Episode 2: Cameron Tanner on Ideal Reporting Structures for Sales Enablement

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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 are here to help professionals stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today we are joined by Cameron Tanner, who leads sales enablement for strategic accounts at Amazon Web Services. Cameron has several years of experience working with sales leaders to help drive productivity and empower their sales teams. Hi, Cameron. Thank you so much for joining us again today.

One of the things I wanted to talk to you about was around sales enablement practitioners getting a seat at the executive table. There’s been some research, including our own Sales Enablement PRO State of Sales Enablement report for 2019 that indicates a lot of sales enablement practitioners are now reporting directly into the C-suite or they have a representative that reports directly into the C-suite. From your perspective, do you think it’s important that sales enablement really have a seat at the table, or do you think it’s okay to have that positioned up through a sales or marketing executive?

CT: I am so passionate about this topic that I’ve reached out to folks at Forrester and Sirius to see if I can help them with a thesis of why we’re seeing that trend. It’s all well and good that they’re producing this research saying that we’re seeing this trend, but try and dig a few layers deeper and you won’t find why. And I was like, you can’t throw out a stat like that and not give any justification as to why. I could probably give you 30-40 examples of why I don’t think belonging in sales operations is the right thing, and I’m not there yet with the right academic reasoning for the approach but I can tell you some friction points that are on my mind for why org structures are important.

First of all, it’s important to note that at least at Amazon, and something you’ll see at large enterprise organizations, is that often you’ll have a centralized training and development function. You’ll have a Center of Excellence and they’ll own the tech budget, content development and creation, program design, maybe global certifications that the organization needs to have, and any transformational strategy – such as, “we want to be better at compete as a company” or “we want to be better at engaging a certain bio-persona”. In enterprise, when you have 50+ sales organizations, whether they be in Korea or the UK or central US, you’ve got different market conditions, and so that Center of Excellence can’t cater to everyone’s needs.

So, you’ll have practitioners like me. I’m like the primary care doctor for my sales leaders, I’m not the specialist, I’m not the Center of Excellence, I don’t know all the expertise, but I’m the embedded leader. With reporting structure, if I’m underneath the sales leader, then I’m implementing infrastructure that can be critical to the long-term success of that organization. In the event of a downturn – and as we’ve discussed, sales leaders will focus on just getting more from less – they will push performance and activity before design, infrastructure and programming. If you wipe out your infrastructure in a downturn, it puts the entire company at risk. The training function is under the sales leader, and so they’ll go, “well I’ve got a downturn, so what’s disposable? My middle of the range sales rep or my training guides?” I think as an observation, when there’s a downturn you’ll see a retraction in enablement and training.

I think that’s incredibly risky for a CEO, particularly when we’re not talking about training anymore, we’re talking about organizational productivity and effectiveness. Your sales leader will make that decision to say, “I need more headcount,” or “I need to keep my existing headcount, so what can I get rid of that’s sparing in order to get activity?” That’s very risky because the CEO is building a long-term business, but the sales leader is trying to achieve annual revenue. The primary reason I think sales enablement is trending toward reporting to the CEO is that the CEO is the one that needs to be accountable to whether or not they take out critical infrastructure that is standing up the sales organization.

Number two is that a sales enablement leader may present findings that the sales leader needs to improve on or the managers – it’s like telling someone they have an ugly kid, you just don’t do it because it’s never going to go down well. A lot of times, it’s really important for the CEO to know that because – and you’ll see in the industry there’s a lot of research around why investing in manager enablement and leader enablement so important – it starts at the top. If the enablement leader can’t reveal findings that could be interpreted as controversial, enablement is not really fulfilling its charter because it can’t report the insights that the industry needs to hear.

The third thing I would say is that if you speak to a lot of enablement leaders around why they’re not more successful, they’ll say they have a wonderful strategy, but they don’t have enough sponsorship, resourcing or budget to really transform the organization. If you look at when enablement is reporting to a sales leader, they have to decide, “do I get one more rep or do I get one enablement person”, and if that rep is bringing in more revenue, that’s a hard decision to make for a sales leader to put one rep in operations versus one rep in their sales field. You constantly hear enablement say, “I’m getting the leftovers.” They want champagne results with a shoestring budget, so that’s not fair on the enablement leader. You’re going to handicap the enablement leader by saying, “hey, you get whatever’s left.” You’re not truly providing the amount of budget, sponsorship and resourcing. It’s no surprise that the enablement leader can’t regulate or gets subpar results.

If you go to the CEO and you say, “look, this is what you want, and this is what the board wants, and I am considered an objective partner to sales, and I can get you there but I’m going to need these things to get you there,” I think you’ll see organizations that have a safer org structure achieve better results because the CEO can be more connected to the transformation that you’re driving. I’m a firm believer that the practitioner has to report to the CEO. So at large enterprise organizations you’ll see – and in a lot of ways we’re like consultants – I think if you’re in sales enablement you’ll have a senior leader that’s responsible for organizational transformation or sales productivity and performance, whatever it may be, and then you’ll have a training and development organization that sits within sales. I think your transformation experts will report into the CEO, but your training function and centralized operational function will still sit within sales, because in order to get true transformation I think you’re going to need those people going into sales.

The fourth is that enablement grew up in sales operations and it grew up because sales leaders said, “I’ve got all these insights about my business, I’ll just put some resources over there.” And what you’re seeing at large organizations now is that enablement is like the sister or brother to operations. Operations is still getting four times the headcount. You have senior leaders now that have 30-40 years of operational excellence. You asked about how you get sponsorship from a sales leader, and you still need sponsorship from the operations leader. The operations leader may not also quite understand enablement either because it’s a new function.

The analogy I gave recently with one of our sales operations leaders is a strategy that said, let’s make sure we give sales leaders all the insights they need in real time to manage their business. A lot of operations leaders would be trying to do that. I told them our sales leaders already have 100 data points to try to transform their business. They are in insight overload, and I said that they need help to know what the right leaders and programs are to change the outcome. The last thing is something that I think sales leaders don’t need more of, more insights about their business. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone to say, “here’s 100 insights on your business” and you’re like, “woah, which data point am I looking at?”

The analogy that I use with my sales operations leader is that a wearable that tells you how many steps you need to take doesn’t actually help you change your diet, or it doesn’t actually get you to go to the gym an extra time per week or five times per week, and it doesn’t actually get you to develop the body shape that you’re really happy with. I love the fact that a wearable gives me all the insights to my heart rate, my steps, my movement – it can give me all these wonderful insights in real time about me as a person, but I’m still going to need a personal trainer to help me reach my fitness goals. If I bought two people a different present for Christmas and one was a wearable and the other was 12 months of personal training sessions, which person would I bet a million bucks on would get better results? And his eyes lit up when I said that because I said that our sales leaders need personal trainers to help them hit their fitness goals, they don’t need a wearable to remind them that they suck and aren’t hitting their goals.

I think what we’re seeing is that a lot of sales operations leaders are obsessed with real-time data at the moment. Sales leaders are still human, and they need someone that can help transform them and hold their hand and hold them accountable, that builds programs that are right for their body type, for their fitness goals, for the competition that they’re training for, and that’s the enablement function.

So, why do I see a trend when thinking about reporting structure? Even our VPs of sales operations are thinking, “how do I give them all the data?” I’m thinking about how to give them the personal trainer and coach that can help transform them to the ideal fitness shape they want to be at. Sales operations is still investing four times more in giving them data and a quarter of that in giving them a personal trainer that can help them hit their goal. That’s something I think we’re still handicapped on because a lot of companies are thinking, “give sales leaders more insights” rather than personal trainers.

SS: Thanks for listening. For more insights, tips and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you would like to share or a topic you want to know more about, let us know. We would love to hear from you.

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