My Sales Enablement Journey – Moving the Function to Sales

Welcome back! Let’s continue with the third part of the series on my sales enablement journey. I have already written about my early enablement days and the next steps from program to function.

Today’s post is about the next set of challenges: how to create a story and a case to move sales enablement in the sales organization as a strategic function.

There is a lot to be said on this topic, but I will try to confine this blog post to lessons learned. And I will add some contextual color to it.

Lesson #1: Don’t overwhelm your current sponsor and their area of responsibility.

We could also call this lesson, “Don’t pitch the right story to the wrong stakeholder.” This is what I learned the hard way. As I shared in the second part of this series, I led an enablement function within portfolio management. Not a typical scenario, but given the enablement focus on content and technology at this time and the relevance of the portfolio organization compared to marketing, it made sense. I realized in this phase that all we could accomplish was to improve sales productivity by reducing search time and increasing available selling time.

We basically provided prerequisites for better sales results to happen. However, we were far away from really impacting the pipeline and sales performance KPIs. As often in sales enablement, a lot of foundational work has to be done to even be able to get to those fields of action where performance KPIs can be improved.

For example, we transformed the content domain from “random” to “managed and structured.” In addition, the exact same problem existed in the various areas of sales training, a CRM implementation was going on, the sales process team was about to update the sales process, and there was no solid foundation of selling skills and methodologies. We had a little bit of everything.

Now, I created, together with my mentor Ashiq and with Scott, a story that explained why, what, when and how: why we would need to set up enablement differently – more strategically – to orchestrate all these broken elements of sales support to create significant business impact along the customer’s journey. It was an excellent story, but my sponsor was not interested. His area of responsibility was portfolio management, and that was the only lens he used to look at sales enablement. That was a very hard lesson for me, and I’m sure Scott will always remember the long email I sent him after this meeting with all the circumstances that made it a big failure.

My sponsor didn’t want to begin a big debate with his peers from sales and marketing. He didn’t want to make sales enablement his story outside (!) of portfolio management. Inside his organization, sales enablement was already a big story, indeed. Apparently, our approach was too risky for him, and he didn’t even see the need because, for him, everything beyond portfolio management was a sales issue. Strong statement. However, it guided me to where I needed to go.

Lesson #2: You need a business case that impacts your sponsors’ relevant KPIs.

I needed some time to digest the rejection, and tried to stay focused on what I could do in the current function. In parallel, I worked with Scott on an even better story to evolve sales enablement to a more strategic level, ideally in the sales organization. Therefore, we developed an ideal future vision of success that was connected to the KPIs that mattered most to the relevant senior executives in sales, marketing and portfolio management. Then, we assessed all the different areas of sales enablement in the organization, analyzed the current state, and described what should be done to achieve the desired results and future success. I talked to many different people in the organization to be prepared as well as I could. The development of this took a lot of time, and the creation of an executive summary even longer, but it was absolutely worth it!

Lesson #3: If the universe conspires and makes things happen for you, then JUMP!

In my experience, the universe conspires all the time to help you as soon as your intentions are crystal clear and the purpose is pure and in line with a greater good. And then it’s usually a matter of trusting in what I’d call right timing. And this timing is often not what we have “planned.”

The universe conspired here as well! A few months later, we got a new SVP of global sales operations, brought in by the new sales leader who was already a big fan of our enablement work. I had a meeting with him, and things just fell into place. He was impressed by our focus, expertise, vision, and all the fields of action that were already displayed on a roadmap. He wanted this in his organization.

In parallel, one of his VPs left the organization and as I worked with him in the past, he knew my enablement vision and recommended me for his role. It couldn’t get any better! So, long story short, the department was renamed as sales enablement, the scope was based on the case we developed (and I got more things on my plate as you will see in part 4!) and the transfer happened in just a few weeks.

Lesson #4: Follow your passion and take a career risk and turn it into an opportunity.

Two years after I had left my VP title behind and jumped into sales enablement, I was back in sales, with sales enablement, and again on a VP level. Two years earlier, my peers had advised me not to take the risk. But I only thought about what I could experience, learn, and gain! Sometimes it’s worth it to let go of something, to gain something that’s even more precious. And following your passion is way more important than sticking to the current state, your current title or position.

Stay tuned for part 4, and learn what I experienced next: aligning content and training services, implementing a new account management approach, and implementing a sales manager enablement program.

Check out our sales enablement book! The areas that I have addressed here are covered in the chapters on the sales enablement definition, the customer’s path, and mainly sales enablement charter.

Questions for you:

  • Did you develop a business case for sales enablement to get a function established?
  • Do you have a sales enablement vision? If so, how did you break it down to actionable chunks? 
  • How did you manage to get to a holistic value messaging approach?


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