Building Enablement and Why transitioning to Revenue Enablement Matters

Vanessa Metcalf is the Head of Revenue Enablement at Top Hat.  She joined The Collaborator and shared some brilliant advice and insights on a variety of topics.  Her insights and rationale for transitioning to Revenue Enablement was one of my favorites, of course, but she also shared:

1️⃣Advice on building Enablement in a business, based upon her work at Top Hat.

2️⃣And, my favorite point, the generosity of our Enablement community in sharing wisdom, insights, and tips with one another.

Give a listen and stay curious.

Audio Transcript

The Collaborator
I’m going to call you out. I’m going to call you out. She’s on vacation, everybody. And she’s still doing this podcast, which means she gives a damn about a naval.

Unknown Speaker
Lt.

The Collaborator
We’re gonna forget that she’s stuck in her house because of COVID. But she cares about enablement. So that’s why she’s here.

Unknown Speaker
Vanessa,

The Collaborator
tell us about yourself,

Vanessa Metcalf
sir. Yeah. So let me start with the fun stuff. On the personal side. I I’m a torontonian. So I live in Toronto, Canada. I’ve been in the city for just over six years, which has been a blast. JOHN and I were just talking about how he’s in Boston. I’m in Toronto, the cities are somewhat similar. Other than that, I am a new dog, mom. So it’s a golden retriever. His name is Hudson. And he’s 11 months old. Yeah. Nice. He’s awesome. Definitely good timing. Actually, you know, everyone’s hopping on the puppy train with COVID. Were those people Sue? So? No, he’s he’s been a lot of fun. On the professional side of things. So I work for a company called top hat. We are an educational technology company that sells into the higher ed community, mostly in North America, a small, small global footprint, but mostly colleges and universities in Canada and the US. So I’ve been there for just over five years. And right now I’m leading our revenue enablement function, which is about 150 or so folks across New sales and the customer service side of things, too.

The Collaborator
That’s wonderful. But how big is the revenue enablement? team that that you manage?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, so there’s five folks including me five Oh, so that’s a

Unknown Speaker
pretty good ratio.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah,

The Collaborator
I think 30 to one. That’s That’s excellent, actually. So that’s fantastic.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah,

The Collaborator
yeah. You and I know, revenue enablement. That’s that that’s my favorite thing. It’s like Christmas right here. For me. It’s wonderful.

Vanessa Metcalf
Christmas came earlier, Christmas came

The Collaborator
early. Why revenue enablement for you guys? What what prompted you to go down that path?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah. So we transition like I feel a lot of organizations are doing more and more from sales enablement to revenue enablement. Yep. simple fact that sales enablement didn’t feel like it was inclusive enough of the work that we were actually doing. Sounds like you agree with that

The Collaborator
one. You agree with you? Yeah. 100%? Yeah. 100%?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, that’s basically it, right? We were doing all these things that served our entire customer facing quota burying folks and their leaders. And we realized, wait, this isn’t just about sales anymore. And when you look at our organization, I mean, I think it’s more important than ever to work closely with your folks that are handling your actual customer base, right, a significant chunk of our targets and our quota that we got to get to so we wanted to make sure that the support was there just as much as it has been historically for our sales, folks.

The Collaborator
I love that I really do it has anything surprised you in the journey? I mean, for a lot of people, I think it’s Look, it’s a change in name. It’s a path that a lot of us have been going down anyway, we started with sales. And then we started broadening out did it? Did it immediately change anything few Vanessa? In terms of approach or thinking at all?

Vanessa Metcalf
No, really, to be honest, a lot of it we had already been doing I guess the only surprise would be the amount of overlap there actually is right? Like a lot of these programs and the tools were using the assets we were creating. It turns out that so many of those, you may have to tweak them a little bit, make them more tailor made for that your post sales side of the business. But there’s so so relevant, right, and it is helpful, I think to make sure that side of the business has some some sales skills and some document built up. So we found that to be beneficial for our organization. Yeah, that’s

The Collaborator
awesome. And I don’t want to make this conversation all about revenue enablement versus sales enablement. But it’s always good to hear that as well. Because to me, it’s just a natural progression. It’s not like we’re taking a U turn and going in a different direction. It’s just we’re sort of continuing down the enablement pathway just a little bit broader, a little bit what

Vanessa Metcalf
So what was the I know, I’m not the interviewer here, but let me ask you what, what was the genesis for you all in moving to revenue enablement?

The Collaborator
Well, for me, I was really looking a lot at Tamara shank and her work at CSO insights and the constant surveys that that they were doing on a yearly basis constant Yeah, the regular yearly surveys they were doing and saying, you know what, there’s a few things going wrong here. It wasn’t enablement, sales enablement has never been formalized well enough. And what we were seeing what the research constantly showed was that too many teams weren’t delivering positive measurable value to their companies. And I looked at that, and I also recognized research from from Peter austro over serious decisions where he has been doing a lot of research on this and demonstrated in his research that what is it about having Half of the people involved in the sales cycle were never covered or supported by the enablement team. So we were leaving big gaps even just on the the sales enablement journal journey by focusing so heavily on sales. But I also you touched upon the key point Vanessa 75 to 80% of the revenue for a typical SaaS company is customers existing customers. That’s it, you damn well better put money behind that protecting them. So exactly, making them successful. So a lot of those things came together for me.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, no. Okay, that’s, that’s definitely kind of aligned to our thoughts on the whole thing as well. And not to mention we talked about that’s a big chunk of your quota and the target and business objective, but it’s also when you think about your customer base, okay, they’re the ones that are likely more likely to try new products, they’re more likely to, if there’s a mistake made so it’s really important to tap into,

The Collaborator
and Gail, cherish just throughout go Vanessa, I love Gail, I love you.

Vanessa Metcalf
I feel amazing. I’m like her number one fan. She’s, Oh, I

The Collaborator
love her so much. She’s really good. Um, but the other thing I was gonna say, as Tim riester, over corporate visions, they came out with a new book based upon some research really talking deeply about the different funnels, and the different messaging tracks required for new business versus existing customers. And just all of these things coming together, made me personally say crap, it’s we need to grow up. And we need to both grow up in terms of maturity, in enablement, overall, but also just take a broader look at the whole damn thing. So

Vanessa Metcalf
Totally, yeah, I’m with you.

The Collaborator
Yeah, I know, you. I know you are, as I’m excited. It’s like Christmas here. Talk to me. You’ve you built out enablement organizations, you’ve been building it out of top out. Talk to me about you know, what surprised you in the process? what’s worked, what hasn’t worked? and share your thoughts there, Vanessa?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yes, sure. Um, I would say the number one thing that was a surprise, but in the best way possible was just how tight the community is, right? how tight knit that enablement community is which, you know, your podcast, I think, is a testament to as well, you’ve had certainly the names on here of lots of folks that I respect and admire, and you’re doing lots to get back to the community as well, which is, by the way, why I wanted to take part in this on my day off. So I would say that would be number one, right is how how much there’s a big wealth of knowledge that is just waiting for you to tap into and the community is just there waiting to welcome you with open arms. And easy, isn’t it? Yeah, yeah.

Unknown Speaker
Good way. It’s

Vanessa Metcalf
crazy. It is like talking about Christmas coming early. That’s the enablement community right there and you kind of you know it, the second you get into it, I would say like that, that’s my number one piece of advice for anyone getting into enablement for the first time is, you know, be the beneficiary of all that good advice and that wealth of knowledge because it’s out there just waiting for you to find it. And once you do, it’s going to really validate and solidify this career choice for you. So that that took me by surprise, I would say and again, a really good way.

The Collaborator
Yeah, no, I love that. Now in terms of so getting the advice from the community around you is certainly excellent advice. And this is probably the most generous community I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. And I just and I love that so very much when you started out building enablement a top hat when you started down your journey itself, what are some of the things you tried at the beginning that that surprised you that they worked so well? and fine, or And on the flip side, what didn’t work so well?

Unknown Speaker
I was gonna start with

The Collaborator
God plenty of those too. We all have.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yes, I would say let me start with that one. I feel like it’s easier right? here’s here’s what not to do. Um, I would say things you want to avoid is taking on too much right? Like I probably have a bunch of folks that would say the same thing is you can easily become a bit of a catch all and then you’re not able to do your best work right? You really have to learn how to say no and prioritize all the right things that are going to actually help your your customer facing folks move the needle and in turn help the business right help the bottom line so I would say that’s the thing to avoid and to help you with that you can you know check in with your leaders make sure that this is to answer the part about what what did go well is you want to get that feedback from all of your frontline leaders all of your pick a few reps that are you know, things are going well for them and they’re willing to be a partner to the enablement team. Yes, sure. You hear from them, hey, what what are the gaps right now? How do you feel enablement can help and when you validate that with their managers and the rest of your cross functional stakeholders, then you know you’re on to something, especially if it’s aligned to some big business outcome that you The rest of the business is hoping to achieve. So I’d say that would be something you could focus on early on.

The Collaborator
I love that because so many of us get into enablement. Recognizing that it’s a service slash support type of function. So we want to be there to help. So it’s so easy to say yes to everything. And it’s so easy to therefore underperform and under deliver, because you’ve said yes to too much. Do you? You know, the whole charter thing? You know, everybody says, have a charter have a charter? I know, the reality is some people do. Some people don’t? Did you start with a charter at the beginning, Vanessa, or it was a sort of a, we’ve kind of grown and evolved, or the rules of the road as we’ve gone forward.

Vanessa Metcalf
More. So the latter, I would say the charters can be a bit of an illusion sometimes?

Unknown Speaker
I think so too.

The Collaborator
I think they’re I think they’re important. But I think sometimes they can be done in a way that to your point, it feels like you build something that’s an agreement when it’s really not.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, and I think if you’re trying to stick too much to a plan, it means you’re not learning in the moment, right, and you’re not reading and refining as you go. So I would say that, you know, we had something in place, we had kind of guiding principles, and we had a direction that I thought we would go in course, we made a bunch of mistakes as we went, you know, there’s a bunch of things that went well. So we stuck to those. So we kind of had a bit of a plan. But I would say we we as you put it, we learn from the rules of the road was probably the thing that felt more advantageous to us in the approach.

The Collaborator
Yeah, love that. Love that. And, you know, one of the things I was going to ask you about is, and I think you touched upon it in your notes, when we were going back and forth in terms of what we wanted to talk about. You mentioned people process. You didn’t mention technology. But that’s always there in the end that triumvirate, you mentioned focus in terms of those kinds of quadrants. In terms of where you put your effort. How do you think teams should start out? And I don’t mean in an enterprise company, I mean, like, average sized company, much like you’re working in Vanessa, much like I’m working and you know, I don’t work for a fortune 200 company. We all work for a midsize businesses A lot of us do. How do you think about starting out in terms of those categories?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, I think that was probably the easiest question on your list, john. Um, to me, that answer is just like crystal clear. If you’re in if you’re in a position where you’re running the enablement function, and you have the opportunity to hire some folks to be a part of the team with you, I would say the number one quadrant to focus on is people, because that’s going to inform everything else, right? If you’re wondering, hey, what what’s our tech stack gonna look like? What tools should we invest in it? What process do we need? Hey, what? What new trainings or methodologies should we be looking at, if you put the right people in the right places that are focused on you know, they’re aligned to the right segments, they’re going to be able to help decide that for you, it shouldn’t be any one person dictating that.

The Collaborator
I love that. And because I’ve seen too many organizations, now I work for a technology vendor. So I’m going to admit that upfront when I say this, because I’ll be unemployed tomorrow morning. Um, I think sometimes companies invest in the technology too fast. Hmm. And I’m saying that as a technology vendor, so I will have to apologize, I’m sure later to somebody. But the reality is if you get to people and you understand the process and what you’re trying to accomplish, I think you hold off on that, would you agree? Or do you think there’s certain technologies that it’s like, crap, no, I think we need that right from the beginning. But the others I agree, what are your thoughts?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, I would mostly agree, I think and if you look at even top hot in my experience, our tech side you know, four years ago is totally different than it is today, which naturally it’s going to evolve and get more sophisticated. So I think that is true that things were gonna change you know, want to jump the gun until you’re really really clear on what you know the the direction of the enablement team is and where you’re kind of blind spots are and what tools can help you identify those, but there is a caveat to this. I know the one thing you need a prime is you need conversation intelligence.

The Collaborator
You know, I’m gonna call bullshit. No, I’m kidding. No, I’m kidding. I think you need CRM pretty early. And and I think conversational intelligence is becoming table stakes too. So yes, Harrison your thoughts about it? Why do we I

Vanessa Metcalf
didn’t even think CRM definitely CRM you You of course need your dialer and all those things which is you know par for the course of course, but conversation intelligence I do think is getting into that mix, because you just glean so many insights that otherwise sure you could wait you know, three years until your team scale up and then bring one of them on. Yeah, or you can Just find out what’s going on and very early days and use that to really help iterate your entire business strategy, right? So everything from messaging and positioning, what’s working, what’s not your objections, what’s working, what’s not discovery, what’s working, what’s not. And then more broadly, and this is where it gets really helpful to provide insight and value back to the rest of the organization is, how do you use this to understand customer sentiment and market trends, right. And I think having those tools in place early on, just give you insights that you need really early on, instead of waiting years to bring it into your tech stack.

The Collaborator
You can mention the technology used or not doesn’t matter. There’s some great ones out there, chorus, Gong, and others that are out there that are fantastic. You mentioned a number of ways in which you can use them use them really effectively. If you’re giving advice if you were giving advice to a new enablement manager about how to start using it sort of the initial things to do with it, what would you give based upon your experience?

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, I’ll take the opportunity to plug Gong because we are that’s fine on users. Yeah, so we’re, we’re definitely big fans of Gong, but you know, a lot of them are great. And I would say the first thing you want to do when you’re when you’re using that technology, actually want to handle it from from two sides. One is get so intimate with that product that you could basically be a CSM for that company, people are going to be looking to you, right, like, you got to be that person. Because you’re gonna you’re gonna have people coming to you with questions, and instead of you then going to them get the answer, then give it to that person. Yeah, waste of time, right, just get so up to speed with the product that you could actually be selling it yourself. That would be number one. And then number two was, what was my second point?

Unknown Speaker
It was brilliant.

The Collaborator
I saw it. It was the second was a brand Doc, I saw it in your eyes for a second. Don’t worry about it. If it comes to you, it comes to you. Ah,

Vanessa Metcalf
yeah. Sorry, I lost it.

Unknown Speaker
No, no, it’s okay. You know, how

The Collaborator
did you What did you start doing with it initially, when you first started using it? What sorts of journeys and adventures Did you take it on? Because none of us boil the ocean overnight? Yeah. What were some of the things you did with it initially, that that you were like, crap, this is amazing.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah. And I think that’s an important point, right? You don’t want to start by trying to do everything, because that’s going to feel very overwhelming to everyone else. That was my point is build awareness with all of your stakeholders around Hey, what is the value of this tool? For a lot of them? They might be brand new to compensation intelligence. So what is this thing? Why is the business investing in it? What sort of insights are we gleaning right now? And you know, what’s the ROI? So sorry, that was point number two is I know,

The Collaborator
it was I was just leaving you there was a tightly planned teamwork there, everybody.

Vanessa Metcalf
So yeah, you want to do that really make sure you’re driving education on the thing so that you’re getting people bought in and they’re using it too, right? It shouldn’t just be a tool that the enablement teams and all your your frontline leaders are using for coaching. So that is what I learned pretty early is that the more people you can get on this thing, the better. And so for us, we set up alerts for you know, my CRM for folks in marketing, we did all these kind of training sessions with Research and Engineering. And we have a lot of people on the system. And what we learned early on is to, as you say, focus on the basics, right? Let’s use this to impact coaching, they can more streamline give people time back in their day. And over time, thanks. Yeah, very critical. I mean, yeah, our managers use Salesforce for for coaching. And when they switched on a gong, most of them were like, wow, we just cut our coaching time in half, meaning we can do that much more. So

The Collaborator
yeah, that’s awesome. What did you I’m curious, because you said 70 alerts, one of the things that always struck me with conversational intelligence, is, I’m not going to review every single conversation that takes place in the business. So how do I get smarter about it? Mm hmm.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yeah, and I think that’s where a lot of the functionality of these tools come in, right. It’s so if you want to, you’re tracking some new product you launched or how some new pitches landed, or you want to kind of keep tabs on a single buyer persona type. You’re not going to find all those yourself, right? There’s, there’s no one has those kind of hours in the day. So instead, you set up these, in God’s world, you call them trackers, which is a collection of your keywords or phrases that you’re looking for. And then for us, we just kind of shift that information to the relevant parties. So marketing is working on some new offer or they’re, you know, refining some buyer type, then maybe those alerts go to them, and they get, you know, notified in real time, daily, weekly, whatever they’re looking for.

The Collaborator
Love that. Love that. And that’s and that’s the thing, any of this data, any of this information we have trying to really pay pinpointed so it’s easy for people to consume it and draw insight from it. That’s where it’s so critical. Vanessa, you hit upon those points. Now I’m about to call you a liar. I’m gonna call you a liar, because I saw your LinkedIn profile, and 18% year over year win rate increase. And I said to myself, you’d be retired on a beach Island somewhere, if you could claim that you drove all of that. I know, you’re not claiming you drove all that. But But where those numbers come from, how did you how did you a understand that that’s what happened. And I know at a high level, I understand it, but how did you start to correlate a tie your efforts to that so that the business said

Unknown Speaker
yeah,

Vanessa Metcalf
yeah. Yeah. Well, I think with enablement, that’s an important thing to establish early on as well. Right? Yeah. What are the KPIs? You’re looking at impact, and for us, that was one of them was win rate. We also wanted to look at, for like our new hire onboarding program, we wanted to understand Hey, what’s this cohorts average quota attainment, we wanted to know things like time to first deal so pick your list right in the list, be careful about it, I think it could get long, very, very fast. So pick the I agree, ones that feel meaningful, you

The Collaborator
know, pick a small set to begin with. And once you can demonstrate that you’re impacting that you kind of learning you’re crawling, walking, running, you know, start off simple, but I love that Vanessa? Sorry.

Vanessa Metcalf
No, no, that’s that’s exactly it. And it’s like once you have that list, it doesn’t have to be you don’t have to pour concrete concrete around it. You can switch new KPIs in or out it doesn’t have to be one setlist, but I agree with you, right, just start to start with your baby steps. And then from there, the way that we think about it is, I think this is like a million dollar question and enablement, right? It is, did you actually impact these things? And the answer is, there’s so many ways in enablement, that you can impact a KPI like win rate, you can look at, you know, ongoing training and development, you can look at any sort of new sales methodology rolled out, you can look at the coaching or the tools you’re using to help with the coaching and how that impacted it. So yes, way that we think about it, it’s it’s never causal, right? The the causal part is the sales rep that picks up the phone makes the deal happen. And, you know, that’s, that’s what helps win rate increase, but the causal part, which enablement can impact is okay, well, would that rep be as well equipped if they didn’t have the competitive intelligence, if they didn’t know our talk tracks if they didn’t know our sales process if they didn’t leverage our productivity tools? So I think the framework of cause versus correlation has been helpful to basically just hitch enablement efforts to some of these KPIs, like win rate.

The Collaborator
No, and I think that’s smart. It’s, um, I feel like theoretically, it must be possible. I started off my career as an electrical engineer. So data nerd. So I always feel like there must be a way to actually draw that line. I know we can’t today. And I think and I don’t think I know, you’re 100%. Right. We have to look for those correlations and try to pick activities that are reasonably expected to influence those metrics. Yeah. And then looking at the leading indicators to make sure we’re at least on track. So I agree with you completely. Vanessa, this has been an amazing conversation.

Vanessa Metcalf
Oh, good. I’ve had so much fun. So thank you so much for having me on.

The Collaborator
Even when I called you a liar for your LinkedIn profile.

Vanessa Metcalf
Hey, I’ll take it I’ll take it up. Because

The Collaborator
I didn’t even mean it. But let me ask you this, Vanessa, before we break, what didn’t recover that you that you want to get across and share with the community before we before we part ways?

Vanessa Metcalf
Um, nothing I don’t think we didn’t cover. But maybe one point that I would underscore john is really just back to that idea of community. And I’m just going to keep driving this home. Because again, it’s it’s such a unique part about enablement. Right. And I think it’s, maybe it’s just the nature of us, as you know, enablers is that we want to give back and we want to help one another, which I just haven’t experienced in past lives in different roles. So I would say, That’s super important, especially if you’re in Canada looking to get into enablement for the first time, I would say, enablement roots here aren’t as deep as they are in the US. So that is certainly important. And you’ll get a ton out of that community and you know, in time, you’ll be able to give back to it as well. And I think that’s the case whether you’re brand new to enablement or you’re a seasoned vet, right? enablement, like sales, like any other profession is constantly changing. And to stay current and be able to really provide value back to your people in your organization. I think that’s a big part of it is tapping into the community.

The Collaborator
You’re 100% right. And you know, I talked to people and I sound like I’m plugging myself. I’m actually trying to plug the community. You know, last week I talked to Somebody in Japan and somebody in Turkey and somebody you know, is just all over the globe, you find people in this profession that are like, I don’t know what all, but I’m willing to share what I know. And I want to learn from people on this stuff. I don’t know. And that just seems to be the attitude globally for people that have chosen this profession. So I have to really echo that sentiment, Vanessa, it’s, it’s amazing. And you know, Canada may be slightly behind, maybe, but Canada has a pretty solid base of outstanding enablement professionals. You know, Gail, who gave you a shout out the beginning is amazing. Adriana Romero is one of my favorite people. And also my

Vanessa Metcalf
girl. I know. Yeah,

The Collaborator
she’s, you know, she she did me the honor of running our Canadian version of the podcast that we’re we just launched.

Vanessa Metcalf
Yes. graduations on that.

The Collaborator
Yeah. And you know, there’s so many smart people. And I know I named two people, but there’s actually a heck of a lot more than that. I Oh, yeah. I’ve

Vanessa Metcalf
got a lot worse.

The Collaborator
Yeah. So it’s incredible. And I I think we just all need to pay attention to that simple point. We don’t know it all reach out and try to learn from each other to share and get back. That’s it. All right. Vanessa, thank you so much, especially on a day off of your vacation, for taking the time to do thanks, God take Thank you so much. Bye bye bye.

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