Episode 24: Patrick Merritt on Optimizing the Sales Enablement Team

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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: You mentioned in the past you reported to different roles across the company from marketing to sales. I would love to understand the difference from your perspective in how each structure affected sales enablement and what were some of the pros and cons?

PM: Sure. Maybe I’ll start with just my strong opinion. Sales enablement should report to the head of sales. That is where it should report. Now, let me give you a few exceptions. If the head of sales doesn’t get sales enablement, then you have a choice. You either go ahead and work for the head of sales because that gives you a position of authority and hopefully they are going to back you. Just simply you’re a direct report to the head of sales, so you’re either at a peer level or above everyone that works for them, right? Human nature, organizational nature, that gives you leverage, right? You at least get peoples’ attention. Not that they’re going to help you, but at least you get their attention.

The other thing, and I was recently talking to a friend – she’s been doing sales enablement for a number of years and we’ve shared our stories over the years – and she mentioned that her actual best supportive person that she reported to was the VP of sales operations, because the VP of sales operations understood sales enablement. And in fact, in her case, that was a better position than the head of sales because the head of sales was kind of superstar seller-focused, so they didn’t really get strategy. They were all about execution and that’s where their focus was so that wasn’t the right individual to report to. I give that as a guidance that where it should be is on the sales side.

Now, having said that, your question was really around how I’ve reported to different parts of the org and what are the pros and cons? Multiple times I have been reporting into the marketing side of the house. At Serena, that was it. At Jive Software, that’s how I got hired, was an open headcount for the chief marketing officer.

Funny enough, in the interview process, I interviewed with the chief marketing officer and the head of sales for the company, which was great. That was a hugely positive sign for me to join that company at the time because I was interviewing with those two individuals. I told both of them directly when I interviewed, “I just want you to know in my opinion, this job should report to the head of sales.” And they were like, “you know it doesn’t, it reports to the head of marketing.” Of course, the head of marketing twitched a little because he was like, “you know this reports to me, right?” I’m like, “yes, I do, I’m just telling you this is where it should report”, and I knew I had the job because the head of sales kind of smirked and four months later, I was reporting to the head of sales.

So, it can work on the marketing side but here are the challenges. Marketing is a collection of a bunch of things that most org people don’t understand what they do. I mean, demand gen is so different from doing press and analyst relations. It is so different from product marketing. It is so different from design, right? You have visual design and stuff like that inside of marketing because you’ve got branding and all that stuff. So then, it’s like I’m going to tuck sales enablement in there.

Well, sales enablement, the connection on the marketing side is if you’ve got a good product marketing team, then you can be really, really effective because that’s where you should be joined at the hip if you’re going to be in marketing. And frankly, even if you’re not in marketing, sales enablement should be joined at the hip with product marketing and product management. If you make those two good connections, you can be really effective.

But here is the challenge if you are in marketing: you’re not included in the sales meetings. You’re not included in the sales strategy discussions. You’re not included in all kinds of things that are going to impact what you do from an enablement perspective. So that’s the downside. Some of that you can overcome because you should establish a good relationship with the head of sales, you should be invited to all of those meetings, and in my positions, I was able to negotiate that and broker that and I am in those meetings. But here’s what happens and this is where you get lost. When they have a one-off meeting or they have some issue or they do some huddle on the sales side, because you’re not part of sales, they forget about you. Even though they’ve invited you to all those other meetings, they forget about you.

And so that’s where you miss the connection on the sales side if you are reporting into marketing. Again, I’ve done it from a number of different places, very strong opinions, and the good news is I think the data says that organizations get this should report into sales. Head of sales? Maybe not always in every case, but it should definitely report into sales.

Now, I’m going to answer part of your question you didn’t ask which is, what about the future? Where do I think this goes? I think in the future people are going to realize that sales enablement is a strategic imperative. It is required. You are going to have to do it because those organizations that have good sales enablement are going to have a strategic advantage over their competitors, and you know what happens when that happens. People pay attention and they start doing things differently. Sales enablement is a strategic imperative. When it gets up-leveled to that, I think there’s an opportunity for sales enablement to actually either report to the chief operating officer or the CEO, so they’re at a peer level with the head of sales.

SS: Absolutely. I completely agree and I do also share a similar theme with the future of sales enablement from a reporting org structure. I do believe that eventually, people will start to see that it is not sales enablement by way of sales reps, but actually enabling sales for the organization, i.e. revenue and driving revenue for the business. And so I think you’re absolutely right. That is something the CEO or COO would want to keep very, very close to them.

PM: Absolutely. And in some cases, it might be the chief revenue officer, depending on whether they are actually a chief revenue officer or that’s just a fancy title for their head of sales. I may have mentioned before, I don’t really like the term sales enablement and here at Puppet, one of the things we did when we expanded the team from just me to a larger team, we actually changed the function from sales enablement to go-to-market enablement. And that goes to your point about, look, sales enablement is also about taking the sales strategy and then going and executing as perfectly as possible on that strategy.

And words matter. Go-to-market enablement is really the next kind of maturity level for sales enablement organizations and people in sales enablement. It’s how do we go execute? How do we do this go-to-market? For example, at Puppet, we’re in the middle of NPI (New Product Introduction) and Puppet has been a one-product company for a very long time. We did introduce some new products about a year ago and, frankly, we stumbled. We could have done a better job. So now we have a new product that we’re working on that we’re going to introduce. The entire team of four people on the go-to-market enablement team, we have basically surrounded and huddled around the product owner and the product management team and the development team and every other resource, and we’ve said, “you know what, we’re going to take the ball here and we’re going to design the go-to-market for all of this.”

That means we’re going to design the sales strategy, we’re going to design the sales cycle, we’re going to layout here are all the pieces of content we need to support that sales cycle, and then we’re going to work and parcel out the work of – because we’re not going to write it all – “mister or missus product marketing people, you’re going to write the content.” We’re going to serve as editors because you’re going to write content and we’re going to edit it to make sure that it’s something that’s useful for the salespeople. And that is where this function has to go. When we start to get to that level of maturity, then I think we start to overcome what’s the value of it and we get more into it is absolutely imperative and we need to have a sales enablement team or go-to-market enablement team at our company because that’s the way we’re going to optimize our sales strategy.

SS: I love that. Diving in a little bit on expanding and optimizing the sales enablement team, from your perspective, what is the ideal team structure for sales enablement to impact the overall effectiveness of sales enablement within your organization?

PM: I spent some time doing consulting so I’m going to give you my standard consulting answer. It depends. I mean it really depends. And what does it depend upon? What are the factors to take into consideration? What’s been done so far? You know that if there aren’t sales enablement people in an organization, enablement still happens, right? That’s part of the challenge is these random acts of enablement across the org. So, who’s doing what today when you come in as a new enablement person? That’s really key to know. And then what’s the biggest priority, right? If your biggest priority is, hey, we have to revamp our entire onboarding program, okay, then I’m going to want to hire somebody on my sales enablement team who has expertise in that area.

Maybe that’s not the biggest thing. Maybe the biggest thing is like it was at Puppet, we have no single place for content. Hmm. Well maybe then I just want to hire a couple of interns because I need them to just crank out content and put together structure in an HTML page. There are lots of people who can do that. They don’t have to be experts at sales enablement, right? There’s a lot of different factors there. Maybe to expand upon that, I’ll give you an example of the makeup of our team here at Puppet, and frankly, it’s the best damn team I’ve ever worked on.

My boss, Gia Lyons, she’s in charge of the go-to-market enablement team. We worked together before and her background is product marketing. She is an awesome product marketer, I mean, just amazing. I’ve learned a ton of stuff from her. Then there’s me. I have a product marketing background but I’ve been doing sales enablement way longer than I did product marketing. And so I’m coming in, I have the expertise of how do you do sales enablement, what do you do?

Then we have Ian on our team, and Ian is really, really good. We hand him things to go do and give him programs, and then he just runs with it and he makes them better. For example, we have a podcast series that we do internally. Ian is the guy who coordinates it all. He does the interviews with whoever it is, the subject matter experts. Then he breaks them up into bite-size chunks and he gets it all posted and he does nice intros and he adds music and he’s awesome at it.

And then Stephanie, who just joined, we didn’t have anyone who was just focused on partner enablement. She used to work at Puppet, she went off and did some other things, and she came back. So, we’re really happy to have her back. But her focus is on the partner enablement side, so how do we take everything that we’ve done internally and how do we filter that down into something that is actually usable for a partner? Because our salespeople don’t have a choice. They have to go through the enablement, right? They work here. But a partner? A partner opts in or opts out, and so you have to pare things down and put it in context for them.

So, that’s the makeup of our team. We all have individual strengths and weaknesses. We all know where we’re really good and we all know how to leverage each other to get things done. So that’s from an org structure standpoint, we’re small, it’s only four of us, it’s pretty flat. But that’s the way I think about it. I don’t think there is one structure for sales enablement that works everywhere. You have to design it to fit the maturity of the organization mapped to the sales strategy of the organization, and it’s custom.

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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