People.ai

Last Spring, People.ai launched the Legends of Sales and Marketing podcast. As the show’s host, I’ve chatted with Chief Revenue Officers at the helm of some of the fastest-growing companies in the world. My first question is always, “what’s your secret.” One response comes back with surprising frequency–”find a rockstar to head up sales enablement.”  

As a former sales executive, I must admit that this wouldn’t have been at the top of my priority list. But, things have changed over the past decade and even the past year. Mary Shea PhD, Principal Analyst at Forrester, reports that COVID-19 and the resulting hardships it brought forth in 2020 accelerated the digitization of the B2B buying and selling process. Sales reps face a host of new challenges, including an extended remote selling environment, larger buying teams, and slower decision cycles. This means a stellar Sales Enablement leader is the smart CRO’s first-round draft pick.  

When the OutSystems Board installed Bart Franelli as CRO, they expected him to start hiring reps immediately. But he took a different approach.  “I over-invested immediately in staffing the Sales Enablement function. Most companies will do the opposite. And it’s a huge flaw, because without a pattern, without a playbook, without a common vernacular, and without a common toolset, reps are never going to hit the revenue target consistently,” says Bart.

Bart presses a point that all of the most successful sales leaders I talk to seem to understand intuitively. Maximizing revenue per rep is critical, and Sales Enablement is the function that most directly impacts that outcome. Sloppy organizations hire to mask inefficiency. But great companies super-size top-line impact with every new rep they onboard.

Here are a few tips that these executives share regarding setting up a high-performance Sales Enablement team:  

  • Hire people with street-cred
    When the sales enablement crew has carried a bag at some point during their career, they instinctively know what will move the needle and what’s fluff. What’s more, they’ll quickly win over the field team since they’ll relate in a very personal way to the unique challenges sellers face.
  • Set the plan, then scale it–not the other way around
    Effective sales executives give their enablement team the space to nail the sales motion (i.e., processes, playbooks, and tools). This won’t happen overnight, but it can be accelerated if sales leadership aligns with the initiative and gives it the attention it deserves. When you talk to organizations that run like clockwork, chances are, there were few all-nighters during which leaders locked themselves in a room to hammer out and then refine the sales program.
  • Showcase the right metrics
    Focusing on the wrong numbers not only inhibits but, in some cases, blows up a sales organization. Reps are savvy, and if they feel that management is collecting data simply to micro-manage, they’ll push back hard and eventually quit. On the other hand, when companies can zero in on the leading indicators that define future success, reps tune in.  They’re looking for every advantage they can get to win over customers, close deals, and maintain long term relationships (if they’re not, you don’t want them). Focusing on the handful of numbers that predict those kinds of results will resonate. But to figure out what matters, you need a team that has the chops to sift through the data and operationalize it. Your Sales Enablement team needs to be equally comfortable swimming in data riding shotgun with reps.
  • Give it time
    Tom Levey, Chief Go To Market Officer at DataRobot, cautions companies to avoid short-term thinking regarding building a successful enablement program. “You may not see results for a year or more. But when you do, the impact is massive.” Sales organizations have to think short and long term simultaneously. With expectations built around quarterly earnings, they don’t have the luxury of chewing up months sitting in planning meetings. That said, if they’re not investing in their sales foundation quarter in and quarter out, they’ll never hit and sustain the inflection point that characterizes high growth companies.  

Here’s some parting wisdom from Erica Schultz, President of Field Operations at Confluent: “I see too many teams with a small Enablement team buried somewhere in Sales Operations. Think about the need to enable the salesforce on prescriptive plays and recipes to be successful. Sales Enablement is one of the most strategic levers that you have in the organization.”

Sales Enablement has been catapulted to the top of the CROs priority. To learn more and get up to speed on the four other trends that are redefining how companies generate revenue, check out People.ai’s latest eBook Revenue 2.0, 5 predictions shaping Go To Market Teams in 2021.