Episode 157: Lewis Baird on Bridging Gaps with Effective Partner Enablement

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast, I’m 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 Lewis from MuleSoft join us. Lewis, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Lewis Baird: Well, firstly, thank you very much for having me. I’m very excited to share what we’re doing over here at MuleSoft and to share a little bit more about what I do specifically. My name is Lewis Baird, I’m originally from Scotland, now living in Australia, and I’m currently heading up the partner enablement for MuleSoft, which is now part of Salesforce.

I’m responsible for our go-to-market strategy, responsible for what industries we’re going to be looking at, and also responsible for spearheading the overhauling of our enablement practice globally as well for MuleSoft. So, no pressure.

SS: Well, I am extremely excited to have you join us. Now, I want to talk to you a little bit about partner programs because I know that that’s part of your scope.

What are some unique challenges of delivering enablement programs to partners, and how have you overcome those challenges in the past?

LB: Yeah. One of the biggest issues with partners is that question around the so what. Why should I take time out of my busy day in my busy schedule to learn more about what you’re offering and why your technology is better than others?

Sometimes the issue as well is coming from a vendor or you’re trying to sell something, we think that we are the center of the universe and that nothing else matters. We need to overcome that question of, we’re not the only technology out there, we’re not the only thing that someone is focused on, so how can we ensure that the programs that we deliver are really adding value?

What I call this is enablement with intent. When we design our programs and we start getting that pushback around “I’m not attending, I don’t see value,” we ask, why don’t you see value? What can we add to your role specifically? What can we bring in terms of knowledge of MuleSoft that really aligns to what you’re trying to do in the context of your everyday, the context of your customer transformation programs, and in the context of what will actually enable you to go further in your career as well?

When we start answering those questions, that’s when we start to overcome those problems. But again, there’s particular areas of our partners where you’re never going to win them over. You just have to take the small wins and then start building up from that.

SS: That’s fantastic, Lewis. Now, you also mentioned on LinkedIn that one of your responsibilities is driving engagement between your partners and the MuleSoft sales team to really drive revenue opportunities for both parties.

How do you see enablement fitting in to bridge the gap between the two and really enhance each other’s efforts?

LB: Yeah, absolutely. This is one of the reasons that I took this role at MuleSoft. I used to be on the sales team and thought to myself, what do partners do every day? I’m not getting any value from partners. They come in here and talk about things that just make no sense and they don’t know about our product. What’s going on?
And then partners were also sitting going, why am I here? They’re not giving me anything. They have not earned the right to have access to our mutual customer, so I’m not going to attend that, see you later.

You know that meme with the four pictures that has what they think they do, what you think they do, what they should do, and what everyone else thinks they do. That’s exactly what happens within partners and our internal teams. They expect each other to be providing information that hasn’t necessarily been providing the context as to why they should be meeting.

The amazing thing about enablement is it’s the bridge between the partner and the internal sales team. The awesome thing about enablement, I think it’s the most crucial role actually in any company, because we are neutral. I honestly wouldn’t care whether you chose MuleSoft as a technology or something else, as long as we provided you the best enablement and education around MuleSoft. If it was a fit, fantastic. If it wasn’t, then that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

What we do is that we don’t base what we deliver on assumptions. Sometimes what we see within sales teams specifically is that if they hear that our partner is doing something with a customer, they don’t necessarily care about what the partner thinks, they just want to be introduced. That just doesn’t work. What we have to do is create programs that not just enable our partners and the context of what our sales teams are trying to do, but also take that information from our partners, take it back to our sales team, and enable them on what our partners are doing. Do you understand what the point of view is within the industry for the partner to have that mutual accountability and have that mutual success?

It’s all about enablement really bringing home the bacon, shall I say, in terms of bringing them information and nibbling on what’s important, and also carrying that through until the end result as well.

SS: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic perspective. Now, explain to our audience, particularly those that may either do partner or direct, how can the approach to sales enablement differ for partners then for internal sales teams, and when an organization has an internal team and a partner team, how do you balance enablement resources to support both adequately?

LB: Yeah, absolutely. What tends to happen, well, I can talk from a MuleSoft perspective as we do have an internal enablement team and then I look after our external enablement. I am not saying that we are perfect in terms of our alignment and our resources, but what I can say is that consistency across enablement if you’re looking at partners and internal, it shouldn’t be different. There should always just be one question in your mind when you’re delivering enablement and it’s, does this bring value to my team? Will his enable them to sell better and sell larger?

That’s the same questions that we ask within the partner ecosystem. Do our teams have the specific sales messaging and the same kind of buzzwords and go-to-market strategies internally as they do externally. Do we have consistency across that messaging? What that does is that it brings these teams together because everyone’s getting that same messaging.

Effectively, what you need to do if you have an external and an internal enablement team, they shouldn’t be working without knowing what each other are doing. It’s very, very likely, and I’ll speak from a partner perspective, for any internal sales team that is working on a prospect or an account, it’s 99% likely that a partner will be in the account as an advisor, as a technologist, and may well be evaluating your technology.
As an external enablement, if we’re not providing that information to our internal teams, that’s not going to work in terms of being successful. I like to call it one team, one dream and killing two birds with one stone.

The other nuance to that is we may have people within internal enablement that are taking a lot of things from global and HQ, and there may be a few people on the call thinking, “Oh yeah, a lot of our programs and a lot of our strategy comes from HQ, and we just regurgitate what’s available.” Enablement, whether it’s internal or external, needs to be regionalizing their content. What I mean by that is you can build the foundations of what is coming out of HQ, but that can’t be delivered in the form that you have been presented it in your region because it’s just not going to resonate unless you’re really targeting what the focus is within that region.

For example, our HQ is in San Francisco. We get all this information, our internal and external teams will look at it, and there’ll be particular things in there that just won’t work in APAC, for example. We have to ensure that when we’re spreading resources, we’re putting them in the right place. You can have a really high-caliber team, but if they’re focused on the wrong things, then it’s just a waste of time.

If people are struggling with, “Oh my God, there’s only two people on our enablement team, how can we get this across hundreds of partners?” Really focus on what the value is and leverage what is going to be a quick win, leverage what is relevant within the region. That’s when you start to see whether you’re a team of 2 or 100, that’s when you actually start seeing value in what you’re delivering. It’s certainly quality over quantity.

SS: Absolutely. Now, you touched on this a little bit earlier, how partners will often have very competing priorities and I know that you’ve been very focused on making sure that you’re delivering training paths for partners.

How do you ensure that you not only get participation, but also engagement during your training programs? I would love to hear if there are some tips or tricks that you have on gaining mindshare with partners for enablement programs.

LB: Absolutely. I’m kind of different in the sense that the way that I am in work is the same as I am out of work, which means that I’m a bit no filter and what you see is what you get. The reason I say that is because within sales or enablement, people buy from people and people get excited by other people. I don’t necessarily go, wow, I really want to learn about MuleSoft today, this is amazing. No one thinks that, but what they do remember is someone that goes damn, he was pretty funny, and people should learn about this technology in a much more exciting way.

In terms of getting mindshare from your partners, be your authentic self, have a laugh, have a joke because you’re not there to be selling to a customer account or a prospect. You’re there to go, hey guys, this is awesome, we really want to deliver this for you, we think that we can, and we think that we can do it in this really, really fun way. That’s just one tick at the box.

The second tick is not assuming that you have earned the right to deliver enablement or programs. Just because that partner uses your technology or possesses your technology does not mean that you can go to a partner and say, well, we should deliver this because you need it and because you sell our product, and we are going to do this. You really have to ask them, can we come in and deliver something different? What is the value to you? What is the value to your organization?

Where we started here was basically calling out, and I think enablement is really, really in a strong position to effectively ask this. If you think to yourself, how many sales teams say this there’s probably not many, but what I say to partners is, “I don’t think that we did a good job last year in terms of our pipeline, in terms of our ACV, in terms of our sourced and it’s my responsibility and enablement to make sure that you’re provided as much value and support as possible. What did we do last year that we should do this year?”

Nine out of 10 people will not ask that because the assumption is that since there’s a partnership, there that there shouldn’t be that ask, you should know. It shouldn’t be based on assumptions. Once you ask that question, partners will completely flip and go, wow, we’ve never been asked that, that is amazing. Yeah, let’s do that. Then what that tends to do is start leading down this path of you understanding where the gaps were last year around your partners, around the technology. Why weren’t they possessing your technology? What you actually find is that there are just fundamental knowledge gaps at the very base level.

What you do with that is that you start building from the ground up, where you’re casting that net weight, so you get as many people into your sessions as possible. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s the CEO down to the coffee lady, it doesn’t matter. Get as many people as you can into those sessions and start building that traction and the awareness because if people don’t know the basics of a MuleSoft or a Salesforce, how can they possibly identify opportunity and the context of the industry that they’re working in? It’s just not going to happen.

Once we call that out, that’s when these programs start running with intent, they start running a value, and that’s when partners go, yeah, this is really delivering on what we are trying to do this year. One of our partners, for example, by using this technique we went from having maybe three or four people attending programs to over 250. What that’s done is that it’s now opened up the global partner to enablement and enablement is reading that, leading that by the front. That’s what I mean by just asking them, what did we do last year that we should do this year? It’s not a stupid question.

I get really passionate about it this part because I think what tends to happen is a lot of people within enablement don’t ask those questions because they think “oh, if I ask that question, they’re going to beat me down with a stick because I should know that.” Well, no, you shouldn’t because there are thousands of people in a partner organization and asking that question will really open up doors.

SS: I love that question. Now, to call things out as well, or maybe even to highlight, you recently received MuleSoft’s team player award.

I’d love for you to talk to our audience about, how does cross-team collaboration help enhance your own partner enablement efforts?

LB: You hear this thing called focus on your swim lane. That tends to transcend not just from a sales team, but to all the other teams. Enablement should not just focus on their own swim lane because enablement is that bridge between all functions, all the external and internal partners.

What we try to do is if it has not been tried, just try it. This is where we built this cross-collaboration around, well, I could go and do what you tell me to do, but no, I’m not going to do that because I don’t know if that’s the right approach because I haven’t asked specifically.

What you’ll find is that enablement tends to come across as a support function, comes across as a way to have other functions maybe not do as much work as they should be doing. Enablement as a function should not be viewed as supportive. It should be viewed as pivotal and delivering success for the business and delivering success for partners.

There was one thing that really got me going on this, and it was something from our global team where we had our awards and someone had said in the messaging channel, “it’s so amazing to see enablement right next to channels. Wow, we are valuable.” I thought to myself, why is someone putting that in the channel, that we are valuable as if we’ve never been valuable? It should be ingrained in your mind with enablement that you are probably the most valuable function in any organization. Without enablement, your organization will not function, and it will not function externally either.

Once you start thinking to yourself, yeah, I’m going to own this, I’m going to go to every function and understand what their priorities are and how I can bridge these gaps. I’m not going to wait for someone to tell me what the issue is or what the gap is, I’m going to be really proactive and get out there and speak to as many people as possible and design programs where I think I see gaps.

We are neutral in enablement. If you’ve got customer success or sales, there’s always a hidden motivation around, I need this because I want that. Whereas enablement is, we’re going to give you this because we think that this will enable you to do a better job. That’s what I started to do last year with our team, which was not wait for someone to tell me where their gaps were but go out.

I would definitely say be more proactive than reactive within your organization. Start speaking to people that you haven’t spoken to before and really step outside of your comfort zone. Then you should hopefully see a difference between your internal and your external sales teams and functions as well.

SS: I love that, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Sales enablement is such a strategic function for an organization if utilized appropriately, so I absolutely agree. Lewis, in closing, you also mentioned that sales enablement contributes quite heavily to the success of the organization. Now, in order to do that, you have to think about how you’re measuring the impact. How do you go about measuring the impact of your partner enablement efforts?

LB: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a brilliant question because it varies across organizations around different metrics and different MBOs. From our end, our enablement was based upon certifications. Successful enablement was when we had to get 300 architects and developers certified on MuleSoft. If we did that, that was considered successful. However, I did not think that that was a suitable metric for success.

Sometimes, what tends to happen is for anyone that’s measured on technical aspects of enablement, there’s a difference between practice development and enablement. We know that practice development is, how are you building your ecosystem to deliver on a technology or deliver on a platform? Whereas enablement is that top of the funnel. We’re going to arm you with the best messaging and the best techniques to identify those opportunities to drive that pipeline.

When I joined the team last year, I thought to myself, wow, this is not how enablement should be run and I’m not going to run it this way. What I had said was, “I don’t expect you to really care about enablement or care about what we offer. If we can’t help you drive pipeline or ACV or opportunities, there’s no justification for you to do this.” What we’ve done this year is move away from this whole obsession with technical certifications, the whole obsession with project delivery around enablement in its purest sense. What we now measure on is enablement being able to identify opportunities. We are measured on how many opportunities can we influence through our sessions. We obviously get measured on our feedback. It’s very important as well that it’s not just black and white MBOs or KPIs. You have to have good feedback so that you can better improve or edit your next set of programs. Also looking at ACVs, did any of our enablement sessions contribute to the close of a deal? What that does is that it really puts enablement at that forefront of, where are we really adding value? Where do we not? And where can we expand our footprint?

SS: Thank you so much for the time today, I appreciate it. 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 more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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