We continue our series on sales and customer enablement with Ashton Williams, Revenue Enablement Manager at Ada. Ashton explores why 2021 is the Year of the Customer and why enablement will play a central role in enabling sales success while staying customer-centered. We also discuss how to effectively onboard new hires, how to incorporate everboarding into an organization, and how to create a repeat sales and customer success model.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Enabling sales success and becoming customer-centric
  • Creating a Sales Enablement (SE) and CX Maturity Model for repeat success
  • Breaking down silos to improve customer and sales success
  • What role managers can play in enablement
  • What happens after onboarding (continuous learning or everboarding)

Ashton Williams is the Revenue Enablement Manager at Ada, an AI-based platform for automating customer experience. She is a member of several prominent sales enablement organizations, including WiSE (Women in Sales Enablement), The Enablement Squad, and the Sales Enablement Collective. Ashton is also a member of the Sales Enablement Society

Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Enabling Effective Sales and Customer Experiences podcast. Each podcast is an open dialogue with leading experts across marketing, sales, and customer success. Each week we discuss why from first contact to customer success, enablement and experience matters. And now, here is your host for today's session.

Craig: Welcome, all, to today's podcast. It's great to have you. We're on a topic today that is near and dear to my heart, and that is focused on the customer. We're calling it on today's podcast, 2021 and beyond, The Year of the Customer. Joining me today is Ashton Williams. Welcome, Ashton.

Ashton Williams: Thanks so much for having me, Craig.

Craig: Well, it's great to have you here. Ash and I had a conversation earlier today, as well as a few weeks back, on this idea of sales enablement in a CX maturity model. You brought that into your organization. It would be great to have you talk a little bit about how you use that to put a stake in the ground, say,“ Here's where we're at today, and then here's where we're going in the next period of time.” If we can start there, I think that would be a good way to ground this conversation.

Ashton Williams: Oh, for sure. I worked at a company that was quite large, and I was leading training, which really ended up being enablement and a bunch of other things wrapped in, and that business was stable and that company was over 50 years old. So, I got to see what enablement looks like when it's fully matured. When you have all the tools and the resources, you have the motion moving and it's predictable and repeatable and everyone is successful. Then I jumped over to startup and I'm loving it, tech moves so fast, and then a startup moves even faster. What I was struggling to articulate to my team was what that “dream state” is and what that looks like because there's so few companies that do truly get there. As I was trying to set out my goals for the year I was able to take that sales enablement maturity model and really talk through the stages that a business goes through when they're trying to handle everything. And not only forecast success but have enablement be that glue to that forecasting. And so, we talked about that level one, where it's a shared responsibility and it goes around everyone. That level two, where maybe you have one person, but they're running around like a chicken with their head cut off. And that level three where we're at least at, we know what's coming, when it's coming, and how to measure success. And so, we made some goals around really getting to level three in three areas this year, and that was able to really move my organization to give me resources - it was wonderful. I'm now going to have a team of, I think, five coming this year. My title was changed from Sales Enablement to Revenue Enablement and I'll be taking on CX as well. So the maturity model, when positioned properly, really helps people see the dream state.

Craig: Right. In fact, I used to refer to it as the “stairway to sales enablement heaven,” and so I love that. That statement you just made there. the idea was, look, to get there, let's visually represent it. We'll show we're at today, good, bad, ugly, doesn't matter. Then, let's show where we're going to be in the next quarter, a couple of quarters. Maybe the next couple of years. And by doing that you're getting the resources you need. I think, more importantly, it's that visual representation that shows you want to get to a level three in this period of time. Here's what we need to do. And ultimately in the end, and this is a takeoff of something we just talked about minutes ago, and that is there's this perception of alignment as slowing progress of whatever initiative. If you can speak to that to our listeners today, I thought your response was spot on, because ultimately with alignment, you can go from random acts of enablement to a repeatable model. -but you have to have the whole team on board and the team isn’t just sales.

Ashton Williams: I think it's one of the biggest learnings that I had moving into a startup space where your business is shifting, and your goals are a little different than when you're at an older company, right? There's an idea that you're scrappy, and you move forward, and you don't get consensus. You apologize, and that's good - you want to move quickly. But I think we often confuse consensus for alignment and we sacrifice alignment. And for me, when I think of alignment, it's not being in silos, it's agreeing on the goals that were set out to do, and really being in line for the customer. So that revenue enablement piece is from, “I need to align everyone for my buyer, who will then become my customer, who then will become my renewing customer, and possibly refer and prospect again.” And so we really talked about that. Alignment is also an alignment of our process, and our enablement, and the team, and the messaging. That starts internally, to give that experience to our customer.

Craig: Absolutely. And it's interesting because once you see alignment occur in a company, and I've always thought that a sales revenue isn't a sales team thing. It's not a marketing team thing, it's an everybody-- in-the-company team thing. Once you have that alignment, at least the beginnings of it, and then a common understanding of who's doing what, one of the things that I find is that you can begin to eliminate the stuff that simply doesn't matter. I don't know if you found that in your findings because, throwing out more content, throwing out more training, that isn't necessarily the answer. I'd love to get your take on that.

Ashton Williams: For sure. I mean, so many people in enablement are often struggling, right? They don't have the North star. I get questions around metrics, they have questions around how to build this specific thing. I get questions around creative ideas. It often comes up where someone is frantic or an organization is struggling because the North star hasn't been agreed on. That's not necessarily always the enabler. Sometimes a company will bring in enablement and not really know what they want enablement to do or what the outcome is. They're driving for you. Hired a person. What are you hoping they accomplish?

The maturity model really helped align for both myself, my team, and the organization, what we're hoping to get to, but then it also helped me prioritize the stuff that matters. So if I want, you know, we're a rapid growth company - that means onboarding is what we care about more than anything because we need to ramp people. They need to be successful and we need to scale and not have that cost revenue. So, a level three onboarding is predictable and there are specific things that I know I have to do for that. So I'm not necessarily focusing my time on all the nice-to-haves. I'm really laser-focused on what I can go deep on and do well versus trying to spread myself thin and do everything but have no measurable impact.

Craig: The interesting thing is that the receiver of all the great stuff that your team is going to be building, more is not more to them either, right? They'd sooner have the things that are going to make a difference in their first couple of weeks to get them out of phone the first month to get a prospective buyer in discussion. And then three weeks, or maybe three months later, going through the proposal process, but learning as they're going. Continuous learning seems to be now well entrenched in many organizations. If we can pick up on that. So let's say that it's assumed now you have a repeatable way of onboarding. A repeatable way of learning along the way, continuous learning. What's next, and what are the things that are super important to focus on and to make an impact on these individuals because again, more is not more?

Ashton Williams: Yeah. I think we always forget to continue what we start when it comes to onboarding, right? So I measure a couple of things. Onboarding, I care that you're getting to productivity faster, but a Go-To-Market is also a ramp because it has an outcome. A goal. A timeline. And then, there's the other stuff which, your product knowledge, sales craft. These are things that usually tie to specific things my ops points out. So if ops is telling me, “We're really struggling with forecasting conversion at discovery, this stage is not looking as consistent.” My team's going to do a listening tour and investigate what's happening there.

That continuous learning either comes up reactively because we've been told that this is a problem, or it's because we know our business has shifted and we're always updating, onboarding, and updating the learnings and gathering those insights and sharing them back to the team. I think continuous learning isn't just the responsibility of sales enablement. I think managers play a humongous place in this. In building that culture of sharing those learnings as a team. And then, enablement gets to take that and build it into a formal training or an asset or a resource. That kind of learning becomes a culture in addition to a program,if that makes sense.

Craig: Well, it does make sense. And I enjoy the term “everboarding''. Some people aren't a fan. I think people understand what we're talking about, Rr right? You're never done learning. One of the things that I think is critical, that you just brought out there, is the management team's role in all of this. This is not a throw it over the wall to the sales abatement team thing, at all. When you're in a position, let's say you're doing a forecast review. Let's say you're doing a mutually agreed upon closed plan with a client. These are great opportunities for managers to begin to say, "Here's, what's working with other clients,l this client."And if they're enabled, the management team, right? I think what's critical to that, is that the receiver of this, one of the most engaged... when they're in front of a real opportunity, the first question is, do they know it's real? And then secondly, let's say that you're now in closing mode, they've never gone through the close client. Wouldn't it be great to have a manager involved? How do you do that? How are you involving your management, or what is your intent to include the management and continuous learning?

Ashton Williams: Yeah. I can say that I'm pretty lucky, my managers get it. When we roll out a training, or a Go-To-Market, it's my manager recording the pitch. It's my SVP of Revenue talking through why Salesforce is important. It really is a team effort. And I think that the thing my team understands is one, they don't want to hear from me. They want to hear from their boss because this learning also needs to be promotable work. When you want a team to mobilize and a sales motion to move...I remember being AE and what I cared about is how I was going to get to the goal. And if not that, how I was going to get to my promotion. So if it's not my manager saying, "Here's the sales process, and here's how this works." I don't really think that I'm going to be measured on that for success, or that it works. That credibility comes from all of us coming together.

I would also say that managers, especially as we scale, my managers are going to have less and less time, more and more reports. I think a lot about how I can support them in onboarding five people, at the same time that they're coaching a team of three or four? How do we make it so that they can continue to do their best work and support their team as people managers, but also manage a sales process and forecast and all of those things? That really comes from building out easy tools that they can use, having programs that are effective, and us being that layer of willing insights back up to them. I always say that we're like software, where we take our sales managers through a sales process with every project we do. But to keep them, we have to continue to deliver value. And so, that might be a QBR. That might be, “Hey, did you know?” across your whole team. We're struggling here. Those are things that I think are important for both enablement and ops to continue to do.

Craig: No question. And I appreciate the fact that you're saying you need to keep them engaged too, right? And in the end, whether it be a product rolling out or a new discipline, you're rolling out to your management team, they need to be bought in and they need to be part of the process. If they're not now, the last thing you want is for them to use it once, and never come back to it. I thought the whole idea is, we want to repeat success. So if you're successful in bringing this one or two or three people up to speed in the first quarter of this year, why wouldn't you be more successful in Q2? Well, only if you keep people engaged. I so love that.

Craig: Let's segue now. Let's talk about the big title here of today, 2021, the Year of the Customer. What we're finding is that in the industry, companies are becoming much more customer-centric. Customers, obviously, are very empowered. They're spending a lot of time doing research all the way through their success, with the solution on their own. How do we make sure the experience for them is great before they're working with our sales team, during, and after they're working with their sales team? If you could share a little bit about that, and it sounds like your purview of going beyond just sales enabled now and to CX. It sounds like that's part of your role.

Ashton Williams: Yeah. So in enablement, we buy a lot of software. I'm a customer very often, and in my experience, I've experienced when a handoff is messy. I've experienced when my AE was wonderful and I got to the next stage and was like, it's not the same or vice-versa. Our customers are educated. They are not usually coming to you to learn about your product. They're coming to you to understand the value and drive. When we think about that, it's table stakes that you deliver on that value. So your product has to work, obviously, and that you communicate that. But the added experience, it being easy to be your customer and not just it being easy, it being wonderful. I benefit from this purchase. I benefit from this partnership that cuts across any line of business. So I think if you're siloed internally... internally, if you were a customer, someone buying from you wouldn't feel that way, you wouldn't feel great. If you have to talk to someone and they don't know what the next handoff person is doing, I think enablement really plays a role here in breaking down the silos within an organization to allow us to really focus on the buyer. We have to remind people again and again, when you change things, they have to stay buyer-centric. You do that in partnership with, I think, teams that people forget. I partner with Brand to make sure that when we're coaching, my teams sound the way they should. I partner with People to make sure that orientation and onboarding are seamless. I work with Finance. You have to work across all the teams to make sure those silos aren't barriers to your revenue team's success and your customer expense.

Craig: Well, I can tell that the silos and breaking those down are top of mind, for you. Obviously, the experience of the past that you've had, you've seen what happens when that organization drags the initiative down. It could be something as simple as this, marketing and sales has always been a challenging relationship for many years. I'm not speaking out of turn, everybody knows that, right? But once they come together, it's amazing how they begin to produce the messaging that matters. And the people in the field are consuming the content that matters. The same thing should hold true between sales and service.

The question about that relationship isn't so much, “do they get along?” The question becomes, do they know each other? Do you actually know that person that's going to be taking that client that you just spent six months, maybe even a year, and they're going to take them to success. Especially in this “land and expand” world where so many clients are buying some and then buying more later. So how do you make that handoff? And then, what's your take around that occurs? You're breaking down the silos. That's the first step in this, so both sides get a sense. Any thoughts around that to make sure that that client experience isn't one where they say, "Well, who are you?” “Well, we spent six months with you. Why would you not know us?"

Ashton Williams: Yeah. So, I mean, I think there's a lot of things that can go into that.

Craig: Sure.

Ashton Williams: But the first and foremost is awareness. Do both teams actually know what the customer journey was to get to them, or the customer journey after them, so they're setting each party up for success? Does sales know what happens in implementation so that they're setting the right expectations of the customer? Does success know what the customer went through in their buying journey, and how many stakeholders were involved, so they know how to navigate that a bit better? Sometimes that's having tools that share the data and information. Sometimes that's, manually, we used to just have a meeting in order to hand someone off, or you had to actually verbally hand off along with your Salesforce data. I think it's keeping that continuity between the teams, and as a cultural piece, breeding that cross-functional empathy.

My sales team reaches out to my customer success team all the time. Their Slack channel blows up to get insights all the time. Customer success partners with sales, when we have someone at risk, or a new-use case that we think could be interesting. Having that type of natural communication between the teams is so important, I think. Even if all you do is foster that, they will figure out how to work better together. At the bare minimum, breakout rooms. Have them meet each other, do activities together. I remember at one company we did an exercise where Customer Success in Salesforce had to do a day in the life. We basically hosted an activity where you had to do something that would be day-to-day for that role to really get that understanding of what the customer goes through, but also empathy for the other role on the other side of that deal. To be able to work better together.

Craig: I love that example. If you were to convey to the person and services what you did to get to that point, lots of things are happening, right? They're a better understanding and they're having empathy for the buyer. Who is now a customer. They're understanding the challenges that the seller had. This could be one of those opportunities that once-off and came back. And so, how did they do? Then ultimately, I mean, we've all done it….we called into a service and you provide all this information and the person says, "Hello, who are you?" And it's the worst, right? Because you've provided all that information upfront.

So I think there's almost a level of expectation, you had said “table stakes”, that this transition is going to happen. And is super important. One final item I wanted to bring up on today's call because I know you're a big believer in the experience of both roles, sales, as well as the customer. Net Promoter Score. Right? You were talking earlier about, you're already thinking about just, not just buying, but glowing, promoting. Maybe in salespeople promoting to their peer group. “Hey, you should come work for this company.” They'd get it. Any thoughts around putting in place some way of capturing the Net Promoter Score, or at least the essence of the experience throughout?

Ashton Williams: Yeah. So we do capture NPS. It's usually on a deployment, right? Or on implementation. I think I would love a world where a buyer would rate their experience. But I think being a buyer myself, I don't think I would do that, right? Rate my AE really? I might, but if I'm buying the software, I might not have the time to give that back. What I do think is important is, how someone feels about your brand is usually indicative of how much they spend with you. How much insight they're willing to deliver and how much they're willing to work with you to make it better.

We have customers that truly partner with us because they have such a wonderful experience that they feel like we're part of their team. I think you can measure NPS. If your company is sophisticated enough to do so, wonderful. But I think you can also look at, how many customers are partnering with us and wanting to influence our roadmap, or giving us suggestions on how we can improve? That's someone who's had a great experience, believes in our team, and feels like part of this team. That's really, I think, what you strive for. That's also the customer that usually buys more from you later, or when they don't, they have really clear reasons why.

Craig: No doubt. I love your practical response to that. It's not just a number. It's not just a number you're going to be using in some report somewhere, but instead is, do they feel like they're part of the team? Ashton, I knew this was going to happen. I knew we were going to fill up 15 minutes so quickly. So here's what we'd love to do. We'd love to have you back in maybe three, four months from now. Go further into this topic. But also shared to our listeners, what are the experiences that you came into over the last three months in 2021? Now, the world is changing obviously, digitally, and changing at such a rapid pace. We would love to have you back.

Ashton Williams: I would love that.

Craig: Let's plan on it. Now with that, thank you very much for your time today. Thanks, listeners for being here. If anybody has questions or you want to get a copy of the CX and sales enablement, maturity model, certainly reach out to me. We'll make that happen. Or if you have any questions for Ashton, reach out to her as well. Thanks a lot for listening.