Enablement: ‘Business as Usual’ Is What’s Needed – Sales Enablement Soirée, Spring 2020

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Welcome to today’s session. I’m excited to have Imogen McCourt join us today from & She comes from a long history of sales enablement and has seen it from its very start at Forrester Research. Imogen, with that, I’d love to hand it off to you. 

Imogen McCourt: Hello everyone, and thank you for listening to this presentation today.

My name is Imogen McCourt. I was one of the original co-founders of the Sales Enablement Society in the UK and have been a sales enablement and ops practitioner for 15 years. I recently jointly founded &, a consultancy that focuses on helping our clients with the business of sales. I should start by thanking Sales Enablement PRO and their sponsors, for going ahead with this event virtually and also giving me the options to talk to you all.

I was asked to put together a few thoughts and reflections from working with commercial teams as they navigate uncertainty and recessions that followed other globally impacting events. And I’m delighted to have the opportunity to do so and hope that there are a few things that will resonate with you on your own experiences and may even stimulate some new thinking and ideas.

Like you all listening, I’m recording this from lockdown. For me, that is with three young children needing to be homeschooled and possibly gonna break in at any moment, and one of whom is classified as very vulnerable. The context that this current pandemic has created as unsettling, emotive, and also strangely uniting.

Most of us have never worked so hard and in such uncertain environments. We can come through this time with new skills, and I don’t just mean ukulele playing, sourdough baking, and an opportunity to redesign what normal working practices look like. But as I’m sure you will instinctively know uncertainty is the enemy of productivity here.

These couldn’t be more uncertain times. It’s hard to motivate and focus on the right things and the market dynamics and moving and shifting the environment so often and so quickly, and sales enablement can finally get the opportunity to live up to our capability and our skills and be the group to ensure that we are measuring the impact, not the activity that’s going on, to get the right focus with our working when working with our commercial and business leaders.

So I started with saying that sales enablement’s business as usual was the most important thing to think about right now. I think that’s quite an interesting statement when it’s very difficult, difficult for any of us, even in sales enablement to agree what business as usual is. it depends on so many things, of course, where you came from, your background, your industry, the company specific environment that you work in.

I always love to hear what other people think it is or how we would define it. I think we can all agree that we know we’re doing a good job when we’re able to provide an environment that is simplified for our sales organization and provides a consistent framework for delivering profitable growth and provides the right focus, and that’s on the client conversation, the client world.

I’m going to look at why that is more important than ever and offer up some ideas and then some tactical tools to support that. So in the next 20 minutes or so, I’m going to start with a quick trip down memory lane. Talk briefly about the things that I remember or can reflect on from other times of complex market impact and the subsequent recessions from there. 

Then we’re going to look a bit more to our current environment, and I know we’re all doing that all the time, and think about how you can really push the sales enablement agenda and today’s fluid. A business construct. And finally, I’m going to show you some really simple tools and tactics. These will either serve as a reminder to you or things you’re using already or doing already, but I hope that they might also add to your toolkit and help you focus your time and deliver on the growth opportunity right now.

So let’s start with those reflections from the past, from previous recession times. If you could cast your mind back 20 years ago, it’s the start of the new millennium, times when really good PR and marketing teams were spending millions on parties and launches and free swag and certainly to be in the new media and technology well, back in that time it was really good fun. 

Entrepreneurs were launching startups, making millions, and then doing it all over again months later. The sales teams I worked with had bluebird calls every day and huge expense accounts. Y2K hadn’t manifested in the way we’d all worried about and the technology still worked.

Mind you, that technology wasn’t exactly top end. These were the sorts of things that we were carrying around in our pockets. [Picture of a variety of mobile phones from the early 2000s.] I had a Blackberry and that really did seem like the height of business technology for me. And I knew many people who were actually still refusing to carry a mobile phone at all. They didn’t consider it appropriate to be in contact constantly.

And then the dot com bubble burst. I’m probably the company poster child for this moment in time was They haven’t accounted for shipping costs in their pricing model. They’d sold their goods at a fraction of the actual cost and they threw around marketing budgets that were twice as big as their turnover. was another interesting example. They looked for first mover advantage in 18 countries as they launched across Europe. It was supposed to be a sportswear destination site for young and trendy people in their mid-twenties. They raised $125 million in 18 months and were named one of Europe’s coolest companies, and that was before they’d even sold a single thing.

They IPO’d March at $14 and they closed in November 2000 at 22 cents. And these stories abounded at the time. The selling and working environment changed almost overnight. Colleagues disappeared. Clients and prospects disappeared as they went out of business or were made redundant. In fact, the company I was working for went through five rounds of redundancies between the end of 2000 and the end of 2002.

We just started to feel like we’ve weathered all of that, perhaps we were starting to build again when the financial crash occurred. Negative equity became the topic of every dinner party and, what’s more, dodgy business behaviors or dodgy business models were under scrutiny and of course had not survived.

Both of these events caused huge stock market crashes and recessions that took a long time for companies to work through. Whether you were selling or supporting sales teams through these recessions or not, what happened at these companies across the board will sound very familiar. The competitive landscape was reshaping constantly.

Clients and prospects were there one day and gone the next. All of the buying behaviors of companies with huge budgets who were beating their numbers every month ended. Marketing had to completely pivot its approach to finding and nurturing businesses and any operational gaps or leadership issues were extremely exposed.

And everyone got busy trying to drive sales and selling success. Whether it was in developing new products, or new positioning, or new playbooks, whether it was building out ROI tools to prove that you were the one thing that was essential for budget to be spent on in the next budget cycle. I was at Forrester Research in 2008, and the research team there was focusing on building out a sales enablement group that could help harness the random acts of sales enablement. The term that we all are very familiar with nowadays, that was occurring all over companies. Companies that were just trying to support their sales organization without putting, they needed to sell: the new products, the new bundles, the new solutions that were being developed, and they were trying to find traction with client problems or define at client problems that we could deliver against.

So what did we learn? You probably know this already, but it’s worth a moment to reflect on what you may already be seeing or what you will be seeing in complex, uncertain times. It’s very easy for bad habits to multiply. People got really busy really quickly to look productive. And as leadership teams focusing on delivering tangible, observable differences that really works for them. Busy salespeople on things that are very visible, especially if they’re in the office, and if they’re not in the office, those extra phone calls and those extra opportunities being created, something that will look great on a report.

In good times, decisions about budget spend were easier to be made, less people involved, more dispersed decisions. This centralized very quickly, became really granular with lengthy decision making criteria, and ultimate sign off at the C suite; and add longer sales cycles to that as well. This is one of the other things that started to drive all of the focus and attention of frontline sales managers and salespeople on what was coming in on the end of that pipeline.

It was all about getting opportunities, but in the final stages, across the line, whether this had slipped once or twice already, because those deals had a hallmark of all of the activities, all of the boxes being ticked, that the rep done everything that they were supposed to pick up to, to be done. Those were the deals, and that was where the attention was spent. 

Even if these deals ended up in huge discounts or far more executive attention than they really merited; every deal was precious and that was what the focus was on. 

Some good things came out of these events as well of course. These two global events were the resetting of hugely inflated, very specific sectors that basically needed to be reset. There were bad business models. On sales needs, but really gone to get traction on the back of the financial crisis. So good companies, doing the right thing ,came through and rebuilt. Sales enablement really, for me, started to emerge in about 2008-2009 as a distinct strategy and discipline, on the back of the financial crisis. 

And clients were really keen to build productive, broad, and deep relationships with their existing partners and suppliers because it was so much easier to get that extra spend over the line, and actually active, and deliver the ROI that you were buying. Rather than trying to persuade finance to let you work with a brand new partner, particularly one with a trendy name or a mainly online presence.

Actually, I blame the financial recession for keeping those slides alive, the ‘who we are and what we do slides’ for far longer than they truly deserved. Because we all had to prove that our company was going to be around to deliver on the products and services that we’d just sold to somebody.

One other thing, slightly more personal perhaps, but we completely rethought how we looked at people’s experiences and CVs. Prior to the dot com bubble burst, it was all about having at least five years tenure at a company. And I’ve been worked up through the ranks and we all believed in jobs for life.

But there’s a real shift. We started to look at CVs with business failures, or dot com business failures, is something that meant that you were a risk taker. That you were open to try new things, and you were prepared to work really, really hard. So why is any of this of interest to you? Well, if HBR is to be believed, and I tend to believe them, between a quarter and half of salespeople in the US today never sold in an economic downturn. And if that’s true in the US, I’m sure it’s true in many other huge countries all around the world. 

And yes, we are going to get into that recession. Markets have recovered somewhat since March the 12th, but we know we’re going to walk straight out of lockdown into this very complex environment. 

So I think we started to sow some scenes of the things that have come out of the previous two recessions and some of the complexity of the working environment that you might find yourself or your commercial teams working in. Let’s focus on some of the influencing things that are happening right now and how we can elevate and manage the sales enablement impact through these times.

 We aren’t in a market reset or a regionally specific event. We have one third of the global population in lockdown right now and working out what their new business as usual might look like. It’s changed almost overnight and with very little contingency in place. 

This is an example, and there are many of these around, of a communication and commitment curve that I used with a fantastic change management consultancy that I was actually working with on a global transformation program a few years ago on the back of another recession. Not only is everything changed, but we’re all waiting for it to change back. So in not totally looking to completely commit or accept our current working environments, we do expect at some point to be invited to return to our offices and to come back out of this locked down environment.

And that’s even more distracting. The feeling like this change isn’t permanent. It means we’ve got this emotional attachment to where we are right now. But we can’t quite let go of our old tools and approaches and decks because we might need them again because there is old new business as usual coming back to us.

What’s happening right now is affecting everyone differently and their working environment, but it is unifying us through that remote work change. This is a piece of research that TrustRadius did, at the end of March and again, at the beginning of April. Only 5% of people say that there has been no impact on their working life from the COVID-19 environment.

As you can see, people are saying 41% are newly home working, 34% are trying to balance their work life with childcare and familial burdens. And that in itself is an increasingly emotive and emotional environment to have that as a background. We’re still, the dust clearly hasn’t settled just yet on where we are now.

This is from the same piece of research and it seemed that there isn’t even an absolute visibility at the top of organizations on how this is going to affect us or how much this is going to affect us. So on March the 18th, 19% of C-suite executives said they’d be cutting software spend. On April the 9th that was 47%. 

We have a real opportunity now for productive time use.

But we’re very quickly moving into that, be busy, be as busy and active as possible to look like you’re being productive. So those times saved from not commuting to the office or not traveling to our clients and prospects is being eaten away rapidly. 33% more mandated meetings than before we went into lockdown, or before the pandemic was declared. (This is the result of a global study done by Second Research for NewsCred in early April.)  It also uncovered that 42% of marketing departments are saying they don’t have enough people to create all the new content and deliver the pivot that they’re being asked to undertake.

As we saw on that previous slide from TrustRadar, 33% of us feel under more pressure to be more productive. And this is in the background context, which we already knew from the CSO Insights study, 47% of sales managers spend less than 30 minutes a week coaching. Right now, coaching is your key moment and your key skill set to empower your sales reps and get them to own the next best thing to do when you can’t be there right by their side supporting them in that or making it happen with them. 

Sales enablement really has an opportunity here to focus, with the C-suite, on making sure that the commercial support directives that they produce are the right ones. Back in 2008, as I said, Forrester Research was writing a lot about sales enablement, and this is one of the things they saw happening and reported on from that.

Then after the financial crisis, there was such pressure on budgets and on finance that the CEO said, “Right, this is my problem now. I want to see more productivity out of our sales organization. I want more for my cost of sales.” The CFO, of course, says, “Right, Absolutely. And not only that, but listen, we’ve got to lower our cost of sales.”

Everybody wants to be involved in that. The portfolio teams, marketing, HR, sales, they all had great ideas and they all wanted to do it for the right reasons. Sales enablement and operations must focus that desire and that good intent to make sure that they support this commercial organization properly. If your world is complicated internally, then your buying world is complicated internally too.

And finally too, I promise is the last thing I will quote from a Forester in 2008, but it rings so true today, and I do reference it all the time in decks with clients. If your world is complicated, their world is complicated too, and this can create huge inefficiencies when you’re trying to have a conversation with them about all of the new products, the new messaging, the new positioning that you’ve been provided with. When actually, what you need to be doing is mining every single one of these interactions to try and find out what their new buying load looks like, the new decision criteria, the new people making those final decisions.

And fundamentally, what are the things that they’re worried about, beyond the ability of their own company to survive? So what have we learned? We’ve learned that sales leaders and sales leadership teams are likely to over control and get obsessed with actions because that’s what the CEO and the CFO were looking at. How much you’re doing with what you’ve got. 

They will focus on activity levels and they will report and inspect those activity levels and they will report and inspect anything they can think of. So that reporting itself becomes an activity that they can prove how much they’re doing to look at. And they will have a “get it booked” pipeline focus on the very place where that business is already coming in or needs to be restarted because the world that they had originally worked through doesn’t exist anymore.

Sales enablement and operations leaders will establish a feedback loop to change that focus. It’s your responsibility to be the client advocate and to make sure you’re constantly thinking about what the buyer is doing. So you’re thinking about the outcomes of what these activities and these actions are able to achieve. And that’s your feedback loop to make sure we were focusing in the right direction. 

Find the tools and actions that deliver conversions along the sales process. Stage-to-stage this is powerful. Track those new buying cycle leading indicators. Create some sort of centralized repository for information and make sure it’s coded up well. So it’s not just that a deal was lost because of COVID issues. But the what and why behind that. Was a different competitor undercutting you? Were you’re not well positioned with the right people? Were you not able to get in front of the decision makers? And refocus and mine the beginning of the pipeline. If this is a renewal conversation, then your clients are likely to want to look for more from you if they possibly can, and make sure that you’re having the right conversations, throughout your sales organizations are having those right conversations.

I appreciate this isn’t rocket science, but sometimes in the noise and the business of what’s going on right now, these fundamentals can get forgotten and it’s very important to keep them in mind all the time, and keeping in mind with your sales leadership team, but also across your revenue engine and across your organization generally.

If it hasn’t already, it’s going to get very noisy for your sales people. And you’re gonna have a lot of people very busy and very passionate about helping drive the commercial organization, their commercial success. So what are some of the tools and tactics that you can use to make sure that we’re amplifying what is working, not just multiplying the number of things that comes at your sales organization?

We don’t know what the future holds, but even in a time of recession and uncertainty, it’s okay to believe in profitable growth. I’m going to give you a couple of tools that may seem somewhat old school, but that’s fitting for this presentation. I go back to them time and time again because they work.

This time you have a much better technology-enabled selling environment. Much better understanding of how powerful the buy cycle is in designing fantastic sales processes. This is a better, established place to be in sales enablement and to support your commercial teams. 

So let’s start with the 2B2, a prioritization framework. It’s the consultant’s favorite. It’s not just about rolling out a fairly simple 2B2 framework though. It’s about having conversations with all of the people and the leaders that you’re interacting with to agree to decision making criteria, with those leaders. If the equation is time equals resource equals quality, that’s all you’ve got.

And unless they can provide loads of resources for you, you’re going to have to think agile and iterative as you build this out. Actually right now, that’s great. That’s exactly what companies need. And as we come out of the lock down and start to come into the new world as normal, you can think about what you want to keep doing and what you want to retire.

Using these prioritization frameworks, talk to people about what is already working and surface and amplify that when we start to think about the frameworks I’ll introduce in a minute. Sales enablement should own the route to rep. You won’t be able to stop people coming up with fantastic ideas and working out how to enable and empower and support your sales organization.

But if you can own the last mile and make sure your sales managers have the right coaching tools and that all of the tools are framed for that client conversation, you can enormously cut through the noise and you can really support people. And ultimately you need to be, in sales enablement, the outside-in advocate, it’s very difficult to challenge somebody to tell them that their beautiful deck or their fantastic webinar isn’t necessarily what people need right now to accelerate the sales process.

But if it doesn’t fly with the buyers, if clients don’t advance along or if an opportunity doesn’t advance along, having seen the webinar or interacted with something. Then that’s an easier conversation to have that feedback with them. The final thing I would say when you’re looking at the prioritization framework is always ask the question “in order to”, in order to do what?

That gives you a level playing field to talk to anybody across any parts of the organization. Because if they’ve got a really fantastic idea about something that’s going to support selling or be great for the clients, or gain traction in the market, so you still have traction there must be able to answer in order to do what? In order to solve what problem, in order to drive what resource, in order to reduce what spend? 

So I’m going to assume that I’m talking to you all and you are sitting very happily in your companies that have simple and slick technology stacks, great data, and great data mining. That your sales managers coach in the moment and regularly, and they understand what to do with reporting and they understand the insights that they can build from those. If there’s a gap, and I’m sure there are gaps in the pipeline, they know how to fill them and what resources to leverage. 

I hope you have that fantastic sales enablement environment and commercial environment. And that you can uncover the content that’s required. Of course, many of the sponsors today to this event are able to help you with those things. 

If any of you aren’t able to leverage all of those different elements, the great tech, the embedded sales process, and so on, or can’t get the investment for them this month or get that on to the attention of the C-suite really quickly, you need something that’s going to help you drive consistency into your pipeline review meetings and into those conversations with your disperse selling teams. And this framework is exactly that thing. 

Think about your sales managers as your agents for change. They should be having at least one pipeline review meeting with their salespeople every week. Where they look at the forecast and they look at how robust that is and what people need to do to ensure that those deals are coming in.

That’s your inspection and feedback loop, and that’s what you can start to drive content and messaging in a framed manner into. This is a very pared back, simplified example. Along the top, you have your sales process stages. There’s four here. There could be six. You probably don’t want more than six or seven and then you should work with your sales teams to build this out.

This sort of framework is a fantastic Trojan horse for us to mature our sales organizations and mature our sales process. First of all, think about having an audit of all of the marketing and product information and tagging that each stage of your sales process. Is it something to help your buyer? Are they just thinking about the problem and trying to frame it up for themselves? Or is it something that they can use at the other end of the sales process when they absolutely know that they want to work with you and your solution is the one that they need, but they need to amplify that internally at their own organization and get those decisions done? Tie content and messaging to the different stages of your sales process and therefore the buyer’s journey. 

Your sales ops team, I’m sure already people you work with on a daily and weekly basis. They can help create, if it’s not already there, the reports that show conversion rates down the sales process, they’re showing whether something is being accelerated from stage one to two or slowed down by the requirement to demo something or the requirement to talk with a particular person.

They can help look at these improved stage-by-stage conversion rates. Then you work with your sales managers and teams to take your generic framework and build out a skeleton framework, and then they own it going forward. They customize it to their own environment. They track the leading indicators they are having, among the conversations they’re having, and they keep that as a shared discussion document to make sure that they’re always working with the things that work and are quickly able to feed back the things that aren’t.

You, and your sales enablement team, have the opportunity to create and amplify what’s working. To gather the changed, updated, almost definitely improved frameworks that you’ve sent out there as a skeleton and make sure that anything that is working with one group, and would work with another group, is being shared.

It’s your responsibility to create and amplify what’s working and to use the feedback mechanism of the conversion rates to ensure that, even if somebody feels emotionally attached to something, (and we all know that people get very emotionally attached to decks that have worked in the past, or tools that have worked in the past) that you have a narrative to have a conversation with them.

Here’s the framework, a little bit more built out. Again, sales process stages across the top and down the left hand side some very obvious things (that would just serve as an aide memoire to your reps and your teams), but also some of the other areas that you can actually genuinely support your sales managers and your sales team.

Of course, everybody should know what the key activities that are expected of the sales person to move everybody along the stage. And some of those would be mandated and required or regulatory even. But some of them will just be great best practices. Do you use a demo late? Not give away too much free information too early or to make sure that you’re speaking to particular roles.

And when I talk about buyer roles in this, I don’t just mean the CFO or the CEO or the users, although that is one of them. Of course, we start to think about those people we think about all the time, the champions, the influences, the budget holders. All of those need to be understood and captured so that you have more than one person that you’re working with just in case they get furloughed or unfortunately they have to be made redundant through the recession.

Your teams will know what the buyer gates or the buyer momentums are, or if they don’t, this is absolutely the moment to make sure that you can track them and manage them. They won’t necessarily just be one, but there’ll be one key one which gives you the confidence to move your process along to the next stage, and that also helps you create consistency in your forecast, which is something that your sales organization will be getting a huge pressure to drive through.

You can provide coaching questions. You can call out key risks, key competitors. This is not the best way to do it. This is one way to do it. And we build these all the time with our clients to think about what those different elements might be and when we have lots of time, we do fantastic workshops. We extrapolate the information. 

When you don’t have a lot of time, do short, simple, training and tools and then trust your organization, your managers, to use them and come to some of those meetings and work with them to see what is working. Most importantly, if it’s not working, retire it. Make sure that if a tool is not working, it’s no longer on this framework.

One of the things I’ve put into here as well is the subject matter experts. Now I’ve worked in medium sized enterprises for most of my career, and it’s genuinely okay and possible to be able to know, well, 30 to 50% of people in those organizations. That may be because since I was in sales enablement I was always running around from department to department, working with everybody. 

Your sellers may be able to name three or four people in marketing. He wanted the leadership team and they definitely won’t know what they’re focused on or what they should turn to them for support with. Having the ability to name some subject matter experts or who to elevate, who could help salespeople at different places in the stage sales process or the buying cycle, is a really powerful part of this as well.

So I was going to leave you with one last thing. It would be this fantastic book by Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto. It’s checklists that help Sully land his plane on the Hudson. And it’s checklists to this day that are helping surgeons and doctors across healthcare systems minimize deaths in ICU.

A great checklist isn’t dictatorial, lengthy, and confusing. It is simple. It’s positive. And it’s empowering. It allows your experts, your pilots, or your surgeons, your salespeople, your frontline sales managers, your marketeers, to focus their skills and expertise and deliver fantastic results. Even if they’ve never been in a particular scenario before or in a particular conversation before, they know what to tend to or how to tend to it. Apart from anything else, this is a great read. It’s not long, and it’s a real revelation about how you can reestablish trust and decentralized control, that control that we know as being wrestled centrally and higher up than other organizations. Right now, we need to empower our salespeople to make their decisions in the moment with their clients and prospects and get the business done.

So if you’re not busy reading up on how to brew the perfect craft beer or how to make sourdough in your limited spare time, I highly recommend it. And I can’t thank you enough listening today and sticking with me through this presentation. This is a complex, personal, and emotive time, and it’s an incredible time to be in sales enablement.

Good luck. Remember, uncertainty is the enemy of productivity in your sales organization and your team. Measure impact over activity, impact on your clients and your prospects. I know that we’ve got Q&A now. I look forward to hearing your questions, either live now or of course, follow up with me on LinkedIn if you’d like to.

I will leave you with one final checklist that you can take to use if you want to yourself. It’s one we built very recently for our clients. And thank you very much indeed. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: Thank you so much for that presentation. With that, to our audience, we’d like to open it up for Q and A. Please type any questions you have in the chat panel below and we’ll be sure to address those.

Again. Thank you for joining us today.

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