Episode 193: Kevin Morrell on Charting a Career Path to Sales 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 Kevin Morrell from R3 join us. Kevin, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Kevin Morrell: Wonderful. Thank you so much Shawnna for having me, I’m really excited to be a part of this.

For me, my name is Kevin Morrell and I’m the senior manager of global sales enablement at R3. R3 really is a software company that builds blockchain solutions in the financial space. So in other words, it really builds the future of transactions on a very large scale. As for me, my background is that I’ve held a number of different jobs in my past, anywhere from being a cowboy for two years, a theater and circus coach, before transitioning into initially an SDR role and then an account executive. Then finally, for my most recent future, I have been sitting very steadily in sales enablement.

SS: Well, I’m extremely excited to have you here Kevin. I think we all heard correctly that in your past, prior to your time in enablement, you spent time as a theater and circus coach, which you also have on your LinkedIn profile. That’s definitely what sparked my interest and I think it’s also what sparked your passion for training. So how does that experience influence your approach to enablement?

KM: My background is in theater and my passion for training really started when I took a year off from college and traveled to Northern Greenland to a small island called Umiak to be a theater and circus coach for at-risk children. And when I say at-risk, I mean, one of the children, his name was Nuke and he was eight years old and the leader of a gang of 20-year-olds. So very intimidating in many ways and I had to teach him a “Little Star” on the saxophone.

Over that time, many instruments were thrown, broken, you name it. But one day, after months of really not getting anywhere, he overheard me playing the Titanic theme song and something clicked for both of us. His eyes lit up, he knew the song, and he practiced it every day and became my top student. The way I see it, he saw what’s in it for him, he had the freedom to play what he wanted to and I saw what was in it for me, which is really empowering others to unleash their skills.

So, enablement is very similar in that regard where salespeople, they’re hungry for knowledge, but on the one hand, you may have a certain plan that you want to support them with, but it might not necessarily resonate. You really have to find what’s in it for them and that’s kind of been my approach for enablement ever since.

SS: I think your approach is spot on and that’s quite the background. Given your unique career path to sales enablement, what advice would you give to people who might want to make the transition into an enablement role from another department? How can they set themselves up for success in an enablement career?

KM: That’s an excellent question. I think the wonderful thing about enablement is that you can come from so many different backgrounds. For me, I come primarily from a sales background, but that’s not a prerequisite. I’ve seen people come from revenue operations, finance, executive assistants, even a person that was a trainer for very gruff construction workers for her whole life that came to a very hip tech company. So completely different worlds, but she was one of the best enablement trainers I have had and that’s just because she was able to bring in an angle and a perspective that the others did not. So in this case, diversity in enablement is a blessing and you should use that to your success.

As for some of the key principles, I would say one, get to know the team where enablement sits. So it depends if it’s an existing team or maybe it’s something new that you can bring up, but really understand the needs of that specific team. Two, learn everything and anything enablement. It’s a fairly new field with many opinions and especially if you’re seeing opinions that are contradictory, that’s really where something interesting is at stake there, pay close attention to those. Since you’re listening to this podcast, you’re already on the right track to that learning.

Finally, try to identify where you can have an impact. For example, if you’re coming from a RevOps perspective, what type of sales-specific process knowledge can you imbue in this enablement role? If you’re coming from a product or marketing side, is it something that you can help with positioning? Find what you can bring to the table and that would be my best advice.

SS: That’s phenomenal advice. Now, in your opinion, what are some of the core skills that it takes to be successful as an enablement practitioner today?

KM: In terms of the core skills, I would say that there are really three main ones that, at least, I live by. The first one is listening and asking questions. I always say that the floor has answers, you just have to listen to them through the lens of a salesperson. You’ll hear a ton of different ideas, but they’ll really paint the picture for the solution that you’re looking for. Also, as part of listening, be a connector between multiple teams. When you’re first entering a new enablement role, you will have tons of ideas that you will want to implement, write them down, but in the meantime, listen.

The second would be that enablement professionals have a million day-to-day tasks and those are important, but always ask, what am I trying to achieve and what will the impact be? It’s very easy to get bogged down in details and not realize that maybe I’m going in the wrong direction altogether. Is this aligned with the larger goals? Are there other stakeholders in agreement? I’ve gone down that path, the wrong path many times before, so I would say, just always try to take a step back and see what am I trying to impact?

And three, this is a less sexy one, but I would say repetition. It’s definitely less glamorous, but it can make or break even a million-dollar investment. Find creative ways to remind the team of something you rolled out, so it doesn’t go stale. In summary, listening, ensuring that you’re staying true to the real goal, and repetition, repetition, repetition.

SS: I think that’s fantastic advice. Now, to shift gears a little bit, you mentioned that you also have experience building enablement teams. From your perspective, what does an ideal team structure look like for an enablement function?

KM: This is an interesting one, as really there’s no ideal enablement team in theory. What I mean by that is that each situation and sales team will require a different group of people. How mature is the team? What are the needs of the team? For example, at one of my previous companies, the main challenge was to up-skill the value selling behavior of around 120 different people. We had to do certifications for multiple different stages in each call for each one of those people, as they got a little bit more stale and uncomfortable when the market was in fact changing. For that one, the need is going to be that you might potentially need somebody who is helping you take on that role of certifications.

At my current company, R3, it’s quite a different challenge where most of the salespeople don’t come from a traditional SAS with tech background and they needed more enablement on existing systems and getting existing knowledge spread out easier. What the team needs right now is more process knowledge. That’s really going to dictate how you are going to build out your team.

Overall, I would say in terms of best practices is one, diversity, you don’t want to have everybody having a similar thought style in a team. I would be looking for somebody who is highly detail-oriented and making sure that they’ll be focusing on collateral, that the systems are consistent, and I can bounce my ideas off them. As a team matures and that dynamic changes, maybe you’ll want to build out the team that might focus specifically on account managers, on direct account executives, so on and so forth. So that’s my answer, as building out an ideal team is really fluid and you’ll have to really listen to what the company needs.

SS: I think that’s fantastic advice and I agree oftentimes enablement has to be built around the construct of the business. I think we have time for maybe a couple more questions if you don’t mind. We’ve talked a little bit about a data-driven approach and I know that you believe that that is key in order to build and lead an enablement team. Why from your perspective is taking a data-driven approach so important?

KM: Yes, so data tends to be a very scary word, especially for somebody who’s like me and doesn’t really like numbers too much. So one thing I’ll clarify is that when I speak about data, it doesn’t necessarily always mean numbers, it can be a part of it, but it could be are we targeting the correct buyer personas? It could be a lot more.
Ultimately the reason data is so important is that earlier, I spoke about how important it is to ask questions, the floor has answers. A lot of the time when you’ll be asking a lot of questions and you’ll be getting conflicting reports, how do you understand what is actually happening? That’s where data comes in.

You can take a look at a problem, let’s say somebody mentions that there’s a lack of collateral, that’s a problem. Then you have to continue. How would they use that collateral, a sales cycle? Is there existing collateral that the team is aware of? No, they can’t find something on the current internal Wiki system. That’s how you begin to fine-tune where the actual problem is and have it through that data dictate, how am I going to build that out for that team?

The secondary reason is that a lot of the decision-makers in a company might not be as close to the sales team, but they do trust data. That’s kind of where you can show them on the numbers, that by shifting the buyer personas that we’re targeting, we can increase revenues by 20%, as an example. That’s something that can really speak to the larger company broadly.

SS: Excellent. Now, the last question on this before we close out is, how can enablement leaders use that data to really position the enablement team as a strategic lever for the business?

KM: Some of the ways that enablement leaders can use data to position the enablement team as a strategic lever for the business, is really to show problems that might not initially be apparent. Enablement roles, I think are a combination of data, which is the more quantitative side, but also the qualitative side, which is you’re representing the sales team in many ways, you understand the context of the numbers being put in place.

In that way, the enablement team can come together and not only show raw numbers or raw data, but also have the qualitative side, the story behind it that can really shine a lot of light on where the business should be pivoting potentially that they might not have otherwise. That can help you in influencing what is the product team going to work on all the way to what is marketing going to focus on? At least that’s how in my previous and current positions I’ve been able to leverage the enablement team and its strategic role.

SS: Well, thank you so much Kevin for taking the time to talk to us today. I appreciated learning more about you, your background, and your approach to enablement.

KM: Wonderful. Thank you so much again, Shawnna.

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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