Episode 5: Christopher Kingman on How Org Structures Impact 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. In your opinion, what does the optimal sales enablement organizational structure look like? Who and what have you found ideal to report into and how have you found it ideal to have the team structured?

Christopher Kingman: I think optimally it should report into either an operational function or a sales function, either to an executive sales leader, somebody who oversees an entire organization, versus a portion of it. That way they can make sure that your activities, your interest, represent the entire organization. It’s easy to get it skewed or if it reports into something arbitrarily like marketing. I just don’t think it should report into marketing because it can sort of skew towards representing and enforcing marketing based initiatives versus “all sales is what we do.” Anything in that structure is fine, I just think it needs to be organizationally independent, but report into a director or higher depending on the size of your organization, VPs, etc. I report now into the VP of sales strategy and ops, so we cover all international sales, period. That’s a great place to sit, that way, all of my action is in the name of revenue attainment globally.

After that, I think it’s up to the organization, but anything that is sales-supporting should and can report to enablement. It’s up to the organization what it does. For example, sales comp I don’t think is a sales enablement function but it does report up to the corporate sales strategy and operations. You don’t have a customer service comp person, you just have people that do payroll, so sales comps should just roll into that, in my opinion. Everything else largely can or should report up into sales enablement and the only other thing I would think is customer service, and that’s if you have B2B and B2C or if you service end-users in some way. I think that can sit outside as more of its own thing, as well. I’ve seen it roll up under enablement and not, and I do have a preference. I wouldn’t want to have it under my organization because I just wouldn’t want to deal with it. But other than that I think it’s fine, I think it’s technology, support, training, development, sales readiness – all of those are core aspects. Everything else is negligible and I think you can make the argument that if it’s in the support or development or along the lines of revenue attainment, enablement could have even a dotted line to it.

SS: Interesting. As you mentioned, you’re currently responsible for international enablement, so tell us a little bit about this role and some of the areas that are unique to sales enablement practitioners that actually have a global scope the way you do.

CK: Sure. My role focuses on aligning in-region. So, TransUnion has the umbrella, we have international, we have U.S., and then we actually have health care as a separate one, so my role oversees the international portion. Basically what I do is align both regional and corporate resources to meet both the individual seller and the global revenue goals. I work with the executive leadership within these regions or countries to identify the roadblocks to revenue attainment and then I align their resources, corporate or U.S.-based resources, and then self-source or build a lot of things to solve these problems. My scope really just spans the entire organization, and frequently the challenges that we see involve me, as I talked about, breaking down the silos because that problem is just the norm, it’s what everybody is used to. It is like, I work in this little bubble here and Shawnna works in this little bubble here and I don’t really need to consult with her because this is my bubble. That’s a lot of my job, is just going in acting as an internal consultant, learning about all of these challenges, and then sort of bringing everybody to the table, bringing best practices, or really what works even from any other region, or we design a hybrid model.

I would say, what’s unique to me is that every region has its own instance of Salesforce, so I have to work with that. They have their own billing systems, they have their own sales cycles, they have their own products, so we have a crazy amount of products within every region. And things that you would never think of. For example, you’re from the U.S., you know Kelly Blue Book, right? We own the version of Kelly Blue Book in South Africa. You would never guess that – it has nothing do with your credit, but we own that product and we sell it. So it’s sort of understanding markets and trends and then understanding within each market, all of the pressures. So, for example, in the UK – I’ve been involved in the UK for about six or seven months now – GDPR is a massive pressure here, it’s impacting everything, every decision we make, not just with customers but integration. So, when a U.S. company buys a UK company, there’s a lot of things that we have to be cautious of. And then you have Brexit, which is just sort of hovering over everything that we do. So, the interesting thing is, I go to regions and they all have similar challenges, their pricing is messed up or contracts are bad or their CRM is this or sellers can’t do that. The individual fixes are all unique and bespoke sometimes but they all draw upon experiences from everywhere else.

SS: That’s very cool. You mentioned being kind of an internal consultant. How do you go about – and I recall you speaking about this at Forrester – how you go about breaking down some of those barriers with the folks that you’re working with internally?

CK: So, I do have the very business-y approach to it, but when I was in the U.S. I did the same function and I really just like to ask two questions to a lot of people. It’s sort of disarming, especially when you go into a country and they don’t know you or it’s such a recent acquisition that they’re a little shaky. I like to ask people what sucks; what sucks about their job, what sucks about their work, what’s impacting them.

It’s a great way to get a laugh out of somebody. It’s very disarming, they are like, “wait a minute”. I certainly don’t come in a suit and tie. I mean, I’m wearing a T-shirt right now, but I like to ask those questions because it just takes a weight off of people. They really unload to you, especially if you ask them that question something like three times in six months. They know they can just say, “this is so awful”. And they just word vomit on you – “here’s everything that’s wrong”, or “here are the challenges that I’m facing”. It’s great to hear it from one person but what’s really great about asking that question is that you consistently will get a lot of the same answers just in different people’s voices. You take anecdotal, subjective information, or qualitative information, you then quantify it and put some scores to it, prioritize it, rank it, and suddenly you have a list of very real problems that are impacting your business that are really weighing on your people enough for them to tell you that this is why their job sucks or how they could be so much more successful if this thing would go away.

The interesting thing is it could be just the language, the legal ease, that a contract is just not conducive to renegotiate in term. If you didn’t know any better, you would never think that’s a real issue or an impactful issue. But then when you dig in and talk to two or three people and they say, “for me to get two contracts out in a day, I have to take all day to do it”, suddenly that’s a very big issue. You go down these rabbit holes with these people and then you start going department to department and you start peeling back the onion. You realize that there are some major challenges here, some major issues going on, or there’s a systemic challenge or process or problem that now we have to go prioritize and tackle. We’ve got to bring in resources and it’s easier to get to that by just sitting and talking, person-to-person, than filling out a questionnaire or anything else. Maybe a consulting firm would come in and formally approach you and ask you a bunch of questions.

The second question I ask is, “what would make this better?” I like to say, “if you had a magic lamp and rubbed it, what would make this better, what would make it go away?” People tend to have answers to the problem. It just gets lost and people feel like no one listens to them or they say, “well, I’m just the sales guy, nobody cares what I have to say”. The reality is that your people always have the answers to your challenges. You just have to get it out of them, you have to make an environment where they’re empowered to share that with you or feel capable of even sharing it with you or willing to or motivated to. I found that this overly simplistic approach has gotten me to unearth a lot of the challenges that really impact everything.

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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