Felix Krueger is an industry veteran and a revered voice in the enablement community. He’s the founder and MD at FFWD, a firm that focuses on supporting both businesses that are just embarking on the enablement journey or already have enablement resources and a function in place. Felix also hosts The State Of Sales Enablement Podcast, where he has conversations with some of the most prominent enablement practitioners and sales leaders.
In this interview, Felix talks about the evolving role of sales enablements and how they can contribute during times of hiring slowdown.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Changing with the times
The current situation is challenging for enablement leaders. We are seeing budget cuts and hiring freeze across the board. At this point, enablement leaders need to convince the C-Suite by demonstrating the ROI of their initiatives. And not just because jobs are on the line. This is part of a broader change.
Enablement has been in the backseat for a while now. It’s high time we elevate the role of sales enablement with the C-suite and take the driver’s seat.
The first thing we need to do is gauge the internal dynamics and change the way we converse with our senior executives. It’s time to consider them as external buyers and persuade them as we would with buyers in the market.
We must understand what drives them, their challenges, how they make decisions, what matters to them, and what we can contribute in bringing them from point A to point B.
Typically when those tough decisions are made around budget cuts, the key people involved are the CEO and the CFO. Given our current financial trajectory, those two leaders would sit together and discuss the functions essential for the business to survive. In some cases, the financial trajectory might be the funding of a startup.
When evaluating which functions are essential for the business, they will make rational decisions based on which functions add value and are needed.
So, we need to show evidence that enablement is a necessary arm for the business that can't be amputated.
Two types of evidence that matter
1. Circumstantial Evidence
There may be anecdotal feedback around the impact of enablement. For example, a sales rep mentions how much they have learned and how they can sell better. I call this circumstantial evidence because there is evidence, but it is unclear. You still have to make conclusions based on the feedback.
Further, it’s open for interpretation and doesn’t necessarily prove that something happened.
2. Forensic Evidence
You have hard data to prove your point in this case. There are metrics and measurements successful teams can use to demonstrate their impact to senior leadership. They define the North Star metrics, sales velocity, productivity, and other leading indicators. For example, the number of training sessions conducted, the amount of coaching provided, their impact, and what they connect to the North Stars metrics like sales cycle duration, deal size, and win rate conversion.
How to boost forensic evidence of enablement impact?
Now that a recession is looming and teams are freezing hiring, it’s time for enablement to show the forensic evidence of impact — the sales velocity and the revenue metrics. With this approach, enablement will no longer be seen as a cost center but as a force multiplier.
Here are five tips that can help.
1. Align enablement with revenue goals
The sales enablement team is now at a juncture similar to what it was for the marketing team sometime back, where there wasn't any attribution of their efforts to the sales success. People put in efforts without a direct revenue outcome tied to it.
The sales enablement team now needs to take a reverse approach. They should start with the revenue goals and then design their sales implementation initiatives based on that. And that's how we will be able to measure our efforts.
2. Play up enablement to a strategic partnership
If you want a seat at the decision-making table, take actions aligning with the revenue goal and sales velocity.
For example, teams should empower their frontline sales managers to participate in the training program actively. When sales reps learn from real-world scenarios, they are better prepared to perform, which will directly impact the revenue in the coming days.
3. Elevate sales rep performance through effective sales development
One of the major initiatives that teams can take to elevate the performance of their sales rep is to focus on teaching managers how to coach effectively. Sales managers play a crucial role as multipliers and reinforcers of enablement activities.
While some businesses assume coaching is solely the responsibility of a sales enablement team, this approach has repeatedly proven ineffective. When closely engaged with their teams, sales managers add the most value by reinforcing behaviors that have consistently been effective for the business.
4. Engage frontline sales managers for effective training reinforcement
Engaging frontline sales managers is a critical aspect of overall stakeholder engagement within the realm of sales enablement. Start by interlocking with the sales leader, the head of sales, or the VP of sales to grasp the challenges at a higher level and truly understand the value that enablement can bring from their perspective.
The senior executive leadership should be brought into the conversation to secure buy-in and create alignment throughout the organization. This alignment is vital, especially with various department heads who might collaborate with the enablement efforts. Depending on the organization's structure, this could involve departments such as customer success, marketing, human resources, or learning and development.
Sales managers form the next group to engage with. It’s crucial to involve sales managers early in the content creation process, especially for developing training content. Enablement should adopt a collaborative approach from the outset to achieve this.
First, try to gain insights into their challenges at the front line. This involves understanding the commonalities among deals that might be at risk in the current pipeline. By performing this root cause analysis, you demonstrate your dedication to easing their workload and addressing their concerns.
This early collaboration doesn't just secure their buy-in but also familiarizes them with the training content in advance, enabling them to effectively reinforce the content and champion it within their sales teams. This approach builds a sense of ownership and alignment, leading to more effective content adoption and implementation.
Additionally, it's essential to equip sales managers with effective coaching skills. This goes beyond offering sporadic feedback. It involves teaching them how to analyze gaps for different team members and then devising a structured plan for conducting coaching sessions. By guiding them in identifying areas for improvement and providing a clear coaching framework, you empower sales managers to be effective coaches who can drive continuous improvement within their teams.
A holistic approach involving early collaboration, aligning content with their needs, and providing coaching guidance empowers sales managers to actively engage in the enablement process and advocate for driving performance improvement.
5. Tailor enablement for individual sales success
A blanket approach, where a sales manager talks about the same topic to every sales rep, is less effective. Each sales representative has unique strengths and areas for improvement. This is where a data-driven approach comes into play. By analyzing sales data, you can determine which reps are encountering difficulties in specific competencies, such as discovery or other areas, and tailor enablement efforts accordingly.
This tailored strategy enables you to provide targeted coaching and training interventions. It acknowledges the individual needs of each salesperson and demonstrates a commitment to helping them excel in their areas of development.
Ultimately, this approach leads to more impactful and relevant sales enablement efforts.
Revenue enablement across the Go-to-Market spectrum
In today's market, it's not just about sales enablement but the enablement of the entire revenue team. So, measuring impact across the whole go-to-market team is essential. Once that's in place, revenue enablement has the potential and the opportunity to optimize the entire go-to-market motion, including marketing, sales, and customer success.
The argument for revenue enablement is always strong, especially if go-to-market teams are downsized. Suppose you have evidence that revenue enablement has provided value in the past. In that case, if you're forced to do more with less, then suddenly, revenue enablement is no longer optional.
It's crucial to maintain the effectiveness of the entire go-to-market team. Suppose revenue enablement is there and provides ongoing effectiveness and efficiency improvements in the whole customer journey. In that case, it becomes hard to make a case for any CFO to cut revenue enablement.
But, on the other hand, if you don't measure success and have a focused way of improving only certain KPIs, many CFOs will argue that it's optional.
Just because a team is called revenue enablement doesn't mean they're safe from budget cuts. You still have to prove the business impact. But if you do that in a structured way and have the numbers to demonstrate impact, then it cannot be optional for any CFO.
So no matter what metrics you’re measuring, you must tie it back to the revenue goal.
Two common misconceptions in sales enablement
#1 You need to be a salesperson to be an enabler
One common misconception is that you must be a salesperson to be a successful enabler. As we all know, to be an enabler, you need different skill sets like data analysis, leadership, and change management to be a strong enabler. Similarly, just because you have been a great seller does mean you will be a sales enablement champion.
#2 Overdoing to fast-track enablement
The other common mistake I encounter is that organizations wanting to embark on the enablement journey jump onto every initiative they can, hoping it will completely transform all sales results. And this is a big mistake because it is counterproductive to the momentum that enablement needs to build. If an enablement function is new, it is essential to have quick wins to excite everybody across the business. Still, at the same time, you can't afford to overwhelm your team so that they lose interest, and you have no evidence to show that you’re a critical function. And that’s a scary situation because that’s when budgets get cut. Instead, focus on fewer initiative that delivers quick wins to keep everyone pumped up without losing focus.
The way forward
It’s a tough time for the sales enablement team and various job functions as hiring is slowing down globally. Sales enablement leaders should focus on mapping their every effort with an outcome that’s measurable and aligned with the revenue goal. When you have solid forensic evidence to prove your worth, you become one of the most critical teams in the company. You become irreplaceable.