This article comes from Ruben Boom’s talk, ‘Customer focused enablement programs: from concept to implementation’, at our 2023 Amsterdam Sales Enablement Summit, check out his full talk here.
Staring at a blank canvas can be daunting for any artist. Where do you begin? How do you turn that vast whiteness into a meaningful work of art?
I found myself facing that same question a few years back when tasked with building a global sales enablement program at ifm electronic.
While the blank slate felt overwhelming initially, it soon became clear this represented an exciting opportunity to create something with real impact for our team.
In this article, I'll share the step-by-step journey our team took in going from concept to full implementation in establishing ifm's structured yet flexible enablement program.
Drawing on my firsthand experience leading this initiative, I'll provide a behind-the-scenes look at how we turned that blank canvas into a thriving ecosystem that today equips 8,500+ sales professionals across 55 countries.
Along the way, I'll share key insights and lessons that can help you craft tailored enablement programs for your own team's needs.
So whether you're just starting to envision your enablement "painting" or working to perfect an existing program, I hope this provides a spark of inspiration for the exciting work ahead.
- Beginning at the beginning
- Gathering stakeholder expectations
- Rallying leaders as enablement champs
- The 4 enablement pillars
- Creating a structured program
- Top tips for next steps
- Final thoughts
Beginning at the beginning
When diving into the creation of customer focused enablement programs, to continue my art analogy, you can’t just start painting.
When faced with my challenge, I knew I needed to step back and carefully consider the full vision. Where should I start in developing programs that would resonate across different regions, roles, and experience levels?
So I began at the beginning, reflecting on enablement’s fundamental purpose, support. To me, it boils down to equipping colleagues with the training, coaching, information and tools they need to successfully engage buyers and customers.
When our professionals are set up for success, they make our customers successful. Simple as that.
Gathering stakeholder expectations
With a broad mandate but no defined program, I needed to understand stakeholders’ expectations.
First, I had conversations with customers across regions to gather their perspective. How could ifm better support their needs? What challenges did they face? How could we add more value?
My next stop was chatting with sales leaders across our global footprint. I wanted the inside scoop on what was working and where there was room to grow.
I asked them:
- What are your teams nailing day-in and day-out?
- What skills could still use some sharpening?
- What knowledge and behaviors do you expect from your team?
Getting all those unique perspectives gave me a crystal clear picture of the key mindsets, capabilities, and skills our programs needed to build.
Armed with insights from sales leaders and customers, combined with external research, I had the perfect roadmap to guide our blank canvas ahead.
The directions were laid out - now it was time to start splashing on some color!
Rallying leaders as enablement champs
Once I had a clear vision for our enablement canvas, I was eager to launch new training programs. But first, I needed to ensure we had the right foundation in place.
I knew that even the most compelling curriculum would have little lasting impact if managers didn’t reinforce the concepts consistently. Just as primer helps paint adhere, training needs ongoing coaching and follow-up to truly stick.
I realized a critical first step was getting leaders on board who could actively champion enablement with their teams long-term. Here are a few tips that helped us rally leaders to drive enablement:
- Identify passionate professionals at different levels who are motivated to develop their people. Seek out those enablement "diamonds in the rough."
- Bring the group together for intensive sales coaching workshops to equip them with new tools and approaches.
- Hold pre and post-workshops to align on expectations and next steps. This ensures they leave motivated and ready to take action.
- Organize them into peer coaching groups that meet regularly to share challenges and wins. This builds enablement muscle memory company-wide.
- Coach leaders to cascade key concepts through their teams. Engaged leaders will reach every corner of the company.
Developing and uniting these enablement champions provided the solid foundation we needed before rolling out broader programs. Their energy and commitment helped the training truly stick!
The 4 foundational pillars
We organized our enablement curriculum into four foundational pillars:
- Personal skills - Communication, questioning, listening, and relationship-building capabilities.
- Social skills - Collaboration, cultural awareness, and working across boundaries.
- Business knowledge - Understanding customers' industries, market dynamics, and business contexts.
- Product and solutions knowledge - Technical capabilities regarding our sensors and solutions.
I see these pillars like the four legs of a chair. A chair with one slightly shorter leg still works fine, but to work at its best, all four legs need equal strength.
The four pillar framework brought us simplicity and organization-wide buy-in, preventing any overlap between departments . Defining these foundations first provided the structure to then bring our enablement canvas to life
Creating a structured program
Using the pillars as a blueprint, we then built out a progressive program that would develop professionals throughout their journey:
Onboard thoughtfully. Align new hires to the culture from day 1 with welcome packages, CEO videos, and blended training on the pillars.
💡 Ongoing development
Keep skills sharp. Email short monthly refreshers to keep the organization's knowledge fresh together.
🎯 Personalized learning
Personalize development. Assess skills gaps, then build targeted learning paths and assign precise courses to close them.
Reinforce with practice. Combine digital courses with hands-on training at regional hubs to instill new muscle memory.
Top tips on the next steps
Localize content for a global audience
Make content globally accessible. Early on, all materials and courses were only offered in English and German. But these languages didn’t resonate with our Asian colleagues.
So, we localized materials into 9 languages, engaging local employees to help with instructional videos. This meant colleagues could connect better, but also share guidance in their native language. We then subtitled videos to unlock access across all languages.
This shift ensured our enablement programs represented ifm’s diversity. No matter someone’s location, they could now leverage any information in their own language, bringing our programs to life across borders.
Track enablement's full impact
Look beyond participation metrics, it’s useful data but numbers alone don’t tell the full story.
Empower managers to regularly reinforce learnings, driving training into improved behaviors that boost performance.
Gather feedback to keep perfecting programs, but remember the end goal is customer success.
If enablement efforts make our people and in turn customers more successful, we know we’re on the right track.
Stepping back, I’m proud of the enablement ecosystem we’ve built over the past few years. But at the end of the day, as I’m sure you all know, any enablement program relies on the people behind it. This community is the lifeblood.
I like to think of enablement like sculpting, envisioning the end goal, the final sculpture waiting to emerge from raw materials. We then work backwards, chipping away at skills gaps and honing strengths until the vision becomes a reality.
There are always opportunities to refine techniques and improve impact.
But by taking an “outside-in” approach, focusing first on customers’ needs, then determining what our people require to meet those needs, we've made great strides.
I’m excited to see where this journey can take you, the possibilities ahead remain endless. There are always new skills to hone and masterpieces left to create, so what are you waiting for?