Last week I sat down with my good friend and former colleague, Melissa Madian, a frontierswoman in the field of Sales and Customer Experience (CX) enablement, to understand how businesses enable its employees to deliver consistent customer experiences that are true to a company’s brand.
We talked about what customer enablement is, especially as it relates to Customer Success, why it’s important and how critical the customer journey is for the success of an enablement program.
This week Melissa shares with us what the fundamental pillars required for a solid enablement program are, what a healthy and unhealthy enablement program looks like, as well as her advice for making the case for enablement.
What then should every organization have as a foundational enablement program for Customer Success? In other words, what does a solid, fundamental enablement program look like?
[Melissa] At a really high level I look at enablement as three pillars; ongoing enablement, onboarding and recruit
1. Ongoing enablement: to ensure people already in their roles are effective. That is, providing them with:
Product and Services Knowledge
Skills (e.g. diagnostic skills)
Process and behaviours required for the CSM to function effectively within the organization (e.g. storing customer data in a CRM, etc.)
2. Onboarding: to ensure new CSMs are equipped to do their role and know what they need to do in their first 30 days to do their job effectively. I would also sub bucket this pillar into Knowledge, Process and then later Skills
3. Recruitment: to ensure the right people for the role and the organization are hired. In other words, defining the profile of the ideal CSM that matches the organization culture, the processes and skills needed for the organization. A lot of companies don’t determine a process or profile for hiring the right people into the role. If a company doesn’t define that, then how will they consistently be able to bring in the right person to do the job? This is what this pillar is all about.
Should companies at various stages of development have different enablement strategies? In other words, are there different levels of CX enablement maturity that organizations should strive for?
[Melissa] Yeah, I think the pillars are absolute regardless of the maturity level of the company.
What a company does, how it applies those pillars and the level of effort will differ depending on maturity.
For instance, for a smaller start-up, a company will likely want to focus on getting the people already in the seats strong and up and running with the ongoing pillar versus a larger company that may have all three pillars in place so they can tackle all of them in parallel.
But the pillars are the pillars regardless.
What’s the biggest mistake companies make when they set out to create CX enablement?
[Melissa] Companies focus too much of their effort onboarding new people and forget about updating the knowledge and skills of their existing employees.
I think the effort of the two should be reversed.
Ongoing training should be done to ensure that everyone in the organization is up to date on the latest product features and has the latest skills, not just the newest employees.
The second biggest mistake companies make is not doing any kind of enablement at all.
That is not going to be good for anyone.
The third mistake is not doing a proper customer journey.
Otherwise the enablement program is not aligned to the customer’s actual journey.
[Kia] I love it! The importance of aligning to the customer journey is popping up again.
[Melissa] Yes exactly! It makes so much sense though. If a company is not aligning to the customer’s journey, then what is it enabling?
What do you look for when you’re assessing the health of an enablement program?
[Melissa] I look for the three pillars and whether people are actually doing what the enablement program outlines that people should be doing.
For example, if a company is using an Learning Management System (LMS) are people taking the training?
I spot check folks by having managers check whether people are actually doing in practice what they practiced.
How do you recognize a good enablement program?
[Melissa] The easiest way is to observe what the Customer Success organization is doing.
First of all, if they have two of the three pillars in place, I know they are already ahead of most organizations.
They’ve got something strong in place for CSM onboarding and ongoing training to continually refresh the CSM’s skills and behaviours.
I also look for consistency.
If everyone is doing things in more or less the same way across the organization, and ideally aligned to the customer’s journey, then I know that the organization has a pretty good enablement program in place.
[Kia] Very interesting. That’s the interplay between enablement and the customer journey.
Enablement’s role is not about defining the process per se (the organization needs to understand and define its customer journey) but a strong enablement program depends on the process, hence the tie to the customer journey.
What are the characteristics of the worst? What is not working?
[Melissa] Wild west. Everyone is doing their own thing, no one knows what’s going on, things are not being recorded anywhere, disparate systems, disparate locations for content, silos.
[Kia] Enablement can then be an effective change agent for an organization. A good enablement program depends on process to exist so if it is not there you had better get the business to define that quickly because enablement depends on it.
What advice do you have for CS organizations looking to develop their CSM’s?
[Melissa] First, make sure you have a strong journey in place, and that’s not meant to be a plug for you Kia ;). I really do believe having a good, strong journey in place is a big chunk of the way forward in enabling your CSM’s because then there is no ambiguity in what they need to do and when they need to do it.
With a good journey in place it removes all the ambiguity from the interaction that they have with the customer.
Once you have that, then you can start to look at where the organization is weak in that journey and then specifically enable to those parts to address the gaps.
Then enablement can start to look at the three pillars and expanding on the enablement program but if you do just those few things first, you are well on your way to a well enabled organization.
[Kia, smiling] Yeah, you know why I’m smiling Melissa? So what you’re really saying is that the reason why Eloqua’s enablement program was so great was…
[Melissa, laughing and cutting in] …because we had such a kick-ass customer journey! It’s so true though! If you don’t have a customer journey how do you know where you’re going?
It’s like a map, you need a map in order to know where you’re going.
[Kia] So true. I use the analogy of going on a road trip with my customers all the time. You need a high-level idea of where you’re going and then everything else starts to fall in place.
Based on your experience, what is the pay back or ROI of an enablement program and how does it ultimately improve the customer experience?
[Melissa] Ultimately the enablement program is driving consistency throughout the process allowing the organization to execute on the value proposition that was sold.
It is difficult to calculate directly how enablement drives revenue but a customer’s willingness to be a reference plays into the value of a program.
If a customer has a good, consistent experience they are likely to buy more, to become an advocate and share their experience.
How do you make the case for why enablement is so important?
[Melissa] If you are growing your organization by X% of people, you need to empower them with the right tools and enable them effectively to be successful.
You don’t want them stumbling in front of the customer or to be in a situation with a customer that they do not know how to handle.
The selling feature then for putting an enablement program in place is analogous to hiring a coach for top performance.
You need to make sure the team is practicing all that they need to do in order to perform well with the customer.
The enablement person is like a coach.
[Kia] So in order for your organization to become world class, the employees need to train just like world class athletes do. They need to practice good habits.
What else didn’t I ask you that everyone should know about?
[Melissa] A lot of organizations do not let their Customer Success folks go out and meet with customers or go to conferences because of budget.
Whereas Sales typically has leeway to travel, CS does not.
Let them do that.
Maybe do it in a way that rewards behaviour.
If CSM’s are following process, taking training, exhibiting all the behaviours a company is looking for, reward that by allowing attendance at conferences or paying a visit to their customers.
Meeting customers face to face builds trust and customer loyalty.
Attending conferences is a fantastic way to develop new skills and build their skill repertoire which they can also bring back into the organization.
[Kia] So, to summarize everything we talked about then:
Enablement is empowering customer facing functions with the training, process and tools to be successful in growing the business
Enabling employees to deliver a holistic and consistent experience against the brand drives customer loyalty (which ultimately drives revenue)
A strong enablement program must naturally then, align to the customer journey and consist of the three pillars: ongoing enablement, onboarding and recruitment.
This is awesome! You know how excited I get about the customer journey and operational alignment to it. When I hear other departments believing in, and benefitting from it as well, I get really excited.
Thanks Melissa for sharing all of this!
[Melissa, laughing] You’re very welcome. My pleasure.
Melissa’s expertise is in applying the principles of modern marketing to the development of the skills, knowledge, behaviours and processes of the customer-facing teams so they excel while growing personally and professionally. Born fabulous, she has been in Sales and Marketing for most of her career, combining her background in Engineering with creativity, executive leadership, organization, drive and determination. She is a Marketing Nerd and a specialist in Marketing & Sales Alignment, Sales Enablement, Customer Experience and Professional Training programs. She also really, really loves cats. Connect with Melissa on her website, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.