Susan Savona is a seasoned veteran with over 20 years of experience in global operations, training, and strategic enablement. As the Global Sales Enablement Leader at Matillion, she creates and leads the global enablement strategy for onboarding, ever-boarding, and educating the global field workforce.
She’s also a founding member and ambassador of the Sales Enablement Collective, which brings together revenue leaders striving towards consistent and predictable revenue growth. The Sales Enablement Collective is now globally recognized as the epicenter for all things sales enablement.
In this interview, Susan talks about defining enablement, the importance of asking questions, how enablement is often mistaken for just onboarding, and why this has to change. Susan believes enablement needs a clear charter with business objectives that can be tied back to revenue goals to evolve beyond onboarding.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
What is expected of enablement? It is important to align expectations before taking on a new role.
Suppose you look at the job description for an enablement role with 85 bullets covering different responsibilities. It indicates that you need to have a conversation. Do they expect enablement to do all of these things? Ask them about the size of the team and the focus. It might not necessarily be a red flag, but it's worth considering. Does this organization think enablement is just an execution arm? In this case, you will not be a partner or a strategist.
The designation, such as Senior Director, Director, VP, etc., is less impactful than the job description. What are some things mentioned about the rules, responsibilities, or team size? Look at who the role reports to because that can help or hinder an enablement organization. For instance, if enablement will be bracketed under marketing, your spidey sense needs to say ‘No!’
Such a role will be focused on product and content. However, consider things outside of what you might be looking for because it's an opportunity to ask questions. If you don’t quite know and are trying to figure it out, look at where it's rolling up to, what types of activities you’ll be doing, and if the first bullet concentrates on onboarding.
While onboarding is essential, there isn’t any industry where it's constant. There'll always be an ebb and flow. If onboarding is the only focus, you need to ask specific questions. “I know onboarding is important, but what else is happening?”
Look at their company, the economy, and what's happening with that business line. Check their website. Do they have different leaders and structures? Based on that, does it look like there's an enablement, training, or development culture? If yes, great. If not, will they support enablement as a contributor or leader?
Diving into chartered territory
Different companies define enablement differently. If someone in the C-suite thinks of enablement as a training function, and all they do is onboarding, then that's all you'll be and do.
The first thing is to commit and create a charter that defines enablement to the organization. Who are you supporting? What are the overall business drivers? The way that you elevate enablement and keep it as a strategic function is always to tie it back to revenue objectives.
These objectives could be a new product launch, increasing revenue by X percent, or entering a new market – whatever it is that ties enablement programs back to the overall revenue objectives. Be clear about what enablement is and isn't.
When coaching people on charters, they tend to think it's sales. They are right, but how will they get product knowledge? How are they going to get soft skills, development skills, etc.? That's when you must start thinking about working with product marketing, engineering, and others.
The overall charter template must include things like the key stakeholders within the organization. Depending on where you are rolling up within the organization, sometimes, it's direct, such as the first-line managers. However, adding someone at the top, such as the COO, Head of Sales, etc., is essential because that's who you report to.
What are the things you're going to measure from a business perspective? This is the foundation to create the right programs to support specific audiences. That charter grounds you, your team, and others within the organization regarding what enablement is and isn’t.
- What is your mission?
- What are your responsibilities?
- What are your values?
- Who are your key stakeholders in terms of reporting?
- How do you ensure the right tools are in place?
- Who will you be working with?
- What are the key leading and lagging indicators to show success within enablement?
Everybody needs to buy into it. For instance, if the organization has a strong product marketing team, that might change your charter slightly because they’ll have a lot of responsibilities. That's why the charter is defined from a leadership perspective for the organization and your role.
All roads lead to enablement
There have been charters where things have changed four or six months later. That means people think about it, have the right conversations, and elevate that function. It starts with asking questions.
What is the strategy? What can you do? What are the business issues?
Then it goes into the execution mode, but there is only a way to elevate enablement if you firmly believe you have defined the foundation and, most importantly, what you are not or don't do. However, when you step into an enablement role, onboarding is often the first thing you are supposed to fix.
While onboarding is important, why do they want it to be the first thing? Are the reps being hired failing to hit their goals? Understanding what you’re trying to solve will help. For instance, I've had these conversations in past roles, and one of the first questions I ask is, “Are you hiring the right people? What does that look like?”
While enablement's job is certainly to help with the onboarding, something to remember is that enablement can't be at all places at all times with new hires. Front-line managers need to have skin in the game. When they come in, they think onboarding comes first. However, what are some of the issues they are facing? Is Y taking too long, or are they not getting ‘X’? What is the role of the front-line manager here? If the answer is, “I don't know, that's your job, not the front-line manager’s,” that's where you need to start.
In the current economy, only a few people are hiring. If you are an enabler who has strictly done only onboarding and has no onboarding to work on now, turn your focus to asking questions. There's a reason why the organization is not hiring. Is it because we need to hit our revenue goals? Or because we need to move upmarket?
If yes, what business issues is the organization trying to solve? Enablement needs to ask these questions and work with each leader on their current issues. People don't like surveys, but getting one asking the sales organization for feedback will be incredibly helpful.
- Where are the reps currently struggling?
- What are the issues they are facing?
- What are the business issues happening within the organization?
- What can enablement impact?
You can then work out a strategic perspective of how enablement can help. There may be brand-new competitors in the market. Enablement can then work with product marketing and competitive intelligence and create programs against this competitor. What are the types of questions reps need to ask?
Work with product marketing because you need a sheet on A, B, and C.
“Based on other conversations reps have faced with that competitor, here's what they did. Let's put together a session and share best practices.” There are so many different things that enablement can do and provide. It's not just about sitting in front and talking to reps. Enablement is the wheel's hub; we can work with different groups to pull that together. That isn’t to say the organization can't do anything without going through enablement. However, enablement is in a great position to get directly to the source and the organization.
Start having conversations with sales leaders and marketing on what's on the agenda. Don’t just look at the product features and functionalities; consider it from a consultative perspective. You need to ask what is happening constantly. What are the issues reps are facing? Then, enablement can put the right programs in place to support that. What new products need to be launched? How can we work together on rolling out a particular program?
Having worked with sales leaders and reps, it's always, “We're different; we need X and Y.” It's an excellent opportunity as an enablement team, in a consultative way, to hear those different parts. Maybe 9.5 times out of 10, some commonality comes up in different ways. Those become the prioritized programs that enablement can put in place.
Looking at it from a business issue perspective will allow you to define the metrics for success so that enablement can take credit for things they've put together. Sometimes, there's no direct correlation, but it's a way to get metrics into the C-suite to say, “Here's what enablement has influenced, and here's what we've helped enhance.”
Getting buy-in from reps
Start by asking why a rep would care about this program.
If you think about it that way, it's easy. The program needs to be structured as A is the business issue, and B is why reps will care about it. Knowing the problem will allow you to understand the business issue and position the appropriate solution. For instance, the problem is discovery. This will allow enablement to create an optimal program, which will, in turn, help reps sell more products, improve their renewals, and help them upsell.
Creating programs asking and answering the questions of how it will help reps is simply listening and understanding. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is the motivation for that rep?
- Will this help them in front of their customers? How?
- How does this get reps more customers?
- How does this make reps more money?
- How will this alleviate administrative tasks that no rep wants to do?
- How will this help them have more conversations?
- How does it save them time?
- How will it make them more productive?
Collective Vs. Customized
Reps need both collective training and customized one-on-one programs for coaching. However, this is where enablement has to partner with the front-line managers. Whatever the divide, 70-30 or 80-20, between the broad brushed and the specifics, it can’t all be enablement.
This is where the specificity is within different parts of the organization. For instance, if you're launching particular products, you would market in France differently than in Latin America or Asia. Enablement isn’t going to build 85 different programs for those niches. Instead, you work on a broad template. Then, work with the French team on the modifications required to make this specific to their market.
The individual level of coaching on a day-to-day basis is on the frontline manager. Enablement’s job is to get everybody to a general competency, while front-line managers must work on the specifics. That's also where feedback comes in with the programs from the frontline managers to say, “This is great, but all my reps are struggling with X.” This is where enablement and front-line managers collaborate. “How do we beef this up to hit more of the collective?”
If you answer the business issues, you provide value to the sales organization. If you can provide value, you get more buy-in, and it eventually becomes an easier conversation. You won't feel like you're pushing a rocket pill.
When enablement turns consultative
Enablement can put together the best training programs covering the different tools with great content. But frontline managers are the ones who make or break a rep. While enablement can help give reps the tools, frontline managers deal with the reps on a day-to-day basis.
Enablement needs to start thinking about how they can support frontline managers. What are their 30, 60, and 90-day checklists?
For instance, the organization has an LMS tool where reps practice the value proposition. Frontline managers need to be part of that review process. That's where enablement can start being consultative. As an expert in enablement, you have to start asking the questions around the why.
- Why are we doing X?
- What is the business issue?
- Why are we not onboarding quickly?
- What does success look like?
Usually, in the onboarding program, if you have someone from sales, they need to be ramped up and able to do their first sale within 30 days.
- What isn't working today? (This will allow you to start thinking about solving business issues.)
- What are the frontline managers doing?
Simultaneously concentrating on the above two and aligning with the manager’s plan will help you assemble the metrics. This will allow for buy-in from sellers because their manager has already bought in.
Enablement needs to start being more consultative and ask questions instead of doing random acts of enablement. While you want to do the onboarding, learning about the product, customer pain points, the solution, and how to position it doesn't ever stop. New product launches will always happen, there will always be new markets to enter, etc. However, if enablement concentrates only on the new reps, it's missing these other aspects. This is where enablement needs to start having conversations and look at it from a metric perspective. There are multiple elements in onboarding.
- Are you hiring the right people?
- Do they have the correct territory?
- Are they a hunter versus a farmer?
- Are you dealing with SDRs and BDRs?
You must start looking at onboarding across multiple roles and experience levels throughout the sales cycle. What is the definition of being onboarded? Is it completing the first deal? Start measuring and looking at the specifics. In previous companies, when looking at competencies and onboarding behavioral interviewing questions, my first question was, “Are you even hiring the right folks?”
When discussing competency models and traits versus skills, enablement can help with the skills. However, enablement cannot make someone motivated or interested. The organization needs to hire for these traits by interviewing correctly and asking the right hiring questions.
For instance, I put together the competency model at a couple of companies, and my boss asked where is “intuitive” on the list. Enablement can't put a program around how to be more intuitive. Enablement can put together programs around asking good open-ended questions versus closed questions, but we can't train reps to be inquisitive.