Episode 11: Jen Spencer on Org Structures and Seeking Executive Buy-In

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we are here to help professionals stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

Our guest today is Jen Spencer, VP of sales and marketing at SmartBug Media where she leads the sales, marketing, and brand strategy. Throughout her career, she has built many sales enablement programs from scratch and so we are really excited to have her here with us on this podcast.

Jen, I’m so glad that you’re here. You have a ton of experience in this space, coming from companies that have served the sales enablement space and also simply being a VP of sales and marketing which really kind of is at that intersection of sales enablement.

So, as you know, we’ve seen increased visibility and necessity for sales enablement and I think that it’s a growing trend that we’ve both been watching over the last few years. Do you see this momentum continuing and where do you think things are going in the future for the discipline of sales enablement?

Jen Spencer: I definitely think the momentum is continuing for sales enablement. I think one of the biggest challenges that I am seeing or hearing from companies is where does that function live? And is it something that is part of the sales function, the marketing function, or is it its own standalone function inside of an organization given that it is part of revenue operations as a whole? I feel like people seem to get stuck there on where it should live inside an organization versus just getting some of it done.

But it is really critical because of the way that customers are buying, because of the way customers are consuming information, and also because of how easy it is for customers to get access to information, making sure that if you’re a sales rep, you have to be able to add value to the experience that the customer is already having on their own. It used to be that a lot of information was secret and hidden from customers, then sales would reveal it. That’s just not the case anymore. So, now what are we doing to allow sales reps to meet the customer where he or she is and then actually help move them forward in the process. I think that’s where a lot of the needs around sales enablement are coming from. That and, especially in the technology space, when you are selling a really complex product or service, there is an increased need for sales enablement material for sales teams and marketing teams to help buyers get the right information that makes sense to them.

SS: Yes, that’s phenomenal. So, there are two things. Actually, I would already love to kind of deviate already away from the questions a little bit. Just given your role that you oversee sales and marketing, I would love for you to play devil’s advocate on both sides about where sales enablement should report into because that is a question we get a lot too. What does the ideal sales enablement org structure look like? I would love to hear from your perspective. Maybe take the position of both. What are the pros and cons of having it on the sales side of the house vs. marketing, and vice versa?

JS: The pro of having it live in sales is that your sales leadership and the sales teams are going to have customer conversations at the forefront of their minds. You could grab any sales leader or individual contributor right now and they are going to be able to tell you in great detail about the conversation that they just had with the potential customer, and that is invaluable. So, if you have access to that kind of information then you can easily identify and prioritize what types of enablement materials or tools are going to be most beneficial for helping you and your team achieve your goals. Because at the end of the day, yes, we want to help people, but we want to help people spend their money with us, right? We’re all trying to sell something. I think that’s probably the only benefit of it living in sales. It’s that you’re so close to that pain and so you are experiencing it first-hand.

The benefit of it living in marketing is that in marketing, you’re crafting the message, you are creating demand. Now, marketing organizations are different, so let’s say in a modern marketing organization, you are crafting the message, you are creating demand, you are positioning your company as a thought leader, you are sharing materials and messages with your customers. Adding on the role of sales enablement is a very natural extension of what you are already doing. It is the next step in that customer’s buying journey. There is a lot that kind of straddles demand generation and sales enablement, so there are some blurred lines there.

The problem with it living in marketing is if the marketing team doesn’t really have access to those data points that I mentioned that are critical for sales. If they don’t really understand what the sales culture is like, what the sales process is like, the types of situations that the sales team is running up against, if they don’t have access to that or they don’t have an interest in it for some reason, then it’s not going to work to have sales enablement live in marketing. I have always been the kind of leader who, even with my marketing brain, was listening to call recording. My favorite button to click on inside of a tool like Gong is questions that the customer was asking. First of all, those are keywords I should be building for from a demand gen and from an inbound marketing perspective. But then these are also how can I help my sales team get ahead of these questions by creating sales enablement material for them so that we can address any of those questions that our prospects are having head-on and then leave time during the discovery call for more in-depth business discovery.

SS: That’s amazing. I think that’s great advice on how to help bridge that gap between sales and marketing, and I think sales enablement is absolutely key to that. Is there any other advice that you would have along the same lines around better alignment between sales and marketing via sales enablement that you might have for organizations?

JS: I mean, communication is the biggest thing, and it just sounds so generic. But if you’re not in a role where I am where you have one foot inside of each department, then you have to have that really tight communication and rapport and I have had that. I have been in an organization where I was the marketing leader and I worked collaboratively with the sales leader, so I know exactly what that feels like. And this was the day of no open plans, this was the day of true offices. But our offices were right next door to each other. We could hear each other through the thin walls. But that worked so well because it was constant ping-pong back and forth.

Even today in my role I have now, I work with a client services leader who is on the delivery team, runs the delivery team. And we are back and forth all the time, like multiple times a day. So, you have to have that level of communication and trust, and I think my biggest piece of advice is to get to know each other as human beings. There is a difference between somebody who you can be real with, you can grab a coffee or a drink with, and you want to sit and eat lunch with. You’re going to be honest with that person vs. somebody who you are meeting with once a week or once a month or whatever it is because it has been dictated by the CEO and it is in your job description. So, I know you don’t want to say everyone has to be friends, but it does work a lot better if you like each other, and if you invest in that personal kind of relationship together.

SS: Absolutely. I can 100% relate to that just with my own experience. Going back to the question around where sales enablement should report into, I’m sure you’ve also heard this, having been in our space for a while, but a lot of sales enablement practitioners are now making the case that they should report directly into the C-suite, so a lot are making the case that they should be reporting into a C-level executive, whether it’s the CEO or COO. I am curious from you if you think that is the right level for sales enablement practitioners to be reporting into, given the maturity of the market today?

JS: I think if in an organization the sales enablement function needs to report up to the C-suite, then my gut says there’s something broken between sales and marketing. I can see why in an organization it might make the most sense and might be necessary, but I think it’s a symptom of a larger issue.

SS: Got it. That makes a ton of sense. I think the other thing that we hear from a lot of sales enablement practitioners, and I’m sure you have too, is that they struggle to get buy-in, particularly executive buy-in, to a lot of their initiatives. Do you have any advice for sales enablement professionals that are trying to seek buy-in from a VP of sales or a VP of marketing and how they should go about doing that?

JS: Use data. I mean, that’s really it. Because any time you’re asking for some kind of investment of time or resources, you have to be able to say what the potential ROI is. So, use data that you have to show things that your team cares about. Most organizations care about deal velocity; how can we shorten the sales cycle. They care about higher average deal size. They care about how many resources did it take to acquire, like, what was the acquisition cost of this customer? So, those are the metrics.

If those are the metrics that your organization lives and breathes by, and I would almost guarantee that those metrics are in any spreadsheet on any sales or marketing leader’s computer across the software space. So, you have to speak that language. If you have nothing then you have to try a very small task, like a very small pilot group, even if you’re just grabbing one or two reps. And you’re doing it in addition to your regular job. You’re doing it on the fly. You’re working extra hours, doing whatever you need to do to get it done to be able to collect enough data to be able to then go and use that to share your compelling story. I think if you try to request resources without having data, if I was the CEO, I would shoot you down. You’re asking me to deviate from what is our normal process and what our normal budget is, so I have to see compelling proof as to why this is going to be effective.

SS: Thanks for listening. For more insights, tips and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you would like to share or a topic you want to know more about, let us know. We would love to hear from you.

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