Defining Sales Enablement with Thierry van Herwijnen

Sales Enablement is a critical role that can make or break a company’s success, guiding how sales teams think about training, coaching, and measurable growth.

Undergoing a tremendous evolution in past decades, the field has become highly methodical, helping link sales practice to performance.

Thierry van Herwijnen, Director Sales Enablement, Global Head Sales Knowledge Management at Wipro and host of Sales Enablement Lab podcast, is a progressive leader in the sales enablement space. We spoke with Thierry about sales enablement planning and execution and how to track success and performance.

CommercialTribe: You’ve worked over the past decade in a number of different sales enablement roles at large, enterprise-sized companies. How has the approach to training changed over your tenure, in particular attitudes toward certification and ongoing learning?

Thierry van Herwijnen: If I look at my role and specifically my focus on sales enablement, it is a lot more than just training.

There are a couple of big realizations that we became aware of in the last few years. Number 1 – people no longer look at training as a standalone event. I think everyone is realizing that it needs to be a process, where people learn certain skills, then put them into practice. You connect again a month or a few weeks later, listen in on them and collect their feedback, and given them guidance and some other skills to apply. Training is becoming less and less an event, and is becoming more and more an ongoing process.

The other big realization that big enterprises are having is that, to really make training successful, you need to make sure that the managers share the same behavior. You can train your sales team on Salesforce.com, but if your managers don’t use it themselves, you’re never going to adopt the tool within your company. The behavior you’re driving with the sales managers is really crucial, as they should be the flagship of your organization and making sure that they show all the same behaviors that they teach your sellers.

CT: You’ve mentioned in the past that sales enablement “connects the dots” in the training process. Where do you see those dots starting – with managers, content, frameworks, or somewhere else?

TH: If I really look at the definition of sales enablement, it’s all around optimizing the supply chain behind sales. Training is a really crucial part of optimizing that supply chain. I see sales enablement starting at the sales strategy. When you think of your sales strategy as a company, I think that one of the first things that you need to do is to understand where the gaps are in your organization and where the gaps are in skills for both your leaders and sellers. That should be your guidance in terms of where you are investing. It all starts with your sales strategy and boils down from there.

CT: Coaching in particular often has a positive and negative side. The positive is that you create great benefits in your team, upskilling them and improving their performance. The dark side is that it often takes up time and resources. How should teams looking to invest in coaching and training balance resources, allowing managers to continue to coach the team without taking time away from selling?

TH: I think that the key point with coaching is that we need stop looking at it as an additional task. That’s the mistake that a lot of managers make: they see coaching as an additional task and very quickly say that they don’t have time for it. Coaching really should be embedded in every single thing we do.

What I do with my team is look for coaching moments. Whenever I talk with someone on my team, especially over the phone, I take notes to see if there are coachable moments. If we’re in a big group, I might connect with a person one-on-one. You need to make it part of your DNA and stop looking at it as a separate event.

CT: Should we hire managers for particular coaching skillsets, or should organizations expect to upskill new or existing managers?

TH: I think both. When you have the opportunity to hire new people, it’s something you definitely should consider. When you have an existing team in place, it’s very important to really invest in that area and make sure that your team gets more comfortable with [coaching]. It really is a thing which you as an organization need to embrace, all the way from your CEO to your individual contributors. You need to create a coaching culture, and everyone should be comfortable providing coaching and receiving coaching.

CT: You’ve had experience in companies with a truly massive amount of sales-oriented content and collateral. How do you focus the organization on mastering and adopting or even training on that content as they join the organization or look to improve their skills?

TH: You need to make it really, really easy for people to access that material. It should be extremely well written and very close to the scenarios they encounter in the field. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to digest that information.

There is definitely a task there to explain to them how to leverage that material and to get the most value out of it. During onboarding sessions, my team and myself get in front of the room and educate people on where they can find the material, how to leverage it, and share what materials to leverage where in the selling process.

One of the big things we focus on is building feedback loops, constantly in touch with our sellers to make sure that we really understand their requirements and quickly adjust when we encounter challenges.

CT: Another large challenge that you face is working with reps across 100+ countries, with different cultures, languages, and outlooks. What kinds of tools have you used to leverage content and training globally and be able to roll it out at scale?

TH: The trick is always, where necessary, try to localize it. What we have found with content is that 80% is the same for everyone, but there is a 20% localization. That 20% localization is really key to your success. Especially with things such as customer examples, the closer they are to your industry and geography, the more successful your sales reps will be with that. Always be open to creating more case studies, so that you can localize them and make them as applicable to the market as possible.

CT: Sales enablement is often a role that has a tremendous amount of potential, but can also create friction and debate. How do you communicate the value in sales enablement to senior management?

TH: There is a set of metrics we use. One is around making sales reps more efficient – really helping them to minimize the time they need for preparation and making sure that they don’t have to spend hours every day preparing for meetings. The second metric is making them more effective. Once they’re in the customer meeting, how can we really make sure they having the most effective meeting with the customer? The third one is cost reduction. In large commercial environments, there’s a lot of reinventing the wheel happening. Sales enablement, if implemented well, can really reduce the reinvention in various parts of the organization.

CT: It seems to be better to optimize what reps are already doing instead of introducing new processes?

TH: You can translate it to what CommercialTribe is doing, making sure that sales reps get [the message] right the first time and are able to articulate the value proposition in the right way. That quick qualification is really important.

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