Episode 133: Jenn Haskell on the Evolution of Sales Enablement in 2021

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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’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today I’m really excited to have Jenn Haskell from Everbridge back as a returning guest with us. Jenn, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Jenn Haskell: Excellent. Thank you, Shawnna. I appreciate it. My name is Jenn Haskell. I am the global director of sales training and enablement at Everbridge. Everbridge is based out of Burlington, Massachusetts, and we’re a critical event management company. So, we have been really busy in 2020, and then also going into 2021. We help companies keep their people safe and keep their businesses operating during things like pandemics.

SS: Well, it must have been a busy year for you then. We are extremely excited to have you back. We are going to talk about a topic that I think is really important to the enablement industry and in particular enablement professionals themselves as a defined function. Enablement has undergone a lot of change in the past few years, especially I’d say probably in the last year, given all of the change just across the board. I’d love to hear from you, Jenn, how do you think the function will continue to evolve over the next couple of years?

JH: I think it has to evolve. That’s the first thing that I would call out. It has to evolve because there’s a lot of really good sales professionals that are practicing enablement right now and bringing an incredible impact to their organizations. So, when I think back to 2014, 2015, the thing that stuck out to me most was there were people like myself that had held titles like sales trainer, training program manager, and we raised our hand in the industry and said, “hold on a second, what we’ve actually been doing this whole time is sales enablement.”

What I’d love to see from the sales enablement community is sort of raising that hand again for the phase two. Back in 2016, at that point sales enablement was the next big function. And to your point, it took off really quickly and a lot of new roles sort of evolved out of sales enablement. So, you had sales enablement managers, you had sales coaches, you had sales enablement analysts and I’d really like for us to raise our hand now and say get ready for the next ride because it’s all about taking it to the next level.

SS: Absolutely. I’d love to dig into kind of what that next level looks like. You’ve discussed in the past the potential for enablement to expand from just sales to the company as a whole. I’d love to hear from you, what is your perspective on how enablement practitioners can bridge the gap between sales enablement and corporate enablement initiatives.

JH: I found myself, especially in the past year, I’m working at a very big corporate global company. I realized sitting in a meeting one day looking around and realizing that I was the one person, I was the one function and the one role that attended so many different meetings with other teams. So, whether I was with the sales team directly, whether I was with sales operations, whether I was with HR, product marketing, marketing, product management, the competitive intelligence group. I started to realize I’m bridging the gap. I’m the one person and the one role that has insight into all these different functions of the company, because in some way, shape, or form, whatever they do is going to impact my sales team.

So, I think one of the ways to bridge that gap is to really be part of that cross-functional meeting space to really put yourself out there as sort of the advocate, not just for what sales needs, but for how you can be the advocate for what all those other departments need to get to sales. That’s the first place that I would start. Identify the different areas in the company that may impact your sales team. Start to form those relationships and really establish that trust and that give-take relationship moving forward.

SS: Now you mentioned quite a few functions within the organization that enablement works with and partners with. In the past, you’ve talked about how sales enablement professionals often have to be consultants almost for their companies with that in mind. How can enablement kind of eliminate some of the organizational silos and partner with some of the other functions to drive innovation for corporate initiatives?

JH: I think sales enablement professionals, if you were to look at sort of their skill will assessment, we are the perfect role for wanting to include others and without even trying, I think our enablement just sort of extends itself very naturally. So as far as us being consultants, the first thing that we need to do is we need to make sure that the company knows what the sales enablement function is and what we’re delivering to the organization. I find that by sharing my programs and most importantly sharing the results of those programs, I end up having a lot of hand-raisers that are like one, we didn’t know you were doing that. And two, that would actually be really valuable for our team members or for our staff, or specific function with things that we’re looking to accomplish. So, that’s the consultant role for me. A good example is where I’m at now. I had to build from the ground up because the enablement program didn’t exist. So, the first place I started was making sure I was aligned with HR because I knew that historically HR had done what they called an onboarding program, but I was doing something that would build off of that. It’d be very specific to sales. So that’s a really good example of just ensuring that alignment and maybe eliminating some of the duplication of efforts that most of the time departments and people don’t even realize are happening.

SS: Absolutely. Now I want to go back to having enablement teams expand beyond the scope of just sales. I’d love to understand, because you talked about at the early onset there were a lot of different roles that were made up of components of sales enablement, and what we’ve seen as a consolidation towards the enablement function, but do you see an opportunity for more role segmentation or specification within the enablement function going forward?

JH: I really do. I think now is the perfect time. Sales enablement has been a function long enough where the buy-in is there, the results of the quantifiable metrics and analytics are there. So now I think that expansion, so when I talked about earlier sort of evolving to the phase two of what enablement is, now I think the opportunity is for us to sort of bridge all the departments together. At the end of the day, the beginning of the year, you’re sitting in on a company kickoff and that’s everything that you’re looking to accomplish as a company. Then you usually have a dedicated sales kickoff.

Well, right then and there at the end of the day, we’re all working towards the same thing. I think it’s really important for sales enablement to step in and what I would envision is sort of this dedicated enablement function that’s at an executive level, and then it would allow you to build out this team. Maybe you have one part of the team more focused on marketing and content and collateral. Maybe the other team is more focused on the actual sales training and the dedicated coaching. And then maybe another component of that team is focused on just the company in corporate enablement that has to happen for all employees that join the company. One of the things that I found with my programs is typically when I share them with other departments or HR, they always see the value in doing something similar, even if it’s a more scaled-down version.

SS: Absolutely. I think that’s fantastic and I think there’s, as you said, a lot of opportunities opening up within the enablement function in general, the enablement discipline.

JH: Just to add to that, I think that would bridge the gap in the companies. There are so many companies out there where sales enablement falls under sales versus sales enablement falls under marketing. There are still companies that look at sales enablement as being two separate and different components. So, I think the opportunity there for the segmentation within the enablement function would actually bridge the gap between what’s the difference between sales enablement that falls under marketing versus sales enablement that falls under sales or sales operations.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic point, Jenn. Actually, I want to talk to you about where enablement reports in at the moment. There are not a lot of sales now and practitioners that hold executive-level positions. I’d love to hear from you, do you see this as a missed opportunity for a lot of organizations and to piggyback on that a bit more, what is the potential impact bringing on a chief enablement officer within an organization?

JH: Yeah. This is something that I actually research quite regularly. I tell other sales enablement professionals, go on LinkedIn once every other week or something and check out what’s out in the industry for sales enablement roles. I think that’s just a good practice. You should always know what’s going on around you in your profession. As I’ve been doing this, especially the past six months, because selfishly I’ve been thinking about my own development and being in sales enablement. Obviously, my natural thought process is what is the next step and what do I need to do in order to get there.

I’ll give you an example. I looked at LinkedIn this morning and just did one general search for sales enablement. I kept it to North America. What I saw was the majority of the jobs, maybe it was like 8,000 or so, really fell in the sales enablement manager and the director function of sales enablement. But if you look specifically for that executive level, there were like 354 jobs open in all of the United States for sales enablement. Then when I looked at the details, what I saw was a discrepancy in the actual titles. I think out of that, a handful of them were very clearly defined head of sales enablement, vice president of sales enablement. The rest of those roles were more of a hybrid role, which is what I think we’re seeing and what happens with those hybrid roles.

When you see head of sales enablement at one company where it’s mid-level and then you see head of sales enablement at another company and it’s more of that executive level. But then you see VP of sales enablement and sales operations, or VP of sales enablement and sales training, or VP of sales enablement and content or sales effectiveness. You just see all of these titles that means something very different. I think the risk that we have with that is now you lose scalability on what the function is, what you need to do in order to get to that function and how effective that function is in the industry in general. There’s just not a lot of clarity on what those executive levels are.

As I said, it’s more of a hybrid. It’s not a true enablement function most of the time. So where do I think there’s an impact for having a chief enablement officer? Well, I think enablement doesn’t just happen for sales. Going back to that consulting comment, enablement is something that even when you’re doing it for dedicated sales reps, somebody else in your organization has a vested interest, whether it’s your HR team, whether it’s your CEO. So, I would like to start seeing this executive-level chief enablement officer that can bring all corporate enablement programs under one umbrella. So, it’s not to say that you don’t still have reporting that maybe goes to the chief revenue officer or the chief customer officer. It just means you’re bringing those all under one microscope so that you can further solidify the impact that enablement has, but you can also internally establish sort of the measurements of success and what good looks like.

So now when you have new hires that joined the company, they’re not feeling like they’re getting a completely different experience with HR versus sales because even when I collaborate with my HR team, they’re using different systems for new hires to go through, to get their learning completed than I am. So that right there, no matter how much we are aligned, it’s still going to be siloed.

SS: I couldn’t agree more. I know that there are quite a few enablement practitioners out there that would agree that enablement deserves a seat at the table. So, thank you, Jenn. This has been a fantastic conversation. I just have kind of one closing question for you. As enablement continues to evolve over the next couple of years, why would you say that it’s important for companies to invest in building out their enablement functions, particularly maybe to those companies that are considering building their enablement function for the first time and wondering if this is the year to make the plunge, I’d love your advice to them.

JH: I would look at that from two different points of view, right? The first one is when we’re in a major pandemic and so the importance of having programs that still allow you to onboard your new hires having programs that can be scaled and measured back to the bottom line. They’re more important than ever so you really have to take a hard look at what you did historically and if you were one of those companies that historically did everything in person, in a classroom for a week, that simply doesn’t work anymore. On top of that, I read this article that talked about the pandemic and how it forced us about five years ahead of where we would have normally been as far as our adoption of technology.

So, we also have to consider that we’ve been jumped ahead five years as far as technology. So, where the impact there is, we need to become even better, even more creative and innovative with how we roll out these enablement programs. But I also am seeing a trend, I’ve been on the receiving end of this as a practitioner myself. I’m seeing this trend where companies value sales enablement. They see the function is having a really big impact and they are still relying on one or two people to pull off that function for large corporations.

I don’t see companies building out the function as much as they should be at this point. And I would really caution a lot of companies from taking that approach. What I think happens is you end up having really good programs because they’re better than what they were before, but you’re not allowing your sales enablement team to get to the next level of greatness. So, there’s a lot of sales enablement practitioners out there that would tell you, I’m proud of what I do. It is making an impact, but I actually know I could do so much more if I had additional resources and revenue to build out the program.

SS: Absolutely. Jenn, thank you so much for joining the podcast today and being an advocate for enablement’s evolution. I really enjoyed our conversation today.

JH: Thank you so much.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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