Pooja Kumar gave this talk at the Sales Enablement Festival in May 2021.
My name is Poojar Kumar, and I've been in the sales enablement function for about 15 years. I’ve loved watching this function grow and how this profession has really made a difference to businesses and people.
Aims for this article
In this article, I’m going to share some key insights that I learned by setting up the sales enablement function for the business development group at Oracle, Asia Pacific, including:
- How I set up the sales enablement function
- New challenges
- An insight into the enablement ecosystem
- The sales enablement charter
- Key enablement services
- How to quantify value
- How we mature our services
First, I’m gonna give you a bit of background on me and my experience.
I've been with the IT industry for about 21 years. I started off in sales, and for 15 years, I've worked in enablement functions regionally in Asia Pacific.
Globally, I have had the pleasure of working with sales teams all across the spectrum of sales: from BDRs, to field sales teams, and key account directors.
I'm also a diversity champion, a cause that’s really close to my heart. I get involved in a whole bunch of programs around diversity and creating diverse workplaces.
I've lived in India, in Australia, and now in Kuala Lumpur. I like to think of myself as a strategist, but strategies start with people before business.
So, let's get into the meat of this article.
How I set up the sales enablement function
I managed a team of BDRs who served the India market. At that time, we were in a hyper-growth merge. We moved from 21 people to 250 people in three months. We were also expanding around the region.
We'd gone from one hub to four hubs across Japan and Asia Pacific. There was lots of training and content, and everything was new.
We had new leadership, new managers, new teams, new processes and new skills. This last one was really the most crucial aspect.
Everyone needed new skills on how to present the value of Oracle's cloud solutions to our customers and bring them on that journey with us.
A rapidly scaling function
We had a rapidly scaling function, and we had really great training, but it was a little bit random.
The reps were informed, but not empowered. it took them on average six months to hit their targets, and we just didn't have that kind of luxury.
The risk to the business, as you can imagine, would have been loss of revenue, high attrition, and damage to our brand.
While they were thinking about solutions, I decided to make a bit of a bold move. I suggested we create an enablement function with the vision to sustain the scale and create a culture of high performance in the business development hubs.
I pitched them three options:
- The first option was me as a solo enabler.
- The second option was me and a team of five attempting to scale really quickly.
- And the third option was me and a team of five would implement tech to really accelerate the process.
Guess which one I was granted? You got it!
I was told to go solo! I’m going to share with you the three things I did to get started: Align, Challenge. Communicate.
How I got started
As I got started, I realized that I had to get close to the business. I liked the business. In fact, my reporting line was directly into the VP of Business Development.
I was completely linked in with her priorities and her leadership team.
I really wanted to understand the challenge. I had a perception of what the challenge was. And a lot of people told me what the challenge was, but I wanted to go off on my own and gather some evidence first hand through data.
I also gathered evidence through simply listening, not just to what the leadership was saying, but also listening to the problems that my BDRs were having.
I interviewed a whole bunch of BDRs during this period of time, and I came up with a new perspective on what the challenges really are.
Define the charter for the sales enablement function
This has evolved a bit over the last three years. I defined my charter of where I was going to get started and what I was going to do. I communicated that widely to everyone, whether they were willing to listen or not.
Now, this is a huge aspect of what I did. I was a one man show, but I needed to collaborate and find partners and friends across the organization that I could collaborate with to really drive the outcomes that I wanted.
Measure business impact and communicate
I always start with the beginning in mind. With setting up an enablement function, it was really important for me to understand what the measure of success would look like.
And that was 100% baked into business impact, and communicated what that was going to look like.
I started off as a team of one, but within six months, because I proved the value in what we were doing, I was actually given a headcount of three.
They drive the sales enablement strategy and coaching in those teams. Apart from that, though. I work very closely with:
- Business leaders.
- Business operations.
- GTM manager development teams.
- Our solution consultant teams.
- Our sales training organization.
All of us are working towards driving our performance for the business development group. This happens through opportunity, pipeline and deal progression. That's how we measure performance.
Sales enablement charter
This has evolved over the last three years, and it has evolved significantly in the last 18 months, as we become a lot more mature than where we started. If you are defining your sales enablement charter, it needs to be as specific as you can. Leave no room for ambiguity or guesswork.
Here’s my sales enablement charter: 👇
Out of all the points on this charter, I really want to put a huge focus on coaching.
I want to stress the power of coaching for organizations in areas such as:
- Selling skills,
- Sales processes,
- Key campaigns
- Solution training.
Over the last three years I developed a specific charter because we needed all of our programs to come back to this one, singular mission. It’s often easy to get distracted by the new shiny objects that executives can get fixated on.
We needed to keep focused. This is what's going to drive results for key enablement services
Key enablement services
I've purposely done this in the form of a puzzle to show you that it is not complete. As the business evolves, our services evolve.
I started off with onboarding because my first challenge was that we needed to get on the path really quickly. We created programs for our onboarding, for our sales training, and for our high acceleration sales coaching.
We do a lot of work in aligning content to customer journeys. We also have introduced strong programs around leadership development, manager coaching, and top talent development and coaching.
How to quantify value
I have a quarterly meeting with our key stakeholders, the leadership team. I also have a weekly meeting with them to make sure that we're going in the right direction. My team has a weekly interlock with their stakeholders to make sure they're going in the right direction also.
On a quarterly basis, we sit down and we present what we have done to create impact in the business. To do that, we have some soft KPIs to make sure that we're moving in the right direction. These are:
- Coaching hours.
- Training hours per rep.
- Employee engagement.
- Training programmes.
I also have to present the leadership teams with hard KPIs. Our team is on a bonus plan that's aligned directly to the performance of their teams. These are:
Pipeline opportunity an progression
The first thing that we measure on is pipeline opportunity and improved progression. Everyone in our organization has to be aligned to the business development reps.
As I've mentioned before, sales coaching and other areas of coaching are a huge part of the services that we offer. It's really been pivotal in driving performance. We've got certain measures to see how well our coaches are performing.
If there are new hires into the sales coaching programme, 90% of our coaches should have met or over achieved their targets in the first quarter of coaching them.
Finally, we also look at completion rates, as well as training and certification rates. That is the real proof of value. That's how we quantify value. And that is what I present to our leadership teams quarterly.
How we matured our services
In the first year, our biggest challenge was onboarding people and getting them to pipe quickly. We managed to shorten the time to pipe from six months to three weeks.
As a business group, we achieved our business targets. In fact, our team had defined a training strategy and learning paths for our team. They'd introduced sales coaching, which was pivotal.
We overachieved our targets significantly. On top of our existing services, we added on leadership development, talent management, high potential coaching, and content management.
It was 2020, and everyone was struggling. We struggled as well, everyone was in the same place. But luckily, we found out that we have been recognized as one of the best performers globally.
Our sales enablement helped create a distributed and connected workforce. We did a lot of work around messaging and content for COVID-19, how we approach our customers on the journey, and meet them on their own journey to the cloud.
Like everyone else, we went virtual and created virtual training programs, roadmaps and certifications. And while 2020 was a huge time for our sales reps, it was especially hard for our managers. They had 20 sales reps each to look after. So, we supported them by introducing manager coaching, and a succession coaching program.
I’m going to reiterate my three points from before.
1. Align with the business.
2. Understand the challenges. Sometimes you might need to challenge your colleagues to understand the challenges.
3. Communicate. There is no such thing as too much communication, especially when you're establishing a new function.
And I’m going to add a final point, maybe the most crucial of all.
4. Be bold. As a sales enablement leader, you probably have a lot more insights than the business has because you're closer to the ground. Don't be afraid of calling that out.
Sometimes you might need data to come up with your strategy, but once you feel you can state your case, be bold.