4 Strategies to Advance Your Sales Enablement Career
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Just as with a career in sales, there can be many different career paths within sales enablement. Practitioners who are passionate about managing people may have an interest in pursuing roles such as a sales enablement manager or director of sales enablement, where there are many chances to work collaboratively and build strong professional relationships. Those who are more passionate about the craft or technical side of enablement may prefer to grow within specialized individual contributor roles, such as an instructional designer, content specialist, or sales coach.
Different paths will require different experiences, skills, and knowledge, so it’s important for practitioners to assess their interests and talents to create a path that is tailored to them. Here are a few ways practitioners can learn how to navigate this uncharted territory to form a fulfilling career trajectory, including defining personal goals, identifying skills to develop, and building professional relationships in order to create new opportunities.
Define Personal Goals
The first step to building a meaningful career is determining what kind of role will fulfill your personal and professional passions. In order to determine an overall direction for career growth and ensure that growth aligns with personal values, it’s important to put your career goals into writing.
Begin by drafting a career objective statement – a short, simple statement that defines the long-term, overarching theme of your professional journey. Your career objective statement should reflect your personal values, the things that make up the core of who you are and drive your motivations. To identify your personal values, try asking these questions:
- Why do you do what you do for a living?
- What purpose does your work serve in your life?
- What purpose or impact does your work have in your community?
Build your answers to these questions into a single statement that will guide your career and purpose. By incorporating your personal values into your career objective statement, you can ensure that your career path will lead to more fulfilling and rewarding work.
“Your career goals can – and should – be influenced by your larger life goals,” said Chrissy Scivique in her book, “Build: Your Professional Development Plan”. “They should support one another. If the two are not aligned, you will almost certainly experience personal and professional turmoil and conflict.”
Next, identify specific goals that align with your objective statement. Identify what your statement means in terms of concrete actions. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, Angela Duckworth recommends envisioning your goals in a hierarchy with three levels shaped like a pyramid. Aim to develop roughly ten low-level goals, several mid-level goals, and just one or two top-level goals. Goals at each level should ladder into the next level and ultimately support your top-level goal(s). Distribute goals across low-level, mid-level, and top-level goals:
- Low-level goals are the most concrete and specific goals. These typically reside on our short-term to-do lists, and are most likely means to an end. For example, contributing to an important project, earning a certification, or developing a new skill might be low-level goals.
- Mid-level goals are a larger reach than low-level goals, and might take several low-level goals to reach. These goals should guide the next steps or short-term goals of your career, such as a specific role or project, or number of years of experience.
- Top-level goals serve as a compass for all of the goals below it. Typically more abstract, these will be long-term goals that will guide you throughout your career.
Try setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals in order to ensure that they are relevant and productive. Then, review your goals regularly to verify that your goals are still relevant and aligned with your career objective statement. As you learn, continue to update goals to reflect your progress, and remind yourself of what still needs to be done.
Identify Skills for Development
Identifying specific skills to build upon or improve can help pave the way to achieving your goals, boost your credentials, and drive innovation. According to Scivique, there are three fundamental reasons that seeking opportunities for continuous skill development is critical:
- The changing workplace: Old skills become obsolete, and new, cutting-edge skills become essential. Continually updating your skills is necessary to keep up with changing times and technologies. This is especially true for sales enablement practitioners. Sales enablement is a rapidly evolving field, so practitioners must continuously sharpen their skills in order to stay up to date with best practices and drive innovation.
- Decreased job security: In today’s economic climate, you can’t always rely on your company for professional development programs, or even long-term job security. Finding ways to develop skills independently can help build transferable skills and opportunities for advancement.
- Non-traditional career paths: As company org structures shift, career paths aren’t as clearly defined as they used to be. Rather than starting at the bottom and working their way up, many successful people make lateral moves, take steps backward, and zig-zag their way to the top. Continuing to build new skills helps you explore new interests and build transferable skills.
In order to identify what skills to target, look at what the most in-demand skills are for roles you hope to reach, and assess where you might have a skill or knowledge gap blocking the way to accomplishing your goals. Try identifying skills across these four areas:
- Technical knowledge: Hard skills, such as project management, proficiency with sales enablement technologies, or familiarity with processes such as competency mapping can be critical to various sales enablement roles. Identify what technical skills or knowledge will be required to reach your professional goals based on role requirements or job scope. To develop these skills, seek out resources such as online courses, certification programs, webinars, or podcasts from experts.
- Characteristics: For any sales enablement role, collaboration, communication, stakeholder management, and sales empathy are essential soft skills to develop. To refine these, prioritize alignment with stakeholders and sales reps by focusing on listening skills. Aim to understand the daily workflows of reps, and how different stakeholder priorities contribute to overall business success in order to focus on collaboration and communication.
- Relationships: Developing professional relationships is critical to being seen as a strategic business partner. Find opportunities for cross-functional projects that encourage collaboration in order to get to know other teams and explore other areas of the business. Dedicate time to intentional networking in order to build stronger relationships across the organization, and gain visibility into other functions.
- Experiences: Involvement in key corporate initiatives, or first-hand knowledge of specific processes can be important steps toward your goals. Identify any projects or initiatives that might be necessary to build your professional portfolio, and proactively seek out opportunities to get involved.
Identifying steps to develop necessary skills is critical to professional development within any industry. In sales enablement especially, honing specific skills can be the key to success in building cross-functional relationships and driving tangible results within the organization.
Utilize Intentional Networking
Networking can help you find opportunities for development that you might not have considered previously, or gain visibility into what others do in order to determine what makes sense for you to pursue.
Building genuine and intentional professional relationships can help practitioners seek opportunities for growth, both internally for the organization as well as through external enrichment opportunities.
Think about your goals for networking, and identify who would be best to meet. Different people will provide new insights into the organization, different resources or advice, and create a support network throughout the organization. Consider some of the following people:
- Human Resources: Talk to HR to see what opportunities exist for professional development within the organization and how you can leverage these.
- Mentors: Seek out a mentor who had/has similar goals to yours in order to understand how they got to where they are now, and how you can utilize the resources available to you to reach your goals.
- Peers: Connect with peers who are working towards similar goals in order to share best practices and useful opportunities, as well as to encourage one another or hold each other accountable when needed.
- Managers: Have a candid conversation with your manager about your goals and opportunities for career development, and seek support when appropriate.
With any networking relationship, it’s important to dedicate time to building mutually beneficial relationships. Meaningful relationships don’t materialize overnight, but require intentional effort to develop and maintain. Think of how this relationship can also benefit the other party, such as equally supporting your peers in their professional journeys, or providing a unique insight to managers or mentors.
“There’s a correlation between the quality of our relationships and the results that we’re going to get,” said Darlene Samer, senior manager of global sales readiness programs at LinkedIn. “We can move mountains when we’re trying to roll out our initiatives that have expectations of [others] if the relationship is in fact intact.”
Make Your Own Opportunities
Sales enablement is an innovative field by nature, so distinguishing yourself within the field can lead to many opportunities for career advancement. Finding ways to set yourself apart can give you opportunities to develop skills, contribute in new ways, and earn attention within the organization. Look for ways you can fill gaps within the organization or identify and solve problems. Consider a few of these strategies to make your own opportunities for growth:
- Join a committee: Committees can be useful to build relationships with those outside of your team, gain visibility into new projects or overarching business goals, and find opportunities to learn new skills or move laterally.
- Volunteer for stretch projects: While stretch projects may seem like a big undertaking or lofty assignments, they can be a great way to build new skills, increase your visibility, and develop experiences that you haven’t had before, such as managing people.
- Look for ways to improve current processes: Identifying areas for improvement or innovation can demonstrate that you are a key contributor and have a good understanding of the challenges your organization faces. Talk to sales reps to find opportunities for innovation in sales processes, or other ways you can change the status quo to benefit the organization.
By identifying ways your skillset can fill gaps within the company, you can set yourself apart from others while developing critical skills and visibility, and developing a clearer understanding of what you like and don’t like. There is no defined path for success when it comes to sales enablement, so practitioners must seek their own opportunities for growth and development and be tenacious about seeking problems to solve.
“You need to be willing to take risks and be willing to have something you try to fail, and then move on from that,” said Patrick Merritt, director of worldwide field enablement at Sumo Logic.
As sales enablement continues to evolve, practitioners must become trailblazers by defining their own paths for professional growth. By setting goals, identifying key skills, and seeking networking and growth opportunities, practitioners can continue to grow, and in turn, enhance their ability to promote the industry as a whole.