Jonathan M. Kvarfordt heads GTM Revenue Enablement & Product Marketing at Simetrik, where he develops and executes revenue enablement strategies to drive sales growth and enhance customer experience. He’s also the founder of GTM AI Academy and the founding enablement consultant at Sales Velocity Labs.
In this interview, Jonathan talks about the risk of enablement turning into a reactive function by becoming a catch-all for random projects, especially in startups. To avoid this, enablement must have a clear vision in alignment with the organization’s leadership.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
From supportive to strategic
Elevating enablement to a strategic function requires the C-suite to understand the value enablement can bring. Everyone within the leadership team - the CEO, CFO, CRO, or CMO - must understand what good enablement entails.
The C-suite must consistently be on board, starting with having a clear understanding of enablement. It won't work unless we get the C-suite involved from the start in what we want to accomplish.
It's always about being clear on what business-oriented metrics a person is responsible for driving. And not just how many content pieces one can build in a week.
We then baseline it when they start, measure it, and constantly communicate what's happening. Most people don't do this. Enablers are often silent cheerleaders. We do fantastic work, but no one knows about us. We must communicate what we are doing and how it’s affecting the organization.
What are we trying to accomplish with an enablement function? It takes an enablement leader coming in and saying, “X, Y, and Z are the things we will take on as a responsibility. Enablement won’t be focussing on A, B, or C.”
Whether clarifying or negotiating, deliverables must be openly communicated and agreed upon.
Enablement can quickly become a catch-all of several things, especially in startups, when everybody's wearing multiple hats. Then it turns into a reactive function with everyone throwing projects at it.
For instance, when a sales rep is going for an interview, they need to know the quota, their territory, and how their compensation plan works, all before starting. If the organization can't define these, that's a red flag. It's the same thing with enablement.
What metrics are you measuring? How will you know I'm successful? If the organization can't define that, we must agree on whether that metric is necessary or not.
Ensure you chalk out what the enablement team will and won’t do. In the interview process, ask about the metrics they measure and ensure they know what they're looking for. When they ask six months later if enablement can do this project, we can say no because it doesn't affect this metric and is not our responsibility.
Enablement and hiring freezes
Suppose you come into an organization, and they’re not actively onboarding new reps. How can enablement show an impact during this time? Let us consider sales velocity or sales stages. For instance, the organization is currently at US $10 million and has to hit US $17 million by the end of the year or within a specific timeframe.
What are your current metrics? Sales velocity, average sale, deal cycle, win ratio, etc. If the organization is currently at US $10 million and everyone keeps delivering results, we can extrapolate the data from the current metrics.
Suppose it falls short, and the bottom line would have been US $15 million instead of US $17 million.
We then take the baseline of metrics we want to shift. In this instance, the average sale, the deal cycle, the win ratio, and the number of opportunities have to move. If we're going to get to this goal, let's tweak these metrics and see where we need to move. Suppose upon tweaking each of these metrics by 5-10%; we hit the target.
Considering the metrics' averages, we can now figure out what needs to change. Let’s assume the win rates or other metrics are not ideal. We then consider the percentages of these changes. For instance, the number of operations may increase from 250 per month to 275, and the percentage changes between each one. We then apply that to each rep.
Suppose a rep’s average sales is X. while the company’s average is Y. However, the reps are still responsible for incrementally increasing their average sale.
Ask the right questions:
- Who in the company was reaching the targets? What were they doing differently?
- What competencies or skillsets are needed and in which reps to get to the revenue goal?
- How can the enablement function provide the training, content, or coaching to help them progress?
Sometimes it's also asking what the salesperson is doing that is not helping.
Are they spending too much time in meetings so they aren’t able to talk to all their prospects to get more opportunities? Sometimes it comes down to taking stuff off their plate so they have more selling time.
Interlocks with RevOps and Product Marketing
RevOps enablement is a double-headed dragon. RevOps does the things that enablement can’t or shouldn't do. It’s the same with enablement. They're two different fields, but they're aligned.
For instance, RevOps would take the same equation and look at entirely different things to move the dial - such as efficiencies, territory plans, and so on. However, enablement focuses more on skillsets, systems, playbooks, etc. instead.
While the two are different, the organization shines when they both work together to reach a goal.
Apart from RevOps, enablement needs to work closely with product marketing.
While enablement and product marketing roles occasionally combine, it depends on organizational structure and what they're trying to accomplish.
Product marketing helps enablement communicate the value of what reps are trying to sell. For instance, enablement is in charge of all product marketing in some companies, with a product marketer on the enablement team. However, the enablement function doesn't create any content in other cases. They get their hands on whatever product marketing does and deliver it.
There needs to be a balance between the two.
A product expert can translate the product's technical capabilities into customer speak. Enablement usually takes that from customer talk to sales talk and tailors how we communicate that to reps or customers.
Managing the sales manager
As an enabler, it doesn't matter if I have sales experience. Despite being a salesperson for 15 years, I hear this all the time, “You haven't sold this product.” or “You haven't sold recently.” Most reps want to learn from people doing it.
Something I learned a long time ago is that enablement is not meant to be the sales expert - whether as part of a team or individually. That's not our job. As enablers, we deliver the expert’s knowledge or content. We are simply the facilitators.
Enablers simply facilitate what sales managers need to make better decisions.
Frontline managers are often swamped with forecasting, pipeline reviews, win-loss growth ratios, one-on-one coaching, and more. They are the most overwhelmed people in the entire revenue team. I don't want to be an enabler and say, “Let's do a certification.” The managers will only ask, “Who are you? Why should we do that?”
We need the managers on our side because they are the key. I wouldn't make any decisions unless the sales managers were involved and would back me up.
For instance, a few days ago, while working with a sales leader and his team, we went through this exercise of sales velocity. It was like a light bulb moment for them because they reviewed the deals individually versus looking holistically at the bigger picture and how we could shift it.
All I did was bring the information as an enabler saying, “You want to hit this revenue goal where all sales managers have quotas for teams. You must meet it by changing X, Y, and Z metrics. We have to figure out this gap so that you, as a manager, can be successful.”
As long as I can provide that information, that's where enablement is a support function. But we can also strategically work together and say, “What will you be doing? What can we give you to help with one-on-one with coaching, content, or data to do your job and coach your reps?”
For instance, there was a time when I was the secondhand man to all four of our sales leaders. If they didn't coach, I would shift my coaching style and speak sales strategy based on their style. I didn't want them to think I was trying to teach the reps something differently than their sales leaders would. I would just mimic and echo what they said in my own way, but I never went against what they thought.
Sales managers always know their team better than we do, so ask them, “Do you want me to do this?”
Let data guide your upskilling efforts
As a sales rep, there's nothing worse than being told you're below quota, you're bad at your job, and you don’t have the requisite skills.
It kills all momentum.
Ensuring that the rep is flexible or able to be coached is essential to upskilling. Also, there needs to be a baseline of competency that the sales managers, leaders, and even some of the top reps have agreed upon. What does great look like?
For instance, here are the competencies, skills, and systems that an ideal rep would go through, and this is how we can measure against that.
- What level are the reps at currently?
- Are they willing to be coached?
- Where is the gap?
We can now coach based on the gap. Our goal is not to get reps from level one to level ten in two weeks. The goal is to get to levels two, three, and four one after the other. While moving up, identify each of those steps so reps can get to each of them and celebrate the wins along the way.
Build momentum and build confidence. While these are basic, people typically need to pay more attention to them when working with sales reps. Getting that going and helping reps see the changes will bring to light their quota. For instance, with ACOs or sales reps, we always tell them our intention upfront. “We’re here to help you make money. Any suggestions we give are all to that end. Our bonus depends on revenue success. We don't win unless you win.”
Tailor your coaching to suit the rep
Willingness to be coached is partly cultural because reps are often either brash, think they're fantastic and don't need any help, or they're super hard on themselves, and all they see is negativity. It's knowing the balance between the two and how to work with both.
For instance, if they’re super brash, we must break down their walls and tell them, “You're great at A, B, and C, but you need help with X. We need to work on this.”
When working with reps who are hard on themselves, enablement needs to step in and say, “You don't know this, but this is your superpower.” They have probably never been told that before. Sometimes, culturally, managers only give negative feedback. Reps don’t want to listen to it because all they hear is what they need to work on and their negatives.
It is essential to prioritize feedback and create an environment where reps actively seek it or give it. As enablers, we need feedback on what is working and what isn’t. It's a delicate balance between providing the sales team with tasks and understanding what's happening. For instance, I listened to a hundred-plus Gong calls in a couple of weeks. These calls allowed me to see the entire team's skillset across specific parts of the sales process, such as how they are with customers. With a better idea of the whole team, I can take particular sections and tell reps, “You're struggling with discovery. Listen to an A-player.” Then I send them a video of an expert.
Reps love that because it's not me being the expert, it's the A-player being the expert. I'm just leveraging their skillset to help a person struggling in a specific area.
Remember, enablers are the facilitators, not the experts.
It's always about what the rep thinks, what they want to be, and how they want to be influenced. Usually by their manager or the A-players. They want to know what success means, which they won’t know unless they start selling and become an A-player.
Growing with enablement
When interviewing for an enablement role, you're evaluating those companies just as much as they're evaluating you. While personality and company need to align, it’s essential to consider other aspects too. Here are some questions to ask during the process:
- Who are you being introduced to, or who are they having you talk to?
- Who are the stakeholders in the interview process?
- Are you talking to people outside of sales?
If you are responsible for the entire customer journey, you need to talk to everybody about what they expect because you will eventually be working with them.
- Who is involved in the process? Are they willing to let you be involved?
- How do they define enablement? Do they consider it a support function and reactive or more strategic and proactive?
If they tell you they’re curious, it’s a start. However, most times, people can't define enablement. They have never thought about it and haven’t figured out the title, the responsibilities, or the pay. They don't know what enablement should be doing once they hire somebody.
For instance, companies who hired a junior expected one thing, but the junior-level person hadn't done it. They were eventually let go because they weren't doing what the company needed. However, the company got a better deal here as the new hire didn't require a higher salary to do the tasks.
Now, people are wisening up and saying they want someone with more strategic or revenue impact. Other times, they want someone more reactive. Suppose there is clarity on the expectation; great. However, that role may or may not be for you.
Delivering random acts of enablement is not the goal. When requests come in, we must fulfill them based on objectives and metrics rather than whims.
We often have to be that strategic voice, asking, “Before we do this training or create this content, what are you trying to change within the sales process with this request?” Enablement is here to bring value. If you can't articulate what value you want us to bring based on the metrics, why would we do this?