Episode 196: Roderick Jefferson on the Foundations of a Sales Enablement Strategy

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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 Roderick Jefferson from Netskope join us. Roderick, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Roderick Jefferson: Absolutely. First of all, Shawnna, I’m absolutely honored to be here with you again and looking forward to diving in on this. From an intro perspective, my name is Roderick Jefferson, I’m the VP of field enablement at Netskope, a cybersecurity company. I am responsible for field enablement – that includes everything other than customer education. So, I’ve got SDR, BDR, sales, technical, alliances, and channels as well as customer experience, so the full gamut.

SS: Very excited to have you here RJ. Now, we’ve known each other for years and you’ve actually previously joined us on our Book Club podcast with Olivia Fuller, and there we asked you about kind of the core components of an enablement strategy and you broke it down for that audience into three key categories: strategy, architecture, and reinforcement. I’d love to start at the top. How does strategy lay the foundation for the architecture and reinforcement pieces?

RJ: Well, I think it starts at the very foundation of things. What I mean here is you need to understand who’s your audience, what are you looking for, what’s your definition of enablement and who’s your audience? Finally, what are the metrics and how are you going to validate all the things that you’re doing from an enablement perspective? I don’t mean the old-school smiley sheets and butts in seats, but what are we doing to really impact a few things? One is overall revenue. Secondly, accelerated speed to revenue. Next is overall proficiency for our folks. Then finally, how are we now building out what I call the front and the back of the house, which is inclusive of sales, pre-sales, product marketing, marketing, etc… all the way out through customer support and customer experience so that you’re not building a big, beautiful house with a short hallway where your prospects and your customers are turning out the back door.

SS: I always love the analogies that you come up with. Now, as you’re building out your house or your sales enablement strategy, what are some methods for ensuring that your approach has longevity and is really built for scale?

RJ: Well, first and foremost, it starts with working with sales leadership and understanding what their needs are and their expectations and then agreeing upfront before you dive into things that these are going to be the key three to five objectives and then you’re going to have to agree on the KPIs. The reason I say that first is so that the ball when you get close to, let’s say you’re in the red zone and you’re about to score, the post doesn’t move and the end zone doesn’t move as it happens. Also, as practitioners, we’ve all seen it before. Here are our top five things, and here’s two more that we need to do. Well, the answer is literally, absolutely, we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. In order to make sure that it’s realistic and we’re all being set up for success, what are the two things we’re going to take off of my plate and my team rather than just continually piling things on?

SS: That’s a fantastic approach. I don’t know if I can handle the football analogies right now, though, with all the trading that’s been going on recently.

RJ: There’s a lot going on out there, a lot of craziness.

SS: Just lost one of my favorite players.

RJ: Russell Wilson, let me guess.

SS: Yes. And Bobby Wagner.

RJ: Yes, he’s gone now as well.

SS: Yes, it’s a tough time to think about football. When you’re outlining the goals for your strategy, though, getting back on the topic of enablement, how can you create goals that drive specific transformation and measurable change in the organization and its performance?

RJ: Again, it’s a collaborative effort, it’s a matter of understanding from top-down and I mean from the CEO and the e-staff going down, what are the key objectives and that way it doesn’t become just a sales enablement initiative. This is something that is now woven into the fabric of the company and the culture. Also, it’s something that’s being driven down. I’ll give you an example. We are in the midst of rolling out a brand spanking new sales methodology. Instead of me going out, and I could jump on these workshops and say, “hey, here’s the value of it. Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we’re doing it. Here are all the KPIs, here the objectives.” Instead, what we actually did was had our CEO do a 30-second recording on the value and how important this is transformationally across the entire organization and company. Now, what does that say? One, it says that the CEO is fully behind this and is a part of the strategy and the execution piece. Secondly, it says this is a companywide initiative. This is not something that’s only being driven by sales or field enablement, in my case.

SS: Yes, I think getting executive reinforcement is absolutely critical, especially when it comes to those big initiatives like rolling out a new sales methodology, for sure.

RJ: It takes a village.

SS: It really does. I want to actually return to something that you had also brought up in the Book Club episode that you had done with us previously. You talked about the idea of creating an enablement council to improve alignment with other teams. I’d love to dig into this a little bit so that our audience can get tips and tricks on how they might be able to comprise a similar council. How do you go about identifying the right players to bring to the table? How can it help you secure maybe some more of that buy-in at the executive level for enablement strategy and really improve the collaboration across these teams?

RJ: Great questions. If I may, let me do them backwards about the buy-in piece and I’ll come back to who should be at the table and what the enablement council is. The second part of this is all about making sure that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is hearing the same instructions, definitions, goals, objectives, again KPIs. But the key piece here is, Shawnna, that they hear it in their language.

Now, let me go back to who should be at the table. That should be marketing, product marketing, HR, engineering, channels, and alliances, as well as sales and enablement. Why? Because it requires all of them to service our internal customers. I don’t believe in calling them stakeholders. They should be your internal customers and enablement should be that hub that spokes out to each one of them. But that’s not enough.

The other piece is you have to be able to speak in their language. Thus, I call us the translators of dialects and languages. You’ve got to be able to speak Spanish, French, Russian, German, Swiss, English, etc. – and that would be all of the multiplicity of languages of each of those lines of business. Don’t go out trying to teach them “sales enablement-ease”, because you’ll lose them right away. The purpose of the field enablement – or sales enablement – council is getting all of these folks together at the same table on a monthly basis. There are executables. There are deliverables and most importantly, there is accountability for each one of those.

Let’s look at a real-life example. You bring them together, and let’s say you’re rolling out a brand-new sales bootcamp, as we’re doing. I’m going to talk to product marketing and make sure we’ve got the most current and consistent messaging and positioning. We just came out of SKO, so I want to make sure everything is fresh there. I’m talking to product management around release cycles and making sure that the things we’re teaching these folks that are coming through onboarding and eventually boot camp are getting the most current information. I’m talking to channels and alliances because I want to make sure that we’re getting at the same level for our partners that we’re getting internally, or if there needs to be some kind of adjustment, that we’re all on the same page. I’m talking to SEs, sales engineering folks, on the technical side as well as our CS and CX organizations because we need to understand what those roles need on a different, sometimes deeper and wider level versus just trying to peanut butter things across all of the various roles.

Now, once you get them all together, it’s amazing how much collaboration, communication and then finally orchestration comes out of this because you’re not having to repeat this multiple times. It’s not like the old telephone game that we did is as a kid where you whisper in their ear and by the time that same message gets to the other side of the room, suddenly the bunny wears fuzzy slippers. Well, that’s not exactly what I said. You don’t have to repeat that multiple times, and there’s nothing better than bringing sales and marketing and all these other groups to the same table at the same time.

SS: I could not agree more. To the audience, if you don’t yet have an enablement council in place, take Roderick’s advice and establish one this year. It will change the game for you within your organization. Now, you brought up your book, “Sales Enablement 3.0,” which is absolutely one of my favorite books in our space. In it, you really talk about the importance for enablement leaders to position the function as a strategic lever in the business to overcome that old perception that we have around enablement being the “fixer of the broken things”. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that practitioners might have in proving that strategic impact? How can they overcome some of those challenges?

RJ: Well, I think first of all, another fantastic question, and I think it starts with not identifying yourself and being only viewed as either schedulers and coordinators or just training. Don’t get me wrong, training serves its purpose, but it also puts you in a box, as Shawnna said. You become the fixers of broken things and broken people. That’s not what we do, right? We bring so much more value to an organization than just doing those things. And by the way, I think IT has that whole fixer of broken things kind of cornered. I’m going to let them keep that.

Instead of doing that, get away from just NPS scores. Everything that you do has to resonate back from a focus metric on how are you accelerating speed to revenue? You’re increasing productivity per head and you are creating synergy between the front and the back of the house. I always start with talking with your leaders right away and understanding what’s important to them from metrics, and I don’t mean just numbers. I go to a sales leader and I say, “hey, I’ve got a laundry list that we can talk about. Everything from average deal size, collateral use and frequency, deal velocity, new pipeline creation, number of closed deals, product mix, quota attainment, win and loss rates. Of all of those things, what’s important to you?” That way I can now go back with sales ops and work inside of my CRM to say, all right, here are dashboards, and here are reports that I can show you on an ongoing basis.

Here’s an example. When I first came into a previous life at Marketo, the time-to-first- close in the mid-market was 88 days. By the time I left, two and a half years later, it was 54 days. Now, I can go back and say, “okay, the number of times that folks are now more productive times the number of sellers times their quota, here’s how enablement has impacted and influenced it.” Please, don’t say that we drive revenue because we don’t carry a bag, but we do impact and influence revenue, and here’s how we did it from a hard-line revenue metrics perspective. That speaks volumes to not only the sales leader but to your executive team. It makes you show up in a whole different light whereby now you become a partner with sales, marketing, product marketing, engineering, HR etc… versus this is the training team, these are the people that do scheduling and coordinating. Does that answer your question?

SS: Yes, and it’s night and day the difference that enablement can make when they get that seat at the table.

RJ: Absolutely.

SS: Well, RJ, I always learn a ton when I talk to you. I’d like to close on one question though, because the enablement function has been evolving rapidly over the years. I mean, we’ve seen significant change in the time that we’ve been in it. What is your advice for how other enablement leaders can keep up with and stay ahead of the curve here?

RJ: Yes, I always start with networking and networking with people that are more senior than you and also less senior, and it may sound oxymoronic, but I want to explain. You’re talking to the more seasoned folks. Why? Because they’ve been there and done it. As we say, you’ve been to a couple of picnics and rodeos, so they’ve been through where you’re going so they can give you not only how to do things, but how not to. To me, it’s equally as important, if not more important.

And why do I say someone more junior than you? Here’s why. They’re on the cutting edge they may have inlets and outlets for new technology, for new fresh ideas, for integrations of things that you may not even have thought of because you’ve gotten comfortable doing things the way that you’re doing it. They will break you from that on both sides. So, I try and submit myself between very seasoned people and then people that are kind of net-new coming into enablement so that I can learn from both of them.

The second piece is always be a perpetual learner. I don’t care what your title is, I don’t care how large the logo is on your company. Always be a perpetual learner, because you can learn something new every day and look at things and shift. To your point, Shawnna, for as long as we’ve been in enablement, what I realize is it constantly shifts.

The third piece is you have to keep your pulse on the direction the company is going, not just focus on how can I get them there by working on doing right now? And finally, you have to build what I call a culture of learning across your organization, and that means everything from beginning on the front end of enablement, being a part of the talent assessment and acquisition. Yes, you should be a part of the interview cycle. Make sure that you have a role-specific onboarding program, because we’re doing this virtual. I’d say now start thinking about how you can shift your virtual to live because before the end of the year, we’ll be back on-site doing these. I have no doubt.

The next is what are we doing from a business acumen perspective and what new tools are available, but not from the perspective of just shiny new tools, but instead, what can I learn more about that will fit and parse out inside of my organization based upon where we are in the maturation cycle of our company? Next is the coaching and reinforcement of your first and second-line managers. That’s where the buck stops. You can have an amazing world-class enablement program, but if they’re not a part of building this and they don’t buy into it, they won’t own the adoption, the execution or most importantly, they will not own the positive modeling of this.

The next is I go back to metrics. For me, everything goes back to metrics because if you just have numbers, you’re not of high value to the company. And finally, and most importantly, make sure that you’re putting in succession plans around guided learning paths. For those that don’t know what those are, that is from the first day of employment for a given role that is role-specific all the way through until leadership, coaching, and delivery. If you’ve got all of that in place, you now have a world-class sales enablement program versus just training.

SS: Fantastic advice, Roderick, as always. Thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate the time.

RJ: My absolute honor. Thank you.

SS: Again to our audience, I will give a plug – if you haven’t read Roderick Jefferson’s book, “Sales Enablement 3.0” yet, definitely check it out. You can find it on Amazon, or you can connect with Roderick for additional details.

To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is 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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