Research found that 84% of sales reps achieve their quotas when their employer incorporates a best-in-class sales enablement strategy. So what does it actually take to build an enablement strategy? Here to discuss this topic is Kelly Lewis, the vice president of revenue enablement here at Highspot.
Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi and welcome to the Win Win Podcast. I’m your host, Shawnna Sumaoang. Join us as we dive into changing trends in the workplace and how to navigate them successfully. Thanks for joining, Kelly! I’d love for you to tell us about yourself, your background, and your role here at Highspot.
Kelly Lewis: Thank you so much for having me, I am excited to be here. As you mentioned, my name is Kelly Lewis, Vice President of Revenue Enablement, here at Highspot. I actually have a little bit of a non-traditional background. I spent most of my career, almost 15 years, in the field before moving into enablement. I spent time as a sales rep and as a sales leader, really understanding what it’s like to carry a bag. I saw an opportunity for enablement at my last company, Amwell, which is a high-tech telehealth organisation, and established the enablement practice there from the ground up. I learned a lot by doing that. A lot of what you’re going to hear is that I’m coming to this conversation pretty humbly and that I’m still learning a ton from organisations like Sales Enablement PRO, as well as our amazing customers, and, of course, my amazing team and my amazing peers in L&D. A lot of what you’re going to hear comes from that sales leader background with that enablement spin, as I’ve learned over the last few years.
SS: Well, we’re excited to have you here, Kelly, and I have to say you are a fantastic enablement partner, and I get to speak from experience.
KL: Thank you.
SS: Now, from a revenue perspective, I’d love to understand from you, what should leaders keep in mind when building an enablement strategy that is aligned to business drive results.
KL: I think we all know this, but you have to switch from being reactive to that really proactive mindset. That’s easier said than done. Part of it is that the asks don’t stop coming. How I look at it is you have to sit back and have some of those really hard conversations with your collaborators, whether those are your stakeholders or the individuals you work with very closely like marketing or rev ops, and understand what is actually going to move the needle. We always look at it from a rep productivity standpoint, we’re always trying to think about what we can do to get our reps more productive. Is that skill? Is that process? Is that messaging? Where do we need to focus? By doing that, and having those hard conversations upfront, we’re able to align and then commit to what we want to do, and then make sure we actually stay on course versus veering off, which is so easy to do. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, but being able to really say hey, we agreed to this at the beginning of the quarter, and let’s see it through. We have a lot of those conversations here. Do we also ask if what we’re doing here aligned with the bigger initiatives of the company are the things that we’re focused on here, the same things that our CEO is focused on?
SS: I think that is fantastic advice. Kelly, given the current economic climate, can you share why aligning your enablement strategy with revenue goals is critical?
KL: Absolutely. I think we’ve all heard the term ‘random acts of enablement’ and we all know that enablement, at one time or another in your organisation, has probably tried to do too much. When you align your goals to revenue goals, and when you have the same goal, it’s easy to make sure that you’re having the same conversation and that you don’t swerve from your original plan. What I was saying before is what you’re doing is going to move the needle. The current economic climate, it’s shifting all the time, and so we proactively asked at the beginning of a quarter, if something changes significantly in the economy in the next 90 days, does this change our strategy, and if everyone in the room can say, not too much, then we feel like we’re doing the right thing. That’s how we’ve been handling at least our Q1 strategy as we look at it.
SS: I think that’s a really agile approach to enablement. Now, when it comes to setting goals, what are some of your best practices for identifying the right goals that are going to help you drive the outcomes that you want to achieve through your enablement strategy?
KL: First off, it starts with realistic goals. I think it’s really easy for enablement professionals or sales leaders to get in a room and assume that a change can happen overnight. When you look at strategic enablement and how you’re using enablement, one of the things that we consider as a core practice of how we do strategic enablement at Highspot is understanding how much change are we asking the reps to do and what is the exact call to action we’re going to ask them to do. We actually use a proficiency model here at Highspot that has four levels and we will be really clear with everyone in the room that, hey, we’re trying to get reps from a level one to a level two. For right now, we’re focused on getting the majority of our reps, we call our core reps, from level three to level four, depending on where they are in that proficiency model. I think setting expectations on where your reps are today, and where you want them to be by the end of a quarter, six months from now, really helps people understand that change does take time, it’s not going to happen overnight and it lets you set what the leading indicators are going to be over time, what is going to show that we’re moving the needle.
SS: Those are some really fantastic best practices. Now, Kelly, as I had mentioned, I find you to be an absolutely fantastic and collaborative enablement partner. I know that to you as an enablement leader, creating strong cross-functional relationships and coordination is a priority for you. How does cross-functional collaboration influence how you bring your enablement strategy to life?
KL: I greatly appreciate that. My team really has a strong goal of having cross-functional coordination, but I also think we have amazing partners to work with. As everyone knows, enablement sits right in the middle of revenue teams, as well as marketing. We’re always trying to play that balance of the goals that marketing has, and making sure we’re translating that conversation into our sellers and what they need. In order to do that, you have to speak their language. As I said earlier, it’s a lot about translating and making sure that you understand the different goals and have empathy for the different teams you’re working with. I find that I and my team spend just as much time creating a strategy as we do listening. A lot of what we do is listen to our stakeholders, or listen to our collaborators, on what their goals are and what they’re trying to drive. That is why it is really important. If you don’t understand why you won’t be able to translate it and make sure you create that bridge.
We at Highspot actually have a concept here that we call a bridge meeting, and that is when marketing has an idea, a rev ops team has an idea, or even one of our stakeholders has an idea that they want to come to enablement with and they want to propose that we do something differently or challenge ourselves in a new way. During that bridge meeting, we ask a lot of those ‘why’ questions to make sure that we fully understand what it is they want us to roll out, and how we will do that to make the biggest impact.
I will say, being a former seller and on that side of the house, it’s really clear when your leadership isn’t aligned. You feel it when marketing and sales leaders aren’t talking. You feel it when sales leadership and enablement aren’t talking. It’s not hidden, I think being enablement professionals, sometimes we don’t know what the frontline is seeing, but they feel it. It’s super important that regardless of the decision you make on what the enablement strategy is going to be that everyone in the room aligns and agrees. One thing we do here at Highspot is we actually have approval meetings where we get in a room and we say this is the strategy, does everyone agree? We don’t leave until everyone’s agreed and then based on that we all, despite what happens within the quarter, continue to align to that initial strategy because we all agreed, and we all want to show a single one-team approach to our field.
SS: I love that. What advice do you have for how you go about driving the adoption of the strategy and getting buy-in from key stakeholders?
KL: It’s all about the frontline manager. We’ve actually been making a big shift over the last six months that are going to continue as we head into the next fiscal year, thinking about how we empower our frontline managers. They are so critical to enablement’s success. A frontline individual, a rep, is not going to make a change unless they feel like it’s supported by their manager, and so we have shifted our approach to drive almost everything we’re doing through the manager. That looks like empowering the manager with coaching, so we make coaching plays where we actually guide the manager to the steps, here’s the conversation you need to have, here are the objections as a manager that you are probably going to get, here’s how you handle those objections. We also do life coaching. We’ll pull up Gong calls, or we’ll pull up our pre-call planners in a group setting, and we’ll have different managers look at those guides and calls and talk with each other about how they would coach, how would they score these, what feedback would they give, and I think by giving them a safe space to practice their coaching, they’re set up for success. It’s really about getting managers bought in early and then making sure they have everything they need to be successful when it comes to actually rolling that out. We consider those frontline managers to be partners in crime.
SS: I love that. Now, I love your advice on this. How can teams keep kind of the big picture of the strategy and how it aligns with company goals in mind when they’re also juggling executing the plan throughout the year?
KL: It’s really hard, and we struggle with it too. I think how we do that is we create some agility in our plan. I talked a lot at the beginning of this podcast, about how we have a quarterly strategy where we bring everyone together and we get alignment, but what I didn’t talk about was we leave some wiggle room. We are executing, things do change, and things come up. We need to make sure that we have that built into what we’re creating in our strategy. Depending on the quarter, we like to leave up anywhere from 20 to 40% so that we have that agility and ability to adjust as needed and take some input in the quarter. It’s not a ton, but it gives us that wiggle room to make sure that we’re continuing to align with the company goals and that we can be agile enough to hear what the field is struggling with and adapt.
We also have this concept of available versus accountable. I think this is unique to Highspot, but it is this concept of during any given quarter, we give reps two or three things that we want them to change in behaviors. We’re really concise on what these calls to action are, and those are our accountable themes. We also do a lot of enablement that isn’t accountable, we’re not going to inspect it, we’re not necessarily going to coach it, we’re not going to hold people accountable to it. Those things we call available. Available things are like a play that we create that might help someone given a certain situation that might be industry-specific, but we’re not doing a ton of live enablement around it, we’re definitely not certifying it, we might just promote it via newsletter.
Having this concept of available versus accountable helps us have really strong conversations with our stakeholders and our collaborators because they know when we say it’s accountable, they know we’re taking it really seriously and we’re going to create coaching programs. When they know it’s available, we’re all in agreement that hey, we’re not going to look at the scorecard for the progress or how many reps have viewed this potential play. Instead, we’re going to see how it does. We might make it accountable next quarter, it might just be available in the current quarter. This concept of available versus accountable has really translated into a language we all align on and make sure everyone feels really comfortable with our approach.
SS: I have to say it has worked really well for us here at Highspot. Kelly, I am loving this conversation. I have two remaining questions for you. I don’t think there’s going to be any kind of surprise to these questions because I think we’re all trying to understand in the coming year, how we drive more impact. This is especially true for enablement. What are some of your best practices for correlating your enablement efforts with revenue impact, and how have you actually leveraged Highspot to help with this?
KL: Such a hard question, in that it is hard for enablement professionals to always show their impact. It is not as straightforward as it is in other roles, and so we spend a lot of time thinking about this, frankly, not only as a company but as an enablement team at an enablement company. We always think about how we’re influencing revenue, and how we’re influencing business outcomes. We think of it a couple of ways. First is sales productivity, and then it’s consistent execution and participation rate. From sales, productivity is the timing of the things that we’re rolling out aligned to the timing of increases in sales productivity. We hope, and that’s the goal, and so we look at that reporting. We also look at consistent execution. This is harder to look at, we use tools like Gong, and we are partners with Groove, so we look at our email consistency, to see are the reps taking the enablement and applying it and if are they doing it in a consistent fashion. Then we look at the participation rates of those two. Are our core performers in the category of consistent execution, and do they have high sales productivity?
At Highspot we use a couple of different ways to look at leading indicators. Leading indicators are huge for my team. Do we look at things like did people take the training? So we’ll jump into Highspot and see, did they take the course? Then, we will look at if they reviewed the sales play. This is super important. If they’re not reading the sales play, they’re definitely not going to make the action. It’s a huge leading indicator for us, how much time they are spending on the sales play. Then, are managers looking at the coaching play? For every sales play that is accountable, using the term I mentioned before, we also create a coaching play. Is the manager looking at that coaching play? Do they know how to coach to whatever we’re trying to drive? We then look at the action they’re taking. Are they engaging with our customers in the correct way? We use Highspot to understand if they are pitching the content that is part of this campaign or this strategy, and then are our customers and our prospects engaging with that content. Those are really key indicators that help us show our influence and impact in a really easy way. Definitely helps those business reviews that I know are so hard to put together, but just being able to take some screenshots from Highspot really helps that conversation.
SS: I love that. Last question for you, Kelly, as we get underway with 2023, what are some of the top trends that you think enablement leaders should be paying attention to this year, and how are you leveraging Highspot to help address some of those?
KL: Absolutely. I said it before, managers are your unlock. We are spending a lot of time thinking about manager coaching enablement. We’re actually going to be putting on a leadership summit for all of our leaders here at the end of February that’s going to be focused on coaching. What does good coaching look like, and how can you apply that to your day-to-day as a go-to-market leader? I think the next trend we’re going to see and things that we’re leveraging at Highspot is thinking through how we tackle formal training. Formal training can be put into different buckets and we’re trying to rethink what formal training looks like to make it feel light. My partner in crime, Annie Lizenbergs, in our L&D department always talks about how we make coursework feel light and engaging so that reps know that we’re being really efficient with our time. We’re going to be rethinking a lot about what our formal coursework looks like to make it feel light.
The next is we’re going to have a big focus on our core performers. A lot of times your stakeholders are going to come to you with information and feedback about your low performers. That’s really normal. They tend to be the loudest, and they tend to spin up sales leaders because sales leaders want them successful. We’ve created a slide and we use it in almost every meeting where we say, hey, this program is going to be focused on the core performers. These are the core performers that we’re trying to make top performers, and we’re going to use our top performers to show our core performers what good looks like. We’re going to use our top performers to champion this. We’re going to use our top performers to help us teach. Those top performers are going to get better because when you teach something, you get better at it. Our core performers are going to learn from those top performers. That way, we’re not focused on those low performers, who will hopefully get something out of the core performer training, but we’re really leaving those lower performers up to managers to work with and coach.
Then, I would say, the last thing that we’re changing this year is one SKO a year is not enough. You need solid enablement moments throughout the year, that really ensure that your reps are getting the reinforcement, and are taken out of the field in a way that separates them from the busyness and lets them really focus on learning. We started this last year, and we’re going to continue it this year. We call it camp momentum in the summer, but we’re going to have multiple touchpoints throughout the year, one just with managers and three with all go-to-market teams where we make sure that there’s set aside learning time for everyone to learn to stop the busyness to stop the calls and to really focus on the big initiatives that we’re trying to drive and then of course, giving them a safe space to practice.
SS: I love those trends. Thank you, Kelly, so much for joining us today.
KL: Absolutely. Happy to be here.
SS: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Win Win podcast. Be sure to tune in next time for more insights on how you can maximise enablement success with Highspot.