Del believes enablement can only be successful when there is stakeholder involvement. In this interview, Del discusses how the focus of enablement shouldn’t just be on closing deals but on change management and, more specifically, on sustaining changed behaviors.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Switching gears from support to strategy
Good relationships with all the C-suite professionals within the organization is a great starting point for enablement wanting to be seen as a strategic function. You don't want them saying, “These are the 20 things we've wanted to do. Now that we've hired you, jump in and do it.”
You need to have conversations where you understand the business's key objectives. Have they identified the KPIs and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that they're focusing on? How do you align your efforts to those OKRs as well?
That’s where enablement needs to focus instead of exclusively concentrating on program training content.
While we need to have different conversations, a lot of it requires not just stakeholder management but educating them about the strategic value an enablement function can have.
Several people, especially those in the early stages of their enablement career or new to a leadership role within enablement, find it challenging to have these conversations with their CROs. Confidence is critical in these situations because you need to have those conversations.
Typically, what happens is that people wonder why you, as an enabler, want to know specific ‘XYZ’ information. Some companies may want to keep you in what they consider your swim lane. You must keep pushing those boundaries to open up the conversation and earn a seat at the table because that is where you need to be.
You need to understand the challenges of the business. While going directly to your executives and getting KPIs from them is ideal, sometimes there isn't enough information. They might not have a clear idea of the strategy or what is not working. Enablement can be business partners within the company to help figure out what to do differently before jumping into training content and resources.
Questions to ask as an enabler
When considering an enablement position in a new company, you should be ready to ask some hard questions. While it's easy to want to accept whatever comes your way, especially if you've been out of work for a while, it’s critical to be discerning.
Ultimately, how that organization sees enablement is how successful you'll be. Even if they don't fully understand it, are they willing to engage with and learn from you?
Here are some essential questions to ask as an enabler.
- What percentage of your reps are hitting quota?
- What are some of the challenges that you're experiencing?
- Was there attrition in the existing enablement function or other teams? What led them to leave?
- What is the CRO's expectation from the revenue leaders? [This is essential to help enablement teams be successful because there's an understanding of shared responsibility.]
- What is your go-to-market strategy?
- Are you product-led?
- Are you sales-led?
- What is working within your strategy? What's not?
- How are you trying to pivot?
- Who are some of your key competitors?
Understanding the business and going beyond the focus of perceived enablement responsibilities will be vital to figuring out if this company is in an excellent place to support the next stage of growth it aims for. Can you definitively add value here, or is there too much going wrong that you can't control?
That's a significant aspect because enablement primarily works by leading through influence. If you are talking with an organization where the reps are struggling, there may not be any alignment across the leadership team.
Talk to as many people as you can when you're in the interview process. Reach out to people on Linkedin. Get the real story. It truly makes a difference.
Enablement and data
I wholly reject the premise that the sole intention behind enablement is onboarding.
While numerous people, myself included, started by focusing on onboarding, there are several responsibilities that enablement handles. Once I had gotten a sense of the business needs at my previous company, I started to develop onboarding content programs because there weren’t any. While that is an essential component, enablement also needs to be thinking about the following:
- How are you helping the business solve challenges?
- How are you helping improve and optimize performance and productivity?
That's what your core objective is as an enablement function. It comes down to understanding business needs, having the right conversations, identifying pain points, and being a part of critical conversations to bring solutions. A core part of the above is understanding your data in-depth. Whether you're partnering with RevOps, finance, or both, having the budget to hire a data analyst within the enablement function would be fantastic.
I don't get my data, reporting analytics, and other essential components met despite good relationships with RevOps and finance. While anything that enablement does should be data-driven, it's more than just focusing on the lagging indicators with the KPIs. Our focus should be on helping reps change behavior and sustaining those behaviors.
One way to do this is to look at your different enablement tools: conversation intelligence, sales engagement, etc. The focus should be on changing behavior and tracking the changes once we implement an initiative so you know what's working, what's not, and where you need to pivot.
Change management and enablement
A statistic by John P Kotter shows that 70 percent of initiatives fail because there's no change management or it's followed through ineffectively. Your first step is understanding what it takes to change and sustain those changes.
Making change management easier for everybody starts with understanding behavioral change and educating yourself on why it's crucial, starting with what change management entails. What are some of the inherent challenges here?
You're working with adult learners. Right off the bat, absorbing information is going to be vastly different. It's not just spoon-feeding them information, but it must be self-directed. Then, there are challenges such as the forgetting curve, status quo biases, complacency, etc., all of which must be overcome.
This learning is not just for within the enablement team. You also need to educate your stakeholders. Achieving the outcomes they're looking for requires you to change the language slightly. You shouldn't communicate it as change management regarding what you're doing for your business because executives don't care. It's focusing on the KPIs and tying them back to optimizing your team's performance. That is what it will take and what you need from revenue leaders.
Shared responsibility is central to change management. While it’s great that there's so much conversation around, “Let's be more data-driven as enablement professionals,” it doesn't matter how data-driven you are if you can't change reps’ behavior and help them sustain that. It won't move the needle.
Changing rep behavior and helping them sustain that takes precedence over focusing purely on the data. Here are some questions to get you started on change management:
- Do you understand what it takes?
- Can you educate your stakeholders?
- Can you create alignment across the company about managing and navigating change?
Getting buy-in from revenue leaders
Instead of bringing in your frontline manager, the VP of Sales, or any revenue leader after you have implemented the initiative, they need to be part of the entire process. This also requires alignment and mutual understanding with the revenue leaders over the shared responsibilities.
While enablement needs to provide coaching resources, frameworks, etc., revenue leaders must take ownership of the reinforcement and the coaching. Coaching has become such a buzzword that many people feel like they know what it entails. However, there's a difference between feedback and coaching. This is starting your strategy and engaging with revenue leaders differently than coming at it from a programming perspective.
What are the outcomes you are collectively trying to achieve?
There have been times when I've gone as far as not implementing something full-on because I knew my revenue leaders would be unable to reinforce it. In the current economy, many leaders are asked to be part of every opportunity they want, leading to a super closer mindset.
While I don't love it, I do understand it.
Enablers have to be realistic about what's going on. In any company where you lead enablement, implementing a sales methodology is one of the most important things you will ever do.
Here is an essential checklist to go over when trying to get buy-in from your revenue leaders:
- Speak their language
- Align whatever you do to those objectives
- Demonstrate how you'll be tracking the key metrics
For instance, when implementing sales methodology was the initiative we were focusing on, I started with a pilot because I knew my leaders would be unable to do their part.
Enablers have to be willing to stand firm and say, “Maybe now is not the right time for ‘XYZ’ if I don't have this commitment from you. Maybe this is not our right objective right now because we have other priorities.”
Not every single thing can be a priority simultaneously.
Leadership training and enablement
Studies show that the average age of a manager to go through any kind of leadership training is 40. This may explain the multiple bad bosses we've all had and our own mistakes as leaders.
For instance, while I have been managing teams for nearly 20 years, I only had leadership training three years ago. Organizations need to integrate leadership enablement into their overall strategy, especially from the coaching perspective, to ensure they know how to support their teams effectively.
Here’s how you can get buy-in from revenue leaders because there is no way around it. While you can't force someone to do something, managers play a critical role.
Do your managers know and understand:
- What drives each individual on their team?
- How can they communicate with their team and motivate them?
- How do they be their reps’ champion, not just someone telling them what to do?
Leadership training is essential to any enablement strategy, whether you are part of a large corporation or a smaller company with two to three enablers in your team.
For instance, in my previous company, we had three different individual contributors step into leadership roles within the revenue organization. I immediately pulled them into a leadership development program where I curated content from LinkedIn Learning. Then, every other week, we would meet and talk through some of the challenges they were experiencing and ensure they understood the core foundational leadership skills required of them. We can't take it for granted that people will just step into a leadership role and automatically know what to do. Just because they were a great individual contributor does not mean those skills translate to leadership.
The business development role is one of the hardest, especially in the current economy. For instance, the sales leader's role is among the most challenging today because they are being pulled in many different directions.
Suppose you cannot do the coaching in-house; consider outsourcing it. If you want to implement any initiative and your leaders do not have that capacity, there has to be another way. If you can outsource it, that's an avenue worth exploring. It will never be scalable to do all that within the enablement function. It doesn’t make any financial sense either.
Enablement in the current economy
What enablement teams need to do differently in this economy is to understand that there's already a lot of stress and pressure on their sales reps. There needs to be a better way of working with your reps than telling them, “You've agreed to three hours every month for enablement. So, you will sit down and do three hours of enablement this month.”
It doesn’t necessarily make sense for enablement professionals only to help sellers close deals. It’s essential to work closely with reps and understand their current challenges. As an enabler, you need to be mindful of the current context and figure out ways to be more effective and efficient with what you provide and how you provide it. You need to make it as easy as possible for your reps (and others you are supporting) to consume that information and be able to act on it.
The typical form of enabling people to use learning management systems with formal structured learning needs to change. We need to evolve from that, especially in the current economy, because time is money. Enablers need to ensure they are as effective and efficient as possible.
Being agile with how you provide learning solutions will be as significant as being mindful of the time you demand from reps. Don't just do a random skill-building session. Instead, look into the data reports and tie the training with an aspect that is not working or needs improvement. For instance, revenue can increase because we decrease discounting.
You need to focus on negotiation skills and identifying value from the outset of the qualification process. Be intentional about what you're doing, and don’t just throw random enablement content at reps. That'll make an enormous difference in the current economy.