Episode 173: Chris Kingman on Maximizing Impact as Enablement Evolves

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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 really excited to have a return guest to our podcast, one of our original podcast members, Chris Kingman from TransUnion. Chris, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Christopher Kingman: Thanks, Shawnna. My name is Chris Kingman. I’m the Global Head of Digital Enablement for TransUnion, founding member and current member of the Board of Advisors for the Sales Enablement Society, and now a member of the Board of Evangelists for Sales Enablement PRO. I’ve been at TransUnion for 10.5 years in various roles in enablement in the U.S. for seven years. Just wrapped up international support for three and a half years and now in a global role supporting both.

SS: I’m excited to have you back with us, Chris, and representing our Evangelist program, thank you so much. As you mentioned in your intro, you’ve been an established leader in enablement for several years, and you and I go back several years as well. You’ve personally experienced how the sales enablement function has grown and evolved over the years, so I’d love to hear from you, what drew you to sales enablement originally? What would you say keeps you motivated and passionate about enablement?

CK: Well, I don’t think I was drawn to enablement. I think like most people, I got pushed into it or I fell into the role. I was working at a tech startup and for anybody who’s ever come from the tech startup background knows there is more work than people. Over a really short period of I think about three years, I just amassed all of the responsibilities that we today lump under enablement. That’s how I got my start, I was doing a lot of the necessities. I’m motivated by the idea that sales enablement can immensely impact or affect our organizations in a positive manner.

Firstly, it’s the immediate seller. I was in sales once and I did absolutely horribly, I failed at it so bad. I know what it’s like to feel unsupported and have no resources or help. I don’t ever want my sellers to feel that way. A lot of the programs I design or any of the strategies I lay out are grounded in that idea.

Second, as you scale, and as I have over the years gone from supporting a localized team to a global organization, you begin to have positive effects on other areas. The biggest one being revenue, you get to actually see how your programs and initiatives are impacting the bottom line. You also get to impact things like morale, you get to reduce turnover, and you get to help individuals. You get to know them, and you get to help them. I think all of those things are some of the things that always keep me motivated, interested.

The great thing about enablement and the thing I also really enjoy is connecting with my fellow leaders and practitioners. I’ve been very fortunate over the last few years between all of the organizations and the seminars to meet so many amazing, great people. I always keep coming back for that.

SS: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I love our sales enablement space, but I think a lot of practitioners that are listening could understand and align with how you fell into enablement back in the day.
Now, you are actually, as I mentioned, one of our first guests that we ever had on this podcast. In that episode, I want to say almost three years ago now, we asked you where you saw the momentum for sales enablement leading in the future. Now that we’re a ways into that future, what has the evolution of sales enablement looked like in the past couple of years from your perspective?

CK: The first thing I’m happy to see happen over the last few years is the gradual dropping of the word sales from enablement. Certainly, we refer to it here as sales enablement, but the farther you go out into organizations, and especially if you look into a lot of the information on hiring, a lot of the information on jobs, or if you scour the job boards, you’re going to find more results searching for enablement than sales. When you dig into the quality of those JDs and those postings, they’re grounded in sales enablement roles. I said that a long time ago that one of our biggest limiters was just that term, it confuses a lot of people. I believe this has helped the discipline become more approachable.

It’s been interesting to watch the discipline evolve, especially as there’s been increasingly more studies on the function and its impact, including the one Sales Enablement PRO does. I’ve noticed a few things I think are important over the last few years. Anecdotally, I’ve seen more jobs for SE roles in general, but as you read through them, there’s a better description of how that role exists in the organization. A while back it was a single discipline or a single role. Now, I see more and more leader roles or SE manager roles with the prospect of building teams within defined hierarchies and structures. This is good because some of the earlier research indicated there was a real hesitancy to hire and build enablement functions because organizations didn’t quite know where to start. I think this is on the decline now as more understanding of enablement is being established. This may not sound like a big achievement, but if you looked at all the data, three, four years ago, a lot of the stuff really indicated that people were aware of it, they understood the need, but they didn’t know really where to start. Now I think we’re seeing some of that ambiguity die off and we’re seeing people investing where they think enablement should be in their organization.

I think those are really big changes that have been great to see over the last few years. Of course, the second one is the move to digital. That was always coming. A lot of thought leaders and things like that have always said the move to digital is where people are looking to go, but it was certainly accelerated due to the pandemic. It’s been interesting to see the initial reaction to the move to digital and what we thought what was important, like changing digital engagements for structures, access, and modalities of learning and the emergence of the dreaded zoom fatigue. Today, we’re looking to balance impactful meetings without burning our sellers out. A very different approach compared to a few years ago, where face-to-face was how you sold, and less attention was paid in certain areas in certain organizations.

I think the acceleration of the adoption of digital and how we’ve progressed through it, at first everybody went double down on video cons and having virtual happy hours and every training was a face-to-face video call to where we are now where there’s a little bit less hands-on. There are dedicated days when you leave people alone or you go back to older ways of training or developing sellers through links to content or watch this video. It’s all been very interesting to see the reaction of practitioners and leadership.

SS: I couldn’t agree more. Now, you also shared with us some of the skills and expertise needed to succeed in enablement, and at the time it included listening and staying close to the front lines and thinking about the big picture. How would you say that’s evolved recently? Would you say that things that things like the shift to digital has impacted the traits that organizations look for in enablement candidates?

CK: Certainly. I still believe listening and staying close to the frontline are key. I would argue those will never go away, even now sellers need a defined outlet if you will, to voice their needs and concerns. I still believe that those sellers’ anecdotal feedback and the leader anecdotal feedback leads to larger issues.

That’s always how I’ve approached finding out my own business needs and critical business issues. Even in this digital space, sellers, leaders, they don’t feel as connected, so that connection to them, listening to them and offering them outlets and stuff and staying on top of the sellers and constantly engaging and saying, what’s going on? What support do you need? I think it’s more critical now that we don’t have the benefit of maybe sitting in a call center or having a meeting every Friday in the office, things like that. It’s those little moments that are missing that you now have to artificially recreate in order to maintain some of the benefits.

Given the recent changes, if I was hiring or staffing teams, I would look for someone with proven abilities in digital selling or supporting digital or inside sales organizations. Not necessarily from the skills perspective, but the discipline and the technology perspective. Right now, CRM is probably your second most important tool behind maybe telephone and email. Somebody that can drive effective adoption of those things is key. If you weren’t technologically inclined, I feel now is the time to get educated on the tools that organizations are using past things like zoom or your video con platform and past the CRM. Especially if you’re in a discipline like training, maybe like support or comp, what are the other avenues? What are the other tools that you might be able to adopt in this new environment?

I would also look for practitioners with demonstrated communication skills and change management skills. I’m pretty sure everyone will agree, the number of emails they’ve gotten has gone up, the number of meetings they attend has gone up, so you need somebody who has that conscientious mind. They are mindful in how they approach change or introduce new concepts or initiatives in all digital organizations.

We don’t have the luxury of in-person meetings, most of us don’t, or on-demand resources where you can walk to someone’s desk for support. Right now, to me, one of the most critical things that we look at is how well we navigate and communicate these changes or what we’re attempting to do from a strategic and tactical perspective. Those are some of the skills I would look for in a practitioner role to join my organization.

SS: Those are fantastic traits to be looking for. Now, you recently wrote an article on spring cleaning, which I loved. Talking about your sales enablement practices, how often would you say you’re re-evaluating your processes to keep pace with the evolution of the sales enablement function, and what is the impact of doing so?

CK: As I’ve scaled my remit at TransUnion, if you will, I’ve had to approach the spring cleaning in two different ways. In about a quarterly fashion, I go and review what programs and what initiatives and what things we’re doing to support sellers, and then align those to the sales and go-to-market strategies that our teams are employing to make sure that from a tactical perspective they’re supported. That’s very quick and iterative. Do they have the assets? The campaigns? Is the technology lined up? Is the training lined up? Is the certification lined up? Do they understand what they need to do in this three-to-six-month window? Those are always iterative and we’re always sitting down and aligning and making sure that the processes and the things that we do are set to support these people.

Then strategically, I reevaluate the priorities every six months. Now, this is for larger-scale initiatives around development programs, leadership identified needs, technology investments, and the scaling of those technologies. Because of the longer build and lead times, never mind securing funding, I try to maximize the design time when we go to launch or execute these programs so there’s little deviation or modification once they’re launched. This short cycle iterative review and then long cycle review helps me stay on top of the tactical actions to make sure our sellers have everything they need to do in the short term, but also make sure that long-term strategically my technology investments, my programs are all aligned to the three-year plans, the organizational goals, the management identified gaps or needs or things like that.

We can make sure that wherever the organization wants to go, we have a strategic all the way down to a tactical plan to cover that. I don’t like guessing games, I certainly hate surprises. Anytime we get the opportunity to sit down with the leadership and say, tell us what you want us to go do and we will tell you how we’re going to support it, never pass those.

SS: Those are golden opportunities. Now, just for the sake of staying in alignment to how we get started in our first podcast, in the next couple of years, how do you see the sales enablement function evolving and what are a few focus areas that organizations should be paying attention to as they’re moving into the year ahead?

CK: I think we can agree that digital selling is here to stay in some capacity. I believe all major consulting firms have published some data to attest to that. How much time your sellers will spend in that channel will remain to be seen.

I feel that there are a few things to consider when looking forward at the future of enablement. First, practitioners and leaders should reevaluate their tech stacks, especially given the dominance of digital selling and the assumed prevalence here moving forward. Are you using platforms to their fullest potential? Those are some of the things that I would look at. Are you duplicating functionalities? This could be a key exercise as the cost of maintaining multiple platforms will become unscalable at a certain point. Certainly, something I look to do constantly is making sure that adoption of a platform is there and then understanding the capabilities of it, similar to an iPhone. You can make a phone call with an iPhone, but that isn’t necessarily all it can’t do, so why not explore the full breadth and depth of a platform.

I’d recommend getting most of your tools aligned and making sure that you’re using them to the fullest ability, and then leveraging things like AI or machine learning where possible to further pair down how much software you actually have to pay for. If you have three applications when in reality two of them can suffice, save the money, get rid of the third application and reinvest that into something that’s going to drive efficiency or drive effectiveness.

Over the next three years, I think you’ll see a lot of consolidation of tech platforms. We’ve certainly seen it this year with a couple of the bigger ones acquiring smaller entities. I think there should always be a review of the technology compared to where do we want to go as an organization. If we want to grow to a certain amount of money or a certain size, or you want to emerge into a certain market, are we technologically enabled to do that. I think for a practitioner, especially those in the tech space, it’s something you’re going to be spending a lot of time on.

The other thing I would look at is up-skilling sellers. That is an endless process in my opinion. You should always be preparing them for the next way to sell or preparing them for the way that buyers want to buy. It may not seem obvious, but how we sell and how customers want to buy is evolving due to this digital environment. A lot of great work has been put out over the last few years about the size of buying committees or what I think is pretty notable is the Sense Maker work done by Gartner, which talks about how customers want to be engaged with from a sales rep and the perspective that they want.

I think all of those things are key in understanding in what market that you sell and what space is your product or your solution and the people that you sell to. How do they want to buy it? What are they like? Deeper dives into what works, how are you winning, and more importantly, how are you losing, are all things that are going to feed into how you’re preparing your sellers.

One of the key areas to focus on is developing the skills to maximize the value for a client, providing the right information, and addressing their critical business issues all while minimizing the time on calls. Customers are more educated than ever, and you combine that with a very real digital fatigue, and you now have a new buying dynamic that I don’t feel we’ve really dug into as a discipline or a practice. I think over the next few years, you’ll see a lot of thought leadership and sales development or coaching around how to drive the utmost value in the smallest amount of time. Whether that’s pitch templates, whether that’s how to address certain customers, whether that’s allowing customers better resources to enable themselves through digital sales rooms or a better website. Those are all things I think practitioners need to consider and partner with their internal partners through marketing, through technology, things like that to enable. I think things are going to only get more complex, unfortunately, as we navigate the next three years.

The last thing I challenge practitioners and leaders to consider is how to prepare for the return to field selling. At some point we may go back to a semblance of normal. I think an emerging key differentiator in the next three years is the willingness to go see clients in person. I think developing a safe strategy that brings the benefits of digital engagement combined with the effectiveness of an in-person interaction will be a winning formula in the next few years,

SS: Chris, as always, I learn a ton every time I talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us today, I really appreciate you making the time.

CK: Absolutely, thank you.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesnablement.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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