Strategic enablers – shifting away from reactionary Enablement

Eli Johnson is the Director of Global Sales Productivity at NetSuite, and he joined The Collaborator to discuss moving our mindset to situation-ready content and deliverables.  Through these effort, random acts of Enablement took a back seat and a team of strategic enablers arose.

We explored situationally ready enablement, how this ties to the struggle between strategic and tactical initiatives, and the impact it can all have upon your organization.

All of us balance strategic efforts with tactical, and finding the right balance is challenging for small and large organizations. Eli shares how he shifted the balance of his work from primarily reactive, random acts to a more strategic focus on building a great foundation from which he could best support the key one-offs that come along.

Give a listen and remain curious.

Audio Transcript

The Collaborator
are you sir?

Eli Johnson
Fantastic, how

Unknown Speaker
are you?

The Collaborator
I’m fantastic. I’m always amazed. And I have to tell you this.

Unknown Speaker
And I didn’t mention it before

The Collaborator
we just started. I’m always amazed by what’s in people’s houses. If you were to see behind me, if I were to take down this virtual background, you’d see the ugliest, most boring green wall. It’s the perfect place for a virtual background. But you actually have a nice, nicely decorated wall behind you, I had a bit jealous?

Eli Johnson
Well, I had to I think we all had, to some extent, right, we’re on zoom all day long, we have to, we have to do something to make it make it interesting, or just have a tan wall behind me.

The Collaborator
Exactly. And I’ve taken the approach of the the blank, ugly wall. And I just hope everybody deals with it.

Eli Johnson
Like I get some gifts. Like I have some stuff hidden back there some logos, I think was that said Mark Twain, I

The Collaborator
actually have I actually had my wife and kids looking in the window over my left shoulder, which is a little bit of inspiration for me every time I have Mark Twain on the bookshelf, because Mark Twain when he was selling books, I think was back at the end of the 19th century, if I’m if I’m doing my history correctly, he put together a sort of sales enablement team, at one point to help him sell a certain book he was publishing at the time. And I always thought that was kind of neat. That’s amazing. I

Eli Johnson
did not know that. I’m gonna know I love telling people that I’m gonna use that one. I’m gonna give you credit, though. For credit.

The Collaborator
I don’t I don’t deserve it. I’m sure I stole it from somebody. Eli, do me a favor. Tell us a little bit about yourself the business you work for?

Eli Johnson
And let’s just start there. Yeah, for sure. So first off, thanks for having me on. I’ve been kind of following you for a while and get a lot of value out of all the other session sessions and content that you have. So thanks for having me on. So yeah, so I’m with an organization called NetSuite. So we are a gbu of Oracle. So in the GRP, enterprise resource planning financials, software space, and I’ve been with the organization, gosh, whoa, almost seven years, six and a half, seven years. So quite impressive. Yeah, I’ve been here for a little bit. It’s my third, my third stop on the on the career path. So I’ve been here for for a while, but I’ve been in Gosh, the, you know, sales ecosystem for just over 15 years now, which is kind of crazy to when I when I say it out loud. But you know, started as a BDR, SDR a long, long time ago was in Yeah, you know, on the sales side, got into sales management, and then expanded into some good market roles. And I’ve, you know, I’ve landed with this opportunity at NetSuite on the global sales productivity and enablement side for the past for the past year, which has been a kind of a cool transition and a fun ride for the last 12 months, kind of transitioning over to this side of the house.

The Collaborator
Very cool, man, what is that? What is your organization and you don’t want to get into too much detail. But what does your enabled team look like in terms of its structure, number of people supporting reporting, you know, who do you report into? and all that kind of good stuff?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, absolutely. So I lead the charge over here in North America. So break it down, we have kind of four buckets that that roll into my group, when it comes to the enablement side, and that’s the direct side. So just our internal direct sellers doesn’t matter, emerging market, corporate kind of up the ladder from from a demographic perspective, then we have our account management organization that we actually train and have a separate group that that works with the account management sellers on on the team. We also have two additional buckets. So we handle our channel partner, and they own it. So you know, ramping our channel partners within our global ecosystem. And then we also have a separate group that really focuses on a program and execution with our sales management team, which is kind of a newer strategy that we deployed in FY 21, where we’re really focusing on how do we, you know, how do we onboard? And how do we uplevel our sales managers, which, you know, seems to be a gap in a lot of organizations. So we’ve gotten it is you’ll need to commit to that, which is pretty cool.

The Collaborator
I applaud you and all involved with that, because it is a gap in so many organizations, Eli, you know, leveraging supporting in that critical manager leader pathway is so often overlooked, and it’s so important to do it. Yeah, it’s

Eli Johnson
crazy. It’s crazy, right? Because it’s your it’s like this philosophy that, oh, if you’re an amazing sales rep, you’re blowing out your quota. You’re a great individual contributor, that you’re gonna you’ll be a great leader. You’re gonna be a great leader and a great sales manager and just know what to magically do. So Yeah, it’s that it’s that simple. Anyone can do it. So yeah, it’s, it’s a, that’s a good challenge.

The Collaborator
Yeah. And it’s funny because you say that yet, that’s exactly what happens every time and we all see it. And we all shake our head every place we go. And it continues to happen. So hopefully, hopefully we can all do better. And programs, like you’re focused on are a key part of that, that next week, I mean, you’re a tiny company, tiny, you call they have what one partner to manage? And a couple of sellers. I’m assuming your scales a little bigger than that. Right?

Eli Johnson
Yeah. So a lot of sellers, you know, not just talking about North America, but globally. Right. So although I am focused on in North America, you know, you have, gosh, you know, a couple 1000 sellers, just on our internal organization, and then you’re talking about a partner community in the hundreds right now. And

The Collaborator
that’s a challenge most of us don’t live with. So it’s, you’re dealing with it at a at a scale. That’s exciting, I think.

Eli Johnson
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s exciting. And it creates a whole host of new challenges and things you have to figure out, right? You have to really kind of focus on how you scale specific deliverables and how you scale specific programs for a really large audience. And how do you effectively do that? And how do you you know, one of the things that a big organization that we’ve really tried to tackle and focus on is, you know, the, the whole random acts of enablement, just because there’s so many business partners, right? There’s so many value added teams, business partners, sales, sales teams, kind of doing all these random things. And a lot of it is amazing. So it’s, it’s, it’s really, it’s a it’s a challenge, but an awesome opportunity to say, Okay, how do I bring it all together? And how do I, how do I get it, packaged it and actually scale this across the globe, the stuff that that’s work and the stuff that’s effective,

The Collaborator
wasn’t as they bring it all together, while not squashing the creativity that’s creating these really outstanding. They are outstanding, random, random acts of enablement. Like you said yourself, they’re alive. There’s people doing some cool stuff all over the organization, you want to encourage that creativity, but you want to also bring it together?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, you have to write in in your right, it’s a, it’s a fine balance, of trying to rein it in a little bit. But you definitely want to stay nimble, and you want to stay dynamic. And you want to make sure that you’re executing on the latest and greatest based on the needs of the business, right. So it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s an effort to, to bring it all together and try to package it and try to roll it out. While while really having the pulse of the business and making sure that folks are comfortable, right? They they’re comfortable coming to you saying hey, I have these ideas, or, you know, I have a better way to do this. I know I’m not on the enablement team, per se. But you know what, I think there’s a better way to do this. So it’s really that’s part of his is trying to create that openness and saying, Yeah, we want that feedback, we want you to come to us with with questions, we want you to Swiss cheese what we’re doing today, or if you have a better way to do it, right, like, let’s let’s do it, let’s talk about it. So you want to create that kind of open, open dialogue with the with the sales, I love the way, but all the business partners.

The Collaborator
I love that you said it that way. Now, what brought us together was the concept of moving your deliverables, your content to more of a situational readiness on I’m gonna use that broad term. And I’m going to ask you, first off, what does that even mean to you? And then why is it important that we have this conversation and that people think about doing this?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, I think it’s Gosh, I don’t know, I kind of geek out on the topic. So. But I think it’s incredibly important. I think it’s incredibly relevant to kind of what we’re all dealing with right now. Great. You know, I think that the business landscape, obviously, you know, over the past 12 months has really changed dramatically and all you know, our organization along with every other organization on the planet has has had to adapt to that. So when I when I think about situation, ready content, or I think about situation ready deliverables, or even, you know, enablement programs or training. I think it really focuses everyone on the right question. And it’s not rocket science, but you know, it’s kind of like what content or what deliverable for what purpose and for what situation? And, you know, it’s

The Collaborator
it’s so obvious when you say to Eli, you’re right. It’s not rocket science, and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but it’s just like, it goes back to like promoting great sellers to sales managers, we seem to avoid what’s obvious sometimes. So sorry to interrupt you. Please continue.

Eli Johnson
Hello. It’s critical. It’s funny, right? I mean, it’s like anything else in life, I think, you know, it’s easy for us all to over, overcomplicate it. And what I just said is hard to obviously, you know, execute on but, you know, that’s really what we’re trying to accomplish is, you know, wherever the buyer is, within that buyers journey, whether the sales rep is within, within that that sales process sales methodology, journey, you know, how do we get them the right training or the right content for them to utilize for a specific purpose within within that process with within a specific situation? And that’s tough. Right. Like, that’s, you know, it’s, it’s easy to say that, but you know, when we, the reason I, you know, I think it’s such a valuable topic to talk about and kind of explore within within your, your team is is, you know, it’s it’s really easy just to create content, right, like, anyone can create content, there’s never a lack of content, I would say we have too much content, I would, I would probably argue that most companies have too much content. So Oh, my God.

The Collaborator
Yeah. Right, on the order of 10. x.

Eli Johnson
Yeah. So it’s a quality versus quantity. thing, and it’s like, what am I trying to solve with this? or What, what, what behavior Am I trying to change? So it’s easy to be generic, it’s easy to create, you know, enablement, programs and deliverables, which you have to do you have to have a base and a foundation to scale, especially within a large organization. Yes. How can we look at specific situations along the the sellers path, and what can we do to make sure that we get them the right information at the right time. And that’s when they start to adopt it, right, in my opinion, they start to use it to their advantage, they look at content as a sales tool, or they look at training as a sales tool that they’re using to progress a deal or to close an opportunity, not just, you know, I got training this week or training on Thursday at two o’clock,

The Collaborator
90% of the time, that’s the reaction, because 90% of the time, in spite of, you know, I’ll say you and I were trying to really deliver what they need to help them sell, to help the buyers to help the customers and sell. But it’s hard to create great training that helps them in each and every time. And often what they get is that environment where they’re like, to your point, another training session, I was going to ask you, though, does this situational? Does this content at the point of need? replace traditional training methods? Does it? does it provide opportunities to do more in the moment training and coaching? Or? Or is it still a matter of pairing those more foundational elements with the newer prototype? That’s,

Eli Johnson
I think it’s just pairing, I think it’s a good marriage, between kind of the foundational content or foundational deliverables based on the more dynamic deliverables and content that you have to have. And that’s one of the things that we’ve tried to do. And what I mean by that is, you know, we want our foundational programs and the things that we’re building over here to, to have a layer to be able to be dynamic. So when we’re when we’re finding situations or business needs or business challenges within your organization, when we’re talking to our sales leaders or to up to our sales reps. Our goal is not to go over here and create a bunch of net new things all the time. Our goal is to use the foundation and then tweak it and make it dynamic. It is kind of like it’s the last 20% maybe is based on that specific situation or business challenge are

The Collaborator
so smart. So so smart, you know.

Eli Johnson
So it’s like what you build over here? Yeah, you have these buckets and things that you’re focused on and key core programs that are very valuable, but you’re just you’re up leveling them for specific situations.

The Collaborator
Let me let me ask you, this you like, so many of us talk about the buyer journey. And so many companies said yeah, we understand our buyers journey, we get it but I find very few companies really understand it to the level appropriate to do this sort of situational serving up of content of deliverables and other things. How do you go about first off creating this environment where you are partner with the business to create this environment? Where a you understood the buyer journey, and then you could start to look at where can we insert value add?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, it’s, um, gosh, what you kind of just explained there and it really goes back to having trying to have amazing relationships with all of these different value added teams and business partners within the all the touch points, right like When I look at all the touch points of the buyer purchase process or the buyers journey, yeah, we’re one of you know, I need 20, right? There’s, there’s all these different value added teams and business partners within our ecosystem and within any, you know, within any organization that’s touching the seller or touching the buyers journey. So for So for us, it’s really, really strong relationships or the need for strong relationships for all of those different teams. In we try to look at it or I try to look at it as it’s like, I think it’s like a Miller Heiman term, but it’s like other people’s content. Okay. Yeah. I mean, it’s in, I think, you know, historically, sales enablement only creates like 16% of the

The Collaborator
actual cost. Most of the time in a well functioning enablement organization, you’re curating. You’re translating, you’re adjusting, you’re tweaking, right.

Eli Johnson
Yeah. So it’s, it’s, it’s aligning all of our partners within our business, to that to that journey to that buyer journey, or, or sales motion, and making sure that we’re partnered with each each one of them, where it matters, and where we need to be in order to have the right things at the right time. And also, you know, the right, SMEs, we’re not SMEs, you know, we’re SMEs of the process, right? We know that like the back of our hand, or we can teach that. But there’s, there’s tons of ways that we have to bring them into the buyers journey. And I think that cross functional collaboration, you know, is, is incredibly important. If you don’t have that, then everyone’s operating in their own little silo. And there’s not a journey, right? There’s not an end to end consistent motion where everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s kind of doing their own thing within the buyer journey, which we all know doesn’t work.

The Collaborator
Oh, and of that. Now, for people listening, it’s easy enough to say, I’ll start collaborating with different teams and all that stuff. Hell, I push collaboration all day long, because I think it’s huge. But when you go in and have those conversations, let’s say you’re talking to a team, who cares, you talk into a team? Are you coming into them with sort of a map of the buyer journey? Or are you coming in and having conversations more like, you know, what, what kind of pain points? Are you happy? What conversations are you having? Are you? Is it more of a discovery process when you’re having these conversations? Or is it a more of a prescriptive, I’m coming in and saying I you guys are here? How can I help you? You know, it’s,

Eli Johnson
I take, I tried to take the discovery, you know, philosophy with it, because they have a lot to bring to the table. And they probably know a lot of the things that we don’t, yeah, we’ll never know, right? We just won’t we’re not. We can’t have all the conversations we can’t do this. Little bit.

The Collaborator
Yeah, we know that a little bit of the whole.

Eli Johnson
Right, right, we’re kind of a, we’re a good piece of the puzzle. But you know, we have to go into it with a learning mentality and really discovering what other people are seeing what other people are experiencing. And we try to, I try to come into the conversations with, you know, if if we have an idea, if you were like, Hey, I think we need to be prescriptive with with these different teams. And then we’re coming at it with like an objective. It’s like, Hey, this is what we’re trying to accomplish, right? Like, we’re not just coming in and asking you to do something, or we’re not just coming in and saying, don’t do that, or can you do this differently? It’s like, here’s what we’re seeing. Here’s the objective, here’s, here’s the outcome that we’re searching for. Here’s the wisdom for you. Right, here’s, here’s the carrot for a specific business partner, to align with us on a specific project or deliverable, because the outcome will solve problems for both of us. So yeah, it’s, it’s making sure that we’re all bought into that outcome. But if you come to the table, at least with that, yo, versus just maybe a directive, you know, nine times out of 10, you’re going to have a pretty productive conversation. And at the end of the day, we’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re all trying to support completion of selling tasks or buying tasks within the purchase process. We’re all trying to help prospects move to the next stage of the buying journey faster, and have the right things for the seller to be able to execute. It’s just kind of which which role we play within that process.

The Collaborator
And I love I love your I love the approach you’re taking because and the mindset that you just shared because we as enablement professionals know what we know. As human beings. We know what we know, but we don’t know everything. So going in with a with an approach of, you know, wanting to help trying to uncover what the process of like, finding ways that you can be of support and make that experience better for that team for the buyer. And that whole process is just a smart way to do it. And I think and I’m convinced in the long term, the only way that’s really viable.

Eli Johnson
Yeah, I think it’s the only way that that’s viable. I think the only thing to add there is, you know, you want to come into it with with, with some ideas, or some thoughts, or some, of course, bring some value to the table, right? Because I think we all know, you know, just kind of showing up and say, Hey, what do you what are you seeing? Or what do you want? Or what do you need? They’re looking to us to actually be consultative, and be advisors and come to the table with some maybe some insight that they don’t know. So, you know, we can provide value into the conversation versus just being order takers or saying this is what we need to do.

The Collaborator
At some point, excellent way, like, what would you recommend teams? Do? You know, if there’s somebody listening right now? And they say, I want to be like, Eli, Eli Johnson, not Eli Manning? The quarterback, anyway?

Eli Johnson
Well, yeah, I got him on the enablement front. But with sales productivity, I might, I might have him there.

The Collaborator
You can you can get him on that, you know, how would you recommend that get started in trying to make this kind of journey a reality for themselves for their businesses and of the teams they work with?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, I think, you know, for me, I think a lot of the same concepts apply on this side of the house, right? I don’t, I think, you know, they’re not that different. I don’t think any of these roles within the organization are too different. I see a lot of lot of the things if I’m an individual contributor seller, or I’m a sales manager, or I’m in marketing, a lot of the same concepts and a lot of the same things that you did over there. 100% apply on the enablement side, you just have a different customer, right, you just have a different prospect, my prospect our sales reps, I’m prospecting prospecting into my sales organization and with sales leaders, you know, gaining buy in and in understanding what’s going on their business, and I’m in there, my customers, the same way that you you prospect, and build pipeline and transact logos as a sales rep. It’s the same kind of mentality in philosophy, I think. But for me, you know, it’s just like this. It’s not nothing net new, right? I’ve watched some of these podcasts. And a lot of people say the same thing. But kind of this making this transition over here is this really, you gotta really love to help people within the company, right? It’s just like that, that drive and that, that mentality to say, like, I’m a business partner, and my entire focus is to help sellers sell, and to help drive revenue within the organization. And I love to, I love to see people grow. And I love to see people get better at a craft and apply the things that we’re teaching them. So it’s really kind of that that passion for for coaching, you know, same as a sales manager, they typically have a passion for coaching as you’re just coaching in a different way, for learning and to making people better, and to making your organization better. And it’s like, I think it’s that simple.

The Collaborator
I really do. You lie. Yeah, I do. But sometimes get and you said this, at the very beginning, getting to a simple, it’s, well, you infer this, it’s hard to get simple. And sometimes our simple understanding is complex to develop as well. So there’s a lot of short, some of this is simple, but there’s a lot of complexity around it as well. So I think I think we need to continue to remind ourselves and all the enablement professionals out there that much of the work we do is like being a seller. I love that comparison that you made. We’re trying to sell a vision and be of service and help along the journey. How has how has this change, or this approach impacted? either from what you’ve seen your customers, your your relationships with the internal teams, how the business is being done, overall? Any observations?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, you just referencing, like, the whole mentality of situation ready?

The Collaborator
Yeah, exactly.

Eli Johnson
Yeah. So guys, we’ve seen a pretty, pretty neat shift so far, because we’ve taken this whole approach of like, okay, we, we have a core program, right? We have this core foundation that really focuses on on the one on one elements of, of how to be successful at our at our organization. And, you know, in the past that that existed to some extent, but, you know, it was it was almost too random, right? It’s almost like to situation to situational. It was kind of like, you know, we worked with sales leaders in the organization. It was kinda like You know, we don’t really know what’s what’s going on where to focus and you know, what’s the shiny object of the day. So the fact that we kind of, you know, went back to the basics and said, okay, you have a core foundational, scalable, you know, program that we’re going to put your rep your sellers through to get them on boarded, and then also to uplevel their skills. And then we’re really going to be smart on these just in time situation ready deliverables and the situation ready content that we’re glad we’re providing you. So that I think that is created an awesome shift in how they’re interacting with us. Right? They they know, when they come to us for those things, it’s for something really important, right? And we kind of we dig in with them, and we consult and we say, what do we what’s the root cause, like, half the time when they come to us, the root cause they come to came to us with wasn’t actually the root cause. And it wasn’t actually the deliverable that we executed on. So I think it’s really backed them up a little bit. And instead, so they understand where our value is, when we’re when we’re delivering on the just in time stuff.

The Collaborator
Nice. And the key key points I just want to emphasize very lightly was, we all do this just in time stuff. But if you’re a strategic and more tactically focused, you tend to be doing just in time, 90% of the time, and barely, you know, barely those foundational strategic elements forward, you you’re really saying, Hey, we flipped it on its head 80% or so is on the foundational basics doing that better than we ever did before. But you’re still delivering in the moment. situational needs, you’ve just flipped over sort of the investment around a bit and pulling it from the core, which is, if everybody can reach that point, we’re going to be a much better and stronger profession than we are today.

Eli Johnson
Yeah, we’re not perfect. So we’re still learning? No, none of us are none of us are Yeah, we’re still figuring it out. But I think we’ve seen just kind of a healthier confidence. Right? Okay. Yeah, we know they’re doing, you know, the this stuff over here, we’re confident that they’re doing those things. So it’s, it’s creating really fun conversations with the organization and sales leadership and business partners on on some of the other fun things that we can get into and help solve them, which is, which is cool to see.

The Collaborator
Fantastic, man. Now we’re almost at the 30 minute mark. So I’m going to bring this to a close with the final question. I could have talked to you for another two hours, because I really would have loved to even dive a little deeper. But what did we talk about that that you wanted to make sure you get across? In the next, you know, few, you know, minute herself?

Eli Johnson
Yeah, you know, it’s, um, gosh, I love to talk about the role of, you know, just enablement and productivity within within the company. You know, it’s it, I think, you know, a lot of times people, you know, get out of sales, or they go into from sales management or other parts of the business into enablement. And I think people really need to, to understand like, this is a very pivotal, respected part of the company. And the things that you can influence on the enablement side and influence within your organization is, is pretty awesome. So if you think of it from that perspective, and you think of the influence that you have, from a sales perspective, it’s, it’s really powerful. And I think it unlocks some new ideas and new ways to think about enablement within within a company, right. It’s not just not just training people, we’re not just trainers, or we’re not just, you know, onboarding reps like, this is strategic. And if if you come in every day, trying to think of it from that perspective is how do I, you know, strategically make the organization better, you’re going to have a ton of fun donut.

The Collaborator
A mini lie. Oh, that was a great ending. Let me tell you this. I had a fun conversation. This was a day off for Presidents Day here in the United States. And that was an amazing conversation and made me so happy that I took the time to have it with you today. So I want to thank you. And I’m sure everybody got something out of it. I’m also going to throw back to Eli though, anytime you want to come back on and explore the role of enablement. More broadly, I’d love to have you back on because I think there’s some rich conversations we could have on, on how to make the organization both be seen as strategic, which is one piece of it, but the more interesting piece, in my mind, is how to remind all of our fellow enablement practitioners that it is strategic and how to remember to think of it that way. That is such an important point that you raised there at the end.

Eli Johnson
Yeah, be proud of it, right. We’re we’re doing some some some cool things and the other one is So I really appreciate you having me on this was this was a ton of fun so I look forward to doing it again.

The Collaborator
Alrighty, like thank you so much you have a fantastic rest of your day. Thank you everybody for listening

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