Podcast

Episode 92: Jo Stewart on Creating a Close Bond with Sales Operations

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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.

Today, I’m excited to have Jo Stewart from Micro Focus join us. Jo, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Jo Stewart: Thank you, Shawnna. So great to be here. My name’s Jo Stewart. I currently run enablement for the whole of Micro Focus. You’ve probably never heard of the Micro Focus, most people, when I say I work for Micro Focus, you get a ‘Micro-who?’ and you’re like, yeah, no, not them, the other micro. We are one of the world’s biggest, digital aggregators. We have a number of products and technologies that are purely software, and we look after lots and lots of the digital transformation of finance companies or healthcare and pharma companies around the world.

We’re also the custodians of a really very little-known product called COBOL, but little known because it’s quite secret. Most of the world’s mainframes run on COBOL, so we’re very proud of that heritage. We’ve been around about 40 years now.

SS: Well, Jo, I’m extremely excited to have you join us today. You have a very diverse background and it spans multiple business disciplines within sales, sales operations, and of course sales enablement. So how do you see those two departments in particular, operations and enablement, working together?

JS: That’s a great question. I actually started out my career as an engineer. I was from technology and that gave me a really unique insight into all of the different things that have to happen to make a customer successful. Two of those key departments really are operations and enablement.

Enablement’s quite new, really. I think enablement departments have grown out of learning and development, or training teams, et cetera, but now we’re really intrinsically connected to sales operations. I like to think that sales operations forms the strategy of things like the sales management operating system, and then enablement supports and helps them become the fulcrum to the success by bringing that alive, whether it be by making sure salespeople have the capability and skills to execute it, or indeed, the tools and the ways of working that they really need to make them successful. These two departments are so interlinked. I spend so much of my time working with our VP of sales operations. We probably talk at least twice a week, if not more.

SS: That’s fantastic. And I didn’t realize that you also had an engineering background, but let’s talk a little bit more about this career path that you went down. How did you make the transition between being a sales operations leader to becoming an enablement leader? What were some of the skills that you needed to hone to make that transition?

JS: That is a great question because actually, I have gone between operations and enablement twice in my career. So I, first of all, started out, as I said, as an engineer, and then I quickly moved into sales actually and ran presales for quite some time at Dell.

And, as part of that role, I started to become really interested in education and how we enable our customers, and customer success in particular. So, I took a number of roles, setting up practices around customer education and professional services, and then moved from there into operationalizing them in a global space.

That’s how I ended up in sales operations the first time around. The skills that I took with me were not really what you would expect for operations. I’m not a particularly analytical person, but I particularly like working with the dynamics and the ‘if I do this, what will happen to X?’

If you understand what I’m saying, it’s really around this curiosity and innovation around, if you just change one or two really salient things, it can make a huge difference. That’s really how I ended up in enablement because I noticed that what made salespeople successful were a couple of two or three really important dynamics.

If you make the business, or if you operationalize the business, to make that person successful in those two or three attributes, it can make a huge difference. That’s how I ended up going from operations into enablement, and then back into operations, and then back into enablement again.
I have to stress by the way, Shawnna, I’m a big believer in not staying in the same role all the time. I think you have to go back and be as close to the coalface as you possibly can in order to bring that knowledge back. I couldn’t just have stayed in enablement from my first role, which was probably over 10 years ago now, and still be fresh and relevant today.

I had to go back and understand what it’s like to work in a sales role, as close as I can close to that sales business, and some of the current pressures, particularly in the industry that we work in, which is technology.

SS: I think that’s very valuable perspective, and really solid advice for our audience. It’s important to understand the people that you serve or the people that you partner with. Now, since you’ve been able to work on both sides, throughout your career, what advice do you have for sales enablement professionals to ensure that they cultivate a really strong cross-functional partnership with their sales operations team within their organization.

JS: Brilliant. I can’t stress enough this concept of setting a strategy together. I don’t think that you can have a sales enablement strategy without understanding what the underlying operations strategic vision is and how they are going to put KPIs or key performance indicators into the business. Every single time, a sales operations team put key performance indicator into the business, there are a set of levers that enablement needs to switch on for them to make people successful.

You have, for example, a sales operations team that are putting a management operations system in around– let’s just hypothetically say– pipeline velocity. You need to make sure that you have fully trained or fully enabled salespeople that have the ability to be able to go and search and hunt for pipeline, and make sure that they’re fully enabled by that piece. If you can’t, if you don’t have that, then sales operations are not going to be successful.

When I’m working with the sales operations team here at Micro Focus, we do that hand in hand. We make sure that their management reporting, their KPIs, or the levers they’re pulling around things like compensation and benefits are all backed up and reinforced by really concrete learning paths for us, for our sellers, for our sales community.

SS: I love that. And obviously sales operations is not the only department that sales enablement has to partner with, by a long shot. So, beyond sales operations, how can sales enablement collaborate with partners across the organization to really improve alignment on strategic initiatives in particular?

JS: That’s a great question. In fact, when I joined Micro Focus (and this has happened throughout my career), sales enablement was a little bit like a hot potato in where we actually live. I think that’s quite healthy since it’s one of those teams or departments that oftentimes can get passed around the business dependent on where the business is going right now.

So, in my experience, I’ve worked for sales enablement inside of sales operations. I’ve worked for sales enablement inside the sales organization. I’ve worked for sales enablement inside HR for a bit. So, it’s had lots of different needs, but the most successful place– and this is where sales enablement is today at Micro Focus– is I report into Genefa Murphy, our chief marketing officer. Actually, that’s a really healthy place to be because it actually allows me to use my personal network inside of sales ops, and obviously working with our chief revenue officer so we can pull those levers there.

It can also be very close to the strategic direction of the business. So, I work very closely with our product marketing managers and their teams around the roadmap of the product so we can make sure those solution certifications are very clearly articulated.

I’m also extremely close to how we set the message of the business. So, we call it our ‘Micro Focus advantage’. Everything that we then put into the training has that underlying messaging around marketing. We also have that nice natural segue as well when we work with marketing to work within the campaigns frame as well on things like events, et cetera.

So we can really help to build both the capability that support the operations, if we’re going back to our previous conversations, but also the knowledge and awareness about where the company’s going and where the products are going, which gives us sellers that healthy bond between the two.

SS: I love that. I think that’s fantastic. And again, I think you’re absolutely right. I think depending on where enablement reports into really gives you a unique perspective on your go-to-market plans and your strategic initiatives.

Now, I have one closing question for you, which kind of stems from that, though. Do you have advice on how to maintain cross-functional collaboration with teams and departments, particularly given that a lot of us are working remote these days?

JS: Oh, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it? It’s such a hard thing. And the bigger the company, the more matrixed it gets and the more political it gets. I like to think of it as, this melting pot of political and emotional intrigue once you get into the bigger companies. But typically, what I do is manage a number of councils. So, I set up, quite successfully (a couple of companies ago), I set up this collaborative working council to give me advice and information and think of it a little bit like the United Nations.

Enablement’s a really hot topic, lots of people have got opinions on it. And lots of people want support and help, but they want the support and help that they want. Not necessarily always your professional opinion, which is a balance you have to make. So, I have set up a number of councils that really help and advise my team, whether they be around sales skills for sellers or the tools that we use, or even actually how we enable the really forgotten child of enablement, which is sales leaders and managers.

We so often forget to train and enable and educate that particular cohort in any organization. So, I’ve set up a number of councils and I religiously attend to them, a little bit like advisory groups, some companies have advisory groups– I use them like that.

COVID, of course, has made those quite difficult. Whereas we would have those face-to-face oftentimes, now we hold them remotely. I really have been very blessed with the fact that we have a company that is very on top of its, remote working technology. We use Teams, but I know of other colleagues in my role who use Zoom equally as well, but we keep those channels alive.

We keep the tech, we keep the communications alive. Since COVID, we’ve actually reset all of our communication protocols and all of our inside web pages, so people have lots of ability to contact us. But I think the biggest thing that I’ve done is set up these councils, these advisory councils and kept them going cause they really are so useful and so helpful to see me to help me and my team to see how sales wants to pursue any enablement opportunity.

SS: I love that. And I actually think that that is extremely good advice for our audience to set up councils very similar to what you’ve done at Micro Focus. Jo, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed chatting with you.

JS: You’re welcome. It’s been lovely. Thank you.

SS: To our audience, 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’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.