Episode 134: Shannon Hempel on Championing Leadership Development within Sales Enablement

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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 Shannon join us from Personify Corp. Shannon, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Shannon Hempel: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m Shannon Hempel and I’m the director of revenue enablement at Personify. I have been there a year and a half and started out working with sales specifically to build up their program from onboarding continuous training, put down processes, document them as needed for everybody and it has grown to include from the business development rep all the way to the account manager and moving into the customer success side soon.

SS: I am so excited to have you join us today. You are one of the founders of a group that Sales Enablement PRO absolutely respects, a group called Women in Sales Enablement, or WISE for short, which has focused on bringing together women in this profession, across the globe to network and learn from each other. I’d love to get your perspective, what was behind the mission and starting that group?

SH: Great question. It’s what we still hold true to today. When we formed this group, I guess we started talking a little over two years ago and we were just four women who had the enablement role and had no one to talk to, on just a small connection basis on what do you do? What are your real problems? We found that when you go to typical networking events, everybody is trying to look their best and be knowledgeable. We were looking for, I just want someone to tell me they’re facing the same problem, and we found that there.

We decided let’s meet next month, and then the month after that, and then once somebody just really threw out haphazardly, we’re women in sales enablement, we’re WISE. None of this happened preplanned. It was completely organic from the get-go and we invited friends in the industry to a monthly dinner where we would sit and just be in shock that this big well-known company is having the exact same enablement challenges this startup over here that no one’s heard of. We just talked and talked and talked about it. Our mission that we developed, I have a friend in Chicago, and she wanted to do the same thing. So, we thought, okay, who are we, what are we, and what do we stand for?

It all came back down to that initial dinner where we are wanting to bring professional enablement, specifically women together, so that we can form connection first of all, and that authentic connection that you often just don’t really get in a typical networking and be able to truly collaborate and improve our knowledge and skills. Knowing that it doesn’t matter what your title is at that table, everybody’s an equal because there can be a VP of enablement that has got a different challenge than a content specialist who is still very involved in enablement. They can learn from each other. That is the mission we started with and it’s what drives us still today.

SS: I love that. How has your passion for supporting women in their careers evolved with regard to sales enablement?

SH: Oh my goodness. My background is in education. So, I spent much of my career in a classroom where the majority of employees in a school district are women. It really never occurred to me the challenge that women have and so when I left teaching and went to my first sales role and then went to my first enablement role, I was just astonished at what do you mean I can’t get in front of this person? What do you mean that there’s politics? What is all that about?

As I got my feet wet and doing all of that and then sitting in the WISE meetings, I thought here is a perfect opportunity. There is not a single reason that if a woman is empowered and this is not just for women, I will equally go help a young male in his leadership because there are some universal truths, no matter if you’re a man or woman, but if they feel empowered and confident, they’re not going to have to learn the hard way like I did how you play the game or how you even get yourself prepared before you go and present something to the president of sales because you want to drive this initiative and it’s really fueled. So, I see the opportunities when I am meeting new women that come into our Austin group, or when I see women at work who have that drive for just something more.

Enablement specifically, I have developed friendships globally through the women in sales enablement where I may visit with one and they talk about how do I build a program. When I’m talking to them about how you build a program, I’m also talking about how you might carry yourself in a way that may not be something taught in a sales enablement course, or that the way that you get up in front of sales leaders and you have to earn the credibility. Here is how you do that when you are driving enablement and you have to have influence with little authority over those you are enabling how are you using, I know we’ll get to this later, emotional intelligence skills that you have to raise your credibility to garner that influence that you need.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. I’d love some advice for our audience. How can women support each other in professional development and career growth with their own teams or within their own organizations?

SH: That is a really great question and something that I have found typically when women are wanting to support each other, they are giving each other advice and not necessarily on a personal level, but maybe you could do A, B or C when you’re working on this project. That is great. However, I think one of the most empowering ways a woman can support other women is to be a champion for them in meetings. No matter who is in the meeting, it could just be a small group of people that is your team. Maybe you’re on a team of people and you want to speak up for somebody and just highlight that was a great idea. Something as small as that, just being a champion in a room. If you are a leader and you have people that are your direct reports, start championing them and leading in meetings that you have with people that are two levels above them in a way that is meaningful. Not just because they’re a woman, but because the work is really good.

The other thing that I would suggest is just sitting and listening to others and digging in and asking them questions. I say that because the more you listen to somebody, women specifically in this case, the more you’re going to hear what is it that they really want to do with their career, how they want to drive enablement in their company and grow the position. It’s more visible depending on the kind of company that you’re in. And if something that they say is something that you have a strength in, talk to them and volunteer to say I will do this particular thing for you. I know of a great book that I just read that is super empowering. Let me send you the link to it. Start small because people are going to start coming to you because they see that you are empowering if you build trust.

Whatever you do, follow through with it. If you say you’re going to help somebody with any particular task, do it. If you are asking them questions to explain things so that you can learn more about them, really listen and show that you heard them. It really is all just a bunch of small acts that I think are the big drivers.

SS: I love how those are things that you can weave into every day. I’d love to understand, Shannon, what role has mentorship or having kind of this peer-to-peer network. What role has that played in your own professional development?

SH: That was one that I probably would not have been able to answer until about a year ago, because when I came into enablement, I guess I got my first enablement job I think it was probably seven years ago. The job title was enablement, but I spent all my time trying to explain to people in the company, what it was I did. There was zero other people in this company with this title, I knew of no one in any industry, LinkedIn didn’t really have enablement. You might have sales trainers, but that wasn’t really what my role was. I had no mentors. I had to learn it all by myself, all along the way. The peer-to-peer networking, honestly, I think I got my first taste of that was at a happy hour that the Sales Enablement Society put on in Austin. And I sat across from a couple of people that we discovered; you have my job. And so that is when the peer-to-peer connections really started. I would talk, but now talk to them about different issues or things in common.

It was probably about a year ago when I was in some pretty deep driving initiatives at my current company that I was pulling so much information from specific people that I had networked with. That really made a difference, and I wasn’t having to reinvent the wheel and I wasn’t having to learn the hard way. I remember what they said, and I wasn’t going to do it that way. That has been huge in my career and I just am so thankful for the peer-to-peer.

SS: Absolutely. There’s tremendous value in that. Now, you mentioned this earlier in the conversation around the whole topic of emotional intelligence and how critical it is to success in sales enablement. I would love to understand from you, how does emotional intelligence also play a role in peer mentorship and professional development?

SH: When you think of emotional intelligence, oftentimes people just think you feel emotions, or you can empathize. Empathy is definitely a very large part of it. But you also have traits of assertiveness, coachability, perseverance. Are you able to handle or manage your emotions is really a better word where you don’t let intimidation factor into whatever development you were trying to get for yourself? I encourage women, all people, but women especially as you’re trying to gain that credibility is to be assertive. I spend time actually, not just using emotional intelligence on my end, but helping them to also hone in on which pieces of emotional intelligence do you think you need help on and asking them certain questions to see how they handle interactions with senior leaders at whatever level. Then we talk about how are you going to be assertive? How can you take a baby step here and develop that?

I have one specific person in mind as I’m talking about this, and the reason that she has grown so much, and her confidence is because she was also self-aware. That’s important and coachable. If you are self-aware and coachable and you are working with someone who is mentoring you, who is trying to develop you, you’re going to succeed so much more. If you are someone on the other end who is trying to develop somebody, then really hone in on those aspects that they can take with any conversation with anyone and not just in the specific job role they have.

SS: I think that’s fantastic advice. On that note, I would love to just close out this conversation with advice actually for young women entering the sales enablement industry. What would be some of the advice that you would give to them?

SH: The overall umbrella over it is be a mentor, find a mentor, and to remember a mentor doesn’t have to be someone you know well. It can be somebody you’ve had a certain acquaintance with. It can be somebody who you just see that in your industry on LinkedIn or whatever forums that you’re following, that you have a lot of respect for and schedule a meeting with them to just say, I want to talk to you about how I can move forward in whatever area. But be assertive. When I know for myself that if I get a note from a young person in their enablement career and they are truly asking for help, I am all over it. I’m going to make the time because finding people who reach out and ask for that help honestly is not often found. In my opinion, in my experience, definitely the obvious is find networks, reach out to them, but to really engage yourself because that’s where the learning is going to take place. That’s going to be where you see it grow your career and your enablement career much faster.

SS: I love that. That’s fantastic advice, Shannon. Thank you so much again for taking the time to talk to us today. I enjoyed the conversation.

SH: I did too. Thank you.

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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