In our inaugural interview, we speak with Whitney Sieck, a seasoned enablement leader for Outreach, Greenhouse Software, and iCIMS. She is also the founder of Enablement Enthusiast, which aims to elevate the enablement function.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Elevating the role of enablement
Back when I ran sales training, I charged the business back for the training sessions we delivered. It would pay for external vendor IP and ‘train the trainer’ process for our delivery specialists.
Enablement is still viewed as a cost center by most executives. We must elevate sales enablement into a strategic partner so that CXOs no longer see us as a support function. This is similar to how sales teams position themselves as partners to customers (rather than as vendors).
What does it take to transform from a support function to a strategic partner? Follow these five steps to create a proactive and strategic enablement team:
- Hiring process. Interviews are the first step to understanding how the company views enablement. Never take a job description at face value during an interview. You are responsible for influencing and challenging executives to define the role and charter of enablement.
- Joining the organization. When you join the organization, you should start your research. You can’t start the same enablement function at a new organization as you did at a previous one. Take the time to listen, identify organizational challenges, and learn how people perceive enablement. Make sure that enablement fits the company's work culture and strategic goals.
- Think of enablement as a revenue function. My biggest piece of advice is to approach enablement like a sales function. Treat your sales, solution consulting, and customer success teams as internal customers. Create an operating rhythm similar to a sales process and engage revenue teams with marketing-style drip campaigns.
- Benchmark against the best. It is crucial to identify aspirational firms. If your sales leader is always saying, “We should be the next Snowflake,” you should get to know Snowflake's enablement team. It is your responsibility to bridge the gap while explaining the similarities and differences between your organization and a role model.
- Managing up. You can have a huge impact by managing up. Executives might only have worked with passive enablement teams. Do not be afraid to ask your leaders tough questions if you feel the enablement function is more reactive than proactive.
Importance of revenue enablement
We may be asking this question to the wrong group. Those of us in enablement can talk all day about why we're great. I would love to hear how revenue leaders answer this question because it reveals the reality of what we are facing.
For instance, my former head of sales reported that his job became dramatically easier with each new enablement hire. There are many ways enablement teams can drive organizational success, but all of it all boils down to impact. Enablement has a multiplier effect - just one enabler can have tenfold impact on your business.
What can you do to get more out of your current sales team? You can invest in them and create higher efficiencies. That's how enablement teams can make a difference.
Your sellers can benefit from your advocacy. Consider the cognitive load and emotional state of your sales team. Identify and implement enablement programs based on rep needs and you'll quickly make a meaningful impact.
Prioritizing is essential when hiring is slow. A major trend right now is manager enablement. Increasingly, companies are investing in their managers to help them become great coaches or bringing on coaches to assist them.
Companies that deliver effective sales coaching grow their annual revenues 16.7% faster than those with no coaching. When I was working for an organization planning an IPO, I conducted an enablement series with my team. We brought in enablement leaders who had done an IPO in the last two years. The goal was to understand which initiatives had the most impact leading up to the IPO and what those experiences were like.
It was clear that hiring a manager enablement specialist would get us rowing in the right direction. As a result, sales managers were able to improve their effectiveness and ensure consistent motions across their reps. Manager enablement is a good focus area when not much hiring is happening.
Helping tenured reps
The average tenure of an enablement leader is two years. When enablement starts within a business, it often begins by creating things for scale. You roll out initiatives such as onboarding and training that hits the largest audience.
Maybe you planned to build an award-winning onboarding experience or product launch process. It is necessary to sacrifice some of that quality towards what matters most for your reps. Keep an eye on best practices while helping your reps succeed.
Focus on what's in it for tenured reps. Enablement activities should concentrate on improving quota attainment for tenured reps. You should conduct a sales cycle analysis and look for opportunities to close deals faster or land bigger deals. Your reps will see the value of enablement if you focus on things that will help them succeed.
Adding value to buyers
Can you help reps add value by educating buyers on the constantly changing industry landscape? By helping buyers navigate change, your sellers will become trusted advisors.
Reps are in the trenches and hear what customers are saying. Enablement needs to bridge that gap between frontline reps, sales managers, and revenue leaders. You can create a sales advisory council to keep track of what field reps are seeing and convey that feedback to executives.
During this economic downturn, the most important thing is to demonstrate impact. With emotions running high and people going around like headless chickens, everyone will be looking for silver bullets to solve their pipeline challenges.
Amidst emotional reactions and pressure, don't sacrifice the quality of enablement programs you know are essential. Focus on the field, what's best for them, and advocate for them. You will be a strong champion for your team and a valuable voice in the room if you don't give into everything that comes your way.
How do you make a compelling case for the value of enablement in an unpredictable economy? Stay tuned to the next episode of our Voices of Enablement series to hear from leading practitioners on what it takes to succeed in an economic downturn.