Episode 36: Jenna Cronin and Maria Belen Eglez on Sales Enablement as a Strategic Consultant
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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’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.
Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d love to start by just having you introduce yourself, your role, and your organization.
Jenna Cronin: Sure. My name is Jenna Cronin, I’m the director of sales enablement at Unbabel. I’ve been in the sales, marketing, and enablement arena for about eight years now. I like to joke that I’ve held just about every job. I was a BDR, I did inside sales, I was a sales manager, and then a trainer, instructional designer, and found my love for enablement through all those different paths. It’s exciting to have that come together into one role.
SS: Awesome. And Belen, can you introduce yourself as well?
Maria Belen Eglez: Sure. My name is Maria Belen, I am the sales enablement manager here at Unbabel. Unlike Jenna, my career started early on in sales enablement. I first joined Unbabel as a BDR and very quickly I was moved to the sales enablement role as they needed someone to help onboard and train all new people – customer-facing people – here at Unbabel and also act as liaison between the different departments. That’s how I got here.
SS: I’m so grateful to have the chance to get to chat with both of you ladies today. I would like to start just by better understanding, what does sales enablement look like at Unbabel?
MBE: Sure, I can start. We are now a team of three people. Jenna is the director of the department and she reports directly to the CCO. Then I am the sales enablement manager, and we have an intern with us, Rita. And we are now going to expand a little bit, our team, and we’re going to have a sales operations person joining us, as well. So, we are hiring for that position. We currently support all customer-facing teams in three offices, so we have offices in New York, San Francisco, and here in Portugal. This goes from BDRs, sales partnerships, CSMs, implementation managers, and solution consultants.
JC: And I have to build on that just to say that I have seen sales enablement in a lot of different organizations, and it’s really interesting that Unbabel has supported sales enablement at the stage we’re at, as a start-up. It’s a little bit unusual to see a sales operations person reporting into sales enablement, but I think it’s a sign that the industry is evolving so much that now that sales enablement person can be very strategic. Usually, you would see it the other way around in some cases, where sales ops has been around for longer as a role. But it just speaks to how companies are really starting to recognize sales enablement as a very strategic position.
SS: Absolutely, absolutely. As it should be. And you eluded to this, but obviously it is a bit unusual for a start-up to have sales enablement as a function. What was the impetus or reason? why did Unbabel see the value of sales enablement so early on?
MBE: Well, this is kind of – in part – how I got into this position in the first place. As I said, I started as a BDR but quickly enough we realized that we needed someone to be that middle person between marketing, between a team that was in charge of trials at the time, and the sales rep. I started doing that just because I felt that was what needed to be done to get my things done. My boss at the time, he came to me and said, “well, you’re spending most of your time doing this internal alignment and training new people that are coming up, so I Googled and I found this position called sales enablement that I think fits what you’re doing today. Do you want to start that position?” And I was like, “okay, I think I can try that.” That’s kind of how it started here at Unbabel.
SS: I love that. And Belen, as a liaison between departments like marketing, product, and sales, how do you successfully bring all those voices together and how does that collaboration impact your sales enablement initiatives?
MBE: Sure. As I said, this very position was born from being the liaison between all these teams. But, of course, now that we’ve evolved this has taken a bit of a more formal shape. We now do shadowing to teams so that we understand what’s going on in the field, as well as talk to managers. We have either weekly meetings, bi-weekly meetings, monthly meetings – just to make sure that we understand where the gaps are, where the misalignments and struggles are. And then, we practically bring that together with the managers’ vision, with their priorities, and understand where we need to focus our energies and how we can prioritize or work accordingly.
I mean, we didn’t get to this level overnight, we had to earn this right. It all became doing little things for each of the leaders, trying to be the help with they asked for it. And we kind of grew from there. We started by being the filter between sales and other departments like marketing and product, all these other teams that want to have a bit of sales time, but they have to use [that time] to actually do the sale.
SS: Absolutely. Obviously coming from a business development background, it seems like you have a very deep understanding and empathy for sales. You mentioned shadowing sales. Why is that approach beneficial and how else are you obtaining feedback from your sales teams?
MBE: Sure. For me, having visibility of what’s going on, on the ground, is crucial so that we can identify where we have to act, where we have to introduce changes, where we can automize, where we can innovate. Basically, understanding what people are going through and what they try to do is key so that when we try to train them or we try to change whatever needs to be changed, we can do it from the lenses of the user, right? Because in the end, they are our customers, so we need to make sure we understand them.
As I said, we have time with them, like one-on-ones, aside from the shadowing. We do coaching with them, so we also get feedback from there. And, I think, we also do reports for managers, so we get some of their opinions. I don’t know, Jenna, if you want to say some of the other initiatives we are doing?
JC: Yeah, I think it’s a really important thing, no matter what stage you’re at in your sales enablement function, to continue to shadow. I had a colleague from a past life that used to say, “you want to be in touch with the C-suite, but don’t take your eye off the street.” So, understanding the high-level initiatives that the company is really gearing toward is so important. It’s the lens through which you develop all of your day-to-day projects and actions. But let’s not forget that the senior leadership doesn’t always know what’s happening on the rep level.
When you are just building that trust, like Belen said, and earning the trust of all different members of the sales function, it’s important to get those quick wins. And when a manager or a director tries to weigh in on quick wins, a lot of times they either go too big in terms of the project – they’re looking longer-term – or they try to offload some of their busy work onto you. Neither one of those is helping get the quick wins that earn you credibility. I think actually walking in the rep’s shoes is really, really important for being able to develop some of these quick wins.
For us, when I came on board, one of the most important things I wanted to understand – because we’re focusing on really establishing a consistent pipeline – is I wanted to sit with the BDR team and see how they were reaching out to prospects, what tools they were using. It was very enlightening. I came away from every session thinking, “Okay, there’s a really easy fix here we can make with either the integration of a tool or training on the way they use it, down to the messaging and what was actually going on in some of those emails.” It’s very different when you observe first-hand versus what you hear through a manager’s filter.
SS: Absolutely. And I like the whole notion of quick wins. I’m curious if you have any other advice on some quick wins that you’d recommend for sales enablement practitioners that are just getting started?
JC: Yeah, I think this goes hand-in-hand with the shadowing, but the most important thing you can do is build champions. Those can be reps, those can be managers, but by sitting with people across the organization you’ll find out pretty quickly who can be supportive of you and feed you information and be the one that tips you off on those quick wins. I think really listening is the best action you can do. A lot of times, that can become almost your reputation within the company.
I had one sales manager that, when I first came on board, said, “You know what, my team’s fine, why don’t you go focus on the other teams, don’t worry about us. We’re pretty busy over here, we’re doing well.” You know, basically like, “stay away.” And six months went by. I got off a redeye last night and I come to my desk, and within ten minutes he’s over there like, “Okay, let’s talk about this. I need your help on this.” That can happen pretty quickly when you spend time really listening the needs of, as Belen said, your buyers, which are sales managers and salespeople.
Identify some of those areas and make a quick playbook. Belen, maybe you can talk a little bit about the CRM playbook you put together. Or being able to put together a call script or an email script. We did a call library, that’s something that as a small company we just didn’t have yet all in one place, so that people can listen to calls through a specific lens. And we put together a couple of tools on what to look out for when you’re listening to this particular call. Just letting people access resources that they can immediately apply.
MBE: To build on that, I think that one thing you can do is think of sales enablement as the consultant for the sales leaders, right? So, if you start off with that mindset, you will see that eventually the sales leader will come to you. As Jenna said, we started by listening, understanding what their needs were, where we could help, where we could have these quick wins. We started gathering these champions. And then we also tried to understand, “Okay, what works for each of these teams?”
At the beginning, we had some trouble with the sales reps, but we found out very quickly that actually the customer success managers were also struggling. So, it was, “Okay, how can we help?” We just gave them a space to share their best practices and now that space evolved to having a playbook for them. We’re also now supporting them with coaching or putting internal proposals for whatever it is that they need. I think it’s also important to understand what the needs for each department are and being able to adapt to those specific needs.
SS: I couldn’t agree more. And I feel like we’re touching on this, but I want to ask the question outright. From your perspective, what are the key components of a successful sales enablement function? What do you believe enablement’s core responsibilities to be, Jenna?
JC: Well, a lot of people that aren’t as familiar with sales enablement would say, “It’s training. It’s the same thing.” It is training, to a certain extent. But I think when sales enablement is able to be more strategic, when either the company sees sales enablement as being strategic or the individual sales leadership and various other leaders see them as strategic, it becomes more of a change management function.
A lot of things go into that. It could be training, but it could also be the development of resources. I’m not talking, necessarily, about the things that we send to customers. That’s more a product marketing realm. But as Belen mentioned, playbooks, job aids, reference guides, how-to guides, anything that helps people do their job on a day-to-day that they can use as a reference. And I would say those two things, plus the tools side, is what most organizations use to define sales enablement. Bridging into what are the technologies, what are the tools that they can leverage to be better at their job.
I think in the more advanced sales enablement organizations – and certainly where we’re trying to go – also include things like people development of customer-facing functions. So, we have developed scorecards, we’ve developed career progression plans for anyone that talks to customers here. And we work very closely with our people ops — which is our word for HR over here – to put those into play.
We like to have an influence, also, on some of the strategic sides – so even, what are the territories? How are people held accountable for their daily tasks and what are they measured on? I think in a lot of places that falls to sales ops. We’re about to be one combined function here, but everything from commissions to territories to daily job functions can certainly be a part of sales enablement.
SS: Absolutely. And I love that you are thinking beyond just sales training. Can you tell me a little bit, from your perspective, about the distinction between sales training and sales enablement?
JC: In my view, sales training is something that we still all do, but I’ll tell you something that happened a lot when I first got here. We would have a meeting with another internal team — it might have been marketing, or the people ops team, or finance, or the product team – that said, “Okay, we just did something. We’ve got to make sure sales knows about it. Can you roll it out?” We’d say, “Okay, why did we do this in the first place?” People are like, “Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of this project. Can’t you just roll it out? Can’t we just hand it over to you and have you do the magic?”
So, I think training is seen by others as being a little less strategic because when you say training, you’re thinking about people in a classroom and maybe the follow-up materials that go with it. I think when it comes to enablement and where we really want to go is for the enablement team to speak for sales, to be involved with the planning, with the development of this project in the first place and have an influence on “why are we doing this?” Is there a way we can tailor the project or influence the outcome so that it is completely aligned with what we’re doing in sales? Because a lot of that alignment has to happen after the fact and it’s so much harder to do if the thing has already been developed that we’re trying to roll out.
SS: Absolutely. Jenna, you also mentioned at the Sales Enablement Soirée the importance of supporting reps after they’re onboarded by way of continuous training. Can you explain to our audience a little bit about the way you think about continuous training and why it’s important?
JC: Yeah, I think that’s the other thing about training, right? It doesn’t always involve reinforcement. Some companies have an onboarding and then you are kind of on your own. Or, some companies don’t even have an onboarding so it would just be nice to have that as a full-fledged function. But continuous training, I think, is so important in this current job market because it’s competitive. It takes a lot to get a good candidate on board. In order for them to say and not be tempted by other offers one or two years down the line, we really have to invest in our people. And that means developing not only their ability to do their job, to sell, but also assisting them from a skills perspective, assisting them with developing what they need to get to the next level.
So, when it comes to things like career progressions and ongoing development, ongoing training, it’s really essential these days in order to have a good retention strategy for our people. Not to mention that it’s a lot more efficient to get 20% more out of your top performers than to have to hire more or have to worry about replacing your lowest performers.
SS: Excellent. Well, I’d like to just take a minute and talk to you about some of your actual initiatives to date. You guys have mentioned two that I actually want to talk about, so I don’t want to presume they are your most impactful one. You mentioned the one, Jenna, around people development and I think that’s super critical. You also mentioned how important culture and skill development is for rep retention. I would love it if you could just walk me through what were the challenges or what made you guys realize that this was an initiative sales enablement needed to tackle?
JC: I can talk from the high-level point of view, and then maybe, Belen, you can fill in with the actual execution side in terms of the employee development. I think when you’re a growing company there’s something dangerous in how you evaluate people based on what a manager might rely on, which is the numbers you have in the system and their gut feelings about how this person is doing at being a positive part of the organization, a positive part of the culture.
The thing we hear all the time in start-ups is, “Well, we need to have a great culture. Is this person part of the culture?” How do you define the culture? You actually have to break it down into qualities that you can measure or qualities that you can consistently evaluate people on across the board, or else all you’re doing is sort of relying on the data in the system. As we know, at a start-up it can be challenging to always have that super accurate. Then, you have your gut feelings about the people. So, Belen, maybe you can talk a little bit about how we rolled that out?
MBE: Sure. So, before we go into that, I want to make a point when it comes to retaining people and how continuous learning helps. I see that every day. Without having a sense of where you’re going, as someone more junior, I want to know what my options are. I expect my manager to tell me, “Okay, these are your options, this is what you can do, and these are the steps you need to do to actually make it there and be successful.” And oftentimes with companies our size or other start-ups that don’t have career progressions or development or are not into developing the skills of their people, motivation levels can come down because you start feeling like you’re not moving, you’re not doing anything to be a better version of you, right? So, I think this is very important.
In terms of execution, the way we did it is we started analyzing what the skills were that were needed to be successful at a specific role and what did that look like at Unbabel. We did that for all of the customer-facing roles and we kind of build a scorecard that we would use to measure it. From that scorecard, we took the main components and we built hiring guides. When I’m going into an interview, these are the questions that I can ask to make sure that this person fits into this behavior or has these skills, etc. From there, we knew which skills they developed in one position and which ones were needed in the other position. And basically, that gap is what they need to learn in order to progress from one to the other. Then, you have the career paths and succession plans. Out of one scorecard, we were able to build these four documents that would help the people grow and develop.
SS: I love that. I’m curious, how are you guys measuring the success of this initiative, whether it’s quantitative or even qualitative?
JC: That’s a great question. It’s always difficult to measure some of these things, especially when they’re new initiatives. We have our sequence of what we look for in terms of implementation. The first is, do the managers embrace it? Do they feel like it is a positive add that makes their life easier in some way? And we check that box.
Not only can they use it for their performance reviews and have a consistent way of being able to measure their people, but we also employ a tool internally that we use for professional development across the year. You can log in, set objectives for people, and clear actions that help them practice getting towards that objective. So, all of a sudden, all these things can be pulled down from the scorecard and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as much for the managers.
The next step is, is it useful for the reps? We try to understand that by seeing to what degree do the reps accurately evaluate themselves versus how their manager evaluates them. I think we’re going to get a lot of data out of that when we conduct the round of performance reviews we do at mid-year. That will be pretty enlightening, I predict, in terms of being able to see where the gaps are. And then also quantify how these are being used.
From there, I think it’s a matter of, over time, tracking how many successful placements did we get as people move through these career paths? We’re at the point now where we’ve been able to test it with a handful of different people, and we’ve gotten good feedback about the process. All we have to do now is measure, are these people successful in their role? Again, we can do that through the scorecards. We’ve set ourselves up to be able to collect all that data, and now it’s a matter of moving through that process and being patient with it.
SS: Absolutely. That’s amazing. The other initiative that I alluded I wanted to cover with you guys was the mention of playbooks. So, I’d like to first set the stage for those that are relatively new to the space but, Jenna, from your perspective, how do you define a sales playbook?
JC: A sales playbook is anything that tells you how to do something. So, we typically employ some sort of either classroom or e-learning that often focuses on what to do and why it’s important. And then the on-the-job training or coaching on how to do it happens afterward. The sales playbook is a leave-behind or a resource that should be made available in conjunction with coaching that shows you how to do something.
I’m talking to the coaches out there. If you have a playbook, don’t leave it outside of coaching. Pull it into your coaching session. Open it up and point out what you’re doing or what you’re helping your coachee realize or learn so that they can learn to self-serve in the future and uncover how to do something through that resource.
SS: Excellent. And the one that you specifically mentioned was the CRM playbook. I’d love to actually dive in a little bit and understand from an execution standpoint. Belen, maybe you can give us some insight here on how you went about basically laying the foundation and then structuring the playbook for your reps in a way in which you knew that they would be able to use it and use it in real-time when it made sense to them.
MBE: Sure. The first step was understanding all the actions they needed to do in the CRM. So, we kind of did one small chapter per action, and we linked all of those bite-sized documents to a master outline. Basically, they just need to bookmark one page and from there they have links to all the actions you can imagine, from how to create a lead to how to move from one stage to the other, or how to add other team members into that opportunity. It’s really broad. And then, in order to make it easier for the reps, we also started linking some of those bite-sized documents into the CRM itself at a certain stage. That way, they can easily find the instructions on how to do something at the right time.
SS: That’s excellent. Do you have some examples of other types of playbooks that you’ve created for your teams?
MBE: Yeah. We have the BDR playbook, which is also a how-to guide. This one is a little bit different because it not only talks about what they should do at each stage of the pipeline, but also talks about the messaging or how to structure their day or more broad things about our company – like the messaging or who are our customers, how to approach them, etc.
The other one we are very proud of is the CSM one, the success managers. We all worked on it together. It was sales enablement plus the CSMs. We did a roundtable – a weekly roundtable – in which we started by defining, “Okay, how are we going to classify our customers?” We decided to go with colors, so it’s red, amber, and green. And then we started understanding what makes an account be red, amber, or green. Then, what are the actions that we need to take to move them from one color to another? They all shared their ideas and then we documented that into a master playbook. I don’t know, Jenna, if you want to talk more about this initiative.
JC: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting because I’ve been involved with the creation with a lot of playbooks, and coming from more of a consulting background a lot of what I’ve done is interview people, work with the managers, make a list of things we need to teach them and then create this masterpiece that we hand over to them. That works in some situations, but other times, depending on the dynamics of the team, it doesn’t.
For example, this team of success managers that we worked with didn’t have a frontline manager at the time, so we started working with them. They just needed a place to come and be able to get greater alignment with each other. They didn’t know what sales enablement was, really, or who we were because we hadn’t worked with them too much before that. But they came to that roundtable. They started just by telling stories of calls they had been on that week, and over time we were able to create the playbook really purely through moderation. It wasn’t like we were exerting our ideas on them, we just created that discussion and kept the discussion moving, and we were consistent about it, and we documented everything. By the end, we said, “Wow. Here it is. You made this, guys.” It was a very proud moment for us, being the ones who were able to facilitate it. And we’re very confident that’s going to be on their desks every day to use.
SS: Thanks 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 want to know more about, let us know. We’d love to hear from you.