Episode 23: Patrick Merritt on What it Takes to be Successful in 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.
I would love for you to just introduce yourself, your title, and your organization.

Patrick Merritt: Sure. Hi, my name is Patrick Merritt. I’m a director of sales enablement at Puppet.

SS: Excellent. So, Patrick, so glad we’re able to connect today. One of the things that I heard was that you’ve mentioned in the past that you coach people not to go into sales enablement because it’s a challenging role. From your perspective, what does it take to be successful in sales enablement?

PM: It takes a lot of things. I think you have to really love the job. It’s not a job for the faint of heart because there are a lot of challenges. You have to love working with salespeople and you have to equally love working with marketing people, and you have to know how to get people across the entire organization to pull together and work together to enable the sales team. You can’t do it by yourself. Even if you’re on a team of sales enablement professionals, you have to rely on resources across the company in order to effectively do enablement.

So, I think the other thing that’s really important is you have to have pretty thick skin. One of the things about a job in sales enablement is because it’s still not a role where companies just go, “oh yeah, we absolutely have to have it,” right? It’s not like a finance team. Everyone has to have a finance team. Sales enablement isn’t mature enough and enough people don’t get it that that’s just a standard, “hey, we have to have sales enablement.” So, you’re constantly in this position of having to defend your value.

A common question is: what’s the return I’m getting on my investment in sales enablement? Which, I think, is actually not the right question to be asking, but we can dive into that deeper. But you have to have a combination of all of those things and you also, I think, the other thing that’s really key is you need to be willing to take risks and be willing to have something you try to fail, and then move on from that.

SS: Absolutely. You called out some of the challenging aspects of the role, but how have you overcome some of these? So, for example, alignment and collaboration across boundaries. What are some of the ways in which you’ve overcome those?

PM: Lots of trial and error and painful conversations. I’ve been doing this for over ten years, and I’ve learned a lot of what not to do and I’ve also learned what to do. But I think the key is people love to feel like that they have value.

When you are trying to pull in someone from another team, for example, “hey I need a sales engineer on this project so that I can do this enablement program, I need their expertise.” I’m going to talk to them and just be very transparent, saying, “we do not have the expertise, I need your expertise, I’ve got an outline of what we want to do on this program but I know that your input will make this better, so are you willing to step up and work with me to do this?”

I have found that once you establish a rapport with the different groups and obviously once the enablement team is viewed within the organization as adding a lot of value, then it becomes a lot easier. For example, where I am at, Puppet, now we have a team of four people and pretty much everyone knows if there is something that needs to be done, they could throw it our way and we will make it happen. They also know if it’s not our area of responsibility, we’ll just say no, and so I think establishing clear boundaries helps as well. But it’s the collaboration aspect and getting people pulled in from the other parts of the org is just required in order to be successful.

SS: Absolutely. So you mentioned saying no to asks that are not sales enablement’s responsibilities. I’m just curious to hear from you what and how would you define sales enablement’s responsibility within an organization?

PM: Great question. Fundamentally for me, I boil sales enablement down to one thing and that is changing sales behaviors. If you don’t change sales behaviors, then you don’t get different outcomes. And so that’s what sales enablement is all about. How do we guide and change and shift the selling behaviors of the organization? How do we guide and change and shift the sales behaviors of the individual sales reps? Because that’s when you make an impact and that’s when you make a difference.

So, to me, that’s a fundamental aspect of sales enablement. And then the other way to think about it is that if you define sales productivity as something that you want to drive. So, here’s the outcome you want, you want a higher sales productivity rate, that’s our goal. You can break productivity down into two things. It’s about sales efficiency and sales effectiveness.

Sales efficiency – that’s the sales ops team’s responsibility. Their job is to make all the processes as efficient as possible to make the sales reps as efficient as possible so that they have more time to actually sell. Effectiveness – that’s sales enablement’s wheelhouse. That’s their responsibility. In my role as director of sales enablement, I need to make sure that when our sales reps are out having conversations with customers and prospects that those conversations are effective. I need to make sure the sales reps know about the product and they talk about it in a way that’s effective in all their communication vehicles.

So, that’s the two kinds of core things that I think are fundamental with sales enablement and I think that that often gets lost because, unfortunately, I think enablement was not the right word to use. You know, enabling sales reps is just buying them more drinks. I mean, right? That’s enablement. And unfortunately, we fall into that trap of we’re going to enable them. No, I don’t want to enable them. What I want to do is I want to change their behavior so that we drive higher sales productivity. That’s my goal in sales enablement.

SS: And I think that’s absolutely the right goal. You mentioned earlier that you have about a decade of sales enablement experience across a variety of organizations. Within some of those organizations, I would love to understand what are some common key steps that you took in establishing the sales enablement function?

PM: Great question. So most of when I was at Serena, that was first, just establishing the function. No one knew what it was or what it could be. The way I describe it to people is in my 7 ¾ years doing sales enablement, which we called sales-readiness at the time actually because the term hadn’t really been coined and adopted. I rebuilt the sales enablement program there three times from the ground up, because we did something. I saw that these things worked here, this didn’t work and then I just burned it all down and built it back up.

When it comes to a lot of organizations, because they are timid in their investment in sales enablement to begin with, the only thing they’re going to do first is hire one person. They’re like, “yep, I’m going to hire one sales enablement person.” And then what they’re going to do to make it effective: they’re going to do something really clever like give them zero budget. In case you weren’t paying attention, that was a joke, right? And that’s what happens.
So here you are in this Han Solo role – and literally Han Solo, Chewbacca is not even here yet, you’re all on your own. You’re the person who’s supposed to do all the enablement for the company. Well, first of all, even if you have a team of 10 there is still too much work to do, so you have to be just laser-focused and have very clear priorities.

For me, as an example coming into Puppet – again I was coming in off of Jive Software where I actually had a team – I was coming in as the sales enablement person. The company didn’t understand it except for my boss who knew what it was all about, but just as an organization they didn’t get it. And so the first thing I had to do was say first off, this is what sales enablement is, here’s the foundational framework, we’re going to put a foundation in place, we’re going to make sure of that, then we focus on these kinds of pillars of things.

We’re going to focus on onboarding, so that’s all about, how do we ramp up new reps as quickly as possible? We’re going to focus on another pillar called ongoing education. How do we make sure that we continue to up-level and keep the skills of our existing sales reps improving? Then there is a pillar of peer mentoring and coaching. What are we going to put in place as a framework so that sales reps learn from other sales reps? Because look, that’s the best way for a sales rep to learn. If they hear another sales rep is successful, they’re like, “what are you doing? I want to know,” right? You need to establish a culture of peer learning and then eventually coaching, but you don’t start with coaching. We can come back to that.

And then there’s where do the reps find all the content that they need to do their job? What is the marketing collateral? What are the sales tools? What are the sales aids, and how do they find that? And do they have one place to go to? Because none of that existed when I came to Puppet, so that’s a great example of how I’m going to outline where we’re going to go to, and then this is what we’re going to build, and this is what I’m going to build over time.

And where I started could be different from where you start because it all depends on what’s the biggest gap in your organization. When I came to Puppet, as an example, the onboarding program consisted of a Google Doc that said, “here’s a list of people you should talk to, and here are some links to things you should go read.” Not a very effective onboarding program, right? But that wasn’t the first thing I started on. Why? Well, because we were onboarding one new rep a quarter. I can do a handholding with one new rep a quarter. I don’t need a well-structured onboarding program for one rep a quarter, so I’m going to set that aside. The most important thing was that there was no single place for people to find content. They literally were sharing the standard PowerPoint presentation for the company. How you got it was you asked another sales rep to email it to you. There were things in Google Docs, in Confluence, in Salesforce, in just everywhere, scattered.

The most important thing for us was establishing a single place where they can find all the content. Because I didn’t have any budget, what that came down to was taking Confluence and morphing it into something I don’t think it ever was intended to be, and that was our sales home. And that was, “here’s your one-stop-shop, this is where you go to find all your stuff.” I launched that in the first six months. That alone was just a huge project and it took a long time to pull all that together.

But that established a foundation. Now you know where to get the content, and then that freed me up to then go on and say now I need to focus on the onboarding because we are starting to scale, our hiring plans are coming in place, and I can’t do this Google Doc as the onboarding method. So a bit of a longer story I think for you, but that’s an example of how you have to start from nothing and then build it up.

SS: I love the Han Solo analogy. That definitely got a laugh out of us over here, so I might have to use that again sometime. I do want to follow on, though, because one of the obstacles that you mentioned was securing investment in sales enablement. Obviously, sales enablement cannot be done on a constrained or zero-dollar budget. I would love to understand from you how you’ve overcome those obstacles within these organizations and secured the budget justification that you needed to actually advance sales enablement within the org.

PM: I have no shame and so I just beg and plead. That’s how I got my first $30,000 in order to actually go get a system that wasn’t designed for onboarding, but I morphed it into something for onboarding. I mean to be fair, that’s what I did. And then the next example was we kept saying we wanted to do something with our channel partners and they wanted me to do some enablement, but I said I am not going to do it. I’m not going to do it until I get this budget because I can’t as an individual be successful supporting the channel partners as well as supporting our direct sales team.

So, you have a choice to make. You want something for the channel partners. I’m happy to do that but in order for me to do that, this is what you need to give me in order to do that. So it was basically, it’s not me, it’s you. You have the choice on what you want to do, and that choice is you’re going to have to give me this money. I have done all the research. I have scoped it. Here’s how much we are talking about. Here are the budget, guidelines for it, now you decide. And so they decided, “yeah, we want to go do that.” Great. They got me the money and I went and did it.

The way to eventually get a good budget, especially in an organization that just doesn’t get sales enablement, there are a few little tricks, so I will share those. The first thing is that most sales organizations, they have a budget for sales training, right? They always have some budget for sales training. So, when you partner with the head of sales and you establish the right relationship, you basically spend their money.

That’s what I did when I was back at Serena. I actually started the role in marketing and then they asked me to move over and report directly to sales, which is where it should report. And the head of sales at the time, he said to me only half-jokingly, “look, here’s the thing I’ve realized is that you’re spending all of your time training all of my people and you’re spending all of my money to do it, so why don’t you just come work for me.” So that’s what I did.

Now back to current days with Puppet, over a period of three years I had continued to build on this foundation every year. Every six months, I introduced the next new big thing and established enough people in the company that at the drop of a hat, I could contact them and say, “hey, I need help doing this, can you help me out?” And they’re like, “yeah, no problem man, great, let’s go do it.” So I had this group of people and we had done all these great things, and then it was like, “Okay, now we get it. We understand the value of sales enablement and we need to invest in it.” And that’s how we went from a team of one to a team of three and then a year later, we added a fourth person. It’s also how we got, let’s just say, a six-figure budget. So we went from zero budget to a six-figure budget in a single year. So those are my tricks. You know, bake sales work sometimes too. That’s another way to do it.

SS: Carwashes. I’ve heard those work too.

PM: Carwashes. But, yeah, you’ll beg, borrow, steal – all that. All those things work.

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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