Phil Putnam
Table of Contents

Phil Putnam, VP of Sales Enablement at Notified, creates, leads, and optimizes Notified's global sales team's skill base and employee experience. Phil came to Sales Enablement after nearly two decades in customer-facing post-sale roles. This has allowed his practice and approach to sales education being influenced by the sales experience lifecycle. 

In this interview, Phil talks about where enablement’s value lies and how to communicate that to leadership with anecdotes from his personal enablement journey and the factors that led to success. 

(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

Starting in Enablement

The two most valuable areas to explore when interviewing for any enablement role in this market are scale and data. Ask questions about their enablement tech stack and pay attention to the names and functions those tools are currently serving. Many tools do diverse things, and they relate to distinct maturity levels. For instance, if they only use the tech stack for knowledge delivery, that would be a red flag. However, suppose they use it for call recording, AI scoring, and coaching. In that case, that indicates a level of maturity about the sales leader and the sales execution function that enablement will be supporting. 

What does the organization have in place through which you can heighten active learning and workforce productivity? If the organization doesn’t have meaningful answers, you will get stuck in the knowledge transfer mode and be judged insufficient eventually. 

If the organization can only offer something you know will be insufficient to prove your value, you don't want to work there. As for data, ask them about the behavioral measurement KPIs they have in place. Suggest tools if they don't have any, and see if they can accept that. Find out if they have tools in place that can produce that data. 

Scale and data are essential. You must also assess whether the person you're reporting to is reasonable. Are they willing to change their structure when you find things that don't make sense? For instance, you have a global mandate but must report to America's regional VP of Sales. Ask them to explain how that works. 

Regardless of what they say, you will have to say, “I am interested in this, but I'll need one of the following two things- a regional mandate with regional support or global support with a global mandate. If you want me to keep the global mandate, I need to report to the CRO.” Make that a part of your negotiations because if the expectations on you are bigger than your area of authority or influence, you will eventually fail. 

The seat at the table is always an extensive conversation. If they say, you don't need to report to the CRO, your regional director will be your pathway, ask them this: Suppose they’re signing a deal and trying to find out if it is qualified. What would they do if they could never actually gain access to the economic buyer and the executive sponsor? Would they think that deal was sufficiently qualified? Would they expect it to succeed? 

The answer is going to be a resounding no. Why do they expect enablement to succeed on those terms without access to the economic buyers and executive sponsors?

Interviewing for Enablement

One of my guiding principles is that change brings opportunity. Those who can see it will begin expressing the business leadership capabilities critical to building a business context. Whether your enablement team is organized within the sales organization or not, you are accountable to sales leadership. This is true regardless of where your individual role is organized. Several enablement leaders have a global mandate but are organized under a regional sales leader. 

Does the role come with global expectations but with regional authority and influence? Regardless of where you're organized, what your job title is, or who you report to, there has to be an understanding of how you're going to merge and compromise on the differences between what enablement and revenue are capable of individually and together. 

For instance, I interviewed with 14 different companies before I got my current role. I learned along the way what I needed to ask and how to check if the person I would be reporting to was reasonable. As a senior sales leader, are they reasonable, or do they expect you to work by magic? As an enabler, I live in the land of cause and effect, cost and payment. But many leaders work in the land of magic, and you need to find that out before you sign up and decide if that works for you or not. 

What do you expect of enablement, and what do you think enablement does?” 

You need to know if this person will answer in terms of revenue KPIs or behavior. Apart from that, you need to listen to what type of information they are talking about. If they say revenue KPIs, that’ll lead the conversation one way. If it's behavior, it’ll go down another way. 

Let's say it was revenue KPIs. Your next question needs to be, “Why do you expect enablement to generate revenue directly?” Apart from knowing their perspective, this exercise lets them understand what working together will be like. And these are precisely the kinds of questions I’d be asking them.

Enablement requires leadership to bring business reasoning to the table. If they can't do that, enablement has nothing to work with. When trying to get to this, like any other business unit, some things are and aren’t enablement’s responsibilities, not by choice but because enablement is simply not built for it. 

Enablement is not a revenue-generating function. Leadership might expect you to generate revenue directly, and you never will. There's no magic there. Enablement’s skill set is to impact behavior. To that end, you need to know if the person you’re going to be reporting to understands that and is willing to accept that. If they're not, it won’t work for me because eventually, I will lose my job for not working by magic. 

Aligning with Leadership

While enablers are learning experts, not many enablers have been mentored as business leaders. How many enablers have been presented with the opportunity to ask a senior revenue leader, “What's the business reasoning for that?

Until the last few years, enablement, as we know, didn't exist. The previous version was learning or training; before that, it was learning and development. During the recent evolution, enablement teams shifted from HR, employee experience, and learning into the business unit we currently support. This was a drastic shift from reporting to people prone to accommodation to reporting directly to people who aren’t used to it. It's not a skill set that was meaningfully addressed as a top priority for enablement leaders.

Having spent a lot of my career outside of enablement, and despite not being naturally bold, I had to choose if I was going to stand up and have these conversations. I started doing it to protect my team more than anything else. Additionally, it’s fun to have a collaborative conversation with a sales leader you revere. It is essential to feel you can contribute to their business, stand toe to toe with them, and disagree. 

If the leadership doesn't know what to expect from you, they will expect whatever they want. Additionally, companies have no general agreement on what enablement is and is not, where it's organized, who does it, how it's funded, etc. This means you cannot ever assume that the people making decisions about your team, your job, and your practice see things the way you do. You must accept the fact that the best you are ever going to get in quantifying the impact of enablement on revenue is a correlation.

These skills are fundamental between skills, growth measurement, and growth in the revenue KPIs. It’s also the basis of my entire success in my practice right now because my CRO from that first interview answered my questions with behavioral answers, and that's why I knew it was worth a conversation.

Establishing Boundaries and an Enablement Practice

I was hired to start the practice and was the first one to build it as a business function. Until then, they were doing random acts of enablement. Because I didn't spend the previous parts of my career in enablement, I don't carry with me many assumptions and do everything by common sense. I've been a certified project manager (PM) for years and practice questioning my assumptions. I may not be great at it, but I remember to do it. 

If there had never been an enablement function before, no one has ever told them what enablement does and does not do. If I didn't do that, they would just expect me to do what they want me to do. Here’s how I went about establishing an enablement practice. 

Boundaries are the key to your happiness in your work. Every other business unit has responsibilities they do and don’t take up; enablement is no different. The only difference is whether or not the enabler in charge established those boundaries. So, I put together a five-slide business plan, and for the first six months, anytime I had a new audience, I trotted it out, and it said, “This is who enablement is, this is how we're organized, and here is what we do. Here's our strategy for the full year, subject to change, and this is the best way to approach us.” 

No slide said, “Don't ask me to do this.” However, that was the implication and the subtext. Establish boundaries around your practice because enablers are best at educating and upskilling. Educate stakeholders on what they should and should not expect from an enablement practice, and always align business plans and strategy with your CRO before doing anything. You first have to establish boundaries, or you will be treated as a free-for-all dumping ground. 

Boundaries increase clarity for your value to be seen in the proper light. It must be clear how what you do aligns with what the business needs from you. The context allows you to achieve. Despite not having an official sales role, I have sold in every position I’ve ever had.

Maintaining boundaries, alignment with leadership, and clarifying the value around your team and practice is easier when you think like the buyer. If you use the buyer's words, their frame of reference, and their approach, you're much more likely to win the deal. Many enablers have a lot of room to grow in this aspect. The people you are serving, whom you seek to be seen as valuable by, think in terms of business, not learning and skills development.

They are your customers. 

Serving your customers begins with speaking the language of the business. For instance, your default mode is value selling or solution selling. By doing this, you are constantly discovering their perspective and their needs and negotiating with them. This allows you to clarify the value proposition, get the timeline, etc., because modeling is the best form of teaching human adults.

Upskilling Reps, Modelling Behaviour, and Linchpins

If you want to raise your seller's skill level, why not model those sales skills every day? Whether your CRO or sales rep, model that behavior. It allows them to see themselves and what they say and align with your logic and arguments. For instance, a classic enabler problem is attendance. Suppose some enablement sessions aren't getting good attendance. Who can drive that best for you? Team managers. 

Here’s how you can change the narrative. On a manager call, present the following: 

Roughly X number of sellers should be attending these sessions, Y number of times a year. Here's a rough calculation of what it costs for one hour of labor. This means when you do the math, for a rep on our team globally, there are several hundred thousand dollars of financial impact getting spent on that time. Here is how it's being utilized. This means less than 50 percent of that financial impact is being utilized. 

Every time we get this low level of attendance for this session, here's the amount of money you're essentially setting on fire. It's not cash, but it's a negative financial impact. Now, consider how many deals you have to close to fill this pit. You're just digging the hole deeper for our business, which eventually will make your life harder as a rep and a sales manager. Rolling this up annually would be several hundred thousand dollars of negative financial impact.” 

You could have also shown them an attendance report and told them, “Here's why my content is valuable, and here's why you should come because of what it’ll do for you.” 

But if you just speak their language, show them the numbers, and how their behavior and the team’s behavior make your job of selling harder for you. For enablers, especially those with minimal or no tech stack, to scale their learning experiences, the frontline team managers are the primary point of the scale. They also happen to be the most overburdened layer of any sales organization. 

Taking care of frontline managers is essential because they are critical to your practice. Enablement cannot succeed without them. Because of how they grew and expanded, many organizations end up promoting their best reps to become their first official layer of frontline sales team managers. 

They're sellers. Sales leaders and reps require different skill sets. Through their acumen and incredible mentoring, these people have been able to distinguish between what they want and don't want and which will be more meaningful to them. But, they still have to resist judgment that says, if you're still a rep after 35, there's something wrong with you. 

No narrative in the system gives respect to somebody who wants to be a lifelong individual contributor sales rep.  If a rep is happy and bringing in dollars, why would you want to pull them out of that and make them a manager?

Elevating Enablement to a Strategic Function

At least three things must be present for a value assessment to be made— data, a measurement framework, and context. Data has always to be understood in context. What story is this data telling?

Online conversations today are centered on quantifying the value of enablement, with a majority of them fixated purely on the KPIs or the measurement framework. The context needs to be established at the start of the practice, consistently maintained, clarified, and adjusted in alignment with your business unit leaders. 

What is the context, and what does it take to put it in place and maintain it? Without it, no matter how good your data is, you don't have a fighting chance. Additionally,  the skills, the personality traits, and the decisions it takes for an enabler to do the work of that alignment are the things that are probably hardest to do.

Enablement Beyond Onboarding

Because of the difficulties of extracting revenue from this market, several companies are adjusting their GTM approach. Whenever the organization is changing the understanding of the required role and behavior, enablement has an opportunity to contribute. Here’s how enablement can contribute when there isn’t much onboarding happening.


Shifts in the workforce will lead to some people being moved from one role to another. This requires new messaging, training, and engagement with buyers. The first objective for enablement, beyond onboarding, is re-skilling. There'll be a need for reskilling in ways the business moves internally. 

Workforce Productivity

The second is workforce productivity. A specific example is conversation intelligence. Call recording, AI scoring, and coaching sales reps, enablement does a lot beyond onboarding. Another value prop for onboarding internally is the promotion path from BDR or SDR into an account executive (AE) role because the former gets paid less. It costs a company less to promote them into an AE role if they show the skill set than it does for the company to hire an external, experienced AE. 

We're going to see several companies not already doing this doing this more for cost reasons. This is imperative to get right because they must learn their new role, step out of their assumptions about the company, the product, etc., and relearn the context. 

That is not necessarily an obvious skill for everybody, but enablers are experts in this. If your organization is responding to the market by redefining and revisiting the skill profiles for individual roles, that's an opportunity to show your value.

About the author


Phil Putnam

Phil Putnam is the VP of Sales Enablement at Notified.

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