Episode 140: Ken Millard on Mastering the Basics for Sales Enablement Success
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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 that they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m excited to have Ken Millard join us from Delphix. Ken, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.
Ken Millard: Yeah. Hi. Thanks, Shawnna. As you said, Ken Millard here. I am English, as you can probably tell from my accent. But I have lived outside of the UK for the last 25 years in Italy, Germany, and Poland. In that time, I’ve worked for a variety of software companies. And for most of that time, I’ve been in an enablement role. Currently, I live in Germany, married with two kids and working for, as you said, Delphix as a senior sales enablement program manager.
A quick word on Delphix, principally, it’s all about data for Delphix. They take the view that every company is a data company and also pretty much every large company is undergoing some form of digital transformation and where those two meet, where data meets digital transformation, is where Delphix really scores.
SS: Well, Ken, I’m honored to have you join us today. So, thank you so much for making the time. In fact, you caught my eye because you wrote an article about the importance of mastering the basics: communication, context, focus, and connection. And you need all of these things essentially in order to succeed in sales. I’d love to hear from you, for our audience, what do the basics look like in a sales enablement context? How can sales enablement practitioners master those fundamentals?
KM: Yeah, right. The focus of that article was to remind people that salespeople don’t need to master everything. In fact, hardly anybody needs to master everything but the basics. It’s a bit of a sporting analogy. Anybody that is a professional sportsperson, whether they’re hitting the ball or catching the ball, or sliding the puck along the ice or whatever it happens to be, they need to be able to do those simple things that are involved in that sport without thinking about them. And only once they’ve mastered those basics, can they then move on to the finer points. Maybe somebody is about to tackle them when they’re about to pass the ball and they still have to complete the pass. These kinds of things, the interruptions or the objections or whatever, get in the way of their normal communication. They know the basic business of selling and as a consequence, that salesperson or the sportsperson needs to be able to do those basics absolutely automatically without having to think about it. Only when they’ve got that, can they then start to do the finer points and make a 1% difference, which is the difference between succeeding and failing at the end of the day.
In the context of sales enablement, the basic aims are that salespeople have to be able to confidently deliver the company message. Now, some people would call that a pitch. I’m not really in favor of the word pitch because it’s not just a standard pitch from a door-to-door salesman kind of background. It is something that is specific to each customer. In order for you to be able to deliver something specific to a customer, you need to understand absolutely the basics of your company’s message and how it might be applied to the customer. So, that’s the kind of pitch that you would do there as enablement people. We need to give them the confidence to deliver that well, and they need to be able to instill some kind of curiosity in salespeople and also a certain persistence in uncovering details within a company, uncovering points about the company where the product might be applicable for them.
We need to teach familiarity with the product value add. Now, why, why do I say that? Because they need to be so familiar with it that whenever a customer starts talking about how they apply in a Delphix context, how they work with data or how they develop applications or how they’re moving to the cloud, the salesperson can take what they’re listening to and apply a particular value add from the set of values that they’ve been familiarized with by enablement.
Lastly, A particular favorite of mine is enabling them to have the confidence in themselves and in the product to be humble when they receive an objection or they receive a particularly tough question from the customer. In each of those four cases, the salespeople need to be the ones that do it. We as individuals and enablement people don’t have to master all those things. We need to, as I said, encourage the salespeople to have an environment in which they can learn about these things and they can practice these things. That needs to be a safe environment. It’s a lot safer talking to me about issues they have with objection handling or how they might uncover more situations at a customer where Delphix might be applicable than it is trying to do it on the fly in front of the customer or on a virtual call with a customer. As enablement people, we’ve got to provide a way for them to learn. We’ve got to provide an environment that is safe for them to question, a way for them to practice and get feedback, an opportunity to discuss these things that they might not feel that they have with their sales manager and they definitely don’t want to be practicing it in front of the customer.
SS: I think that’s a really fantastic point. Now, for newer sales enablement folks, when starting in a new role, what advice would you give to sales enablement practitioners to set themselves up for success and begin to identify priorities within the organization?
KM: I think that there are two distinct points for enablement people. And that is that before they joined, so during the application process, they should try and appreciate it from the outside, but they should try and understand what the company is about from an enablement point of view and what kind of challenges that person might have within that company. I repeat, from the outside. They’re not going to know all the nuances. They’re not going to know necessarily all of the messaging, etc. But they need to think about what the person or the company might be struggling with in regard to the enablement of its salespeople.
In the case of Delphix, when I went through the application process, I used Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”. I tried to understand, why does Delphix do what it does and then how does it do it? Then, what does it use to do that? And with that, I was able to pull out a number of points that a startup like Delphix — when I say a startup, it’s been around for a long time, but it’s going through a hyper-growth at the moment so it’s kind of like a startup. It has an issue with a brand, so that’s one of the challenges. It has an issue with getting people to understand, “You can do that with data. You can virtualize data or mask data. That would have saved me so much time if only I’d known.” There’s an awful lot of issues that salespeople have in Delphix with regards to not only getting the brand out there, but also getting the understanding out there. It’s almost as if we have a solution for which they never knew that there was a possible solution for. During the application process, I uncovered that by using the start with the why and was able to pitch something as an outsider during the process. When I came in, most of what I’d uncovered, or I thought it uncovered actually wasn’t true, but it is something that you should go through as a way to demonstrate that you do understand them and you do understand how you would impact enablement.
Then, when you start in a company, in talking with sales management, you get to appreciate what their priorities are with regards to the people that are working for them. Senior sales management will have goals that they want to achieve with regards to strategies, with regards to objectives and things like that. Some of those can be impacted by sales enablement. What sales managers looking for, maybe you would identify from them who their problem children are within the sales force. I don’t want to call the salespeople children, but it’s just a phrase that is used. Those individual salespeople, when you talk to them, they’re going to have their input as to what they’re missing and what they need to succeed. And it’s combining those three things: the individual’s needs, the needs of senior management, give you an idea about what you could start to work on in the first 30 days, what you would need to wait a little bit longer to work on, and what is coming up in terms of changes within the company. Maybe they’re introducing a new way to do pricing. Maybe they’re introducing a new way to use Salesforce, or maybe they’re using another CRM, maybe they’ve got new products coming out. Enablement can help in all of those areas.
In summary, I would say when you are planning to join the organization, try and think about what kind of challenges that there might be and how you would approach them as part of your interview process. When you join, if you take the approach to listen a lot to those three groups that I mentioned and get input, try not to promise anything, even though it’s very tempting to get involved in solving problems. Try not to promise too much and try to get a plan. Get some buy-in with management as to what your plan is going to be for 30, 60, 90 days. Once you’ve spoken to a few people and then start to implement it and then comes the key point. Once you’ve implemented a few things, make a bit of noise about it. Do your own PR. Not only tell your boss, but tell everybody else that you’ve achieved these things. Maybe start a newsletter, maybe start a Slack channel. There are very many things that you can do to publicize this success. Once you’ve started to demonstrate your own value, people will come to you and start to ask you to do things for them, because they’ve seen that you can demonstrate that you understand what’s going on and that you can produce things that help them sell better.
SS: I love that advice. I think that’s fantastic advice for those starting out in sales enablement. Now, you touched on this ever so briefly just a moment ago, but it’s around making sure that there is a centralized understanding of sales enablement within the organization once you start. In your experience, how can the definition of sales enablement vary from organization to organization? And are there any fundamentals that you think are critical for any enablement function to include in its strategy?
KM: The whole topic of definition of sales enablement has been occupying a lot of people who are far cleverer than I am. But I do feel that at the moment, the industry and the profession of sales enablement is a little bit too new to have a definition that works across the board. What is very key, I think, is that the individuals who are involved in an enablement organization or enablement department of an organization decide what enablement is going to do within that organization. They write themselves a charter, and in that charter, they’re going to say what they want to do and what they want to influence as well as what they’re not going to do, because you can get pulled in all sorts of different directions and you need to be able to say, “here’s my charter. Here’s what has been agreed, and what it is going to do and what it’s not going to do.” Otherwise, you’re spread too thin across larger organizations and you can’t get the opportunity to succeed enough in an area to make a difference. The definition is difficult to pin down. The charter really helps in a particular case.
If I can just give you one example of why I think that the definition is difficult to pin down, if you take one of my favorite topics, which is objection handling, if you are a salesperson for a real startup, you are in a position in which objection handling is really key to the success of a startup. Why? Because they are in that objection. They’re giving you an opportunity to give you some input as to which direction your brand-new products should go in. So, if you’re not able to really listen to that and take it back to product development or product management and say, “Oh, I just was at this excellent customer and they are right in our sweet spot and they could really do with this.” If you’re not listening to that and you’re not receiving it in the startup with a startup mind, then the startup is going to fail. Something different happens when a company gets a bit bigger, maybe it’s post-IPO, maybe it has distractions about shareholder meetings, or maybe it has other very important meetings that have to happen. Maybe you feel as if your product is already successful, you feel as if, “Oh you’re asking me questions about my product, but we are already the market leader. Why are you hassling me about this, that or the other?” And so, you have a slightly different approach to the objection or the question that a customer has for you. As a consequence, how you handle the objection is something that you almost have to relearn in a larger organization.
It’s difficult to say even when should you teach people objection handling. I feel that you cannot say that given that the enablement is required and therefore the tasks or the objectives that they enable the department are going to be given will be dictated by where the company is in its own trajectory from startup through to corporate. On top of that, you’ve also got, what kind of customers are they talking to? If they’re a transactional seller, then they don’t want to go in for long sales cycles. So, you don’t teach them those things. You don’t put them in a situation where they can expect to sell in six months thereafter, a six weeks sale otherwise, and then move on to the next one.
There are so many different variables. It’s difficult to pin down what is an enablement definition. However, very generally put, it’s about making salespeople successful, whether that’s training, whether that’s coaching, whether that’s the right kind of assets, whether that’s helping them to do their own discovery, whether it’s giving them a sounding board for a new proposal, whatever it happens to be. Enablement has to be a part of that. So, that’s my best definition.
SS: I think that’s a fantastic definition. As you said, it’s all relatively unique. I’d love your perspective on how practitioners can build upon the enablement foundations to add their own unique flavor or value to the organization.
KM: This is extremely important. Each individual has been hired because they have certain strengths that the hiring manager has seen in the interview and that they themselves believe that they have. Those are the things that they walk in the door with, and they can start to apply those, whether they’re excellent teachers, whether they’re excellent coaches or whether they are good at creating an e-learning that works. Whatever your strengths are, work with those. Use those in the first 30, 60 days. Then as I said before, once you’ve established yourself, there’s an excellent opportunity to start stretching yourself. Start with support from management or from sales management. Start looking at new areas that you can build yourself up on provided they fit in with what people are asking.
Once the company has got a bit bigger, you might say, “okay, let’s roll out a whole learning management system.” You may never have done that before. I would advise you to ask the community that’s out there, how do I do this? And stretch yourself. Then you can put it on your CV. You can tick the box, “I’ve implemented an LMS at corporate and rolled out this number of courses, that number of courses, whatever.” So, you’ve got your own toolbox, but you’ve also got the opportunity to start new things given the right kind of support. That will obviously help you grow personally, as well. Doing things exactly like this podcast helps me grow personally and gives me an opportunity to try new things.
SS: Well, Ken, I appreciate you joining this podcast. In closing, if we could just wrap up on this final question, how do you think enablement as a discipline could potentially evolve in the next year?
KM: Yeah, this is obviously extremely important to every person that’s involved in enablement. As I said before, it’s a fairly new profession and you do get a lot of people that are coming into it also more and more organizations are getting involved in sales enablement. Some of those organizations have already started to call it revenue enablement, and that already spreads the remit into perhaps customer success or perhaps professional services, maybe even renewals are involved in revenue enablement. I think that there’s an opportunity for enablement as a general practice to cover every department of an organization.
If I can use one example, let’s say the furthest removed from sales enablement, and that is let’s say, engineering. Engineering doesn’t just need training on how to develop or how to use the tools that engineering are working with. It also needs to get enablement on how to work with other departments, how to work with sales, how to understand sales. Also, if you take a thing that a company will very often do, which is make a big noise about the wins that it has among this customer base, which is great news, everyone loves to see wins success, but for engineering, you might be able to add to that win. If the winning includes which use cases were used by which company, then the engineering team or development team that built that piece of the software, the individuals that were involved can say, “wow, the bit of software that I developed is now being used by Company XYZ.” And as a consequence, they feel, “Oh, I’ve made a difference to that company.” That company might be a household name.
Therefore, when they’re talking about their job among their peers or even amongst their friends and family, they can say, “Oh, my bit of software is now working with a Company XYZ.” Everybody gets a warm feeling about the contribution that that person may make to his job and to the other company. It’s not just, “Oh, I’m a developer. I work in whichever language” — which is all very techie — everyone can relate to that household name and everyone can relate to how good it feels for that engineering person to have developed something that the company is using. As a consequence, they are further enabled. They get a boost from that. So, I see that enablement has a future as a profession to impact way beyond the confines of sales enablement. I think that is one of the directions that the profession could go in, and become an enablement role across an organization.
SS: I love that forward-looking view, Ken, thank you again so much for joining us today. I enjoyed the conversation.
KM: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking about my profession.
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.