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Why Sales Enablement Should Take a Page Out of the Product Management Playbook

Liz Cain is VP of Go-to-Market at OpenView, the expansion stage venture capital firm.

It’s easy to get hung up on creating the “perfect” deliverable. We all do it. Whether you are developing a new product offering, rolling out a new sales productivity tool, building a PowerPoint presentation, or even writing an article (ahem), perfect is a pretty high bar. When your work is time sensitive, “good enough” today may be better than “perfect” in six weeks.

Good product managers just seem to get this. Whether it’s competitive pressure on time to market, a contractual obligation or an important customer looking for a new feature, time is of the essence. It doesn’t mean we can always execute on our plans, but the conversation of trade offs happens early. Truly excellent product managers learn what they are optimizing for, discuss roadblocks and identify missing resources.

Sales enablement needs to work more like product management Click To Tweet

So what makes a great product manager? The team at Chargify recently rounded up advice from an impressive group of product leaders and uncovered four key themes:

  1. Talk to your customers
  2. Be data driven
  3. Learn to say “no”
  4. Teamwork

Sales enablement should take a page out of this product management playbook. Here’s how:

Talk to Your Customers

In sales enablement, the field is your obvious customer, but you are also there to serve the end client. You need to intimately understand the buyer journey and personas your organization sells to to effectively train and enable the sales organization. But how? Interviews with every level of your sales team, ride alongs on client calls and visits, and a tight feedback loop with the field so you are always up to date on what they are experiencing and what is and isn’t working.

Be Data Driven

This applies in two ways. First, make sure you are pointed at the highest impact issues. There is always low hanging fruit, easy projects where you can check a box and say you completed X training, but how do these activities tie back to results? If your biggest area for opportunity in funnel conversion is improving your initial qualification call, you wouldn’t point your resources at designing training on negotiation or prospecting to bring new leads into the funnel, right?

Second, it is admittedly very difficult to quantify impact for your Sales Enablement organization. Before you kick off a project, make sure you define the expected impact and agree on how you will measure success. A product manager is not spending time scoping and building a feature if they don’t think they can monetize to existing clients or open a new segment or market. Similarly, you should be aligning resources to the highest impact work.

Learn to Say “No”

There are competing initiatives in any job, but sales enablement has become the catchall. If someone else doesn’t own it, it’s probably landing on your plate – coaching, analysis, training, onboarding, creating assets and developing strategy are just a few of things you might own on a weekly basis. It’s not just prioritization, but a willingness to ruthlessly focus on results and say no to initiatives that do not get your closer to your goal. You need to come up with your own rule of thumb, but if it doesn’t impact the revenue generating organization, it likely shouldn’t fall in your top five list. Product managers talk about feature creep. Sales enablement has the same issue. If everything is important then nothing is important, and nothing will get done. Set explicit goals and meet them.

Teamwork

The sales enablement org is usually a small team, maybe even a one man show, which means getting things done hinges on your ability to work cross-functionally, influence others and crowdsource the information and support you need. This feels obvious, but so often I find that Sales enablement is disconnected from the other sales support organizations. What is your rhythm with sales operations, product marketing, demand generation, and so forth? Each of these teams is also trying to support the revenue cycle and their work has to be integrated with yours. When a new white paper comes out, does the field receive it in a mass email (which they promptly delete), or do you help coordinate with a brief on the asset — overview of the key points, why it was developed, how and when it should be used, and supporting collateral like email templates, campaigns, lists, etc.?

Bonus: MVP

I’m going to add my own fifth point here: understand your minimum viable product. A great product manager is able to balance short-term and long-term thinking. They know they need to regularly release small features, enhancements and bug fixes, but they also have a long-term vision for the product, where the market is headed and how the company can stand out. If you talk to your VP of sales or CRO I can guarantee they are not looking for perfect. They are looking for incremental improvements to their sales team’s performance. Yes, he or she needs visibility into the sales enablement roadmap and should have a big say in what’s coming next, but speed is key. A MVP is not an excuse for a half-assed effort or outcome, but if expectations are set clearly and communication is strong, it can be used as a way to test, gather feedback and ensure you are building something great.

To be successful in sales enablement you have to get comfortable with iterating quickly. Even if things are humming today, your company will release a new product (or a competitor will), the hiring profile of your sales org will change or new new tools will be added to your stack – get ready to adapt.

This is not an overnight shift. It’s going to take time to instill these product management characteristics in your work especially when you are dealing with limited time and resources. As a result, it’s wise to focus on a few core initiatives, ship product quickly and make adjustments to your roadmap based on initial customer feedback. Don’t risk building training assets/collateral or processes that don’t end up being used. Instead, build a deliverable to address the key requirements and provide value quickly while making adjustments along the way to the final “perfect” deliverable.

The team over at Rekener has started a community for sales ops professionals to ask questions and share insights/best practices. If you aren’t a member, you can request an invite here.

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© Mattermark 2018. Sources: Mattermark Research, Crunchbase, AngelList.
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