO, or CRO. It all depends on who your people are, what your goals are, and how you work.
The most important question you should ask yourself when securing a place for sales enablement is “what stage is my company at right now, and what do I need sales enablement to accomplish?”.
This might seem like an intuitive thing to do – after all, sales enablement enables sales, so the best place for it might be at the same table with the sales reps. There’s a lot of obvious benefits to this choice. When sales enablement is owned by sales, they become a mean, lean sales-focused machine.
This is the most common solution. They have direct contact with the sales team and focus on what really matters to them. Having sales enablement in the sales department helps to align the enablement team with the sales leaders, and streamline applicable solution to the sales reps.
Alternately, there are cons to this choice. You are in danger of excluding the rest of your organization and being pigeonholed in the same box as sales. The focus of sales enablement should be on the whole company, and the most successful teams work across the lines. It’s harder to make other departments be involved with sales enablement – most of them think that “it’s not about them”.
There is a false sense that sales enablement is only done for sales, which is not true because some of the best success stories of sales enablement include other departments and holistic growth.
In some organizational structures, enablement lives in sales/revenue operations when that group is run by a strong leader who get enablement. As companies mature and grow, it makes sense to put enablement under sales operations to inform priorities with data. There are some significant benefits to having enablement map directly to sales operations. Getting close to metrics gives good focus and priority direction to the enablement team. I do believe ultimately sales enablement and revenue operations should very closely aligned. When sales enablement is reporting to revenue operations, initiatives that are run and executed are more easily measured against performance.
There is, however, a con to this organizational structure: under the wrong leadership and leadership style, enablement could be relegated to a training function and lose its impact and productivity punch. A vice president of sales operations with an enablement person under their organizational structure will potentially misrepresent and not highlight the real value of enablement. Investments will be at risk. We also tend to see sales operational leaders focus on metrics too much. There is a human side to enablement that is a must, and sometimes the operational folks miss that part of the job.
When sales enablement reports to marketing, there are many things that can go right – but there are also some things to be wary of. Marketing is an exciting department, full of stories, deadlines, goals, and dreams. They seem to have a life of their own, and there is a lot of good work that can be done in sales enablement with a marketing team at the helm.
Some things that can be a true success when marketing is in charge include:
Marketers are natural content creators – this can be used as a powerful tool for sales enablement. Sales enablement ties all the best aspects of sales and marketing together in order to supercharge your sales process. This type of enablement best works for an organization that has a very complex variety of products or services.
The more great content generated about these products and services, the more knowledge and sales training can be applied to not only the sales team but the whole organization. Having just-in-time knowledge about the right product at the right time can translate to immediate progress for the salespeople.
The only thing to watch out for is that while awesome for sales training and content creation, an enablement group that reports to sales is in danger to being streamlined to serve marketing itself more than sales.
A great marketing department sometimes becomes like Narcissus – they focus on themselves a bit too much. There’s a danger of the sales enablement becoming misaligned with sales and revenue and too focused on the needs of the marketing department.
The human resources team is a great place for sales enablement to live if you want to concentrate on education and assessment of your whole staff. HR is very good at getting to the roots in your organization – from the ground up. As a given, they have the necessary tools to change company culture and will use them in order to make sales enablement an important backbone. Sheevaun Thatcher, VP of Learning and Enablement at RingCentral became one of the first sales enablement leaders to successfully have their HR team take notice of what they were doing and apply their principles to the rest of the organization. They prioritized peer accelerated learning, manager coaching, modern learning principles as a growth lever, culture builder and revenue driver across the entire company.
If you associate human resources with boring training videos and safety protocols, you should take a look at how human resource departments are rebranding themselves. They are game-changers, driving company philosophy, and enabling employees by nature. If you have a passionate HR department, they might be one of your best sales enablement secret weapons, getting sales and marketing, staff and management alike hyped up and ready to make meaningful changes across the whole organization.
Of course, sometimes the cons of switching responsibility for sales enablement to HR is that the whole process becomes more about training and getting everyone on board rather than enabling in real-time. Human resources have an interest in onboarding, training and are great at scaling – but sometimes they can get too wrapped up in that and not focus on the competitive side of the sales teams. Sales and marketing teams tend to be dismissive of human resources as not hungry enough, or aggressive. This might hurt the overall credibility of a sales enablement team that reports to HR.
The biggest takeaway we hope you’re walking with after reading this blog is there is no right answer to this question because every organization is different. The right organization team structure will vary by company. Consider your goals, people, and executive personalities when evaluating where the enablement team should live organizationally and how to structure the team.
Enablement can live with sales or marketing. Put it in sales in the early days when productivity and metrics aren’t being met. Move it to sales/revenue operations as the program and team mature. It can live in marketing if a company is focused on product enablement and releasing many products all the time. Keeping marketing accountable for enablement is a natural extension of the product marketing role. It’s also okay to move it to human resources after a center of sales excellence is officiated and there is consensus around the organization that sales teams are leading the way to drive improved employee productivity.
Regardless, never forget that Enablement is a team activity. Done right, enablement brings teams together in a collaborative fashion to solve problems and improve employee productivity.
Next, read the blog on What is Sales Operations to learn more about sales operations strategy.
See It In ActionWatch Demo