Episode 31: Imogen McCourt on Key Metrics 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.

I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, your company, and your background.

Imogen McCourt: Yeah. So, my name is Imogen McCourt. I am the global head of sales enablement ops and training at Argus Media. Argus Media is a price reporting agency, so we supply the markets with data and insights to support trading and traders.

SS: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I would love to hear from you, some of the key components of a successful sales enablement function. In your opinion, what are sales enablement’s core responsibilities?

IM: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this and I’ll give a bit of context about how I got into sales enablement and I think that will help frame my answer. I started in sales enablement properly in about 2007 when the company I was working for, which was Forrester Research, asked me to think about and design a simple sales process to underpin the global selling approach. That went very well and that gave me a lot of exposure to the day-to-day world that our sales reps were living in and trying to be successful within. Forrester asked me to pick up the global sales enablement organization. Bear with me with this story and I promise I’ll answer your question at the end of that.

There was already a great sales training team in place, so I picked them up and I had access to a small sales operations group that was in finance. This same time as I was doing that, we had Scott Santucci and Brad Holmes building and launching Forrester’s sales enablement practice selling research to our clients. So, as a company, Forrester really wanted to show that we believed in what we were telling our clients, that we were doing it right, and we would be putting those best practices into practice. So that was an incredibly supportive time, but it was very scary scrutiny to be under.

The other thing that was playing out at that time, and remember that this was around 2008 or 2009, is that sales enablement was really coming into focus as a discipline, as a strategic approach. I think to some extent that was because of the global economic turmoil that we were operating in, our businesses were operating in, and particularly in tech, there was huge pain and complexity of selling and competing in a very crowded market, low barriers to entry and lots of companies that were starting to have restricted or no budgets to spend. So, companies needed to find a way to differentiate themselves and to stand out, and they couldn’t do that just through their products and services anymore because, frankly, they were constantly being updated and they were constantly new entrants into the market. So, we needed to think about how we could differentiate through the way we sold as well as what we were selling.

And so, I believe that sales enablement really started to maximize on that, this idea of the routes to the rep to get the messages and the tools and the content out to the frontline sales teams quickly and easily, and to make sure they were designed around the client conversation. So, stopping random acts of sales enablement, making sure the reps weren’t distracted and ensuring the simple, professional, consistent way to selling. That is the thinking that for me drives the reality of who and what should be in a successful sales enablement function. It is perhaps a very longwinded way of saying that, in my experience, and I’ve built sales enablement structures from scratch a couple of times now, that very first structure plays out still. It still works.

Sales enablement works well when you also have the training, the sales training organization, and you have sales operations. So preferably not just access to sales operations, but actually have that dedicated resource inside your group. Once you’ve got those elements or those key components in place, it is what you do with them and that sort of differentiation that makes the difference. We hear this a lot, but I will reiterate other people and add my own flavor to it, I think those groups of people really need to be operating to a clear and agreed vision. So you can call it a charter or a purpose statement, but that vision needs to be understood, it needs to be documented and by preference it needs to be made by the whole team and preferably, you’ll have your executive sponsors involved in crafting it as well. So, a very simple, clear vision or charter.

Then I think to make sure there’s a high level, clear sales process in place, preferably aligned to the buying and buyer motivations that you work with, but fundamentally staged and articulated so you can build your framework and your metrics on the back of that. And of course, that leads to the clear and measurable outcomes that you are trying to achieve. Those measurable outcomes need to be linked to vision, to purpose, and they need to bring that charter to life. How does that charter, through the metrics, link directly to the bookings number?

I probably should have started by saying that having the skill sets and competencies of enablement and operations and training is really important, but it is also that fantastic team, that team of people who are really commercially minded and proactive in their approach, that they may not have ever been sellers. To some extent, I don’t think that matters as long as they can understand how to build and drive toward a commercial target, and that they can think about how to orchestrate initiatives so that they come to life in the conversation with the client. So, yes: process, vision, charter, clear measurable outcomes, and simple high-level sales process.

Then, the responsibilities are to ensure that the organization thinks about simple, clear, consistent, and I would even say repeatable, drivers for success for the commercial team. Stop the noise, think about the rep, the route to rep, and make it really easy for your other departments and the other initiatives and projects that are going on in the organization to be heard and to really manifest for the sellers. So, there you go. I know that’s a longwinded answer, but I hope that sort of clearly articulates my thoughts on this.

SS: I love it. In fact, I want to tee off of something that you mentioned and that’s that sales enablement needs to be focused around those core key metrics for success. I would love to understand from you what you think those are.

IM: Ah, the key metrics for success. Okay, so obviously ultimately, we are tied to our selling organization being successful. Have they hit their booking number or their growth number and can they get there? I think that there are multiple things within that, though. So, do you know who your audience is, do you know who you are trying to prove or sell your success to? And how can you prove or track that?

So, let me unpack that a little bit. I work a lot with our C-suite. We’re a private equity-backed company so our C-suite care about e-bit DAR ratios, they care about making sure we are showing double-digit growth, and they care about high employee engagement. So, my job in leading this department is to make sure that our metrics ultimately can tie back to that, can be proved to show that we’re moving the needle at the company level. That is audience #1, if you like.

My next audience is the CSO. That’s who I report to. She is accountable for cost of sales, for productivity in her organization and that’s sort of per capita per person. She looks at deal size and renewal rate as health factors. Now I do think that some of those things can be slightly blunt instruments. You know, take the number of salespeople and divide that by the number you hit; does that really prove productivity? But to some extent at a high level, that’s the first metric. Have we improved sales productivity year on year? At Argus, we can show that we’ve improved sales productivity by three percent every year even while adding on quota carriers to that group, so ultimately, we know we’re moving in the right direction. They are high-level ones.

I think the next most important set of metrics are focused on the frontline sales leaders and ultimately the reps themselves. In order for me to move the needle and really make a difference here at Argus or in any company, I think, we really need the sales leaders to engage with us. I need their hearts and their minds. They’re the people who see whether we’ve affected change, see whether we can embed a behavioral change. So, what do they care about? Ultimately, they care about whether their reps are hitting their number and whether they can hit their number and providing them with sort of attention-grabbing metrics are really powerful. So as old school as conversion rates and win rates, but I think that really helps there.

Some of the other metrics we look at, and I’m going with a fairly broad brush here because the metric will be specific to the project or the program of work that you are delivering on, but the other thing we look at, of course, is the people we work with outside of the sales organization, be that marketing or the product team, or subject matter expertise that we’re trying to use as the resource, I really want to make sure that they feel part of delivering on something. Again, we look at conversion rates there, we look at win rates, we really want to help them show that they’ve done something valuable in delivering a difference or having an impact on the selling conversation and the success that people are having within that.

I do have one other element about metrics, and I know I’ve talked about how it will be dependent on the program work that you are focusing on. I think it is essential to own the narrative around the metrics as well. So always, always try to celebrate collective success, but – well, I’ll give you an example. At the moment, and I did touch upon this at our panel discussion as well, but we are doing a program of work to look at how we are selling consulting. And if we look at the CRM data and what we see there, it says that our consulting projects take 13 days to close and we get a 90%-win rate. Fantastic. That looks amazing. Nobody believes that.

The work that my team are doing will probably look at the CRM metrics and look at how we can better expose deals earlier in the process, whether we can really reflect true pipeline management, whether we can ensure that resource is leveraged at the right time in the right place through doing that, and that, without question, will look like it’s slowing down the sales cycle time and look like it’s absolutely decimating the conversion rates. But because I’m going to own the narrative on that, from the absolute beginning and outset, I will tell the organization what we are going to do and what they will probably see as a result of that. It’s okay. It’s okay to take us to a place where the numbers look worse but actually the long term understanding of why we’re doing this is understood and is bought into.

SS: At the Soirée you had mentioned how important it is for sales enablement professionals not to be afraid of the metrics, and I think that you’ve been talking through some really great ones and really kind of explaining what it means to own the narrative, and not always be so reliant on whether the initial onset numbers are showing positive results or not, that it is the long-term gains. Are there some key examples of that that you can provide to our audience, just some things that they should be thinking about?

IM: So, I’ve been lucky enough to set up sales enablement departments from scratch and I said that at Soirée as well, and that’s given me the opportunity to get the clock running or start reporting running. It’s almost like drawing a line to say this is what it was like before sales enablement, and this is what it’s like since sales enablement. And I think those sorts of comparisons really help when you’re selling an impact or trying to explain to people what metrics for success should be.

I look for external benchmarks too, so CSO Insights do fantastic work through their research on what other organizations are doing and how that has impacted conversion rates or renewal rates. So, thinking about how we are doing against external benchmarks is really good. I think that if you truly believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and you can articulate that why, then you can very quickly get to the correct metric to track against it. And you know we’ve talked about looking like we’re failing when our numbers change, but if we really do fail, fail forward, learn something, and stop if you’re not having an impact.

We talked about the audience metrics earlier on and we talked about the reason for doing some of these things. I think that we should talk about things like – well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you some examples. We did a piece of work on looking at the cost of sales for servicing our smaller clients or smaller spend clients, but people who are incredibly important to us anyway. I worked with our marketing department on that, in particular, and we created this automated client value program.

Now ultimately, the problem we were trying to solve was that all salespeople at all levels in the organization had these low-value contract value clients and they were spending a lot of time and effort working on them, and the clients weren’t necessarily getting the service that they really wanted. So, we were trying to improve the value that these clients were receiving and also move our expensive selling resource off doing that all the time, so they were the metrics that we were looking to track to see if we could have impact on.

The program of work has been running for about a year now. We can see that usage is up in those clients that have been brought into or opted into that program of work, so they are using us more, and that’s a key indicator of a new role for us. And even after a year, we can see that the open rates on those emails is holding steady over 50% and even more than that, we’re having a 17% clickthrough. We’ve had one unsubscribe and that was actually the guy testing the process internally for us.

So, we have some really strong and clear metrics that we can show there in terms of we have changed the way that the seller’s portfolio is built. They don’t have to support these clients anymore. The renewal rates are staying up and, in fact, they are staying high because of increased usage. The emails are obviously of value and interest because you’ve got huge clickthrough and open rates, but there’s another element to it as well.

Andrew came to me about six months into the process and he said this program of work is something that he had been trying to do and trying to think about for a really long time. He said he hadn’t known how to go about getting sales buy-in to thinking about it or to do it, but that this had given him the opportunity to try out some things that he believed would really make a difference and that he felt like a complete rock star because of the open rates.

So, we could look at the impact that we had for the sellers, we could look at the impact we could have for the clients. But we could also, through that lovely statement, see that we were working collaboratively and well with our partners internally. I know for a fact he was telling his colleagues about that experience, that he was talking about the great experience of working with sales enablement and seeing it made an impact. And so, I know that we have an open door with our marketing team now to try some things with sales and try things that they might not have necessarily been open to. We can’t say up-front it definitely will work, but we have an open there, we have an in, and that’s a lovely other metric to think about when we’re putting these things together.

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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