How Sales Enablement Can Influence an Organization’s Culture
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Culture can at times feel nebulous, hard to track, and even harder to impact. Yet, we all know how important it is to develop and maintain a strong culture within our organizations.
One of the largest operational costs for a sales organization is hiring and onboarding sales talent. In fact, according to the 2019 Sales Enablement Analytics report, it can cost an average of $150,000 to replace a salesperson – and culture is a key part of employee retention and satisfaction.
Sales enablement often plays a pivotal role in influencing organizational culture. The function is uniquely positioned for this, due to the number of activities supported: from hiring and onboarding to ongoing support and learning management, to working cross-functionally with marketing, sales, human resources, finance, operations, and more.
To begin influencing culture through sales enablement, start by asking, “what is culture and how does my organization define it?” From there, practitioners can begin to align the sales enablement strategy to initiatives that will influence culture, and measure impact along the way.
Dictionaries define culture as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. In identifying organizational culture, the following attributes are common examples of important attitudes, values, goals, and practices to foster a positive culture among revenue-facing teams.
- Tenacity – The quality of holding together and persistence, tenacity helps an organization push through difficult situations.
- Teamwork – This type of atmosphere encourages everyone to do their best, pushes others to improve, and lifts up the quality of work produced by the collective group.
- Empathy – The capacity to understand, be aware of, or sensitive to someone else’s feelings without having experienced their situation. Empathy creates compassion and helps to reduce discord within a team.
- Diversity – Embracing differences as attributes that improve the work and ensuring marginalized voices are given the opportunity to participate with equity, valuing diversity and inclusion creates a culture where people feel safe to be themselves and give more wholly of themselves to their work.
- Honesty – Being truthful, honesty builds trust and respect while reducing the likelihood of serious errors or infractions.
- Transparency – Operating in a way that creates openness between managers and employees, transparency increases trust within an organization and helps people to know their best interests are valued.
- Humility – A modest view of one’s own importance, humility assists an organization by reducing ego and placing the importance on the team and impact of the work.
- Accountability – Being responsible for one’s own actions as well as dependable in a team setting ensures work is completed in both an efficient and effective manner.
It’s important to remember culture is a living, breathing organism bound by the people and principles governing business, and therefore requires ongoing nurturing across the revenue-facing teams. At any organization, it can be positively or negatively impacted by both internal and external forces.
For instance, internal forces that can impact culture could be the style of leadership practiced by the executive team, turnover, or training methodology. Market conditions, competitors releasing new products, or a positive positioning by analysts are examples of external forces. While enablement may not be able to influence all of these, influencing the factors under enablement’s control can continuously foster a healthy culture.
“An easy way to talk about the pairing of culture and sales enablement is we’re trying to proactively lower the learning bar and capture, distill, and codify the tribal knowledge of the culture of the organization that has helped people be successful, that has helped the organization be successful,” said John Paul Mantey, head of sales enablement at Icertis.
If the organization needs to define culture, and sales enablement’s role related to culture, consider asking the following questions:
- Do we have a set of company values defined across the organization? Do the revenue-facing teams live these values daily and refer to them often?
- Do members of the revenue-facing team buy into our values or do we see people mock, downplay, or reject these values?
- Does my leadership actively work to reinforce the values and embody them in their actions at the organization?
Once practitioners have a defined set of values and the revenue-facing leadership and teams are aligned with the values, it’s important to implement specific actions across hiring, onboarding, ongoing support, and retention practices to ensure sales enablement positively influences culture.
It is imperative to work with revenue leaders and the recruiting team to ensure the hiring team is aligning with the culture defined by the organization. Sales enablement can do this by profiling the core competencies for sales reps, in partnership with revenue leaders, that HR can use in the hiring process.
Then, if enablement is involved in the interviewing process, take time to understand the motivations and challenges unique to each new hire. Use that knowledge gained to tailor learning paths to support the motivations and challenges of each new sales rep to ensure they feel supported and heard.
“I really try and just sit down and talk to everyone who joins us and try to understand who they are and really being open about the challenges that we face as a sales team, as sales enablement, and as an organization, so that they know what they’re getting into and also how they can influence it,” said Marie-Louise Dalsgaard, head of sales enablement at Pleo.
If the enablement team influences or runs onboarding, it is a prime opportunity to imbue culture throughout the entire onboarding process.
In addition to tailored learning paths, consider including self-service onboarding, so salespeople can move at a pace they are comfortable with. This method allows more seasoned reps to accelerate through things they may already know, while encouraging junior reps to spend more time really retaining the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful.
“We have lowered the learning bar as much as possible (and we’re continuing to try and do that) so that [reps] can become part of the culture and part of helping the overall organism perform faster and better, and have an experience where there’s less friction in that,” said Mantey. “They feel part of a team, they can find individual success, and contribute to the greater success of the organization.”
Another technique to leverage is simulations or role-playing in a low-stakes, fail-safe manner. By creating an environment that encourages reps to practice new things, get constructive feedback, and help each other improve, sales enablement can foster humility and build confidence.
“What sales enablement can do is we can be an environment where you’re not under performance pressure,” said Dalsgaard. “That creates a very good foundation for an open conversation with these people who’ve just joined our company.”
Ongoing training and support
As reps are ramping, work to create a strong open-door policy for revenue-facing teams that can be maintained after onboarding.
“The way we try and foster that openness is to really expect them to give us feedback, really expect them to tell us things that we might not know, expect them to sort of open up and share while we’re in different onboarding sessions,” said Dalsgaard. “That should lead to them going out as they’re onboarded and they’re continuing into their ramping stage, that they will do that as well on the sales floor.”
Additionally, partner with sales managers to bring teams together as much as possible. Connect people that may not normally work together, looking cross-functionally across the revenue-facing organization or across various territories, product-line teams, or other customer segments. This kind of connection helps improve the sharing of best practices, communication, and collaboration across the organization.
On top of one-to-one connections, ensure regular sharing of company updates across the entire revenue-facing team. With increased visibility and communication at this level, it helps keep people at all levels aligned to the shared goals of the organization, and gives people more insight into how their work impacts those goals.
“Whether you’re at a 15-person startup and everyone is a shareholder, or whether you’re at a 15,000-person company, I think it’s really important for people to just have transparency and visibility into what’s going on at the company so that they feel bought-in, they feel like they’re a stakeholder in some capacity and they actually are contributing and making an impact,” said Hillary Anderson, sales enablement global lead for, mid-market and SMB at Slack.
Retention tends to be the ultimate indicator of a strong organizational culture. Sales enablement teams can work with sales managers and HR to build competency maps and growth plans for each revenue-facing role to create clear paths for ongoing development.
Additionally, practitioners can create programs that leverage top salespeople to mentor and encourage people lower on the leaderboard. This will foster a spirit of friendly competition between salespeople instead of cutthroat rivalry.
“By creating a sales culture where rather than putting people down that aren’t at the top of the board, having those people that are top of the board working with those people that are at the bottom of the board to get them that much closer to being a top contributor, is where I’ve seen organizations be most successful,” said Anderson. “A competitive spirit is really important.”
At the same time, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between positive and negative retention. While practitioners should strive to create an environment where reps feel supported and empowered by the work they do, employee satisfaction is a two-way street. Practitioners also need to pay close attention to competencies and attitudes to ensure reps reflect the culture and values of the organization.
“There’s this alignment on values and group norms of how we behave and treat each other and how we serve customers that if you, through your own behavior, show that you’re not actually aligned with that, then you get invited to step off the bus pretty quickly, and that’s part of a healthy culture,” said Mantey.
To evaluate how the enablement team is influencing culture, ask some of the following questions:
- Does the HR team have a map of core competencies for each revenue-facing role and have I taken time to ensure they are aligned?
- How has each new person acted during onboarding? Have they participated? Have they showcased core competencies?
- Do reps often come to me or my team with questions they may not feel comfortable asking their manager?
- Do top reps proactively look for opportunities to mentor people lower on the leaderboard?
- Are the right people in the right roles? If not, is action being taken to address?
After all of this work, it’s important to demonstrate how sales enablement has influenced culture. One can quantify culture by measuring KPIs that correlate to sales proficiency, productivity, performance, and retention. Some key KPIs sales enablement experts use include:
- Ramp time engagement
- Time to rep driving value in a deal
- Time to quota
- Average turnover rate
- Average time to hire
- Seller satisfaction and morale
- Average tenure with the company
- Percentage of job offers accepted
- Percentage of hires from various sources
- Average cost to replace a salesperson
- Percentage of sales management time spent recruiting
If the data needed to gather these metrics is not already available, work cross-functionally with human resources, recruiting, sales leadership, and finance teams to identify where the data exists within the organization. It is also important to pair both quantitative results from surveys and assessments with qualitative feedback.
When you’re ready to tell the story of how sales enablement has influenced culture with revenue-facing teams, ask these questions:
- Have satisfaction, retention, and performance among the revenue-facing teams improved as a result of enablement efforts?
- How can enablement efforts be correlated with improved satisfaction, retention, and performance?
- What characteristics or attributes have contributed to each individual’s performance?
- What enablement assets or initiatives contributed to each individual’s success?
- What additional resources or factors might have influenced this metric?
Sales enablement can significantly impact culture at every stage of a salesperson’s journey with an organization from hiring through retention. A strong sales enablement function can influence any organization’s culture in a positive way by building alignment on the values of how employees behave, treat one another, and ultimately serve their customers.
Download our Culture Assessment Checklist to evaluate how well your sales enablement team influences culture.