Episode 189: Rachel Chambers on Building and Scaling an Enablement Function

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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 Rachel Chambers from Marketplacer join us. Rachel, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Rachel Chambers: Hi Shawnna, thanks for the invitation to be on the program. As you mentioned, my name is Rachel. I am based in Melbourne, and I’d like to start by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people, the traditional custodians of this land.

I’m the Head of Enablement at Marketplacer. We are a global leader in providing SaaS platforms to retailers and businesses to enable them to bring their marketplace strategies to life. We offer more than technology; we’ve got deep expertise and experience and have successfully partnered with many prominent brands across the globe. From an enablement perspective, I’ve been in the discipline for close to two decades. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors, from advertising, hospitality and finance, but regardless of the area, I just love the role. That’s a little bit about me.

SS: Rachel, I’m super excited to have you here today. You have a lot of experience in building and scaling an enablement function, so for our audience, for practitioners that are maybe just getting started in building an enablement function, where do you recommend that they begin?

RC: Thanks, Shawnna. This is a really exciting question, as there is nothing quite like getting a phone call saying we’ve selected you or we need your help in setting up an enablement function. It’s a high-impact role and a great responsibility, but the success is incredibly rewarding. With that opportunity, it’s natural for us to want to deliver ROI and add value as soon as possible, and they’re great traits to have, but on the flipside, it means we sometimes move into delivery and implementation and change mode too quickly without taking the time to lay the foundations for success. I’ll share with you the four pillars that I’ve used when setting up sales enablement teams across various sectors. Through the lessons I’ve learned and my experience, spending this extra time upfront will save you a lot of pain and time in the long run, it will help build better relationships, greater adoption of your change, and essentially get you better results. Who doesn’t want that? So, let’s start with the first step, which is alignment.

Aligning on what sales enablement is, is crucial, as there are many definitions. The industry has also really evolved over the last three years, so having a shared understanding across an organization on what enablement is, what it isn’t, the value it brings and some of the deliverables will help expedite success. The best way to do this is to create an enablement charter, which is different to your plan. It’s an overview, it’s not the detailed actions on what you’ll deliver. The best way to do this is I’ll have a template or a draft on our best practice enablement methodology and share it with the sponsor or stakeholder who has brought me into the business. I get their agreement and alignment and make some changes to customize and tailor it for the organization that I’m servicing because their needs will be slightly different to other companies, whether it’s scaling into new markets or rapidly growing their sales team. Once the charter has been created, then share it with other areas like product and marketing and go-to-market, so they can see how partnering with enablement will really accelerate success for both areas.

The second step is to connect with customers. It might sound so basic, so why do we need to even explain it as an action? When you move into a new role, it’s so easy to be absorbed with getting to understand the ins and outs of your new organization that we often leave meeting our most important people to the end. We want to make sure we are connecting with our customers early, and I mean our internal and external customers. There’s also an opportunity to tap into some great data that already exists in the organization. Generally, there will already be customer satisfaction data with verbatims. I always try to get my hands on that because I think it’s absolute gold. You have customers telling you what they love in what you’re doing and what you need to fix to keep them and what you need to do to grow them. Absolutely tap into customer satisfaction data as well.

The third tip is stock take an audit and it probably sounds not very exciting, but it’s hugely beneficial as a way to demonstrate ROI and progress. Everybody knows that when you join an organization, it’s more than likely that there’s a lot of content in a lot of different places, so working out what’s being used and loved, what’s not being used and why, and what’s needed, will really help you build your plan. You can start to put some metrics around it, so you can start to identify the number of courses we need to create to enable our sales team. Then, each month, update on what’s been created and how often those courses have been completed. It really starts to help to measure ROI.

Finally, you’ve aligned, you’ve connected with your customers, you’ve done your audit, build your plan and communicate it with passion and conviction. Keep it simple but comprehensive. Outline what will be delivered when, what are the risks, what are the dependencies and share it with your stakeholders. Ask them how often they want to be kept informed of the progress and what method they want to be kept updated with. It’s important to keep the communication going and keep the plan visible. All those four steps are fundamental to success, but there’s probably one that underpins all of it and that’s to have fun throughout the process. Be inspired, not intimidated by the opportunity. Enablement works, it’s been proven. You have great people to support you throughout the enablement community.

SS: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I think that the enablement category has done a lot to solidify over the years, but there’s still a way to go for us. Based on your experience, what are some potential pitfalls in standing up an enablement function and how do you go about mitigating those risks?

RC: There have been many lessons learned over the years and there are three key ones. The first one is overcommitting and saying yes to everything. When you start to produce work and you’re getting feedback that sales love your content, and hopefully that happens, then more requests will come through. Ideally, you’ve been through a thorough planning process, and you’ve set the priorities with the sales team, so that should minimize that happening. But if you haven’t and you’re getting all these requests, it could happen that you overcommit; you add extra things to the plan, which means you’re working really long hours or you’re missing original timeframes and deadlines. Or you’re delivering work not to the quality that you need it to be. When you do get those requests, understand that if you replace something existing in the plan, what additional resources are available to deliver this and if we can’t deliver it today, what can we do and when can we do it. Anything you say no to, make sure to document, as it’s going to be vital in helping you get more resources in the future as you want to grow out the enablement team. Then you can say, we were unable to deliver X number of training sessions or build X pieces of content to meet the needs of our sales team due to resourcing.

Pitfall number two is a blurred line between sales leadership and sales enablement. This shouldn’t happen if enablement is defined from the top-down early on. If it’s not, sometimes sales leaders think, are you going to come in and coach my team now, are you going to run bespoke training sessions, and in extreme cases, build customer presentations? Generally, the answer is no. The best we can do is enable our sales leaders and enable our front line to be as self-sufficient as possible. We do that by providing best practice coaching frameworks for our sales leaders, quality content to our sales team that’s easily accessible, sales technology that will make it easier for sales to interact with their clients and speed up the buying cycle, online training to really close any capability gaps. By providing these services, not only will we be able to scale, but we’ll also accelerate success.

The final one is underestimating the time to deliver the sales enablement initiatives, whether it’s a piece of content or training program. Ideally, our sales team will have visibility of the plan on what we’re working on, but it’s also important to educate them at a really high level on what the timeframes are to build. Often the perception could be, it’s pulling together a PowerPoint deck and rolling it out the next day, but that’s not the case. To create highly relevant and quality content takes some time and the pay-off will be huge, because you’ll get a more engaged piece of content or training and that’s getting utilized. When mapping out the time to deliver, make sure you include things like time for re-works, dependencies on what you need from your key stakeholders and communicate them as early as possible. If they miss those timeframes, adjust your deliverables accordingly. Also, there are normally people that need to sign off on a piece of content or training, let them know in advance when that will occur. Probably the last piece, is allowing time for embedding and measuring the success of the initiative that you’ve delivered. We can spend a month building an amazing online training program, roll it out, but we need to make sure we go back in a week, in a month, to see, has it been completed, what are the ratings and has that lifted sales performance? Hopefully that gives you some ideas of the pitfalls and how to mitigate those.

SS: Absolutely, and you touched on this a minute ago around stakeholders, but I want to dig into that a little bit more because whenever you’re building something new in the business world, taking the stakeholder priorities and perspectives into account is critical. Stakeholder management is another one of your areas of expertise, so I’d love to understand how you manage their expectations for the enablement function and balance that with your own visions for success?

RC: Before I get into managing expectations, I want to highlight that stakeholder management is an absolute bonus of working in sales enablement. We get access to so many smart and passionate people that we can learn from because not only do we work with sales, but we also get to work with sales operations, product, marketing, go-to-market, finance and IT. When engaging with stakeholders, I always try to learn from them as well. One of the highlights of my career has been the strong partnerships that are built and maintained along the way, and the shared success we’ve had. So how do we get to that point?

I’ll focus on sales, as they’re our key customers, and I’ll do two things. The first is to measure their level of engagement around sales enablement and I do that by asking what has their previous experience been. If it was negative, why? If it was positive, what did they love and what do they think we can do for this organization, to help for it to be successful? I also like to showcase three or four different types of assets so they can start to understand how sales enablement has evolved. This could be an online video; it could be a training course or a piece of customer-facing collateral. You can see in the lightbulb moments that sales enablement is more than process. It’s like showing a picture of the cake, rather than just explaining the ingredients. It’s much more exciting.

The second part is aligning on expectations, and I might be really dumbing this down, but for me the best way to do this is to keep connecting to our overall business outcomes and our business goals, our customer goals and our values. When you keep connecting back to those pillars, alignment should always happen, and we should accelerate success.

SS: Absolutely. I also want to talk a little bit about growth. I think, as the organization is growing, ideally, the enablement team should be growing alongside it. Given your experience in growing out an enablement team, what are some of the challenges that enablement leaders might encounter in building out their teams and how can they overcome those challenges?

RC: This is a really good problem to have because you’re getting to build out your team. The first thing you need for sales enablement is find good people. What I like to do is start building the team of tomorrow today. Think about what roles we’re going to be needing in six to twelve months and have a look around the business. Think about who could potentially move into those roles. As you get closer to the time of recruiting, speak to the leaders, speak to the potential candidates and see if there’s something that they’re interested in. You can even start the development. Obviously, you can’t promise them a role, but give them some challenges, get them really familiar with the function, so they can see if it’s something they’re interested in. And of course, use your network. We know referrals are the best way to get people in and they’re more likely to stay and succeed.

The second challenge is finding people that can hit the ground running. I overcome that by having a balance of people who have great internal knowledge vs hiring people who are really great sales enablement practitioners. I find, when you mesh those two together, you’re going to get a high-performing team sooner. Really balance the diversity of who you’re employing and who you’re bringing in to get an accelerated result.

The third challenge can be getting a high volume of quality candidates. This can happen because often people see the words sales enablement and they think I don’t know what that is, or I can’t do that. So just have a look at how you’re advertising your role and the words that you’re using. Make sure you have a really strong value prop for each role, for people to think, yes, that’s something that I want to do and that’s something that I can do. Just really look at the language, to attract the type of talent that you’re after.

SS: I love that approach. You have scaled your enablement function across businesses to support multiple teams, from sales to pre-sales and customer success. When you’re supporting several teams, how can enablement practitioners ensure that they’re resourced appropriately to do so and how to you structure your team to prepare for scale?

RC: Firstly, when requesting more resources, that discussion should not come as a surprise to the decision-makers you are having that conversation with. When you joined the business, ideally you set the scene on what is best practice sales enablement from a structural point of view and what is the phased approach to get to that optimal model, so that there are no surprises. In regard to building out that business case and having that discussion, there are four key topics I want to cover.

The first one is to start building your business case from day one. You’ve set that best practice framework; start collecting feedback that you’re receiving from the sales team when they say that training was great or that piece of content is really working, or I love that tech. Get granular. How much time is it saving you? Has it helped you win more deals? If yes, how many? What is the average dollar value of those deals, or has it helped you retain customers? Which customers have you retained and what are they worth? Start building the case from day one, not just a week before you start putting together your presentation. The other thing is tracking each time you receive a request but cannot fulfil it due to lack of resourcing. That will demonstrate that there is a desire from our sales team or our customers which we’re not meeting; that there is a requirement to help and support them, to lift capability or help them have better conversations and we need more resources to fill that.

The second thing is clearly defining the roles that you’re requesting. What are the tangible outputs our customers or our salespeople will receive as a result of this role? And keep linking it back to the business strategy as that is the quickest way to get the resources approved.

Thirdly, ROI and payback. Sales enablement should pay for itself in the long run. If you’re in a company that has a low number of deals but of high value, how many additional sales need to be made to cover the investment of that role? It could be two or three additional sales for that year, the rest is upside. If you’re in an industry that has low-dollar sales but high volume, how many sales per person will it take to cover the investment in the role?

The last one, other than growth and new customers, look at different metrics like retention, reduction in admin, employee engagement, because this is an investment in helping our sales team be successful. These are some of the talking points I would add to my conversation when requesting additional resourcing for the optimal sales enablement team.

SS: Absolutely. Just to close out, what are some of your best practices for advocating for the resources that your team needs in order to achieve your goals for the enablement function?

RC: This is another one I’m very passionate about, it’s to know your numbers. As a sales enablement team, we should absolutely know what the sales targets are, what our results are and how our customers are going. How can we help them improve, if we don’t know the performance results? I understand that is a lagging indicator, but really, know your numbers. I think that’s a base line, that’s what you need to do.

Also, know your sales enablement metrics. There are a ton of things that you can report on because at the end of the day metrics matter. Whatever you’re going to do to get more resources, you need to prove ROI on roles. Look at things like speed to competency with induction onboarding. How long did they spend on onboarding today? What could we reduce that to? What could the potential uplift be and what would the revenue benefits be? And do test-and-learn, for example, I might need one resource to re-design our onboarding. That resource will cost X amount of dollars, then demonstrate how you’ll make it up. It means our team will get off the training track and onto the floor two weeks earlier, which means they will get to their target earlier, so really linking it to metrics.

The other thing is looking at engagement metrics as well. Normally, in an engagement survey there is a question around training and development. Look at what the engagement score is today vs what it could be. Obviously, enablement plays a massive play to that. I’m very into running test-and-learn, so running a sales enablement project on a small scale, demonstrating what that uplift is and once they have a taste for it, you’ll get more credibility and more buy-in to do that on a broader scale. And yeah, just work out that essentially, I’m going to need X dollars to hire this role, so how many sales will it take to make it back? Understand what your average sales result is, what your average customer number is. If your average sale is fifty thousand dollars and you’re wanting to hire an instructional designer to help build your content, then it will essentially take an additional two and a half sales per year to repay that.

SS: I think that’s a really interesting way to think about it. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate the time and thought you put into each of your responses.

RC: 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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