Episode 5: What Does Strategic Enablement Look Like?
Oliver: Welcome everyone. I’m delighted to be here with a couple of guests. Here at Highspot, we’re lucky enough to work with hundreds of enablement leaders from across the world and one of the key things that we’re seeing is that the function is really moving from tactically, owning some programs like maybe sales onboarding to truly becoming a strategic lever for growing the business.
But when we talk to customers, it’s really all over the map still. Some companies are investing deeply, they’re aligning enablement with the business, other teams are underfunded, overwhelmed, and really just basically trying to keep their noses above the water line. So I’m here today with two seasoned experts in the enablement space who’ve really been helping to mature the discipline generally and especially within their companies. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to share with us.
Heidi runs enablement at Nvidia and Bradford runs it for Slack. Thanks for joining the conversation and let’s dive in. So I want to start with what enablement really tries to do. One of the key things that it tries to do is help companies take on really hard challenges.
Heidi, we were talking about this the other day, and you shared some of your experiences in helping to move Nvidia into this incredibly lucrative, but also incredibly complicated new market, which is to use GPU’s for AI and machine learning. How did you help the company which had traditionally focused on very different spaces, really try to enter this incredibly complicated, but exciting new space?
Heidi: Thanks very much for the question Oliver, and you’re right. Embarking on sales into areas like artificial intelligence, which your customers are going to have potential fear or see some areas of risk has to be done in a very careful way and a very well-informed way.
The way that that happened with Nvidia is that we would hire absolute experts, top of their craft in a specific industry area. For example, when we were embarking on introducing the power of AI into healthcare, we brought into our sales organisation, heart surgeons. Somebody who had the credibility and had the language and understanding of the market to be able to connect the dots between the value of accelerated computing that Nvidia could offer in both hardware and software and putting that into play in specific healthcare use cases.
That model has actually worked quite nicely by spreading into other industries. Nvidia isn’t a unique position where we’re not competing on price necessarily or just performance factors alone, but it’s really specifically meaning the challenges of an industry use case. So we’ve also brought in experts in the areas of, autonomous driving in the automotive industry or oil and gas and on and on.
Now here’s the challenge though, that does not scale. We won’t have a team of sales leaders that come out of healthcare expertise, but we will have at least one. And that’s where enablement comes in. The enablement organisation will partner with that subject matter expert on the sales team that understands the complexity of that industry really well.
And they also understand what conversations resonate most, and what types of, enablement resources have the biggest impact. What kind of training really helps scale that knowledge and we’ll codify that and spread it across the rest of the sales organisation. So we don’t have just one expert, but we have a team of experts that are tackling that industry.
It’s made a big difference in our ability to grow and scale. And it’s happened through the enablement organisation.
Oliver: So that sounds like a really hard challenge because, you know, if a typical seller doesn’t know anything about heart surgery and you bring in this heart surgeon, I could imagine that those sellers would be really scared about engaging with people in this industry, in a space they really have no background in.
How did you help them really overcome the fear of having those conversations in such a challenging area?
Heidi: Another great question. And I would say that we would not be setting up our salesforce for success if we were bringing people in who had no expertise in the area of healthcare, into the healthcare sales team.
So we might bring somebody who came from another organisation, which is common in so many different tech companies in particular, but, but any industry. We might bring somebody who had been selling networking equipment, for example, or working with different software or working with different audiences within those different organisations.
But what we’re looking to do is to scale the true understanding of connecting the value of NVIDIA’s offerings into these use cases. So you might understand healthcare, you may not understand the power of AI in medical imaging. Or the power of AI specific to, proteomics and, and the types of research that is being done.
So what we’ll do is bring people who have general industry expertise and make them prepared to scale that very specialised expertise that we begin with.
Oliver: Got it, that makes a lot of sense. When I talked to enablement leaders in a wide variety of industries, though, many of them are grappling with much more prosaic problems than the kinds of things that you’re describing.
Many of them, you know, they’re just really struggling to get out of fire drill mode. They’re understaffed. They get hit by this constant succession of demand after demand. It feels like they’re on this sort of perpetual hamster wheel. You know, the business is saying, “I need you to do more of this and more of that and more initiatives and build more content.”
Bradford, when we were talking about this and how you’ve seen enablement teams get out of that mode, one of the things you mentioned that really struck me, and I’ve always sort of kept thinking about is, turning that team into essentially a special ops teams for strategic initiatives.
Tell us a little bit about what you meant by that and how can an enablement team really develop that ability?
Bradford: Well, first, I’m just turning over in my head, the term proteomics. And what it must be like to have to learn how to sell to someone who’s asking about that, but I love what you shared Heidi, it’s fascinating.
In terms of creating an enablement team that really is a special operations team for strategic initiatives, there are a few ways that I break that down. The first is that an enablement team above all can be uniquely positioned to harden the problem statement. What is it that we are trying to achieve?
And how will we know if we were successful? Even in relatively mature sales organisations, that question is not asked enough and not interrogated with enough rigour. An effective special operations team like mine, dare I say. Practices that skill practices, the skill of asking that question and demanding an answer to that question in a consultative and supportive manner, because a special operations team for strategic initiatives is not an execution team.
A special operations team is not simply carrying out a mission. What we are doing is uplevelling a go-to-market organisation to be successful against discrete objectives. And so for us, that means for enablement to be successful, we need product marketing to be successful. We need business operations to be successful. We need sales strategy to be in place. We need sellers to be communicated with. We need managers to be prepared. We need sales leaders to be providing air cover.
And we can do that in a scramble mode, which certainly I think most enablement leaders have experienced, and it is transparently a scramble mode when that happens. It’s hard to target outcomes when you’re scrambling. I’ll give you an example, just perhaps if it’s helpful. We at Slack relatively recently went through a verticalisation exercise. Similar to what you shared, Heidi, where we took our sales teams and moved them into a number of much more strategic verticals.
The objective was sort of similar to what you shared, Oliver, enable people on these industries and we could have left it at that and said, okay, we’re going to go enable across 12 industries and 22 sub-sectors and a hundred sub-sectors, and we’ll get back to you when we’re done. Everyone involved in that initiative would have been set up for failure, if, in fact, that would have been our mandate.
So we have to prioritise, we have to specify, we have to understand revenue goals and how those goals are going to be broken down from pipeline and targets. Then start at the top.
Oliver: I love that example because I think it really puts your finger on something that a lot of companies struggle with, which is they have this new initiative, they get excited about it, they try to do a lot of things simultaneously, and then it just doesn’t land. It’s hard to prioritise because prioritising means you have to say no to good ideas.
How did you convince the organisation to say no to good ideas when you were deciding which of those things to prioritise?
Bradford: It’s a great question. And I’m very open to debate on this, but I don’t think it is enablement’s mandate, it should not be enablement’s mandate to be responsible for the decision-making. Enablement’s mandate is to facilitate decision-making and ensure that the decisions that have been made are actionable.
But I do not see my team as responsible for saying healthcare is the focus over manufacturing. That’s simply not where we are positioned to have credibility. However, where we can be really good is saying okay, if healthcare is prioritised over manufacturing, here’s how we can action on enabling our healthcare teams to be effective against the defined goals.
Oliver: Heidi, I’m curious if you’ve run into challenges where the business wasn’t making those hard trade-offs and decisions, and how do you go about really convincing people to do that if you need to?
Heidi: In fact, I couldn’t agree more with what Bradford had just said, the decision does come from the business.
Each of us are business people with a different perspective. We have opinions and that’s great, but when it comes to limited resources and important deliverables that need to be prioritised, the best way I’ve seen to do that is basically to go back to the business and those senior decision-makers to explain there’s four things we can do.
Which four would we believe is going to move the needle most effectively and in the biggest way. And then it becomes a natural conversation about what gets left behind or what gets shifted out by whatever time period. But it’s a more logical conversation rather than the big conversation of I’ve got 22 things I could be doing, tell me in what order they ought to be. That that’s not necessary to get from senior leadership, but what is most important is if we can only do a few things, let’s agree on what those are.
Oliver: When you started at Nvidia I think the team was pretty small and since then it’s grown quite a bit. I’m curious for those people in the audience who have a small team and who want to grow its capacity, what did you learn in the process of really building out the team that they could potentially get benefit from or learn some lessons from?
Heidi: Well, what I learned is that you start at the beginning and you have to have a solid foundation. If your sellers are not clear on the basics of what your selling motion is, what resources help them with their product set, what the products are, and what the value is. Those are just the minimum requirements.
So firstly doing that really, really well and really well means not only have great information and resources available but do it in a practical sense, such that people can find what they need easily. They know where to go. Where is the watering hole? Get what’s the easy button for me as a seller. So I’ll make sure I take advantage of those chest foundational resources.
So I organise the team by product set. We had three significant product groups. My sales enablement leaders were each assigned to a different product group. They sat at the go-to-market and launch table so they understood what was happening when and they were constantly thinking about how to translate that into field readiness. For those launches and for the ongoing care and feeding of the product sets.
So we started at the place where you can’t skip. We had to start with the product and as the team grew, because we became more complex. We went through something awhile ago that Bradford just mentioned that he went through and that is how do you then ensure that there’s another layer of sophistication and that is the map to your go-to-market.
Our go-to-market is by industry use case. We needed to ensure that the next couple of headcount that joined the team could then take that product enablement and customise it really customise it for individuals who are focused on a specific industry vertical. And again, to do it in such a way that it felt like an easy button.
If I was in the financial services industry, I knew exactly where to go, to get what I needed. I’m only being asked to be informed and educated in the things that I will actually deploy in the market. And then thirdly, to get even a little bit more sophisticated, we started to look at who are our key go-to-market partners and is there value in us investing dedicated enablement resources for some of those really important partners.
With NVIDIA’s primary hardware side of our business being focused on chips and processors, major OEMs were really important to us, and we need to ensure that we’re connecting dots for our OEM sellers.
In terms of the value of upselling, a GPU accelerated systems rather than something that might be CPU-based or other solutions. So we now have added additional resources to focus on each of the major OEMs so they’re speaking their language, their delivery and resources directly through OEM sellers and then onto those OEM seller partner community.
So as you get more and more sophisticated and want to reach a more relevant and resonant message for those different markets and audiences. You start with a foundation and then you continue to move with your go-to-market model and your commercial strategy in order to ensure that you’re supporting the way that has the biggest impact.
Oliver: That’s really interesting. The focus on partners is hugely relevant for some of our customers. Obviously, some of them are more of a direct business. Bradford, I’m curious, sort of building on that. What do you find is the best way to organise an enablement team because that’s a topic that a lot of our customers ask us about. What are the best practices, what do you think works really well?
Bradford: It’s so interesting listening to you share, Heidi, because in some ways I just have a lot of feelings about this one. I think I’ll share my fear because I do think in some ways my organisational structure is oriented around compensating for my fear. And my fear is that enablement, as we grow drifts up into the clouds and becomes a high altitude, global scaled function that is out of touch with the seller.
That is what I at all times want to mitigate against and am committed to mitigating against because I’ve seen that it’s scalable and maybe your metrics are easy to pull, but truly doesn’t matter on the ground. So for me, the foundation of my enablement organisation is my field enablement team.
Those are field-embedded, leader-aligned, enablement partners who are literally having daily conversations with ICS and managers, literally shadowing calls, literally hearing from customers that feedback loop back to the global enablement organisation. There is pressure. There is a temptation to say, maybe I should divert some of that headcount up into a more scaled global role, because I need to be enabling all AEs rather than a specific team.
But to date, you know, talk to me in a year. But to date, I really resisted that because a field-connected enablement team is a strong enablement team. In my opinion, it does add extra pressure to enablement to unlock that feedback loop. Right? So as we grow, as we scale, it is more and more important that the feedback loop with the field matches based on the conversations that any given enablement partner is having.
But we have to aggregate what’s happening with customers and we can do that in a number of ways. Conversational intelligence has been a remarkable boon for enablement and our ability to aggregate insights from customers and use those to inform both our enabling roadmap, as well as our product roadmap, our product strategy, our go-to-market strategy, has been hugely impactful.
So there may be a world in which someday we can tap into the minds and read the minds of sellers and managers, but in lieu of that, having enablement as considered to be part of the sales organisation and living and breathing the experience of the sales organisation is the most important piece.
Oliver: That’s super interesting the way you couch that. Heidi, as you were thinking about scaling a small enablement team to make it larger. What are the key areas of expertise that you think the team really has to be or become great at kind of building a little bit on what Bradford was saying?
Because I think that’s something a lot of enablement people struggle with a little bit is where should I try to get great. I’m curious as you scale a team, how do you think about that?
Heidi: It’s not easy. I’d say that we typically when looking for a new team member or considering where we’ve got gaps and looking to close them, the term unicorn comes out of the mouth in every conversation because you really want somebody who has sales, empathy, and understanding.
So you want somebody who’s been in this sales field and is interested in willing to move into an enablement role and that’s a bit of a unicorn. In our case, we also want somebody who’s got probably, some decent engineering chops. They may have also had either formal education or a deep experience in a very technical role in the past.
Again, that adds another layer of that unicorn. But what we’re looking for, I think, is somebody who is empathetic and understands the reality of being in the field. And that’s where I resonate a hundred percent with what Bradford said, you can’t move your enablement focus away from the field in any way, shape, or form, it’s that honest advocacy for the field.
And you can only be an advocate if you understand what the challenges are when you’re out there. So you’re looking for the ability to listen well, understand well, and then translate that into what the resources are that are provided to the field, whether it’s training or anything else, programs and sales motions, and so on.
I think in addition to that, you also have to be that face back into the company. So we have a lot of forums where the sales organisation has dialogue back with everybody from the product development teams to the product marketing team. So that there’s a lot of understanding of what’s working and what’s not working. That doesn’t always come into play, or it doesn’t translate into the final mile in enablement.
What has to happen is I think that you’re looking for individuals who have the skill set to also negotiate internally. They’re also able to have the dialogue and educate the corporate headquarters in a lot of instances that you’re trying to create that sensitivity and empathy more broadly for a more efficient delivery against the support that the sales team needs.
So those are somewhat soft answers, but that’s what makes up that unicorn. It’s skillset experience and the way that they go about that. That together makes the difference whether you’re really successful in enablement or not.
Oliver: I want to pick up on something you mentioned earlier, Heidi, about the importance of really nailing the fundamentals. Bradford when we were talking recently you mentioned that you had a situation where you ran into some trouble because you kind of drifted away a little bit from the fundamentals. Can you tell us that story and what you learned from it?
Bradford: It’s interesting. I think as we’ve grown and as some of our programs became more mature. You mentioned earlier onboarding, you said it’s probably the first thing you set up, and then to keep paying attention to it or not our onboarding program, didn’t keep up with the change that our organisation was experiencing. We reached a moment, every significant change in Slack as an example.
Acquisition. Verticalisation. Sales process changes, tooling changes, expectation, changes, and hiring profile changes. I think that we missed a little bit, the fact that we had turned a little bit more onboarding a little bit more into a cultural and product evangelism experience than a do my job and be successful in my role experience.
There were lagging indicators in the business so what we’ve done is reapplied with rigour, our approach to onboarding, to say the purpose of onboarding is not purely to welcome people into the organisation and make them feel part of a shared culture. Certainly, that is important, but even more important, is that they understand what differentiates Slack from other enterprise software organisations they may have seen or experienced before and what makes us successful when navigating and executing against defined goals, whether you are a success manager, solutions engineer, a BDR, or an AE.
That reorientation has not been hard to sell to reps. That is in fact, what they ache for, help me understand how to do my job successfully and quickly.
And that’s been a bit of an eye-opening moment for me. There are moments in enablement where you feel like you’re forcing content into the sales organisation’s collective mind. And there are opportunities where it’s very fluid and the enablement that tends to go down very fluidly and where I’m going to continue to apply even more focus, is enablement that is incredibly actionable, incredibly relevant, and hopefully quite delightful in design.
Oliver: How do you identify the enablement that meets those criteria? Because I think that everybody aspires to that, but I think that if for those of you out there who are sellers, you can attest to the fact that enablement doesn’t universally achieve that.
So how do you do that? What are some ways you really make that happen?
Bradford: So I will address that, but I will say we do aspire to that, but there are must dues and there are a lot of must do’s and enablement, which occupy enablement bandwidth. Whether that is a big product launch or some sort of organisational shift or restructure or a change to a particular system, which simply aren’t delightful experiences.
There are things that aren’t delightful that occupy bandwidth and so I think in an ecosystem where that is true, it is setting a vision from people like me and Heidi, that the highest leverage and brand protecting elements of enablement are outside of that.
There will be a temptation to focus on the big or either sexy or necessary kind of operational moments. But outside of that is the, how do I generate this order form where tons of sellers are falling down, potentially deals are getting posted because we haven’t created a simple two-minute video or experience, which walks them through that process.
So some of that, those fundamentals, I don’t know that it’s, that we don’t know that they’re necessary. It’s that we get distracted from those things by the, um, kind of Olympics of enablement. The kickoffs and the launches and the other things.
Oliver: Heidi, how do you make sure that you’re staying focused on and keeping fresh the basics at the same time that you’re exotically figuring out about heart surgery and entering entirely new industries, which sounds hard and super fun, but what about, you know, the order form and making sure quote to cash is in the right shape and so forth?
Heidi: You know, as Bradford was talking through what the basics mean in Slack, we’re, we’re really living in different worlds in some ways. If I think about what the basics mean at Nvidia, the predominant value that enablement brings is in the form of education. Going back to the fact that our business model is to work through partners. So a lot of those steps in the sales process are done either differently or you’re relying upon your partners to fulfil so much of that.
So what a lot of the objective around enablement is, is to ensure that both partners and sellers are doing a fantastic job of sharing the art of the possible. It does seem like it’s a very different role and a different world. And that’s probably partly the reason why so many enablement organisations have different definitions as to what enablement means.
So for example, we do use a CRM, of course, and we’ve got a lot of rigour around the CRM and my team does support the aspect of training, whether it’s new hire onboarding or adjustment to process through CRM, we’ll, we’ll deliver the training and resources and all of that in that phase. But a lot of the traditional multi-step process that lives within an overall broader sales process looks dramatically different. For us, it’s more about deep proof of concept or it’s about bringing somebody into our executive briefing center as part of the sales motion.
And we want to ensure that we have clarity for our sellers about all the different steps in those motions as well as resources available to them throughout and make that as simple as possible. But there is a lot more art than science in the type of sales motion that we’re supporting.
Oliver: It’s really interesting to hear about the challenges that you’re both facing because in many ways, there are some really different aspects to it, depending on the nature of your go-to-market. And also the challenges that the business faces.
Sometimes it’s really getting the very basic process pieces in place. In other cases, it’s mastering areas of knowledge that are novel and challenging for the sellers involved. And it really speaks to how enablement, I think has to be a bit of a chameleon and it has to figure out what does the organisation need and how do you then go drive that?
So Bradford, I’m curious if you were parachuted into a new company and you wanted to figure out what was most important for the sales organisation and how could you deliver the most value, how would you go about figuring that out?
Bradford: That’s a very good question. A tough question, Heidi, you said something earlier, focus on the process, right?
Start with the basics. What is our selling motion? How do we execute against that selling motion? It’s interesting for me, certainly in my time at Slack that has evolved and changed so dramatically, that has never been one. Just as an example, when I started at slack, we didn’t have a professional services arm.
Our executive briefing center was a kind of once a quarter, there’s an event type of thing. And so I really think it does depend so much on the size of the organisation and the go-to-market. But for me, if I’m putting myself in a sales mindset rather than success for a moment, the most important thing is where are my leads? Are they good? Can I action on them?
And that never goes away. That is always true. And sometimes that sits with enablement. Sometimes it sits with more than enablement, but it should never not sit with enablement. Our focus should always be on, are we supporting reps to have the right conversations, with the right people, based on the right attributes? And for a product-led growth organisation like Slack, we have some real advantages in that regard in that we have what we call product qualified leads or signals based on usage of our free product or customers paying with a credit card.
But even without that, in the broader ecosystem of pure green field accounts, the highest leverage thing that any sales organisation or anyone attached to the go-to-market process can do, including enablement is support reps to disambiguate good from bed and to get in front of customers early with the right message.
Oliver: Heidi, when we were talking about ways that the enablement team supports Nvidia’s go-to-market, you mentioned one of what is often a foundational piece for many sales organisations, which is the sales play. It’s an area that there’s a tremendous focus on right now because I think a lot of companies tell us that the sellers have a lot of resources, but they don’t always know what to do with them. And the company doesn’t always help them enough.
They might say we’re launching a new product. Here’s a pitch deck. Here’s a description of it. Here’s a demo script, but they don’t give them really clear guidance about how to go sell the darn thing. You had a challenging experience with sales plays when you tried to address that, tell us a little bit about that and how you’ve evolved your approach on this?
Heidi: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for bringing that up. I’m still feeling the bruises from that. What we found is for the most part, the way that we strive to operate within the bigger field organisation is to understand what we, as a bigger Nvidia are trying to achieve.
By understanding what we’re trying to achieve, that allows us to bring some recommendations and proposals as to how that might come to life. In the span of enablement, our sales play exercise many years ago now came in the opposite form. It was, Hey, I’ve got a great idea. It hit someone’s desk, and it was activated.
This is as we became increasingly focused on this go-to-market by industry. So we used, as I mentioned earlier, these subject matter experts who truly understand, we used them to take their knowledge and create sales plays. Who do I talk to? What is the conversation? All of the great resources that really bring that to life.
Years ago though, the size of the team that would be focused on each of these different industries was very small, which meant they were already experts. So we were preaching to the choir. We were burning a lot of cycles by going through the preparation of this sales play, delivered it to people who didn’t need help, they already understood these things and really kind of burned out the opportunity for us to do this in a more meaningful way.
What we realised is we didn’t ask the right questions right up front. It really should have been more of a, what are we trying to accomplish? What is the strategic objective here and then figure out how to address it? Fast forward to today, the team has grown in size by at least double in the last five years. So we don’t have 1500 specialists around the world. We have a lot of account managers. We have a lot of partner managers, and then we’ve got a series of specialists as well.
What we understand today is that sales play concept is going to be quite valuable and we’re at the early phases of reigniting. Now that we’ve got a bigger need, we have a better understanding of objectives. We’re early on in the process of defining what needs to be done, and what the value will be.
So we’re now coming all the way back again, starting with those small groups of subject matter experts, but the audience who is eager to take this guidance from their peers and to do so in a way that is easily scaled. That audience is very hungry, so it’s rather than trying to feed a hunger that didn’t exist, we’ve got great demand.
Oliver: That speaks also a little bit to some of the things that you were mentioning earlier, Bradford around making sure that the enablement team really stays connected to what’s happening on the ground. It doesn’t drift up into the cloud layer. One of the things that we’ve seen repeatedly is that sales plays are often built by people who really don’t understand the details of the go-to-market at the ground level and in some cases, have never actually sold anything. And those sales plays really struggle to land with the field.
I’m curious, given your focus on connecting with what the field needs and what’s really going on, how do you think, providing guidance to them can be done in the most effective way?
Bradford: I love that question, a lot. And I also love what you started Heidi, especially because what you shared, really proves to me that you are paying attention, which is the most important thing, right? And that you can try something, fail, learn, change, and come back to it because it was a good idea. It just wasn’t the right time.
I think that is so important for all of us in enablement. To admit that we don’t know, and that there’s a lot of good ideas out there and sometimes you’re just going to have to try and learn and adapt. I like the sales play. I certainly liked the concept of a sales play less because it is the answer for a seller and more because it formalises the coalescence of supporting teams across the GTM organisation.
So often what partner marketing, product marketing, solutions, strategy, are looking for is a way to tell a single story. The sales play has provided a mechanism by which enablement humans don’t have to serve that function, that there is an asset that there is collateralisation of steps in a process and a suggested modality or motion to be successful.
And I stress suggested there because rare is the seller who will look at a sales play and be like, they figured it out. Here we go. I’m in the money. That’s where my field team and sales leaders really have to pick up the ball. Right. What we’ve given you is a guide. What we’ve given you is a way to navigate through the forest, but what we haven’t given you is the answer.
A sales play well-executed should accelerate, and mitigate against the time spent, not knowing where to look and not knowing what to do, but I don’t think we should fool ourselves into thinking it is the solution.
Oliver: Let’s take a minute and look forward to where the discipline of enablement is headed. Heidi, what are you excited about in the future that you’re working towards to really take your organisation and enablement generally to the next level?
Heidi: Great question, and it’s a question that’s probably a different answer every six or 12 months.
Today’s answer a couple of different things. Personally, Nvidia is at a point where we are, I feel that I’m constantly describing us as being at an inflection point, but we absolutely are. Where we are today is identifying the fact that we are growing the organisation. One of the areas in doing so is to move to a more mainstream market.
Nvidia tends to have very high share in some really high potency, but narrow markets. If you’re looking to expand more broadly, the things that Bradford just mentioned are really, really critical. What is the map through the forest? That’s going to allow somebody who’s new to the market, and more importantly, talking to customers who probably have not given these topics consideration.
So they’re talking to more lay people, rather than those really fabulous lunatic fringe who finish your sentences for you. But instead, you’re talking to people who are in their early stages of consideration. So what I’m excited about is that we are, I see enablement is being very critical in codifying some of that map through the forest to help get that journey to success.
The other thing is in going about that map, you need to understand what’s working and what’s not working. What I’m excited about going forward is more of the analytics that come back to us that say, do more of this and do less of that.
Not only does that help you do a better job of defining either what your sales motion is or what your sales process ought to be, or where you’ve got the strengths and where you’ve got some gaps that allows all of us to become surgical in where we put our efforts as enablement professionals. It also allows you to avoid those pitfalls of here’s the laundry list of things that I’d like for you to deliver as an enablement organisation.
Instead, it puts the focus on what are we trying to accomplish and how do we believe based on data, data that comes from the different systems that we’re now using, the engagement with those systems, that tie between them that tell us the correlation between certain activities and the success of closing a sale. All of that is going to allow us to become much more strategic and much more aligned to the outcomes that the business is looking for. That’s what I’m excited about.
Oliver: Bradford, same question for you. What are you excited about looking forward in terms of things that you want enablement generally to step up to, and specifically at Slack?
Bradford: I think I’m pretty aligned with Heidi. I will own up to something that I would guess other enablement leaders do, but which just isn’t going to work in the long term for me is, I have a Slack channel called Bradford’s buds.
In the Bradfords buds channel are a bunch of ICs, sales leaders, people who’ve collaborated with enablement in the past, people I trust, people who are generally high performers and what you might call enablement minded. I will confer with them on our prioritisation, our suggested it’s kind of modalities and timing.
I think historically I have over-relied on that group of people. What I would like and where we are moving forward, you know, we’re a seven year old kind of sales organisation, and we are sitting on an enormous wealth of data and information in terms of what works and what doesn’t work. I alluded to conversational intelligence before I, we are sitting on just the world’s greatest trove of product metrics.
But what we haven’t successfully done at scale, is provide a robust recommendation engine and an aggregation of winning tips built out of that mountain of data. And I see the technology like really moving in a direction and Highspot certainly is part of this, moving in a direction to provide people data-driven trend analysis and indicators. Discrete from what sales strategy and operations tend to look at that is built on the more qualitative aspects of the sales motion, which forever have been the hardest to unlock and why enabling organisations tend to rely so heavily on those five or six friendly SMEs who will come in and speak at your training is because we don’t know what else to do.
That is changing and it’s changing very rapidly. I think enablement teams that can capitalise on creating intelligence out of information will really be the most successful.
Oliver: Building on that, I think it’s a really interesting point. Doesn’t that call for the enablement team to have new skills? And how do you tackle that? Because traditionally enablement was, I would say, I think it’s fair to say a more intuitively. As it becomes more analytical and more anchored in data. That means you’ve got to have people who are able to do that. I’m curious how you think about that and how you take taking that on?
Bradford: I would disagree, I think not fully Oliver, but I think the same could be said of sales, right? Sales used to be an intuitive art and we, there probably are sales organisations that put sellers through a data analytics bootcamp with some kind and certainly data of fluency is critical to be a seller of Slack.
I don’t put the onus on enablement to learn how to pour through mountains of data and pivot and build a recommendation engines. I put the onus on the systems. We rely on to make that easier for us. And when I’m in conversations with vendors, for example, that is constantly where I’m pressing and probably what you hear a lot in your conversations.
The hiring profile and sort of the enablement profile will change over time, much as it has with the AE. But for me, what will always be most important are the relational aspects of enablement. Someone who can build credibility with sales, someone who can lead and inspire a room. And I don’t want to trade that for someone who is a data analyst, I want to enrich that with someone who’s armed with insights.
Oliver: Heidi. I’m curious how you respond to that answer and what your take on it is?
Heidi: Similar and different. So I agree that the core enablement profile in terms of what kind of hiring profile you’re looking for, it won’t change much, but I do see augmentation in the organisation.
For years have worked through a mound of data and I’ll be quite transparent a couple of years ago, we would get reporting from Highspot and really do some gymnastics in order to figure out what the value and what was the message it was telling us. Now I’ve seen great improvements so that it’s more intuitive for us to take other reports directly and make some decisions with it.
But I still think that, uh, you know, to Bradford’s point, we’ll continue to look to the vendors who are coming up with improved analytics that are actionable analytics, but there’s still multiple vendors that we’re working across. How do you decipher the key, um, connective tissue across those different solutions that you’re using?
For us I would say I would augment my team and we have since done so by hiring somebody who’s really good with understanding data, even if it’s just wrangling data from different sources. Even creating high-level insights out of it, that’s a value we couldn’t operate without having a dedicated role like that.
Oliver: One of the things that I find very interesting about what both of you bring up as we look forward in terms of where the discipline is headed is you both focus very much on analytics and data. That’s something that we’re hearing from many, many of our customers. It’s definitely one of the reasons why we’ve been making such really heavy investments in that space and we see huge promise from it.
I was listening to a venture capitalist and I stole a phrase that he is, he described a lot of SAAS environments as moving from Madmen to Moneyball. The notion that you’re moving from a, you know, a world where it’s people who are making decisions on intuition and conviction and charisma, and have the ability to it’s way people to a world where you’re making decisions through a combination of intuition and data.
That really unlocks possibilities that have been latent for so long because both enablement, marketing, all of these disciplines historically often just sort of threw things over the wall and hoped they were landing. Now you can know. And now you can make decisions based on that. So I think that’s really exciting and it’s an area that we, as a vendor are very heavily invested and encouraged by customers like yourselves.
We’re really excited to see how that helps the teams that we serve to be able to really go to the next level in delivering strategic results, not just tactically running programs that are necessary, but that are just so much less than what enablement can offer to the organisations that they have.
Bradford: Oliver, can I ask you a quick question?
Oliver: Yeah, of course.
Bradford: This is not been enablement driven, but certainly enablement supported. We’ve invested heavily in what we call a sales intelligence function at Slack. That is an organisation that is separate from strategy, separate from enablement, and it is its own thing and they are product builders truly.
What they’re building are Slack native products fed by information from multiple database, including Highspot and others. We surface signals from that data, both to enablement and directly to reps and managers, in Slack. And I think it is one of the greatest differentiators of selling in Slack is that we have that function.
Would I want that function in enablement? Potentially I can see that, but I also really love having it as a district function within the organisation. I wonder if you are seeing that or Heidi, how you think about that more in the marketplace?
Oliver: Well, let’s let Heidi go first and then I’ll give you my take on it.
Heidi: We haven’t been thinking about it in a discreet fashion. I’d say it seems to me Bradford that you’re in a really fantastic position in terms of your ability to get data and insights. It seems to me that you’ve got a more advanced situation than perhaps where we’re starting from and that’s probably why I emphasise that that’s something we’re looking forward to the evolution of in the future.
So we do have sales analytics, but we don’t have a great way of connecting them. We don’t have a great way of connecting sales, analytics, enablement analytics, some marketing analytics, but I’d say that today, unfortunately they’re not fully integrated. It sounds like you’ve got a more holistic visibility of which I’m envious.
Bradford: I don’t want to overplay it.
Heidi: I like the aspiration.
Oliver: What we’re seeing is people are experimenting with different models and nd also many people are struggling to be able to get access to the analytics and BI resources to do these kinds of experiments.
We’ve had kind of funny situations where we have customers who are extremely large, extremely well-funded technology companies, and they struggle to get a very simple BI initiative really funded. We’ve seen some people experimenting with the kinds of things you’re talking about, Bradford.
And then we’ve seen a lot of people say, can’t you just build some scorecards for us, so we don’t have to do any of that stuff. So we get a lot more of the latter. I think that the former, but there are definitely people exploring in this space and I think there’s just such possibility there I’m really eager to see those experiments begin to bear fruit.
I think ultimately we will develop industry best practices for how to go pursue that. I think we’re very much in the early stages and we’re still experimenting, but I’m really excited about it and to see where it’s headed.
So with that I would just like to say thank you to both of you for taking the time, love the insights that you shared with us and really appreciate you giving us a glimpse into what enablement is like at two of the very successful companies in the technology industry and how you’re tackling these problems and uplevelling enablement functions in your company. So thanks very much.
Heidi: I appreciate the opportunity, and Bradford, I was furtively taking notes. I’m sure we’ll be in contact.
Bradford: Thank you, Oliver and thank you, Heidi.