Beth gave this presentation at the Sales Enablement Festival in May 2021
My name is Beth Schumann, I’m a Vice President of Sales Enablement, and I’m writing about how to gain better alignment for your sales enablement program.
To start off, I’ll give you a little bit of background that might provide you with a reference point for where some of my material is coming from.
I have held many positions as a sales enablement leader both in the public and the private space. Prior to that, I held many sales, quota-bearing roles as well as director and vice president of sales roles, in addition to revenue and sales operation director roles. Most of my positions have been in the technology space, cloud and SaaS.
So who is this article for? It's really for those that are seeking better alignment with the sales enablement function across all of the teams in an organisation, which would include the list below, but it’s not limited to these.
Areas of discussion
This is a relatively short article, and it's not exhaustive. It's not a complete list of every challenge and best ways to solve each one. What it is, is my personal experience running sales enablement at multiple companies, and examining three examples of how to work better across teams.
There are more teams than what I've listed, but sales enablement needs to align with and make sure that we are working collaboratively across the entire organization.
You can still use this article for the teams I don’t mention, with some modifications.
I hope that you will see some of the issues that you are running into at the moment covered here, and that you’ll see things that currently are challenges you’re facing and wanting to address.
Lastly, I hope that you’ll be able to put some of this experience and some of these best practices to work in regards to those challenges.
What I’ll discuss in the rest of the article is the alignment challenges, and some of the best practices to pull your stakeholders into alignment.
While this list is not extensive, as I mentioned, if you nail these or make good strides in these areas, you'll be well on your way to a successful program.
The topics we’re going to cover are:
- Sales productivity tools, and what to do when you just can't get budget approval from the executives.
- Marketing, and making sure that we help them understand that customer content is not the same as training.
- Your product team, and what to do if they are too technical. If you need to stop focusing on technical features and functions when you have them presenting at sales training, what do you do? You get them to start covering customer pains, challenges and value.
We'll be covering these in the article, as well as some suggestions to help you in these areas.
Challenge 1: Executive teams - support for a sales productivity tool/platform
The first challenge is the executive teams, and getting support, alignment, and budget for your sales productivity tools.
Many of you may be using an unofficial learning management system (LMS). Maybe you don’t have a platform at all, and you may be cobbling together where you store information. You can recognize that it is really hard to scale, and it’s hard to see who's taken what training. It’s especially hard to tie your sales training initiatives back to changes in outcomes in the field.
We all have a lot of problems that we need to solve, and when it comes to the executive suite, if we can align with them and help them solve their top problems, we’ll have a much better chance of being able to implement a sales enablement platform.
What we need to do here is pinpoint top priorities within the organization, whether it be for the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), your Chief Sales Officer (CSO), your Chief Operations Officer (COO), whoever you're reporting to. It could even be your VP of Sales.
The point is that if you can't understand the primary areas in which they're struggling or that they're wanting to put their energy and their resources in you can’t help them.
If you can share with them how the sales enablement platform or sales productivity tool can assist them in solving (or at least making some strides) in these areas, then you have a good chance of getting some budget aligned to build from.
Pinpoint priority concerns
Above I’ve listed four areas that these C-Suite individuals are usually focusing on when they assess their top priorities.
The list is: consistent revenue growth quarter over quarter, predictable growth, profitable growth, and capturing market share.
Underneath each of the priority areas I've listed two or three areas where sales enablement can help, and this is where you can tie your program to supporting and gaining ground for your C-Suite. With this, you’ll be well on your way to getting some of the funds that you need to help scale your enablement program.
For example, we know that when it comes to consistent quarter over quarter growth, revenue generation is very important to a CRO.
If we can help in the area of demand generation and show where a platform or tool can help your frontline sellers to grow the beginning of your funnel, that's very helpful to the CRO
For those of you supporting the customer success, customer service, renewal, or retention teams, if you can talk about where an enablement platform can help with revenue retention and cash flow, then you have a good basis when it comes to getting some support.
What are other priority areas that we know we can help with?
We can help sales identify what a healthy or unhealthy pipeline is, and where they should focus their time when working on pipeline growth.
Accurate forecasting is another area that executives struggle with, the sales team can often struggle to put forth an accurate forecast and we can help here. We’re also capable of helping to reduce the sales cycle length.
In the area of profitable growth, we want to show where the enablement platform can help with reducing, discounting, showing more value, and highlighting where we can help target high value customers.
In the area of capturing market share, we want to focus on competitive wins. How can what we're building help our reps to more confidently go after certain competitors, especially if they've just leapfrogged us in the field? How can we help sales sell a platform, so that we’re competing from a position of strength, and are putting the entire company's platform and vision forward?
If we can get a customer to engage on more than one product, we know that we have a much stickier customer who is likely to stay with us, and that can help affect the priority number one, the consistent quarter over quarter revenue growth or revenue retention.
Cross-selling is another focus area in capturing market share, especially if part of the business acquisition model comes through acquisitions. That is a growth strategy. If we can show how we help more sellers become proficient with more products or solutions so that they can cross-sell successfully, then you have a chance at getting a sales enablement tool or platform.
Show how enablement helps
Once we identify what these key areas are, what do we do? We're going to ask those that we work for, we're going to ask those in adjacent departments.
But that’s not all, we're also going to do our research. Once we know what's most important to our CRO, to our COO, our VP of Sales, we're going to do some research. We're going to look at the data because we want to put forth a strategy and a proposal that is based on facts.
We want to take a quantitative look at what we can learn from revenue reports from our bookings from the CRM data, and then we also want to overlay that with some qualitative information with interviews from your sales teams, surveys, observations, and if possible talk to those both within sales and outside of sales to get a complete picture.
Once you've done this, you should develop a hypothesis. What is the data telling you? What story can you put forth?
You need to have about 80% of a presentation ready at this point, not a fully baked and finalized one, because now you have to get support. Go share this presentation with others. You want to talk to marketing, you want to talk to product, you want to talk to perhaps sales or revenue operations.
Quite possibly you might do at a one-on-one meeting with the people that you report to, that do own the budget. Discuss what this presentation might look like, what your hypothesis is looking like, work on getting some buy-in and getting people to weigh in and tell you what they think.
When they feel like you're on the mark, do some more work and make some adjustments.
Present and align
Once you've pinpointed the primary concerns for those that own the budget, and once you’ve done your work to tie a story together using data which shows where the sales enablement platform can assist them, it's time to actually present so that you can align and hopefully come out of that meeting with some ‘move forward strategies’ in terms of getting your enablement tools.
The next step is to polish the presentation. You've already done your 80% proof, you've got the input. Now, you need one that is locked and loaded. It needs to be tight, and able to tell a story at a high level, having taken all that information in and rolled it up.
The story needs to tell two things: How you solve the problem, and how the data that you found supports solving the problem for the budget-holders.
What you're going to do is ask for more than one option, and you're also going to ask for input often along the way, you're going to ask for their input, their adjustments, what they’re comfortable with, what they're not comfortable with.
The key during this presentation is to be very nimble, be willing to throw things out or be willing to put things in quickly.
You might be trying to sell for an evaluation, a pilot, or a subset of the sales population, as we know those in CRO positions do a lot with A/B testing, and with demand generation.
One example could be a subset or A/B test with a sales population that is using a platform and one which isn’t, and measuring outcomes. Performance is one way to approach it.
Maybe you can have more than one pricing plan. Certainly, go after what you think is the right plan, maybe the fanciest ‘Cadillac’ program if that's what you need, but be willing to have a backup plan for the standard platform or a smaller version of the platform.
Lastly, keep the door open if you don't get the approval the first time. All is not lost, keep the door open, take their input, get buy-in so that you can come back after doing more research with a proposal that makes more sense
Here’s the proof: when it came to the sales methodology that I implemented at one of my previous companies, it took three years to get a $250,000 budget approved. Sometimes being tenacious, being flexible, not taking no for an answer and continuing to go back until you're successful is what you need to do.
Challenge 2: Marketing teams - collateral is not sales training
Let's switch gears and talk about marketing teams and some of the challenges I’ve faced.
At some of the companies that I've worked for where marketing teams have been small, like enablement teams, they really did feel like sales enablement was part of their job. They would create collateral and think that it was actually sales training material. I’m going to address this phenomenon here.
Nothing I'm saying is going to surprise you, I'm sure you have run into this issue before. Some of you are currently experiencing similar challenges. What I would say in this situation is this: we're all on the same team.
It's executive direction and alignment from the start if we can get it. By that I mean talking to the CMO (or whoever you report up to) and discussing how the two teams are going to work together. The more you can get this alignment and agreement up front, the easier things will be for the two teams going forward.
Both teams are super busy, and we need to know who's taking point on what. Trust me, there's more than enough work to go around. That also means both teams have a long list of things that will never actually be completed.
So try to avoid contention, duplication of effort, and confusion between the two teams. We want to know what our role is in the area of sales kickoff, we want to know what their role is in the way of codifying what successful sellers are doing and what the playbooks look like.
Work on aligning the job description wherever possible. The more you can get the CMO to include collaboration with and support of the sales enablement function in their job descriptions, the better things will go because then marketing will actually have time to dedicate to what you need to work with you collaboratively on.
Ultimately, sales enablement is taking the marketing collateral, turning it into sales enablement, and repurposing it. So the more work we can get done upfront, from the get go when it comes to executive direction, the better.
When I talk about an understanding, this is what I mean: if marketing doesn't understand what you're talking about, we need to give them some examples of what we mean when we say that marketing collateral is not a sales enablement tool.
The way we do that is to help them understand that we want sales to practice.
'Perfect practice makes perfect play', they need to practice what they're going to be doing in front of customers.
We can't leave it to chance that they'll get all that information out of the brochure. Some may, and may do it just fine. But many others need you to close the gap across the chasm for them.
You should ask your marketing folks to attend some of the training that you're doing, and they should audit the training. That way they can see what you're talking about, either live or on demand.
Help them to see their material in action, see the content that they recognize being turned into some active practice and not a passive experience like reading the collateral.
Help them understand that what we need to do is repetition, we need to have contests, we need to have roleplay simulations of how a rep will actually use this material with a client or prospect at each step in the sales cycle. From there, things get a lot easier.
Planning and execution
Next, consider planning and execution. If we work on the planning and the execution up front, things will go a lot better in the areas of content, development, delivery, and keeping the material up to date in a timely fashion.
You need to participate in each other's planning meetings, or at least a portion of them. In annual and mid-year meetings, somebody from marketing should be included.
You should have marketing assign a person on their team to work with enablement, so that there’s a go-to person who knows we're coming and that we might need something. Likewise, they may need something from us so it's a two way street.
We want to agree on which team takes the lead on which content so that there's no conflict and no duplicated effort, as I wrote earlier.
When you have a small sales enablement team, you may need somebody from marketing or product developing some of the content, or delivering a portion of the content.
The bigger your team gets, the more your instructional designers or your content people will be working with the subject matter experts. They’ll be pulling the information in and developing the content within your team and delivering it too.
You should talk about where the content should be stored up front.
Ideally, you're going to get buy-in for having content in its various formats, be it SCORM-based, PDFs, recordings, and so on. In some cases you’ll include whitepapers or third party material.
If you can get it all in an LMS you can then put together training tracks by role, and you can track and assign who has and hasn’t completed the training. You can then start to tie measurable outcomes to your sales enablement efforts.
If you can get marketing to buy into this, so that there’s no double posting of material on a secondary site which means you can't do the assignment, tracking, or measuring, it’s all the better.
Scheduling regular check-ins is another important aspect to keep in mind. Not just the annual meeting, the mid-year check-in. Regularly check-in with the VP of Marketing and see how things are going from their perspective with enablement. How are the sales teams doing? What are they hearing? What are they hearing from their marketing teams?
Additionally, the more you give them tools in the area of development, the better things will go if you do need them to participate and do some development. Share what your frameworks look like with them, and what content you need. Agree on what an ABC release looks like, and what material will be updated for each one.
It's really important that you both have access to a framework of what content and what modules you have for each of your products and solutions, for your processes, your systems, as well as for your sales methodology and the way you handle territories, account planning, and more.
After you’ve established that framework, have somebody for marketing actually review it and sign off on the material, so that you know that we have buy-in from them.
Most of your sales content tools will have a way for a reviewer to jump in to see a draft module without actually having a licence, and they can put their feedback right on the draft. That is super helpful.
Once you've gone through and you've reviewed all the feedback, make a decision on whether to incorporate it or not. Then you can publish, knowing that you have gotten the information and feedback from those who can help you, and you're aligned in that sense.
Challenge 3: Product teams - getting customer pain points, not technical overload
Remember, your technical people are not sales enablement experts, and that's exactly why the two of you will work together. The key, as it’s been throughout this article, is alignment.
The more you can get aligned at the top, the better. The sooner you can do this, the better.
With the head of product, whether the role is called VP of Product or something else, you need to agree on how the two teams are going to operate on that day-to-day basis.
When it comes to product, you need to ensure alignment. Make sure that there's no shadow training happening. You want their buy-in and understanding that all training needs to come through the enablement team.
If enablement is at least asked whether it wants to participate in a training, it will ensure that you won't find somebody in sales has gone to product and asked for a training session at one of their team meetings.
If that happens, you find yourself in a situation where you ask the same team to complete a training, and they tell you that they've already taken it.
Lastly when it comes to alignment, make sure the job description in product includes some level of support and collaboration for sales enablement. Why? Because again, just like marketing, everyone is busy and has more than enough work on their plate. If we can include work in support of sales enablement in the actual job description, then when we come to them, things will go more smoothly.
Bridge the gap
When it comes to dealing with product teams, remember to bridge the gap. They're technical folks, and we need to share the areas that we need sales to learn.
We don't need sales to learn feeds and speeds, we need sales to understand the market landscape and how to have the right conversation at the right time with the customer.
What are the likely pain points of each persona they’ll run into? How does our solution solve the pain? What are those use cases? How do we add value?
Invite your product teams to training sessions, and have them audit some of the training that you're offering either live or recorded so that they can see what you're talking about, and understand what you're actually looking for.
Communication and support
The next point I want to make in relation to the product team is the same one I made in relation to the marketing team: communication and support is vital.
Schedule regular check-ins with the VP or Director of Product. Are they hearing of any challenges where sales is over or under-selling the solutions? If so, we want to talk about those instances and figure out why and where it's happening.
Is it because there's gaps in the training? Is it because we're not delivering the training in the best manner possible? Once you know that, you can figure out what you need to do about it together.
Have product share the release calendar with you, that way you know where the major releases are and where the major changes are. That will simply ensure that you're prepared to support those changes and augment your content as a result.
Like with marketing, make sure that we have a product management person who is your point person who can work with you in training, but is not your main presenter. That’s because ideally we want to get our sales trainers to deliver the content.
How do we do that? By having the product teams watch them in a dry run and offer feedback and validate that they are correctly presenting the material.
Alternatively, you can come to the product team after a training session after you've made a list of items that you couldn't answer. You've promised to get back to sales and now you go to the product team and ask for them to give you the information.
The third way they can assist you is this: invite them to attend the last 5-10 minutes of a training session so that they can actually answer some of the questions that you couldn't answer yourself.
For the more technical sessions, and you want to make sure that you do have additional technical training, one way to do that is to have somebody on the product team develop a more technical module that you can place in your learning management system, if the sellers need more, or if you're doing technical training, you can have the product management team sign off on any of the content that's being delivered.
These are just three of the main challenges that I’ve run into many times running sales enablement teams over the years. I want to remind you that these are cross-functional teams, we’re working with folks that are not sales enablement experts.
We know what we want, and we know that they are helping us train the sales organization, so they are great reference points for us. They're experts in their area of expertise, at the executive level, or in marketing or product.
It is our role in sales enablement to make sure that we're clear on what we're looking for, that we offer examples, that we provide tools, frameworks, and templates, that we're good communicators with a communication plan, that we have regular cadences and check-ins so that marketing or product knows when content needs to be updated.
We need to be available, super flexible, and remember that communication is key. We're all human, we have a tonne of stuff we need to get done. If we're finding some resistance, there is a reason why there’s resistance and it's our job to make sure that we clear the air and find that common ground so that we can both move forward.
Remember, we’re all trying to solve problems for the company, and we are all on the same team. Sometimes we just need to catch our breath. If we do, we'll be fine.