Our guest for this episode is Braxton Carr, the Director of Revenue Enablement at UserGems. UserGems helps sales and marketing teams reach their revenue targets with minimal stress and a better, more qualified pipeline.
In the interview, Braxton talks about making enablement into a strategic function as the first step toward solidifying its position. He also shares examples of how proactive enablement and customized coaching can be key to elevating rep performance and driving revenue growth.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Make enablement a strategic function
Enablement is a strategic function and needs to be viewed as such.
It’s a red flag if organizations consider enablement responsible only for handling materials and synthesizing them into bullet points. In such cases, enablement will be the first to get cut when things get tough.
It’s why we see a ton of enablement is now rolling up to the VP of RevOps. As an enabler, the closer you are to RevOps, the more you can substantiate the value of whatever you are doing.
In fact, enablement is only as good as your cross-functional partners. Talk to Revenue Enablement and meet with the heads of Sales, Sales Development, and Customer Success to understand:
- How important do they think coaching is to their team? Are they aware of the areas of improvement within their own cycles and processes today?
- What is the level of buy-in? The way to scale enablement is not to hire a team of 10 enablers. It is done by getting the managers and the team involved in their coaching and development. In this setup, the enablement team can be quite small.
- How do they respond to being led by someone that does not necessarily have the authority to lead?
As an enabler, you need to come on board with a firm plan on what you will do, the core benefits, and the business-level outcomes.
If the organization views enablement as reactive, you must evaluate whether you can get in there and change that perspective.
Reactive vs proactive enablement
You will be in trouble if your enablement department is seen as a support function. Here’s an example.
Let's say you run a sales team. The RVP says that you are having a considerable slowdown in the mid-funnel. There are two ways in which the enablement team can tackle this issue:
In scenario one, the manager of the team, who probably has a lot on his plate already, will look for topical information, listen to a couple of calls, and try to understand why this slowdown is happening. For example, he may come to the conclusion that reps are not setting the agenda well. He will then reach out to the enablement team to help them create a training on meeting agenda.
But, there's no proof in this pudding.
This is why many enablement departments are always on their heels because they're treated as an appendix to the whims and fancies of the sales team.
In proactive enablement, your enablement team is already aware of the mid-funnel slow down because they are looking at the data. This may include Salesforce reports and Gong scorecards.
If they have consistently scored reps’ calls, they know areas where they are struggling. Additionally, if enablers actively coach the reps, they have a list of competencies they are working on and the skills that need improvement.
In the example above, you can say, “Based on the data, it really seems as though we're not doing a good job storytelling our value proposition. This is the solution, and here's how we can coach long-term.”
So, instead of the managers coming to enablement and asking for help when it's already too late, you can get ahead of the problem and approach them with solutions.
Now, you're not a support function because you're responsible for identifying gaps before they become problems and closing those gaps via ongoing coaching.
Going beyond random acts of enablement
Proactive enablement requires a process in place with the team. For instance, we have a consistent process for coaching reps.
The first thing our reps do each week is leave feedback on their call. Why? Because if I leave the feedback first, it's just me barking at them. If the reps leave the feedback first, you are driving introspection.
The reps score their call, followed by the assigned coach. Then, we host a live coaching session personalized to the rep. Based on the recorded call and feedback, we discuss what went wrong. Next, we tie this to functional competency.
Let’s assume I'm currently working with a rep on setting an agenda. We discuss how the call went down and areas for improvement. The rep can then offer proof of trying this new process. Once done, the sales leader and I review progress in these competencies and how it affects conversion rates.
This situation can be extrapolated to host practice sessions for the whole team based on where they are struggling.
Enablement feels like a series of random acts when you are constantly on your heels. There needs to be a structure where you are consistently coaching, reviewing, and seeing how the data is affected.
Enabling other aspects of the sales process and not just the calls starts with evaluating reps on a numeric scale.
Build a list of competencies or qualities of the perfect rep. Some of these are attributes while on calls, while others could include nurturing, forecasting, and multithreading.
Here are the three main data points I look at when evaluating reps:
- The activity within the deal and the timing of each stage tell the story of how reps run deals.
- Leverage the Gong forecast. When looking at deals for reps, bring these into your coaching sessions. Data points from these scorecards, such as responsiveness, also provide information outside the deal.
- Performance on calls.
These three criteria create a rep’s firmographic profile. I use a simple scoring mechanism.
Let’s assume the perfect rep is a two in all aspects. If there are nine aspects you have in mind, the best possible score is 18. All reps will not hit this top score. What we want to do is ensure each rep reaches at least a 12. This can be done through customized coaching.
A big part of customized coaching is understanding the firmographic profile of the rep and coach based on that.
While no two reps will run the deal the same way, what you want to coach toward is accentuating their strengths on the call while working on the glaring weaknesses. Consider the areas of improvement and figure out how to tie them to their strengths.
Define what’s ‘good’ for reps to get better
Enablement needs to customize coaching and coach continuously at the micro level. It's customized coaching for each rep that moves the needle.
When was the last time an Enabler or a Sales Manager sat with reps and discussed their strengths and focus areas? “Let's coach you on the things you don't do well. This is how we're going to do that instead.”
It's usually been, “Hey, we're about to do this cold call coaching session. Everyone will be there. Come join the call.” There's probably something that they could glean from a program, but most of the progress will come when it's personalized.
Let’s assume you have just rolled out a data test review call for your company. You don't have a demo because it works in the background, but you want to use the data as proof.
Before you roll anything out, think about what good looks like on this call.
If you roll this out and there are no examples of what good looks like, it won’t happen. Reps will hear it once, and then they're going to do their own thing.
This happens frequently at startups because they build the sales process as they sell.
You want this to be delivered to them in their workflow or typed into the data test scorecard to auto-populate.
So anytime you roll anything out, the first thing you think about is for each of those points, do you have an example that reflects how that works?
Different reps shine at distinct categories of that scorecard. It's unrealistic to think that all reps will be a 10 in every category. Many reps are ten in one category, six in another, and four in a third.
Can you get all your reps to be at least an eight in every category?
Introspection and incentives
Selling is hard. There are no ifs and buts about it.
If you are in the selling game, it's not about making more money.
You want to get better so that it's not perpetually uphill. Think about how valuable it is if you are great at sales and the process feels natural. The money then becomes a byproduct of improving to the point where the game slows.
But making coaching palatable for reps is not easy, especially if they feel like it's a skill they already have. Often, if reps are directly told they are not great at X, they might rebuff you. But, if reps come to you and have to introspect about how they can improve, there’ll be instant buy-in because reps detest generalized training.
What do you think sellers want the most?
They simply want to sell.
The goal should be to give reps the time, skills and resources to sell in the easiest, most conducive environment. If they work with you and improve, their environment will consistently be conducive for closing easily, autonomously, and effectively.
When you start at a new company, especially when creating a new department, you need to start with the vision and work backwards. You need to give thought to the framework of the house. If you don't, it's akin to dropping a ton of bricks and expecting it to sprout into a house.
Revenue leadership and sales managers often just look at the total close for the quarter. But, considering the variability of closed deals is essential because it creates a predictable revenue pipeline. If startups can do that, they can survive the current economic landscape with highly accurate forecasts and reduced churn and burn.
Why would a rep leave a situation where they can close consistently with relative ease?
Replicating the behavior of top reps
Enablement comes down to replicating the best skills of your reps across all of them individually.
The basic idea is to win the deals that are winnable. The ones that are tough to win will always be 50-50. However, if the ICP is set, the marketing is good, and the deals are clearly geared toward buying the product, your win rate should be stable across the team.
If it's not, you need to evaluate why your A player is doing what they're doing and trickle that down.
If enablement is reactive, it's never going to happen. Managers don’t have the time to psychoanalyze every rep on the team, break it down into data points, and create the rollout over time.
Many enablers feel that enablement has become a support role instead of a strategic one. It does not have to be that way.
Ultimately you want to be in a position where you win all the deals you should win. For instance, if you develop a path, and nudge your prospect, they will respond and drive toward it. If you don't, the deal will languish and slow down.
Enablement is just selling outcomes internally.
Elevating the role of enablement
Managers call enablers, saying, “I saw a LinkedIn article on agenda setting. I think we should train on it.” Or it could be, “I just had a call with a rep, he's not very good at X, so we're going to have a training on that.”
Typically, follow-up information exists on a Notion page somewhere, but there's no way to track the content searchability by the user. If reps can’t find the information in Notion, questions are asked on Slack. The trail goes cold here because there's no feedback loop. Without a structured process or data to drive the follow-up learning, all training is ad-hoc.
This is why enablement departments feel like they're in a support role.
It does not matter whether you are hiring a lot of reps or not. The center of enablement should be coaching and the key question is how can you leverage that coaching into consistency?
To work, the flywheel of enablement needs to answer a few questions consistently. Otherwise, it will rely on guesswork and fall apart.
If the training is delivered live, you need to ask the following:
- How are follow-up knowledge and assets being delivered to reps?
- What type of questions are reps asking about the assets and knowledge?
Often training is delivered asynchronously. If online, we need feedback on how to conceptualize that knowledge. This leads to:
- How are reps conceptualizing knowledge and assets?
- How are reps applying the knowledge and assets?
Analyzing this data leads back to what and how we coach, and the flywheel starts again.
The shift to rep-centric enablement
Achieving rep-centric enablement is the goal.
When live training is delivered, reps are going to start calling prospects. We immediately know how they are applying that knowledge via Gong. Having a revenue team knowledge base allows us to see the type of search queries.
- What areas of the scorecard are they doing well on?
- What's being asked since we rolled things out?
- What's working and what's not?
- Are reps doing well on the calls?
- Are they finding a lot of information?
Analyzing the feedback drives the strategy.
The feedback from these data points helps assess the level of conceptual understanding, and the flywheel starts again. If we do another live training, it will be in one-on-one coaching sessions.
It will always be ad hoc if you don’t have a consistent rolling process.
Good enablement will increase the active selling time and decrease the selling friction.
The feedback loops and analytics help proactively understand the areas of success and the potential gaps. The enablement strategy is based on rep performance rather than what sales leaders found in HubSpot or randomly recalled.
Unfortunately, several enablers today are performing a governance function.
When a tool is purchased, it must be seamlessly integrated into the reps’ workflow. Before talking about tools, enablers need to think of how reps can be enabled at the moment without a tool.
Instead of figuring out if a tool is required after purchase, enablers must put the reps in the center before buying.
There needs to be a revolution in enablement.
If the enablement profession does not put sales reps, variability, and outcomes at the center rather than governance, there may not be any enablement jobs. The enablers that are going to survive will be those who adapt. Or, hopefully, if you are an enabler, it has always been that way.
Coaching is what drives performance based on their workflow. Governance will always be a byproduct of what the reps need, not the other way around.