Georgia Watson (Sales Enablement Leader, IBM, ASEANZK) gave this presentation at the Sales Enablement Festival in October 2022. You can catch the full replay with an SEC membership here.

In this article, I’ll talk about some topics that I'm really passionate about: Innovation, sales enablement, inclusion, and why they matter to us.

First of all, though, I want to share a quick story.

A few years back, I had this feeling. I don't know whether you've had it, but I was drowning in spreadsheets, reporting, and managing some really challenging stakeholders.

One of my leaders came to me and said: “You should innovate more.”

I wanted to explode. I thought, “How can I do that? How can my team do that with everything that’s going on?”. There wasn’t the time for even one little ounce of creativity, let alone innovation.

If I was a cartoon there would’ve been steam coming out of my ears.

But something quite big came from that, and I took a number of actions. And I'm going to tell you more about them below. But it's partly because of what happened there that really got me interested in innovation and why it’s relevant to us in sales enablement, and particularly to business. And this is what we're going to cover in this article.

We're going to look at:

  • Our new context - changes to our market and audience
  • Why innovation is an imperative for business and sellers
  • Inclusion, culture, and actions we can take around this

Changes to our market and audience

We know that disruption is impacting everything. It's changing how we do business, how we sell, how our clients buy, us as individuals, and it’s necessitating reinvention in all of these different areas.

We know that during the pandemic there were massive transitions, with businesses becoming virtual along with changes to spending patterns. Everything became digital.

There were also massive changes in the way we work, the skills we need, and the expectations that our audiences have around learning - and these changes are going to continue, with 100 million workers potentially needing to switch occupations by 2030.

Thematic investing dubbed the 2020s as “a decade of work transformation” for business and learning. And I think they're probably right.

The rate of change has impacted us personally as well. Our screen time hours have increased significantly per day since pre-pandemic. A report that was done last year, which showed that 58% of sellers are struggling with their mental health, and we have distractions at whole new levels with so much going on in our lives and never-ending pings.

Our context has really changed. But the thing is, it’s not going to stop changing. This is one of my favorite quotes:

“The pace of change has never been this fast, and it will never be this slow again.”

So what do we do? We have to continue to evolve, to think differently, and to innovate.

Why innovation is imperative for business and sellers

There are lots of different definitions of what innovation is, and there's no right or wrong one. This one is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

“A new idea or method, or the use of new ideas and methods.”

That's one version. The risk of this is that you may end up with lots of useless inventions that nobody uses.

I like this one a little bit more:

“A different approach to solve the problem of a specific audience.”

If there isn’t a problem to solve, what are we inventing and innovating for? And if there isn't someone it's relevant to or going to help, then what's the point?

When we do think about innovation, we often think about this big blue sky thinking: crazy, different, out there ideas that transform everything.

We think about Netflix and Uber, but the reality is that innovation can also be much smaller and much more incremental.

It may be taking something that works really well in one industry and applying it to a new industry. It can be an incremental improvement on a process. It can be an iterative process to make something better.

It doesn't have to be that big blue sky thinking that we associate it with.

Now, I work for IBM as a Sales Enablement Leader for ASEANZK, and I've been with the company for a little while. IBM has been around for over 110 years, and it’s been pretty good at evolving and innovating. I think that’s why it’s lasted so long.

IBM has made many different things over the years. But my personal favorite is a cheese grater, this was one of their earlier inventions. IBM has gone from cheese graters to supercomputers, data, AI, and cloud solutions.

So it's a massive shift and a massive journey.

In the early days, it was very much about slicing, weighing, and tabulating machines. And this was the big invention and innovation back in the day. It's hard for us to imagine. But there has been this continual evolution, and IBM does invest very heavily in R&D.

Historically, they always have. There's also a big focus on culture as well, which we’ll talk more about more shortly.

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If a company doesn't prioritize innovation, they’ll risk going the way of Blockbuster or Kodak.

Kodak’s an interesting one because it wasn't that they failed to innovate, they were actually leading on all sorts of innovation around photography, and they came up with digital solutions when film was the thing of the day.

They didn't take any action on it though, for fear of cannibalizing what was their most successful product line, the hard copy film.

Anyone my age or older may recall this, but it was the actual film that the photos used to be printed on and you would take it and get them developed. It wasn't that they didn't invest, someone just made a really bad call to not go ahead with it and they filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

They still exist, but in a much smaller way, targeting a very niche clientele.

Another fact that I love is from some research McKinsey and Co did: businesses that invest in innovation historically make higher revenue. So it’s not even about just surviving - you're making more money as well.

And businesses that invest during a crisis, such as a pandemic, make 10% more revenue during that crisis, and up to 30% more post-crisis.

To me, that's a pretty big reason for businesses to invest and prioritize innovation.

Innovation is imperative for business, but it's not as simple as just investing in R&D and throwing money at it and thinking that will do.

There are many elements that are factors, but I'm going to share two that are really key.


You need diverse thinking and diverse people to innovate. You can't have the same group of people sitting in the room who all think the same and have the same lens on life, business, and how things should be done.

They're not going to come up with anything new or different.

There's a great quote by Einstein: “You can't solve problems with the same thinking.”

This is the same. We have to have diverse teams.

Now, when we look at gender alone, which is one of many, many different intersections we look at, we find that those who have more gender diversity lead in innovation.

More women, particularly in leadership, introduces a diversity of creative thought, innovation, and insight. This is according to some research that was done by the IBM Institute of Business Value.

Gender alone leads to more innovation, so imagine if you had diversity across all the different inclusion elements.


You need to have a culture that supports different thinking and its application. I think we all know that whether you're innovating or just trying something new, things don't always go to plan; they can often go really wrong.

If you feel like something not working or going wrong is career-limiting for you, you’re not going to do it. So we need to ensure that there are psychological safe spaces where people can bring their full selves to work.

We need to have what I call a fail-forward attitude. We know that failure happens and things don't work, but we need teams and organizations who are ready to say, “Okay, let's learn from that and try again.”

You also need collaboration. There are some great stats that show when companies have innovative corporate culture, it’s actually proven to make people happier, more engaged, and more productive. So there's another great reason for it.

Maximizing the value sellers deliver to customers

If you work in B2B like I do, you’ll know that innovation is an imperative for business, but it's probably also an imperative for your sellers.

Many of the clients you’re selling to or your sellers are working with need to innovate and want to innovate as well.

When it comes to an outdated business person, I always used to think of a dodgy second-hand car salesman when I thought about sales. Not so much now, but I used to.

This way of selling doesn't work.

There’s been a massive shift, as I think many of you in enablement will know. It’s more around serving and what value you can add to your client. And to reinforce that even more, we know that there’s a limited window for people to add that value in the way that we're working now. But that value counts for even more.

The experience a company provides is now seen as almost as important as its product or service.

85% of business buyers said the experience was just as important, and 79% of B2B buyers said the same. This was some research that was done by Salesforce.

This is huge when we think about the experience, and that's not just the experience once they sign the dotted line, this is even before their experience during the sales cycle.

So my question to you is, if you’re in B2B and your clients want value and want to innovate, who’s helping them? If it's not your sellers, it’ll be the competitors.

Fueling innovation through design thinking

There are a few things that we need to make sure we're doing to not be the dodgy sales guy who comes in, sells something, and then runs away. We need to be a strategic partner, and I wanted to share two ideas around this.

One of these is doing design thinking. I'm a huge advocate for design thinking. They're great frameworks to apply if you do want to innovate. At IBM, we ran a program that helped to teach our sellers how to use design thinking with their clients.

So when applying design thinking methodology, there were lots of bonuses. They were obviously there to help and support their clients, they became part of the team, they were working together to solve problems, and they co-created together to come up with solutions.

What we know is that when people are working together, collaborating, and co-creating something, the buy-in and desire to ensure that it succeeds is much higher.

It also helped them understand some of the needs differently from their client and understand the various stakeholders. Of course, when you're doing design thinking, you want to make sure you include those diverse perspectives.

So I want to come back to my initial story, when I was hugely frustrated at one of my leaders telling me I needed to innovate more while I was drowning and just had no time at all.

I want to share with you quite a simple action that I took.

And this action really changed a number of different things and resulted in delivering two award-winning sales enablement campaigns soon after.

Once I let go of my frustration, had my little meltdown, and gathered myself back together, I said: “Right, we need to change things.”

There were two big steps that I took.

One was to try and cut out some of those time-wasting activities that my team and I were spending time on. We had a bit of a push back to global at the time.

We said, “Sorry, Mr. Difficult Stakeholder in my local team, we're not doing that anymore. We're changing the way that we're doing things.” And that allowed us to free ourselves up to do things differently.

The first step was something really quite simple, and I'd encourage you all to do this at some point.

We also did really simple design thinking ideation exercise. I did this with my small sales enablement team at the time. We were scattered all around the Middle East and Africa, so we logged onto Mural, which is an interactive, collaborative tool, like an online whiteboard.

We went through this really simple ideation process.

We defined what the problem was that we wanted to solve, and then we did a brainstorm and put all our ideas that we could come up with to solve this problem on that.

We weren’t limiting our thinking.

Then we clustered ideas, and there were some really key themes that we saw emerging to help solve those ideas, even though we were coming from different perspectives and different geographies. We then went through the process of prioritizing those ideas against feasibility and impact.

We then had a series of activities that we knew we had to execute.

We did this exercise in 90 minutes, it took a bit of pre-work just to get it set up, but on the day, we went through all of those steps in 90 minutes. And yes, there was more to come out of it afterward, once we had our big ideas.

Putting it all together and making it happen is where the heavy lifting is. But sometimes it's those ideas and the stopping to step back that really makes all the difference.

So we need to think about innovation from a business perspective, but from enablement as well in supporting the business, helping shape the culture, and even changing the way that we’re enabling people as well.

Key takeaways

I have three takeaways that I want you to think about:

  1. Innovation is an imperative for businesses, and particularly for those in B2B.
  2. Diversity of thought and inclusion are key to innovation.
  3. Creating a culture where innovation can thrive is your responsibility.

There are many things that you can do within your team. It doesn't matter whether you're a team member or a leader, wherever you sit, there are things you can do to help create that psychological safe space.

There are also things that you can do when you think about diversity of thought. If you're a hiring manager, great. If you’re working with HR, even better.

But if you're not, think about who you can tap on the shoulder.

What stakeholders do you work with? Who else is in your extended team that you can get involved to bring some different thinking?

There's nothing worse than a group of enablers sitting together in a room coming up with plans and not actually asking different people (particularly those who are going to be using the enablement) to give their input.

If innovation is a priority for your business and it's a priority for your sellers or clients, it needs to be a priority for enablement. Whatever matters for your business, your clients and your sellers need to be top of your list in enablement, or you'll be out of the loop very quickly.