Episode 25: Patrick Merritt on Sales Enablement’s Core Responsibilities

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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: I want to talk about metrics.

PM: My favorite topic.

SS: You mentioned that there’s a difference between correlation and causation in measuring sales enablement’s impact on outcomes such as revenue because there are so many other factors involved. With that in mind, how do you measure the success of your sales enablement organization?

PM: I don’t. So, let’s make this a little more interactive. Are you a sports fan?

SS: I’m not.

PM: Okay. But you know sports are played, right?

SS: Yes.

PM: Okay. So, maybe take something current. The Golden State Warriors, NBA Basketball, they’re playing the Toronto Raptors, right? It’s Toronto in six. I’m calling it right now. But on any pro sports team, you have a coaching staff, yeah?

SS: Yes. I can follow that.

PM: Yeah. Exactly. So, why do you think they have a coaching staff?

SS: To help their players get better.

PM: Because if their players get better, what happens?

SS: The team wins more.

PM: Exactly. And sports analogies in sales are awesome, right? So let’s apply that analogy to a sales team. Who is the coaching staff of a high-tech sales team?

SS: Oh boy. I see that split. I think sales enablement has a responsibility but I believe the sales org and product marketing also carry some of that weight.

PM: Absolutely, I 100% agree. The challenge is that doesn’t happen in a lot of organizations. When I came aboard playing the Han Solo role, I didn’t have enough bandwidth to also be a coach to the sales reps in a structured formal way, but once you have a good foundation in place, then you’re ready to do that. Once you have a culture of learning in your organization, then you can move on to now a culture of coaching.

I’ll jump the shark here. Sales enablement is the coaching staff. But at most organizations, if you ask the head of sales, “who’s your coaching staff?” their initial answer is going to be the frontline sales managers, which I don’t disagree. But the frontline sales managers carry a quota. So back to the sports analogy. If you carry a quota, you’re on the field. You’re in the game, right? You’re sort of in a player-coach role. Yes, frontline sales managers should absolutely coach. But what are you doing as an organization to enable them to be good coaches?

In most organizations, nothing. They know it and they admit it, and they know it’s a problem but they don’t do anything differently. The first-line sales manager is all of the leverage, almost all of the leverage, in order to change sales behaviors and drive better productivity and get different results. If you have a sales enablement team that can be that professional coaching staff for them, then you can drive better results.

So, that’s why I said earlier, or I say often, I think you’re asking the wrong question when you say, “what’s the return on investment in sales enablement?” I don’t think that’s the right question. I think we need to get to a point where you just say, well there’s no question there’s value in sales enablement. The only thing we need to know is how much value are we getting out of our sales enablement team? And then that gets back to metrics.

Because while I like to say, “no, I don’t measure it, you just get the value and I don’t have any responsibility to measure what I do,” that’s not fair. I absolutely have a responsibility to measure what I do, but I also know it’s really, really hard because there is no causation. There is only correlation, and frankly, the correlation is weak, it is hard to track, it’s hard to really implement in reality, and you could waste a lot of time trying to get data that actually isn’t useful to improve what you do. But you need to try.

And so when I think about metrics and what’s important to measure, there are a few things. At an executive level, I think executives care about sales productivity and then they care about ramp time for new reps. Those are the two things top of mind for a head of sales. Because when it comes to ramp time, they don’t know what it is but they know it’s too long. And it is, right? But they don’t know how long it is and they don’t have a consistent way to measure it. I do.

And then it’s about driving higher sales productivity, right? You can look at that in a number of different ways but one is quota attainment for the reps, two is how much revenue on average are you generating per sales headcount. So, those are the kind of metrics things at the high level and then when you look at the sales enablement function, you think there’s a lot of other things that you can look at and measure. Some of it’s activity-based. Some of it is feedback-based.

As an example, one of the things we do, if you are familiar with Net Promoter Score (NPS), we actually do an NPS survey to our sales team. We do it every quarter. We just send them out an NPS survey and we ask them, would you recommend what sales enablement does to your peers? And we have a scale from one to 10. We just rate ourselves and we do it every quarter, and we see how we’re trending. So that’s one of the feedback loops we get and that’s one of the metrics we use to measure our own effectiveness. There’s a lot of others that I think again become very organizationally dependent but there are other things you should measure, kind of roll up in indicators that you are doing the right thing from a sales enablement standpoint.

SS: Absolutely. And to go back to your point around how sales enablement is responsible for effectiveness and increasing the ability for reps to have effective interactions with their buyers, why is that sales enablement’s responsibility and then how do you measure that?

PM: Sure. So, why is it sales enablement’s responsibility? I guess I’ll answer a question with a question. If it’s not sales enablement’s responsibility, then whose is it? I think it is never 100% responsibility for any one group, right? Sales enablement owns a lot of the responsibility for driving effectiveness but, look, if you’re a sales rep, you own your success. You own the responsibility for making sure what you do is effective.

Now what I will do as a sales enablement person is give you the tools and give you the support and give you the things that you need in order to be effective. And in fact, I’m going to push you to be even more effective. If you’re not feeling a little uncomfortable with the things that I’m doing from a sales enablement standpoint, then I don’t think that I’m pushing you hard enough. There are a lot of sales reps out there that they are underutilizing their potential and so there are a lot of opportunities to improve there.

I just think fundamentally, it’s sales enablement’s responsibility to drive effectiveness because when you drive effectiveness, then that contributes to higher sales productivity and to me that’s just part of our responsibility. Now, how do you measure it? It’s hard. But I think for me there are a few things. One is, in my opinion, the call recording software that’s out there now is a game-changer. It gives you so much insight into what actually is happening, right?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done enablement programs and then when we follow up we find out that the sales reps are not being more successful. And then of course what happens is the finger points back at you and they’re like, “hey, you did this enablement but they’re not doing any better so your enablement must have sucked.” I’m like, “wait a minute, you’re making an assumption that they’re actually doing what I told them to do. Have you checked that? Oh, you haven’t? Well, I have. They’re not.” So, it’s not my enablement. It’s the fact that they’re not doing it.

Why are they not doing it? Oh, well, because the first-line sales managers have done nothing to help reinforce it. Remember I put together that reinforcement plan working with the first-line sales managers and we all agreed in that meeting that, “hey, they’re going to do this, this, and this to reinforce what we’re doing so it actually drives different behaviors”? Well, they’re not doing that. You have to be confident in a position that you can have those intellectually honest conversations.

When you have call recording software you have direct evidence that they’re either doing what you told them to do or they’re not. And any professional sports team – you know, back to the sports analogies – what do they do after a game whether they win or lose? They watch the game films. They go back and they look at how they played. They have the coaching staff pointing out, this is where you failed over here or this is where you did really good, or this is what you should do differently. We don’t have that today until call recording software. Now we do. Literally, the reps can go back and listen to their conversations, the first-line sales managers can do the same thing, and you actually get to hear the conversations that the reps are having.

Now, unfortunately, we don’t have that at Puppet yet – keyword being “yet”. I’m working on it. But if you can go back and inspect – so here’s what we do today without something like that – we inspect things. I go do role-plays with the sales reps around different topics. I force them to do video recording assignments where we say, “okay, here’s this presentation, you need to record this back”, or we say, “hey, here’s this scenario, you’re going to present to this client with this data, now show me a ten minute pitch on this particular topic.” That’s the way we measure it today, through those kinds of assignments, but I think the next evolution and the huge leap is when we are all using call recording software. That’s when we can drive tremendous improvements in sales productivity because we are able to really impact and adjust those sales behaviors.

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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