Lawrence Wayne O’Connor is an industry veteran and a revered voice in the enablement community. He is the co-founder of The Practice Lab, a sales training company that prioritizes sales culture above one off training events. .
In this interview, Lawrence talks about how sales enablement can become a strategic function during a hiring slowdown and the role coaching and training play in elevating rep performance.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
From sales to sales enablement
My passion for sales came from my love for basketball and music.
One may ask, how do I connect sales with music and basketball? Well, for me, both need a lot of practice. You perform under pressure, and then there are moments when you have to be creative and come up with improvisations in that moment. That creative nature drew me to sales, where my skills have to be leveled up on and off the field.
My first sales job was at an Apple store. I did a few other stints after that. It wasn't until 2018 when sales enablement became popular that my enablement journey began.
Enablement can fall into the trap of being a glorified L & D department. This happens when the enabler gets into the wrong organization or starts saying ‘yes’ to too many things. They may end up becoming an L&D checklist enabler focusing only on onboarding and reducing ramp time. That’s why it’s helpful to have experience as a front-line seller to empathize with sellers’ needs.
Overcoming economic headwinds
We are in a tough economic time right now. While many people are losing jobs, the first ones to get laid off are those in support functions or in the L&D enablement roles. It’s time for us to think about elevating the enablement function so that the leadership team sees it as a strategic function.
Ultimately, if we can help the sales reps drive more business, we can elevate sales enablement to a strategic function from being a mere support function.
Here’s how we can start on this journey:
1. Changing the mindset
Before accepting my latest role, I underwent a lot of interviews due to my lack of traditional enablement background. During these conversations, I learned the pain of not having a defined enablement function. During the last round of interviews with the CMO, I told her upfront why I didn’t want enablement to sit under marketing. I made it clear that enablement was to be part of the revenue team because enablement is a revenue-driving function, and that’s how it should be seen. That’s one way you can position enablement as a strategic function from the outset.
2. Numbers matter
Today, there's a gap between implementation and adoption that many teams underestimate. But remember, to turn enablement into a strategic function, you have to focus on the business value of every action.
Position enablement as the bridge between implementation and adoption. For example, sellers will care about the wealth of data and insights Salesforce offers only if you can show how it will help them in their day to day. When you can do that with empathy, sellers will be motivated to take action.
So, it comes down to communication, coaching, content, and how that content is organized. Remember, there are only three reasons why someone's not taking any action—
- They don't know what to do
- They don't know how to do it
- They're not motivated to do it
Once you can motivate them by showing the values their action will bring, you’re guaranteed to have some of the most motivated team members.
3. Context over content
Having context over content is equally important. For example, let’s say I’ve created a course on procurement during negotiations. As a seller, I'll be completely uninterested if I don't have a deal in the negotiation stage. But, if I am negotiating with an enterprise company with a procurement team that's giving me a tough time, I’ll finish the course within 15 minutes. So that's what we need to show.
4. Coaching the underperformers
Everyone's got different strengths and weaknesses. Find the behavioral patterns that's stop them from winning. Those are the ones you need to solve.
Firs, identify what winning behavior looks like and, ideally, find someone on your team with that behavior. You can talk to that person and ask what they would do in such a situation. Or how can we replicate that across a team?
The second point is laying down clear next steps for every opportunity, coaching them, and regularly reinforcing that message. Peer leadership is another aspect to focus on because that's where you start building that culture. So, as a seller, sharing your wins and discoveries with the rest of your team is essential. Your enablement team can share templates and frameworks to help these people. And finally, you may want to design a training or course if it’s still needed.
If we take the example of basketball, enablement is the training staff. So, we can sit back and see things that the coach might not see or the players might not see. We can provide data. We can provide resources. We can provide ideas on how to support that.
As a coach, sales leader, and sales manager, you significantly impact your seller's experience. You let them experiment, fail, and learn while you see them doing the work. Because monthly and quarterly quotas will change, but once the skill is built, it will last you for a long time.
5. Enabling the managers
We ensure that the managers are equipped well and hire for those kinds of skill sets with more of a sales background so they will have the respect of the people they're working with. But it’s equally important to know how to motivate and drive the behavior that they're looking for.
Sales enablement during a hiring slowdown
Anytime an opportunity or a new process comes in, it goes into our onboarding. But on top of that, enablement is focused on reducing some of the psychological load sellers are experiencing now - such as changes from RevOps, new products, etc. It’s important to keep things off your seller’s calendar.
I currently spend most of my time as a sales team gatekeeper, keeping the focus on the main task while trying to remove not-so-urgent ones from the seller's calendars, whether it's a weekly sales meeting or a one-on-one. I also ensure they have everything they need to prepare for upcoming calls.
Things to watch out for
Leaders who talk negatively about their sales reps is a red flag in my books. You want to get behind why reps aren’t performing up to expectations. So, if a leader makes negative remarks about their seller during an interview, that’s something to watch out for.
On the other hand, if the leader talks about the winning behaviors or the winning skills they like in their best players, I am happy to jump aboard.