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Highspot Hot Shots: Ben Cotton, Sales Enablement Leader at HubSpot

Posted in:  Sales Enablement Strategy

When sales enablement is evolving and growing as fast as it is, it’s helpful to hear how others approach it, and where sales enablement is going next. Today we begin a new blog series highlighting the expertise of “hot shots” of the sales enablement world. We asked questions of Ben Cotton, a thought leader who leads EMEA sales enablement for HubSpot out of Dublin, Ireland. He works at the intersection of sales and marketing and uses deal support, content, data and education to help HubSpot’s sales organisation succeed. Ben is passionate about building sales and marketing alignment, as well as helping businesses create predictable recurring revenue.

1. What are your key performance indicators for sales enablement—how do you determine success?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the right sales enablement metrics and KPIs for software as a service (SaaS) companies. While there’s a plethora of data and metrics available to track, in my mind there’s only one thing that really matters—and that’s revenue.

In my role at HubSpot, I track the following KPIs:

  1. Monthly quota attainment
  2. Influenced annual recurring revenue (ARR) from deal support
  3. Monthly net promoter score (NPS)

Monthly quota attainment

I share the monthly quota attainment goal with the HubSpot EMEA sales leadership. Sharing this goal has proven to be highly effective—all our decisions are made through this lens, and importantly, it’s driving genuine alignment between sales and sales enablement. The way I think about it, if the sales organisation is succeeding, then I should be happy, but if it’s failing, I should feel and share this pain. The quickest and best way to foster this sense of empathy and alignment is by sharing goals.

Influenced ARR from deal support

I also carry an influenced revenue goal. While it can be tough to precisely attribute sales enablement impact on quota attainment, by carrying an influenced revenue goal, I commit each month to supporting sales reps hit a certain level of revenue.

At HubSpot, each day I provide deal support, an on-demand service available to sales reps. Deal support is best thought of as a high-touch, high-value activity that influences a relatively low number of deals. It has proven to be a valuable tool for sales reps to leverage when needed; however, it’s not right for every deal.

Deal support is a service that is made up of the following activities:

  • Customer reference calls
  • Competitive intelligence consultation
  • Deal strategy session

In 2017, we doubled down on deal support and influenced $1.6M in ARR in EMEA—we’re excited about the potential of this service and how we can grow the number in the year ahead.

Tying sales enablement activity to revenue is absolutely crucial and to me, separates the tactical, mediocre functions from the strategic, high-performing ones. Quite simply, if you don’t own and commit to a revenue goal, you won’t be a driver of growth.

Monthly NPS

I also conduct a monthly NPS (net promoter score) survey. I do this as I consider myself the consultant and sales reps my clients—so I’m keen to understand each month how they feel I did, and understand what’s happening on the sales floor. The NPS is a fantastic opportunity for the sales organisation to provide suggestions or feedback. The quantitative and qualitative data is extremely valuable and the monthly cadence means we have a tight feedback loop to address any emerging issues or challenges.

2. What three trends do you see today in sales enablement processes and technology?

It’s a truly exciting time to be a sales enablement professional, and while it feels like we’re only just getting started, today, three trends stand out:

Increased calls for standardised best practices and measurement

On a practical level, there’s an acute need for standardised sales enablement best practices and measurement. While many of the sales enablement technology vendors have played an important role shaping this discussion, it’s time for practitioners and the Sales Enablement Society to lead it.

Why does having standardised definitions and metrics matter so much? Understanding what good looks like is important—there’s no point having the best tools and technology if you’re following bad practice or not tracking the right metrics.

More intelligent sales enablement

Automation is, and will remain, an important part of sales enablement; however, it’s going to get a lot smarter. Indeed, the move towards manual and repetitive sales tasks being automated will only accelerate. However, and I’m keen to stress this, there will always be a need for humans in higher value, consultative, challenger selling. The real opportunity, and sales reps should be pleased about this, is to automate or eliminate the lower value activities that don’t have to be completed by a human.

Looking further ahead, I’m excited about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) within sales enablement. While, it’s almost a cliche to mention these in-vogue technologies, all modern sales organisations will have a treasure trove of data ready to be mined, which can be used to inform sales operations and strategy.

Move towards a sales enablement stack

From a sales enablement technology and tools perspective, it’s still early days, but there are some promising signals with VC funding flooding into the category (which is expected to be a $5B industry by 2021).

What I currently see a lot of is companies stitching together a sales enablement stack, made up of disparate tools. There are lots of vendors that are great at different pieces of the sales enablement puzzle. For instance, we have category leaders when it comes to managing sales collateral, increasing sales rep productivity and online training, but there’s no clear, all-in-one software. This is inefficient, and I expect to see increased demand for an all-in-one sales enablement product.

3. What advice do you have for someone who is looking to modernise/enhance sales enablement processes in their organisation?

I get asked this question frequently, and while each business and context is different, I believe there’s five steps that can be applied to all sales enablement teams looking to modernise and improve, they are:

  1. Evaluate your current level of sales enablement maturity
  2. Define your sales enablement offering to the business
  3. Focus on the one thing (revenue)
  4. Share the same goal as the sales organisation
  5. Understand that you’re in the business of influence

Evaluate your current level of sales enablement maturity

The first step every sales enablement team should undertake is to understand their level of sales enablement maturity. I speak with dozens of sales enablement professionals each year and their teams can always be categorised as being in one of the following stages: set up, tactical, reset, strategic and best-in-class. By truly understanding your level of maturity you can understand where you are today, but more importantly where you want to be tomorrow.

Focus on the one thing (revenue)

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a firm believer that sales enablement must influence revenue. This is the one metric that matters most, and if you use it to guide your decision-making process, you will build a solid foundation for success. I passionately dislike vanity or activity metrics—while they can look impressive in isolation, if they’re not helping to improve revenue, they’re not doing anything for the business. We need to be honest with ourselves.

Share the same goal as the sales organisation

A small change I made at HubSpot which has had a big impact is sharing a goal with the sales organisation. This move has created true alignment, enabled me to focus on what’s most important (revenue) and make better decisions. By design, this shared goal forces me to be empathetic, while empowering me to say “no”—if an initiative is not going to increase revenue, I’m not going to support it.

Define your sales enablement offering and communicate it to the business

As sales enablement is such a broad area, it’s often poorly defined and subsequently, misunderstood. This can lead to people not understanding the role, its goals and what it does. I’ve found that by clearly explaining your sales enablement offering and communicating it to the business you can meet many of these challenges head on. Of equal importance is deciding on what work you won’t do. This is essential and helps further clarify the role of sales enablement and how it can support sales reps.

Understand that you’re in the business of influence

The success and failure of a sales enablement function is intertwined with its ability to influence a sales organisation and change behaviour. Put simply, sales enablement is in the business of influence. While it may not be immediately apparent, communicating well with and managing stakeholders is a prerequisite for successful sales enablement. Therefore, you need to be thoughtful at communication—getting it right helps a sales enablement team earn trust and build credibility.

You can find out more about Ben’s thoughts on his blog