Selen Kartal, Chief Sales Officer (CSO) at Kolay İK, brings over ten years of experience in sales, product marketing, and enablement. Kolay IK is Turkey's first and largest SaaS-based human resources platform.
Selen is also the Istanbul Chapter Lead for Women in Sales Enablement (WiSE), which brings together women in enablement and helps them build authentic connections while improving sales enablement knowledge and skills.
In this interview, Selen gets candid about what it takes to be a great rep, her expectations from revenue leaders as the CSO, and the role of enablement during a recession.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Enablement and the C-Suite
Elevating the role of sales enablement with the C-suite starts with being a great sales rep. Revenue and sales enablement leaders come from a sales background and know how to sell a product. This time around, the product should be the sales enablement function. By using your consultative sales skills, I guarantee you will succeed.
What are these sales skills?
- Make your discovery
- Create a positive tension with your C-suite
- Give them the discovered option
- Focus on the value and the numbers
Start with the discovery and your elevator pitch, and make the C-suite understand why the revenue enablement function exists. What is its direct impact on the bottom line? When resources are limited, it's more vital than ever to maximize the potential of your sales measure.
As revenue leaders, what is your strategy to adapt to evolving buyer behaviors, economic situations, and the changing sales landscape? A technique I use in the field is reverse psychology. For instance, have your C-suite visualize what happens if revenue enablement does not exist during challenging times. During a time when every lead and opportunity matters, nobody has the luxury to burn leads or opportunities. How will you ensure that reps are well-equipped to face these challenges?
How are you increasing the win rates in a world where enablement doesn't exist? What's your plan? This is about creating tension, making them understand the need for enablement function, and making them ask, “How am I going to solve this problem in my organization?”
Data-driven results that show the correlation between enablement initiatives and key performance indicators (KPIs) should be present during these discussions. You need to talk data like a salesperson. During a sale, reps discuss data, ROI, and value to determine how they can help that customer or prospect achieve specific goals. This could look like deciding the KPI they will help customers improve with the solution.
It's the same strategy as in sales. If you are an enablement leader having this discussion with your leaders, I suggest acting like a great sales rep.
What do they try to discover? What kind of questions did they ask their CSO today to build the business case for any enablement initiative?
This creates the enablement journey. Enablement starts with the hiring and continues with the onboarding. Let’s imagine a scenario where the company is hiring. What would be the primary metrics you need to focus on? Ramp time or the time to first deal? While the definition of ramp time varies within organizations, it's approximately one sales cycle plus three months. While this scenario is very optimistic, what would happen if you had a wrong hire? You won't be able to retain that rep, which will cost you time and effort.
From hiring to onboarding, make your C-suite visualize the metrics the enablement team influences in the sales cycle. Starting with hiring optimization and retention, it continues with onboarding, ramp-up time, time to first deal, going on to training, continuous learning efforts, and performance management. All of which directly affect the win rates, sales cycle, and other key metrics that the revenue leaders want to impact and improve.
Show them this journey with the metrics in each pillar that enablement will improve with the right initiatives.
Expectations from revenue leaders
As the Chief Sales Officer, I have high expectations from my revenue leaders. Here are the skillsets I expect from them:
Enablement is not just a function to give reps training. You should be present when your reps need you. This could range from catching up as friends to discussing their sales performance.
You need to know the type of bottlenecks they face to provide optimal solutions. We shouldn't bring unnecessary processes or complicated tools that will slow down the sales team. They should maximize their selling time. No sales team likes to spend time on administrative tasks instead of selling, making a sales mentality necessary when planning enablement initiatives.
I expect a strong sales mentality because sales or revenue enablement exists to solve the problems of sales reps and the sales organization.
Put yourself in the shoes of your sales team. If you were a sales rep:
- How would you react to this initiative?
- How would this ease your life?
You might have great ideas and initiatives, but what happens if your system doesn't use them? If your leaders don't believe an initiative will work, their teams won’t. Strategic alignment and building trust with the leadership team are critical.
Enablement needs to make leaders understand why a specific initiative is required. When working on a particular initiative, you must meet them halfway, get on the same page, obtain feedback, and get their commitment. Otherwise, one piece of the puzzle will always be missing for driving the adoption of enablement initiatives.
When you create initiatives, an adoption plan is paramount. Making the best adoption plan requires buy-in from the leadership team.
Data-based decision making
Let's say you have a problem in your sales funnel. Identify the bottlenecks in the sales funnel and create enablement initiatives accordingly. You have a low meeting-to-demo ratio. The enablement team identifies this, works to figure out why this is happening, and creates a solution based on the bottleneck. This, coupled with cross-functional collaboration and agility, will allow the team to act fast. You won’t get results immediately after implementing an initiative. Maybe the results will show after one quarter.
Enablement teams should quickly adapt to changing buyer behaviors, economic conditions, and sales methodologies. There is no such approach where a single methodology is set in stone.
You should always look back and renew your sales methodology and strategy periodically. You should consistently be aware of what is happening before you try ABC or change XYZ. While the focus on ROI is usually heavy, enablement also needs to consider:
- What was the impact of this initiative?
- How can we measure it?
Buy-in from frontline managers
Getting buy-in from your frontline managers requires a close relationship with the leadership team and creating platforms to meet and share insights. For instance, the company organizes a quarterly sales performance review. As the enablement team, you can get the numbers together with the leaders, help them analyze the reason behind those numbers regarding competencies, and dive deep into them.
When you provide valuable tools to your leaders, and they benefit from them, they will understand the critical role of enablement. Show them the benefit by creating platforms they can observe. Share your activities with them. They might resist at the beginning. However, they will come around when they see how a competency framework makes it easier to understand where and why your sales rep is struggling.
This, in turn, will help you create the best solution and development plan. For instance, if reps have a problem with objection handling, enablement can assist them in role-playing objection handling, providing documentation, etc. Demonstrate how your frameworks and processes will benefit them, and they will love them.
The role of enablement today
Even if companies are not hiring, there are still several things that the enablement team can do. While hiring and onboarding are two fundamental pillars, they are not everything that enablement entails. The definition of enablement teams' should also be adapted to the current economic environment. Here are some questions to ask:
Why are you not hiring reps? Why did you freeze recruitment? For cost-cutting and making your operation more profitable.
How can you do that?
This starts with optimizing existing resources, reducing turnover rates, and scaling best practices inside the organization. Understand why your company is not hiring. What is the specific reason? You need to adapt your structure to your issues accordingly. Let's say you are not hiring. However, you still have your existing sales reps and need to increase their performance. The focus needs to be on how you can provide them with regular sales training and a continuous learning framework.
What does the continuous learning framework include? Recurring sales training. Create your own sales university or academy, however, you want to name it. Develop a curriculum that focuses on the areas of improvement for your sales team.
Look at the data. Watch the meetings of your sales team to understand their patterns. Talk to the leadership team, develop a curriculum, and train them regularly. Create a leadership enablement program to drive the company's coaching culture. If the sales leader adapts, their team will adapt as well. For instance, if you want to scale your resources as the enablement team, you need to create ambassadors in the sales teams. Either you or these enablement team ambassadors should empower the leaders to become great coaches.
Training is not just enablement’s responsibility. It's also the job of the frontline managers and leaders. They should coach their teams. If they cannot coach and you cannot create this culture in the company, then you can develop certification programs. You can focus on a team. It might be a new product launch or a specific skill set of your team. Here’s what you can do:
- Analyze and organize the certification programs.
- Maximize your team's selling time by implementing the right tools, automation, and easy access to content.
- Create sales decks and collaterals that will ease the life of your sales reps.
For instance, sales meeting presentation. That should be the material that will be the compass for your reps to become great storytellers. Create that deck, give them those tools, and let them sell.
Revenue enablement in a recession
In the current economic landscape, the focus needs to be on the existing resources and talent. Here are some questions to think about:
- How can you increase the potential of your sales reps and the sales team effort?
- How can you increase reps’ performance and create a company-wide high-performance culture?
- How can you scale your best practices?
- How can you automate the tools and processes to create more time for your sales team to sell and decrease customer acquisition costs?
- How can you utilize your current tenured sales reps to their best potential?
All of this falls under enablement’s purview. To achieve the above, the enablement function needs to do the following:
- Analyze rep performance with the adequate performance management structure
- Study the gap
- Analyze reps’ core competencies
- Focus on the top 3-4 core competencies
We are humans, not machines. We can’t improve everything at once. Instead, the focus needs to be on the critical competencies and on providing the right development plans to enhance these competencies. This will, in turn, help increase win rates and increase revenue. Enablement needs to determine how one region's resources can benefit the whole company. This requires enablement to ask critical questions such as:
- How can we standardize the processes?
- Can we automate them? If yes, how?
- What are the right tools to implement? How can we implement them?
These strategies need to come from the enablement team, and it is what companies require during the current economic environment. There will always be too many things to do as an enabler. With scarce resources around, you need to focus on high-impact projects consistently.