Sales Thought Leadership: Ben Cotton on Defining Sales Enablement

Written by Fes Askari

Aug 14 2018

What is Sales Enablement, and how is it being defined today? In this video our Head of Inbound Sales, Fes Askari, and Head of Content Lucy Jones speak to Ben Cotton, Principal Marketing Manager, Sales Enablement at HubSpot to discover more.

Interview Transcript

Who Are You And What Do You Do?

My name's Ben Cotton and I lead Sales Enablement for HubSpot Dublin.

My role really is to help our sales reps sell, do it better, and more quickly. Really, my role covers four different areas. The first one is going to be the content that our reps use. The second piece will be training and helping our reps get prepared for selling. The third one is helping to roll out tools and technology. Then fourthly, I provide a deal support service to sales reps. This really means at certain times during the deal, they could request additional support, which could be a customer reference call, could be competitive intelligence, or deal strategy; and that's really just building a plan to help win or close the deal.

Related: What is B2B Sales Enablement?

What does sales enablement mean to you and to HubSpot?

That's a great question. And I think candidly, the term is often poorly defined and subsequently misunderstood. 'Sales enablement' is not as clearly understood as a lead, for instance. So, I think many of us are building the plane while flying it. But to me, it's really helping our sales reps to sell, sell better, and do it more quickly. At HubSpot, we think about sales enablement in terms of quota attainment for the office as well as influenced revenue goals. We think really focusing on the bottom line is important to the success of sales enablement.

I think many of us are building the plane while flying it. But to me, [sales enablement] is really helping our sales reps to sell, sell better, and do it more quickly. 

Are there any specific challenges or issues you've seen across the buyer's journey or in the sales process that sales enablement is helping to address?

Definitely. I think over the last 10 years, technology has helped to change buyer behaviour. So when our sales reps now talk with prospects, many of them are much more informed, much more educated, and often they're ready to buy. I know that we've really seen and felt that change over the last few years. So we've had to adapt, and our sales reps now have to be more consultative. Previously there was a lot of explaining who the company is, what the product does.

We've also seen things like; some people want to buy now when they come to your website, they don't necessarily want to complete a form and then be nurtured. So you need to adapt how you sell to help people with buying something.

I think over the last 10 years, technology has helped to change buyer behaviour... you need to adapt how you sell to help people with buying something.

Related: Achieving Sales Enablement With HubSpot

In terms of best practices, what considerations should people make when developing a sales enablement programme?

I think the way we approach it at HubSpot is; are they a good fit today and are they ready to buy. I think those are the two most important criteria. And from there you can map out what the playbook is going to be for them. But certainly I'd say we have very clearly defined playbooks for who we're speaking to.

Can you talk to us about some of those playbooks? How do you develop a playbook? 

I appreciate a playbook is a catch-all term. So for us, we're somewhat prescriptive, and the way we like to think about is we give our sales reps these playbooks to get close to the finishing line and then use their creativity to close. But if we're talking specifics, basically we have a very clearly defined six step sales process. At each step, we provide reps, with various lead views, the types of qualifying questions, the email sequences they can be using, sales collateral, competitive intelligence, all that kind of stuff. So there's a bunch of great resources available to them at each stage to help them progress the deal.

Are any common pitfalls that organisations run into that you could help them avoid?

Talking generally about sales enablement, I think there are some big pitfalls that often happen. I'm really fortunate that I get to speak with other sales enablement professionals all over the globe at some great tech companies and you know, those companies that are struggling with sales enablement, they often are not focused on revenue. They're often looking at the vanity metrics, so they're interested in things like usage of the tool or attendance of a training session, these lower value metrics when really they need to be looking at revenue, quota attainment, possibly, productivity per rep - metrics like that which really impact the bottom line.

I think the other common pitfall is trying to do it all. Because sales enablement is pretty broad, I think they [reps] can spread themselves too thin almost, and really what they need to do communicate to the business "here's our offering, here's our four pillars" which is what we've done at HubSpot. And that really helps the business understand "what work can we do?" and also the type of work you won't be doing as well.

There are some big pitfalls that often happen... those companies that are struggling with sales enablement, they often are not focused on revenue. They're often looking at the vanity metrics... I think the other common pitfall is trying to do it all.

Related: Why Sales Enablement is Key to an Account-Based Marketing Strategy

If you were to give advice to somebody starting from scratch, where would you spend the most time? What do you see delivering the highest value in terms of strategy and tactics; short, medium and longterm?

I think that's a really good question. I think the first thing you need to do is to understand where you are today in terms of your sales enablement maturity, so you may be starting from scratch, or you may have a team there already. So you need to understand where you are. Many companies will already have somebody doing sales enablement-type activity, though they may not call it that, and it probably isn't their full time job yet. But there's often someone that often takes that role on because they see it adds value. Over time they're really, really busy, but they become less impactful and it's at that time you probably need to appoint someone more experienced who has done this work before, who can then be a strategic consultant as opposed to a tactical order taker. And really, once you're that consultant, you can advise the business.

The first thing you need to do is to understand where you are today in terms of your sales enablement maturity, so you may be starting from scratch, or you may have a team there already. 

So first things first, I would say understand the level of maturity. Then secondly, focus on revenue. Get as close to revenue as possible. Move away from those lower level metrics. Thirdly, the thing we found that's been really important at HubSpot, is sharing a goal or two with the sales organisation. So I share the same quota attainment goal as the sales leadership over here, and that's been really effective for alignment between myself and the sales leaders and I think sharing goals is probably the one true way to drive alignment. Then fourthly, I've mentioned already, I think defining what we're offering is going to be, and what it won't be, is really important.

Then secondly, focus on revenue. Get as close to revenue as possible. Move away from those lower level metrics.

And then the last tip I'd say is to get as close to the sales organisation as possible, so that proximity both physically sitting with the reps [is important], but also understanding what's going on with the sales reps, sales managers, and directors, and really understanding their world.

I think of sales enablement as a shared service, and within that we have an offering that we provide the sales reps. So, as I mentioned, deal support is one of those services. At HubSpot that's an on demand service, that sales reps can call upon during a deal to get some additional support and coaching. We found that to be really, really effective, closed over $3,000,000, ARR from that. So reps value being able to call upon somebody later on in a deal to offer that second opinion.

How would you say that technology has really impacted the way that you go to market?

That's a great question. Candidly, I'm not as close to our go to market as that, I really have more of an internal focus on our reps. But at a high level we've adapted how we sell, based on how people want to buy today. So there are some people who want to buy immediately, so we've enabled that on our site. Some people want to speak via a chat bot or messages to somebody immediately. Or they want to download a piece of content and get in touch that way. So, we've invested heavily and changed and changed our go to market based on how people's behaviours change.

At a high level we've adapted how we sell, based on how people want to buy today.

And activities do you advise teams to consider to kickstart any sales enablement programs?

That's a tough question, and I think it varies per organisation, but the exercise I did at HubSpot was to speak with our directors, managers and reps. I basically create a simple two by two grid so we can stack rank the types of activities we think will have the biggest influence on revenue and also impact the highest number of sales reps. So based on this we'll identify some common challenges and also possibly some low hanging fruit. So stuff that's going to have a high revenue impact for a high number of reps, we obviously prioritise. Things like that would be rolling out deal support to all our reps, revamping sales sequences (which is a project we've just run), and then there's other things that perhaps influence less reps that are high value, and we might be doing those as well.

The grid, although it's simple, makes it really easy to see what's going to be a priority. So I'll share that with the sales organisation and they can see it on my Wiki page - and that's how we prioritise work. Otherwise you can fall into the trap of working with the loudest voice as opposed to someone who's going to have the biggest impact.

Do you have an example of a sales enablement success story that you've seen create some great results recently?

There are three programs I can share that we're really pleased with, and have rolled out globally. So the first one I've mentioned already is deal support; and this is an on demand service available to sales reps. It consists of a customer reference call, which is putting a client in touch with a prospect often from the same region or industry or who's overcoming the same marketing challenge.

We also offer competitive intelligence consultations, so we have a fantastic Wiki which has all these great resources, but sometimes reps need more tailored, bespoke advice. The third part of that is deal strategy; that's really building a plan to win. It could be, "how do we do account-based marketing with HubSpot" or something like that, or "have you looped in the right sales engineer or legal for this?' that kind of stuff. So, that's deal support; we've helped acquire over 150 new clients. It's generating a $3,000,000 arr. Reps really value having that to call upon.

The second program we've run is a bootcamp for struggling sales reps. Here we identified a cohort of reps that were averaging under 95 percent and we ran this eight week boot camp. It was coaching and whiteboard led with some forced deal support. We found our top reps, were leveraging deal support and the right resources, whereas those that are struggling, often found it difficult to navigate and didn't know which resource to bring up. We've run the program four times now. And on average, sales reps increase their quota attainment by 31 percent. Perhaps even more pleasing, six of the sales reps who participated have gone on to earn promotion at HubSpot. So there's a few folks that were struggling, but we helped to give them the right focus and support and they've gone on to have really good careers at Hubspot.

It's never been a better time to be in sales enablement... I think the future's looking really, really exciting for us and it's great to be a small part of what's to be a big movement.

The third program we've run is an EMEA sales bot. There are two things that the bot does, one is an FAQ's bot, so it fields all these high frequency, low value questions that I used to get asked. So things like, "can you send me a case study or a sales deck or competitive intelligence", things like that. The volume of those questions is really high; they still need to be answered and not necessarily by a human. So we built this bot and it answers about 500 questions per month, which is really pleasing. That's 500 questions less that I have to respond to, so a big time saving. And then the other part of this, we built is on Slack and it helps sales reps identify unworked MQLs. So if they've not worked an MQL within a certain timeframe they get notification. Obviously MQLs are really high value so you need to be on them really, really quickly. With this, we reduced by half the number of unworked MQLs. So there's three programs we're talking about a lot at HubSpot, that we've seen a lot of success with, and I'm helping our clients with.

Any other comments or thoughts?

It's never been a better time to be in sales enablement. I think it's a really exciting period for us. As I mentioned, we're building the plane while flying it and I think that's exactly what makes it really fun. Currently, no one has all the answers, which is again, quite exciting, and there's a couple of really interesting trends as well. There's VC funding flooding into the categories, so there's a lot of interest around sales enablement today. And then I think there's over 250,000 people with 'sales enablement' in their job title, and there's obviously the sales enablement society. I think the future's looking really, really exciting for us and it's great to be a small part of what's to be a big movement.

Transcribed with Temi

B2B Marketing Zone