The Voices of Enablement interview series brings together leading thought leaders and practitioners to discuss how to secure executive support, improve sales productivity, and drive commercial success in a volatile economic climate.
Tom George is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Gomo Consulting, a specialty practice focused on B2B go-to-market strategy, product marketing and sales enablement. He comes with 35 years of experience testing, learning and winning in B2B go-to-market. At GoMo Consulting, he works closely with leaders and teams to improve B2B sales performance.
Tom firmly believes that sales enablement can impact both the topline and the bottomline of an organization. Let’s dig deeper into Tom’s take on how to elevate the role of sales enablement in an uncertain economic climate.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Don’t fire the coach
Sales enablement is a force multiplier.
More precisely, they are the multiplier, not the force.
In a startup, for example, enablement is typically not the first hire. There is usually a sales team in place first. As the company gets to stage B or C, that's when the team starts thinking about adding a force multiplier.
Also, the prerequisite for hiring any sales role, including enablement, is demand for the company’s offerings. If a company is not generating demand, forget hiring enablers, they shouldn’t even be hiring sellers.
Sales Enablement is a relatively new role, and the benefits aren’t yet recognized by many executives. As a result, while enablement is considered nice to have when a company is growing, it is often the first thing they get rid of when things get tough, as we saw post-pandemic.
However, before eliminating Sales Enablement as a force multiplier in a downturn, the performance of the sales team has to be assessed. Look at the productivity metrics.
- How many people are hitting quota?
- What's the win rate for the deals?
- Can they improve the conversion rate?
Many companies are in this situation where two people are crushing it in a team of 10 people, and everybody else is struggling. In such cases, the answer is not to hire an eleventh seller. It's about getting these eight sellers to be more productive.
Enablement can help you articulate this goal and the steps required to achieve it.
Sellers need to know how to sell their products. They need to be consuming the training and the content. Improving sales efficacy directly equates to the skills and competency rating.
One thing that happens with sales teams, especially smaller ones, is that several lone sellers are out there making hay. The implicit perception is that these sellers can continue doing this even when things slow down. In contrast, the merit of sales enablement, sharing best practices, learning and identifying deficiencies, etc., is not considered as critical.
A sales enabler is a coach. Forward-thinking companies are slowly realizing that you don't get rid of your coaches when you hit a losing slump. This is the right time to help them do better at their jobs and think about sales enablement as a function to support the sales team to perform better and relieve some of the pressure on managers.
Enablement in action
To demonstrate the value of enablement, it is necessary to articulate what is happening differently now from before. While that can be a challenge, we can leverage some metrics.
The two foundational metrics here are improving ramp time and tracking usage of training and content.
Of course, however, if you're not adding new sellers, ramp time is not an issue. And, monitoring the usage of training and content, while a good leading indicator, isn't strategic enough.
So, it is essential to tie training and content to more strategic goals such as revenue growth.
For instance, in 2015 and 2016, I was the metrics lead for a Sales Enablement team at Cisco. The first deliverable I created was building a reporting system in Tableau that tracked the usage of training and content. As we rolled it out, we tied it to specific strategic initiatives, such as product launches.
The next step here was proactively reporting what we were seeing in the pipeline around the product launch and the product line. We could report to sales management who had signed up for MBOs (Management by Objectives) to support the product launch and this strategic initiative around attach rate. We were building content and training and delivering it to support the product launch and increase the attach rates.
Working with Sales Ops to do this takes the team being proactive to say that the leading indicators are fundamental to getting on track. You will only hit the numbers if the reps know how to sell.
You have to be clear on the end goal, align with the strategic outcomes, and create visibility into how to get there.
Metrics, methodology, and enablement
While ramp time and tracking usage capabilities are the baseline, the next focus should be, “How do I help sellers get better at selling?”
There are two sets of metrics around sales efficacy that are very tactical but can be highly impactful.
1. Rating system for sales competencies
Establish a rating system around sales competencies. This is a coaching rubric with a set of competencies specific to each role. These competencies will differ from company to company based on the nature of the sale.
For an Account Executive, these include discovery, meeting management, active listening, negotiation, etc. Some enablers get down to what are the expected behaviors that support each of the competencies. For instance, reframing open questions is a great way to support active listening.
So, it is how you apply the rating system that can really make a difference.
So, it is how you apply the rating system that can really make a difference. My rule for sellers as an enabler is, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” So I typically don’t apply the competency rating to A sellers.
Enablement is trying to take your C sellers, make them B sellers, and turn your B sellers into A sellers. If you're dealing with somebody underperforming, establish the competency rating with sales management.
For instance, you assess a seller and say, “Here are the areas where you're struggling. Let's focus on that.” The objective is not to look at the rating system and its results. It is to say, “I worked with the sales manager, and I worked with the C sellers, and we are starting to see the results of their performance.”
The rating system can also serve as an offboarding mechanism for underperforming sellers.
If you demonstrate that the seller is improving, they will ultimately close more deals.
2. Deal-scoring mechanism
Another powerful and fairly easy metric is a deal-scoring mechanism based on sales methodology. Deal scoring is typically considered a Sales Ops function for forecast accuracy. First, every company must establish a sales methodology and basic vocabulary that is standard for the company. While there are a lot of sales methodologies, there is no single right way. It is whatever you create, implement, and make work for your company.
To begin with deal scoring, maybe keep it to just five questions that are directly related to your sales methodology. So, if you use MEDDPICC, here are a couple of examples:
- Does the buyer have a pain point that we can address?
- Is the economic buyer brought into our proposal?
When asking these questions, scoring must be straightforward. A minus one, zero, and one work great. Typically, everything starts as -1 on new opportunities.
Now, if the seller gets a total of 4 or 5 at the end of five questions, they can move that deal into the pipeline and commit. This creates visibility into whether there really is a deal there or not. It also help reinforce your sales methodology.
Why buyer stage visibility matters
I started with a product marketing background, and early in my career, I worked for four different companies. The last one of those was a very early-stage SaaS company where I was running marketing. It was all about demand generation, and as my first time managing Sales Development, I had to get on the phone, talk to people, manage a team, and own a number. It was a big learning curve.
But, what we learned when implementing CRM was to establish the sales process across different stages. We then realized we should see what was converting at each stage.
So, this translated to when we ran a campaign, we started asking, where are things falling out? Over three years, we refined it so that, eventually, we knew that if we spent ten grand on a marketing campaign, we would get a handful of opportunities, and 40% of those would close. Eventually, that made the company profitable, and that enabled us to go out and sell the company.
This is a super powerful mechanism, but it's used sparingly. Here’s why:
1. CRM systems, such as Salesforce and Dynamic CRM, don't automatically capture the data. Specifically, they do not capture the date when an opportunity enters a new stage. You can see a snapshot today of how many deals and the value at each stage, but you can't look back and see last month's or last year's value of the percentage of deals that converted at each stage. A simple fix to add a stage date field and have it automatically populated.
But you can't look back and see last month's or last year's value, nor can you see what flowed through. A simple fix to add a stage date field and have it automatically populated.
2. The quality of the data is dependent on the sales reps.
If reps are not capturing the data accurately, the system will not work efficiently.
Moving the needle
As you can see from the example above, having a diagnostic mechanism to see where you should focus is crucial.
Most methodologies focus on the discovery and qualification stage. And that is understandable. But, there are lot of stages after that too.
So, once you have discovery and qualification really nailed down, shift your focus to the stages that follow.
Ask yourself, “Where is my biggest need.” You can do this for an individual seller or the whole team.
The conversion rate, phase to phase, through each stage of the sales process is a metric I've used in the past, but don’t see being used by a lot of companies today.
It is common to see marketing teams look at their channels, measure conversion rates and get to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL). Also, there might be some tracking of the percentage of MQL that turned to Sales-Qualified Opportunities (SQO).
One thing to do is to have marketing own that SQO number.
You don't want marketing creating a thousand leads with 5% conversion. You want them to create a hundred leads with 50% conversion.
So, you get a lot more time to work on those good leads.
I don't see companies measure and qualify conversions stage by stage, which is a crucial diagnostic of how well the team is doing.
You need some deal flow and some time to get this is up and running. But, once in place, it will tell you where to focus and also become a mechanism to measure ROI.
For instance, how do you improve the conversion rate at the demonstration stage?
Run an enablement program to improve demonstration capabilities.
Whatever the changes required, the needle needs to move. If you're not seeing that, you need to do more.
So, it is both a diagnostic tool and a means of measuring ROI.
In lockstep with RevOps and other teams
Organizations in the past had isolated departments, similar to the separation between sales and marketing. Usually, RevOps sits in one corner, while enablement sits with the sales team on the other side of the room.
The best companies merge them very well, but many don’t. Team silos is an issue that doesn’t seem to go away.
I used to say that my objective is to create a bridge between marketing and sales. However, that's not the right way to think about this. It is to create an engine across different functions. It's not just marketing and sales; it's product marketing, content marketing, growth marketing, sales ops or rev ops, sales enablement, and sales management.
You have to get them all working together. For example, Rev Ops and Sales Enablement have to be in lockstep.
How do you do that?
One thing that is very effective at companies good at GTM, such as Microsoft, Cisco, etc., is that they have cross-functional teams representing all the different functions. They still report to their functional teams, but these cross-functional teams, comprising leads, managers, directors, etc., had ownership of segment performance.
In addition, they have a cross-functional scorecard of metrics to articulate and create visibility into how they are doing in the market by asking the right questions.
- How are we doing in the market?
- What was our performance in the last quarter?
- What's our market share?
- What's our market size?
- Who are our target companies?
- Are we seeing the trends of some critical metrics going up?
The team owned that didn't have marketers saying, “Oh, MQL is done, pitch it over the fence.”
So, building visibility into how you're doing in your target markets is one way to overcome the isolation of different teams. Create teams that meet every week. They can do monthly or quarterly readouts to management on segment performance.
When you're a B-stage startup, you need to pick the things that you're going to focus on.
GTM leaders and sales leaders often see enablement as a good to have when you're growing, but some of them would also rather add another salesperson to the team than hire a sales enabler when things slow down.
Fortunately, with time, people are becoming more aware that instead of getting rid of the coach to get another player, it makes more sense to increase the productivity of the existing team with a competent coach – the enablement function.