Our Expert Interview series continues with Ashton Williams, Sales Enablement Manager at Ada - a platform that empowers industry-leading organizations to transform their customer service with AI-powered automation. We chat to Ashton about moving from a corporate to a startup mindset, her tips for communication across the organization, and the importance of remaining flexible and ready to change.
Hi Ashton! Sales enablement can be quite a nebulous practice to pin down - what’s your own definition?
I think Sales Enablement gets very muddy when we don’t start with the goals. The goal of any enablement team should be to increase the sellers' effectiveness, in order to improve customer facing interactions and result in accelerating time to revenue and increasing CLTV. It is a highly collaborative and cross-functional role and has an array of activities like providing training, building process, manager enablement, onboarding, GTM and so on, which can vary based on where a company is at in their growth.
What does sales enablement look like at Ada - is it still relatively new or already established?
I was Ada's first enablement hire, so as an official department, it's still new. In terms of the function itself, enablement was reactive and a shared responsibility of many departments. My main focus is to limit the "random acts of enablement" and allow us to be more strategic as we scale. By investing in enablement we'll be bringing these activities together to increase efficiency and improve the sales motion overall.
What’s been the steepest learning curve, or unexpected challenge, in your current role?
The shift from corporate to startup coupled with learning some of the intricacies of SaaS was initially a big change as this is my first tech company and first startup experience. The pace and culture coupled with learning a new industry was an adjustment, but the biggest challenge this year would have to be the pivot in the pandemic.
Moving to 100% remote enablement really challenged me to be more effective at scale and shift some of the ways I diagnose and support teams. We also shifted strategy, had a GTM for a new offering and restructured teams and almost every project in the span of 30 days. I learned very quickly that projects can go a lot faster than we think, that being digital-first can be more productive and that you can still be connected and thriving as a team whether it be through Slack, Zoom or a phone call. I also learned that your network is key when you're building the plane and flying it too. Enablement is a place where we have to learn from each other's experiences and share as it is yet to be fully defined and fleshed out for many businesses.
What are some of your tactics for encouraging communication within your own team, and with other teams?
1. Designed Alliance: Ada just partnered with Raw Signal group for management training and something they discussed was designed alliances. The idea of taking the time upfront to outline how to best work together really supported our teams in communicating effectively and having better collaboration.
2. Transparency: Have a place people can go to see what you're working on or progress on a project and be sure to share it. This gives everyone context, allows them to get informed asynchronously and it is awesome because other members of the team can sometimes offer support you didn't know was available.
3. Over Communicate: being transparent also means pushing out what people need to know. If the information matters, there is no harm in repetition or shouting from the rooftops. We use Slack, email, meetings etc. to make sure we meet people where they are and get the right information out for timely use.
While we're on the subject of communication - which function do you spend the most time interacting with, apart from sales?
Product Marketing & Solution Consulting are two partnerships that are essential to enablement. We're always working together on a number of projects from GTM to technical enablement and training.
What does a ‘typical’ day look like for you, and is it different from pre-COVID-19?
My day is usually a few alignment meetings, work blocks to make sure I have time to execute on key projects, team coffees and mini breaks to mitigate Zoom fatigue and give my eyes a break. I'd say the major change is that I'm much more structured and aware of my energy. Working from home you have to be a bit more intentional about taking breaks, heading outside and booking time to catch up with colleagues.
How do you see enablement developing at Ada within the next few years?
Right now, enablement is focused on our sales motion in deal cycles (Account Executives.) My focus is to scale success - my team will be growing to allow enablement to be more proactive and offer support to more of our customer-facing organization post-sale and top of funnel. My hope is that Ada becomes the place where you become the best salesperson you can be, and that we will continue to be known for delivering incredible customer experiences at scale.
And finally... what advice would you give yourself when you were just starting out in sales enablement?
The one thing I wish I learned faster was that nobody has the answers. In enablement you will test things, iterate on programs and likely review everything you build on an ongoing basis. When I first started out, I thought there was a perfect formula I had yet to find. This slowed me down and made me resistant to just testing things and made it more difficult to bring in managers and cross-functional teams on an ongoing basis. This also meant I would try to build an entire program in one go vs. having sprints and room to pivot. Now we take a phased approach to everything and it allows enablement to adapt to the changing needs of the business and our customers.