Episode 259: Rodney Umrah on Taking a Non-Linear Career Path to Enablement
312 Views | 15 Min Read
Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I’m 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 Rodney Umrah from Forcepoint join us. Rodney, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.
Rodney Umrah: Thank you so much, Shawnna. I am delighted to be here. My name is Rodney Umrah, and I’m the global head of enablement at our go-to-market organization here at Forcepoint.
SS: I’m excited to have you here. Now, I know that you’ve shared that enablement found you rather than you finding it. Tell us a little bit about that career journey. Why and how did you transition into the enablement field?
RU: I’ll take you back a little before I get to the transition because that will help to inform why that experience was so interesting to me. I was born on the lovely island of Jamaica, Shawnna. I’m not sure if you have been there before, but that’s where I was born. I went to the University of the West Indies and I studied computer science. I was fortunate to be hired right out of school by IBM. There’s a gentleman who did that, and I don’t know how I can pay it forward to him, his name is Carl Foster. He’s still my mentor and friend today. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
While being at IBM, there were 366,000 people in the organization. That was the largest IT company at the time, but it was like a university really, and I learned a lot. That’s where my true professionalism was honed. I migrated to Canada, that’s where I live now, and I was in technical roles between IBM Jamaica and IBM Canada, but I always wanted to be in sales. I transitioned from technical roles at IBM to sales, specifically software sales.
Now, a little bit of context, Shawnna, is that my mother is actually a teacher and my brother is a professor. I used to do that part-time, I was a part-time professor myself, so, as a result of that experience, enjoying the IBM experience, and doing well, I said I wanted to transition to Microsoft. I spent about eight and a half years at IBM, then over to Microsoft. I was there for five and a half years and then moved over to NetSuite. This is where, now, your question comes in, Shawnna, which is a transition. I was doing well in sales at NetSuite, going to club every year and especially leveraging my manager at the time. He was very instrumental in my success.
My GVP or Global Vice President of Sales, invited me into his office one day, and just asked me the question: are you interested in leading enablement? Now, the truth is I didn’t know what that term meant, enablement. I was like, enable what? I didn’t know because I was used to the term training. He asked me to speak to the leader of that organization because the GVP wanted me to lead enablement for his organization. As a result of that, the rest is history as they say, because here I am 10 years later and really, really enjoying it. I’ve been all over the globe, Shawnna. I was in Australia, the Philippines, Europe, across the US, Canada, you name it. I just have a great passion for the enablement vocation.
SS: I love that career journey, and I’d love to understand more about how you think that your non-linear career path and your background in roles, spanning sales and academia, have helped you in your role as an enablement leader.
RU: It certainly did, especially because I came from a sales background. It was, as I said, my group vice president who saw it in myself and also my manager. At the time, my manager asked me to do some best practices training with the team that we had at the time and it kind of grew and so they saw it and I didn’t.
As a result of having the sales background and then being able to enable sellers, there is instant credibility there. The reason for it is not because I’m brilliant. The reason for it is that you’re coming from the same vocation that you’re enabling. You don’t only talk the talk, but you have walked the talk. People can see it. Whenever you present, they can understand for sure that you have been in the trenches before. This is not a theory. It’s not just words on a page. Coming from that background was really, really instrumental in my success.
Now, the other area is academia as a result of being a part-time professor. Being able to stand and confidently deliver content, I took it for granted. Shawnna, you probably are aware, presenting in front of an audience is like one of the top three fears that people have. All of those pieces coming together and the experiences there really bode well for me in being in enablement and I’m absolutely enjoying the ride.
SS: I love to hear that. That is fantastic. What would you say are some of the challenges that practitioners might face when they’re trying to make a career transition, and how did you overcome some of those challenges as you pivoted into the enablement career?
RU: Wow, that’s, that’s a loaded question there, Shawnna, and we don’t have the time to go over the list, but the truth is, when you transition into enablement, just like any other new role, especially if it’s different from the one that you’re coming from, you will often feel less than, meaning it’s almost like you don’t feel like you are qualified to be there.
That’s a feeling that one would need to overcome with time. So, I struggled with that, which is why I asked my GVP at the time. I was like, why are you asking me to do this? I don’t know how to do this. You know what he said to me, Shawnna? I’ll never forget it. It was in his office. He said, Rodney, all I need for you to do is to teach others what you do and what you do well when you’re in sales. That gave me the comfort level to say “Oh, what I’ll be doing is very similar to what I’m doing today. All I’m doing is really imparting my, or paying forward, my knowledge in this field.”
That really helped feeling less than is one of the areas that you need to watch out for anyone transitioning into enablement. The other one is that there are very high expectations of individuals in enablement. Very high. In fact, we all know that in sales there is always high velocity, right? The expectations are high, and there’s an anticipation that you should make an impact now, and that can cause stress. It certainly can, but of course, as long as you are pacing yourself and ensuring that you’re doing the best you can, working with the resources that you have, ensuring that you’re aligned to the strategic priorities and you have ruthless prioritization, you will certainly overcome.
The demands are high, Shawnna. They’re coming from all over. They’re probably coming from your CRO. They’re coming from the RevOps organization, legal product marketing, et cetera.
Managing all of that can be really challenging, but of course, just like anything else, you will figure it out over time as you work with others and learn from others.
SS: I love that advice. I want to drill into this a little bit. What are some of the key skills that have helped you succeed as an enablement leader? What skills do you think other enablement leaders should look for when they’re building out their teams?
RU: I was fortunate, as I mentioned earlier, to have 10 years of experience in sales, software/cloud sales to be exact. As a result of that background, I wasn’t just enabling because it was on a slide. The content that I was delivering was coming from the heart and the brain at the same time because of my experience. I think people can see through that. People are looking for transparency so that decade of sales background really helped me.
As I transitioned in, and even today, going into my eleventh year, I think I have also shown the leadership skills that I’ve gathered along the way, even when interacting with clients when I was in sales. I’ll give you an example: When I was at Oracle NetSuite, I had fifteen strategic accounts in the northeast of the U.S. Going through that process, we had lots of challenges, but we had to overcome those to be able to ensure that those organizations thrive.
You had to exhibit, on a consistent basis, leadership skills and helping your customers.
It’s the same when you are in an enablement, because, especially when you’re dealing with a global company, people are scattered all across the world. Being able to deal with so many different individuals with diverse backgrounds and thoughts is very important.
I will also hasten to say that exhibiting empathy is key as well in our roles because the sales role is stressful. It really is, and I guess because I’ve been there, I know that. As a result, when dealing with that audience, and when I say sales here, it could be business development, it could be sales themselves or sales engineers, it could be renewals, it could be customer success, those are stressful roles. Executing your job in an empathetic way is very key. Always having an open mind to continuously learn, which is why we’re in this enablement role because we’re supposed to be life-learners.
SS: I love that, and I love the life-learner approach. What benefit do you think organizations can gain from diversifying their sales enablement teams and bringing in people with different or maybe unconventional backgrounds?
RU: It is absolutely powerful, Shawnna, and I’m saying it not because it’s the right thing to say, I’m indicating that clearly because I’ve experienced it. Let me tell you what I mean. I had the awesome privilege and opportunity to lead and develop an organization that had about 30 people located in 10 different countries around the globe—Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, France, Spain, the UK, the US, and Canada—and that experience, for me was absolutely breathtaking. The reason for that is that I was able to work with a totally global audience and be able to understand the differences in the region.
Now, Shawnna, the truth is, sometimes we over here in North America think that we’re the world. We’re not the world, okay? What I mean is, there are so many different perspectives that you can learn from. What works in North America is not necessarily what will work in Australia, you see what I’m saying? The same thing in France and et cetera. Having that experience for me really taught me that listening is very important.
Having that open mind, as we both spoke about just now, is very critical because I truly believe that whenever we get different thoughts or diverse ideas, and we put them in a pot and we mix it up, we will always get something richer and more and more impactful than the original idea. I have done it over and over again with my team. I tell my team all the time, please do not box yourself in. Just leave your mind open to creativity, because you never know what gems can emerge.
SS: I absolutely love that as well. Last question for you, Rodney. What advice would you give people who want to transition into an enablement role from another department?
How can they set themselves up for a successful career in enablement?
RU: I do believe that talking to individuals who are successful in enablement is key. We spoke about earlier, Shawnna, the life-learner attitude. I’ve been in enablement now for 10 years. That is just formally, because even prior to that, as I mentioned, I was a part-time professor and was at IBM and other places. I was doing enablement in different spheres.
The point is that I’m still learning. I still today challenge myself to think about things differently whenever I’m executing my role, even if it’s the same thing that I did in a previous organization. I’m challenging myself to ask if there is a better way to do onboarding. Is there a better way to do continuous learning? Is there a better way for manager enablement or partner enablement? The list goes on and I continuously do that. I would advise someone coming on board in an enablement role to have an open mind.
I would also say, join Sales Enablement PRO and other enablement communities so that you can absolutely learn from others. What I’ve found that is interesting about enablement and those who are here is that we love to share ideas with each other, and I just love that. If someone is coming on board and you’re selfish, this is the wrong place, because in enablement we love to share our best practices with each other. We love to see others succeed. That is what gets us up in the morning: to see others actually win in their roles. If that is what you have in mind, if you have that attitude, if you have that passion, this is indeed the place, a neighborhood for you.
SS: I could not agree more. That’s fantastic advice, Rodney. Thank you again so much for joining us today.
RU: Thank you so much for having me, Shawnna. It was a blast.
SS: To our audience, thank you for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s 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.