Episode 4: Christopher Kingman on Securing Executive Buy-In 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’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. Joining us today is Christopher Kingman, Director of International Sales Enablement for TransUnion. Chris has extensive sales enablement experience in training and mentoring and increasing seller efficiency and effectiveness, as well as problem-solving to increase sales productivity. Hi, Chris. Welcome to the podcast. So, we’ll just start at the top and as things come up along the way we can take some detours, but we really wanted to start at the beginning. Obviously, we’re seeing increased visibility in the sea for sales enablement. Do you see this momentum continuing and where do you see things going in the future for this discipline?

CK: I totally agree with that statement and I think a lot of organizations are in this “wait and see” stance, right? They’ve heard the terms and it’s kind of bubbling up but a lot of people just don’t really know what it is and isn’t. Some of the standard arguments of “isn’t that sales training?” or “don’t you mean sales operations?” are still really lingering and I think enablement hasn’t fully emerged with its own voice, its own stance. It draws upon so many sales-related disciplines that I think people are gravitating towards it. I think there’s a general feeling of knowing they need this thing but not necessarily knowing how or what aspect they need. But I think the necessity of the visibility is only going to increase. I think companies like Highspot and other organizations are really putting a spotlight on it and saying, “hey, you need this and here’s why”.

Showing how organizations that have adopted this have been able to achieve X, Y, and Z is only going to push this argument further. No one’s ever going to debate you on whether you need a marketing function, right? No one will ever say, “oh, I don’t need to do marketing, my product sells itself”. I think enablement is going to get there and it’s going to get there sooner rather than later just because of social media, just because people are switching jobs now more than ever. At some point someone is going to walk into an organization, they’re going to read something or they’re going to say, “who runs sales enablement here?” and it’s going to spur that conversation or that level of research. I think it’s just going to continue to evolve.

I think the word “sales” in front of “enablement” is limiting on its own, whether you want to call it organizational enablement or revenue enablement, it doesn’t matter but I think the discipline itself will evolve into this conduit between all functions. I like to think of it as somebody whose sole responsibility is to remove roadblocks, bring everybody to the table, get problems out of the way, get everybody running towards the same goal, and every organization has the same goal: revenue. I think that’s where it’s going to go. The great thing about enablement is it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do start. I think that’s what a lot of organizations are going to see, a lot of the content is going to point that way instead of saying, “you have to do this”, “you have to do that”. More and more of the anecdotal material that I read or what people publish will say, “we started with sales support and then we branched to this”, or “we had sales training and then we looked at this”, or “we had somebody from sales work with marketing to do this”. All of it is good and it’s all the same, it all reinforces the value that enablement brings.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. The next question I think is really important for a lot of sales enablement practitioners, particularly the ones that might just be getting started or might have been brought in to fix some of the smaller or more immediate issues. What advice do you have for sales enablement practitioners or professionals who are trying to seek executive buy-in?

CK: When you start out, to your point that they maybe came in to fix something, focus on quick, tactical, cheap wins. When I say cheap wins, or any of these, revenue obviously speaks for itself, but maybe a morale win is a big win in some places, or maybe your CRM is just not that well put together and you came in to fix it. That can pay dividends in terms of adoption, usage, data, accuracy, etc. and so the ability for someone to come in and make a process or a piece of technology or even change the minds of the people is really a quick, easy win to get people behind them. As an enablement professional, showing that you’re there to fix problems or you’re there to make their job easier goes a lot further than putting a stake in the ground and saying, “I represent the CRM” or “I’m in charge of support”.

I think people that are getting started in enablement come in with the mindset of “I’m here to make sales happen” or “I’m here to help sales”, and this resonates a lot better with their audience, their stakeholders, etc. As you stack up these quick, cheap, tactical wins, some of those lead to either access or funding to larger challenges, access to cross-departmental challenges, and all of these quick little wins can sack up to one big win. Trying to smash a home run out the gate is not a successful strategy. You could spend 18 months trying to fix something, but tidying up all these little things to get people behind you, to get them to understand what you’re there to do, will aid in getting you that buy-in for more and more challenging concepts and goals.

SS: Excellent. That’s excellent advice. The follow-up question to that is, once they’ve achieved buy-in, what are their steps to making sure they establish a really successful sales enablement function within their organization?

CK: So a lot of those articles that you can find online of how to do sales enablement, some of the books out there, they all say create a charter or a mission and I totally agree with those, even just the mission statement of what is this team about or what is this function about. It really helps you anchor yourself to something because if you don’t say, “here’s what I’m here to do”, you’re open to being there to do everything and I think that can distract or water down an enablement function to be the jack of all trades. I think a good enablement function is – at the onset you can get lost very quickly so once you sort of have this buy-in – grounding yourself in a charter or a mission statement, then defining goals. If you could tie these goals to ROI, even better.

It’s very challenging from an enablement perspective to say, “if I clean up our support process” or “if I make this CRM interface easier to use that results in X dollars”. It’s hard to really quantify that. You can figure out average time of use down to a dollar and get very technical if you want, but just goals that show progress are really great to define. Put them out there and that way, not only can you hold yourself accountable but if you can hand those goals to the stakeholder or a sales executive and say, “this is what I’m going to go do for you”, and that really resonates with your people, they know that you’re on their team, you’re fighting for them. It really promotes accountability and trust and it’s the way again, like I said, to sort of go from small victories to big victories. And then the third thing is establish a reporting and a communication cadence. Create a template, however you want it to look and put it out every month, day, doesn’t matter, so everybody knows where you stand with what you’re doing and what’s up so there’s never any ambiguity.

I think a lot of friction in corporate America comes from “I don’t know what you do, I don’t know what you’re doing over there. You don’t report to me, I know you sit in XYZ department, but I’ve never interacted with you”. This squashes that and says, “oh, well you know what, here’s our mission statement, here’s our charter, here are our goals, here’s how we’re progressing” with your monthly tracker or weekly tracker. You have this question about sort of defending your seat at the table. It’s made that much easier just to say that “we’re anchored, we’re structured, we’re grounded, we’ve got goals and here’s how we’re progressing towards them”.

SS: Yeah, I mean to that point, as you just mentioned and as you also mentioned when you spoke at Forrester, part of the job of sales enablement is defending that seat at the table or getting that seat at the table. How do you do this as a sales enablement professional if you don’t currently?

CK: So, it goes back to defining who you are as a team or as an individual function and what goals you’re striving to do because you need to build the trust and accountability. You come to the table and to an executive, somebody that oversees budgets, you’re a line item until they understand your value and some people just won’t ever get the value, they won’t ever get ROI, it’s more of an op-ex, it’s the cost to business we have to have.

I think cutting through ambiguity around what you do is a really great way to make it when you have to explain what you do or somebody has to explain what you do to somebody else, not a lot is lost in that, “well you know what I don’t really know”. And when I said I’ve had to defend my seat at the table, I’ve always used enablement as an excuse to break those silos to get cross-departmental issues or functions or people who have always have had their way or ran their department and never had to operate outside of their silos. I’ve used that as an excuse to get them to the table. I hate the expression, “well, we’ve always done it this way”. That’s a direct indication that this is probably something we should look at and I just use that as an approach. When someone says, “well, why do we need sales enablement?” the reason is, no one’s ever challenged this department, this function, or all these people to work together closer. You’ve got all of these processes that are broken, all of the stuff is broken, we’re here to fix these processes, we’re an internal third-party consultant. I’ve worked for organizations that spend a lot of money hiring consulting firms to do the same thing, but we’re here to do it internally, we know the processes better, we know the products, we know the people, the culture, everything – it’s what we’re here to do.

When you talk about defending yourself, it’s all about that cohesive approach to revenue attainment. An outsider cannot come into your organization and say, “Ok, everybody, you now have to work together”. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t click. And so when an insider does it, it’s just a really great way to secure your position there, to show that you are here to make sure that these problems go away versus saying it’s just an operating expense.

SS: That makes a ton of sense and I think there’s also, as you mentioned, the impact on revenue that sales enablement has. I don’t want to talk necessarily about specific solutions, but I am curious in terms of a sales tech stack, what categories of tools do you think are necessary for a sales enablement function to have in order to measure the impact that they have on revenue?

CK: I’ll skip over CRM, I guarantee that’s the answer that you’re enablement team should be heavy-handedly involved in. I will say that the enablement team’s impact should be in ensuring it’s a positive, non-intrusive end-user experience. Make it easy to use because it’s just so easy for a seller to push back on a CRM. After that, any sort of tool that will help you understand what they’re doing with their time. I love call prioritization software or tools that say, “call this group of people, then this group of people, then this group of people”. You typically get, out of every ten phone calls, maybe two people on the phone. That’s what I saw in the last sales organization I was heavily involved in, so it’s not necessarily about prioritizing those two people, it’s about expediting the eight other people you don’t talk to, in getting through that call volume quicker, faster, more effectively, then on top of that.

I also love scheduling tools that allow our customers to say when they want to interact with us. It’s so much easier, it’s such a non-intrusive process because no one wants to go back and forth in emails, look at their calendars, set the stuff up. It’s, “you know what, I’m free”, *click* we’re good. I love software that does that, I love when vendors say, “let me know when you’re ready, here’s my calendar,” bam, good to go. After that, of course, content management platforms, if you can get to the level of sophistication where you have it and you actually have good content or you produce it. I do believe that the right piece of content at the right time can tip the scales or can more or less sway opinions of the people. Not your internal champion, not the person that is 100% gung ho, but for the CFO and/or the procurement person, showing “here’s why we need this, read this, this is justification, I’m not going to explain it to you, we’re not going to drag you into the process”. It’s for those ancillary buyers. I think it’s really important. Then if you can go all the way down the stack, then a call analyzing tool that will analyze tone, words, phrases, inflection, sentiment, all of those things, really prioritize what calls you should listen to for training purposes.

I found, by and far, the greatest training tool, aside from the same thing for video, is just playing calls back immediately for people and saying, “What do you think? How did this go?” Stuff like that blows my mind, it blows sellers minds. For one, they absolutely hate hearing themselves on the phone, but two, it goes really far because it’s so immediate, it puts them right back into the situation. It’s just like the ride along, but it’s not the ride along, it’s the real deal, it’s the real sale. They know it’s happening, then it’s getting recorded but they never have to go back and say, “Oh that’s right, they have the ability to listen to my calls and coach me on it”, and it just makes such a great difference. We’re able to upscale people so much more effectively and quicker.

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.

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