Nearly every sales rep will tell you that they need quality sales content to succeed, but where does it come from? In this episode Nick sits down with Erin Sarris, Sr. Content Strategist at Paypal, to talk through ideas of sustainably creating content for the sales team, and how to develop an effective dialogue to make sure that sales enablement strategies are actually working for the sales team. Through their discussion, they cover:
- Why actually sitting down and talking with the sales team uncovers some of the most valuable insights for sales enablement teams
- Why dedicated content strategists are necessary for sales and sales enablement teams that rely on content to sell, and why it’s unfair to task sales enablement managers with content creation
- How compelling ideas for sales content can come from very unlikely places, and where to go for inspiration when writing
Nick: Welcome everybody to mind the gap, Enablix’s only podcast, seeking sales and marketing alignment. My name is Nick Lopez, and today I’m joined by Erin Sarris. Erin, how are you doing?
Erin: I’m doing well. Thank you for inviting me on the podcast with one of the best names I’ve ever heard for its target.
Nick: That needs to be our new subtitle, mind the gap, the podcast with one of the best names you’ve ever heard. The podcast with the best name Erin Sarris has ever heard. I really like that more. So Erin, I’m sure you’re a household name to most. People know you all over the world. But for those who don’t, can you tell us who you are and what you do?
Erin: I am a content strategist currently working at PayPal, but have a long history working for organizations large and small all over the sales funnel. So did a lot of B2B marketing brand types of stuff. I got my career started in journalism at a daily newspaper, and then kind’ve just weaved back and forth over the years, doing stents and product marketing, and now in revenue enablement, which has been new for me. That was a career pivot.
Nick: So you’re in revenue enablement now, and you came from journalism. What made you pick revenue enablement?
Erin: Revenue enablement picked me I think. It’s really interesting because I feel like it’s relatively, as we’ve talked about new professions, and you find people from all over the place, you find people who have backgrounds and training or education also like sales ops.
So for me, the reason why it was an appealing pivot for me was an opportunity to get closer to the people actually selling things which had not historically been part of my roles. I was doing a whole lot of top of the funnel type of stuff.
As somebody who focuses largely on content, that was something that I always paid attention to is brand building top of the funnel. I kind of felt like it was an opportunity to be more well-rounded and get closer to the people making the sales.
Nick: You mentioned, you’ve worked around sales either closely or not closely at a bunch of different organizations.
Can you talk through what it’s like to work in sales and revenue enablement or rev. ops., whatever that is, in a large organization versus a small one. Is there one you prefer? What’s it like?
Erin: I mean, this is a political answer, but there are benefits to both. If you’re pressing me, I would say it feels good when you’re working at an organization. It can be large or small, when you’re seeing the impacts of what you’re creating.
At a small organization, it’s easy to see the value of your contributions. You might work in the same office, not now, but you’re friendly with the people who are on the sales team. Oftentimes, they’re doing custom content or other types of enablement for them. It that feels really, really good to see the immediate contribution in real time. I think that there’s a very big downside to that, which is that you can turn into a service bureau, which obviously nobody wants.
I think it’s easy to kind of turn into a McDonald’s drive through like, excuse me, can I please have a sales deck? They know where to find you, so they’ll find you. Then I think on the other side of that is in large organizations there’s a lot going on. It’s super exciting, but there’s always as there should be more sellers than actual enablers.
And then you get into the hairy question of allocating resources. I would actually love your opinion on this Nick since this is very philosophical, and you see it in large organizations as inbound versus outbound activities. I think that at a large organization people are a lot more selective about the inbound activities that they take on.
Nick: You’re saying, so the ratio of like you’re an enablement person or an enablement team. What percent of the things you do are requests from the sales team or the marketing team, whatever that is. How much do you do and that’s your inbound, and then how much do you use outbound? This is a good idea.
Erin: Exactly, yeah, that has been the eternal challenge. Like that perfect ratio of your own priorities versus other priorities and the sales or enablement organization, or even product marketing.
Nick: This is where the industry’s starting to turn a little bit because we’re starting to say, we know that enablement is a really good idea, but we know product marketing is necessary. How do we trace these things back to revenue?
At a small company that might be super easy, right? You’re the salesperson, we have four, let’s call it four salespeople and I’m a sales enablement person. That’s a made up ratio. If I work on a deck for you, and then that deal closes because of that meeting. You were like yay I did the right thing. I didn’t need to work on the training and coaching thing I was going to do because that deck ultimately went towards revenue.
In a large organization that’s really, really hard. I think in a large organization pinning any specific set of actions to revenue is really hard. I think it comes from the top down to say we believe that revenue is going up. It’s an executive conversation.
We believe revenue is going up because there is a blank. Right. I don’t think it will be this specific, but because our presentations go deeper and get more explicit with how we will help people than any of our competitors will. Cool.
That means that 90% of the sales enablement team’s time needs to be doing X because we’ve pinned that. So it’s, it’s gonna be now 90% inbound, but it has to start with a, why are we getting more revenue? What is that thing? How has that reflected in our strategy?
Obviously in the next cycle of ours in that cycle of business strategy you revise it’s gotta be motivated ahead of time or you will always feel struggle. It’s funny what you said. The sales team knows where to find you, and such it almost sounds so it’s a bit like they will find you and make you work on the thing that you didn’t want to work on. That’s kind of the challenge.
Erin: Yeah, definitely. I think it also comes down to relationships as well, because I think that there are very quantitative metrics. For example, shortening deals, cycles, and faster time to quote on things that people have talked about since the beginning of time.
But I think that there’s a similar conversation there in B2B marketing, where a lot of revenue enablers come from attribution. I think that that can be very influenced by the relationships that you have between revenue and enablement.
It’s easy to get into a conversation where there’s marketing, sourced revenue, and then there’s marketing influenced revenue. What does that really mean? Who takes the credit for that?
I think that if the relationships aren’t there that can get really into like political or a power grab type of a situation, where operating in an environment that feels like you have to justify what you’re doing. It could feel burdensome.
Nick: It takes, I mean, and it would, I think it was an important part of sales enablement and it takes a lot of that creativity out of it. Because like you said you’re focused on hitting numbers, but it is strange in sales that it is such a hit your numbers game that sales enablement is kind of I guess help other people hit their numbers game maybe. Because then you can say, hey, I did my job, they didn’t.
Can you tell your thoughts on how sales enablement should measure their success? I know you mentioned that it’s important to have relationships in place, but with those relationships, what do you do? How do you measure the ethicacy of what you’re working on?
Erin: I think that there’s a couple different ways that you can go around it. In the absence of any defined structure that I’ve ever found about how to measure it, my own little system is talking to the team and sending out surveys after every project. After every single project that I complete, I do a survey where they can rate the content that I’ve created, rate my responsiveness to the project as a whole, they can rate things like this content was the appropriate level of detail, or maybe it wasn’t, maybe I needed more detail or less detail. Just things like that, where they can rate their confidence in how they feel when they go out to talk to customers based on the projects that we’ve completed together.
For me personally, I think it’s one of the most effective metrics because it measures in a quantitative way, but it also reinforces the relationships that you need to have and you need to preserve in an ongoing way as well. It kind of hits both at one time.
Nick: Well, I mean it sounds to me like you started with the relationships because I don’t know if anybody listening has ever tried to get the sales team to fill out a survey. I had very limited success with even that. It sounds like the fact that they were willing or needed to go through and fill that out for you, starts you in a good place.
Erin: You also got to keep it pretty short, but yes.
Yeah, that really is it. I say like you in any type of kickoff or project, I’m a real person come find me and come talk to me about what you need.
Nick: I come from, I mean, I’ll be in the parking lot after this and we know where to settle it.
Erin: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I feel like you need to stay aligned before, during, and after. That is a very manual process. It’s a lot easier to throw something up on a deck and talk about your contribution than it is to do the nitty gritty work of reaching out to people, marking on your calendar, reaching out to them and keeping the conversation and the relationship in a healthy place.
Nick: Yeah. It’s interesting too, that you had mentioned, oh, was this too much detail, was this too little detail? Because you’re technically your role as you are a sales enablement content strategist. Exactly. That’s correct.
I would like to know what percent something like 75% of the industry must be just a sales enablement manager or revenue enablement manager. That’s the title, but you’re concentrated. Can you tell me the differences, and what you do as a strategist?
Erin: Sure. The way I see it is that the enablement managers are more like project managers. They do it all. Just for full disclosure, I can never do anything, all the different hats that they wear every day.
They do all the training, all the project management, the technology, and content as well.
I think that what I’ve seen is when you make the decision in your organization to have a content strategist alongside an enablement manager, you’re kind of saying that you’re committed to elevating the quality of the content.
My role is almost acting as a creative director. I’m taking super raw source material, oftentimes from product marketing or elsewhere in enablement. A lot of the time from the sales reps. themselves and then making it into something that is a lot more consumable. I think then an enablement manager wouldn’t necessarily have time to do it because a lot of the stuff is really internal focus. Every great enablement environment is a resource constrained environment.
Making it consumable is a big part of success, but I think that sales deserves beautiful content, too. Just like consumers do.
Nick: Okay, we’re not going to quote that. That was too cheesy. Okay, question for you. I agree with you. Good content is important.
Is there a prescribed ratio you stick to? For instance, the question that always comes up is how many product marketers for a product manager? Should you get a product marketer for every product manager, one to four, one to eight, one to two, your head strategists to enablement managers?
What is it? Should every manager get a strategist? Should a strategist go between them? What do you think?
Erin: I mean, I think that they should. Obviously, that’s not always the reality. I feel like enablement managers are some of the most overworked people that I’ve ever come across in my entire career. I think that they are very versatile and they can do it all to the extent that they can.
I almost don’t know that it’s fair to even ask them to do something like that. It’s kind of like those roles that you see where it’s oh, I don’t know the CMO at a series a startup, and they do everything. They do the content, they do the website, they do the social, and they do a lot of the product marketing.
That’s a high demand role. I think that in a larger organization it does make sense to kind of reallocate the different responsibilities to specialists. If you can.
Nick: I agree with that. I think that it comes to the inner sales cycle. How important is content? Right?
I could see you’re a content strategist. I could see a learning strategist, right? How important is training for your team?
Because those are dedicated, that’s an entire skillset you’re bringing to the table. Also all too often, you’re asking some of your managers to see if they would be in product marketing to be like hey, you’re the person who is good at everything. Right? You’re going to do everything, and it’s sometimes impossible to do well.
Let’s talk for a second about the role of content. Can you tell me a little bit about it? You talked about how important it is, but how do you know what to create? How do you know if what you’re creating is like working or doing?
Erin: Obviously, I’m biased because I think that content is one of the most important parts of sales enablement. I think that this is the case because it’s always on, it’s always ready to go. I feel like it’s kind of sales at scale. You can pull it out of your software and send it to somebody or pull it from Salesforce and it’s ready to go. Not to say that training isn’t important, training is extremely important. I think that people really benefit from having that shared collaboration and environment of learning.
I think for content it’s just something that can be applied at so many points in the sales cycle, and you can scale up or down the level of detail as you need to. And I think it’s just, it’s also really exciting because again, sales enablement and revenue enablement is such a new field.
There’s such an opportunity to make a contribution with new formats of doing things that another area of the company, that is more established might kind of already have the tracks set for them. I think that there’s an opportunity to kind of do your own thing, and make sure that you’re bringing new ideas to the table.
One of the pieces of content that I created this year was inspiration that I got from my kids’ school. They had created a resource guide for talking about your kids with certain topics and the different objections that your kid might say. Then how you would want to respond to that.
Then elevate the discussions in a way that transforms their opinion about something. Long story short, that was something that I think the training guide was something that I ended up using at work. That’s something that I think is really unique to content and sales enablement. Inspiration can come from everywhere, and there’s a big opportunity to make a contribution and kind of experiment and test and learn and see what’s working. You know how you can help.
Nick: I love the idea that you come to work and you’re like, guys, I made a resource guide about how to talk about delicate items with your children. People at work are like what, and this is not what we needed and you’re like, wait, yeah, need that.
Erin: Actually you can just tweak a few things, and all of a sudden you have a conversational roadmap for talking to a small business owner about getting them up and running with a new point of sale system.
Nick: Exactly, or why not to get into a car with a stranger. It’s all the same.
Erin: Yeah, yes. There’s incredible versatility and content that I think is unique to revenue enablement specifically.
Nick: That’s exactly right. I’m going to giggle about this for the rest of the day. I want to touch on one last thing. You go to your LinkedIn, you read your bio, and you are a B2B storyteller and marketer.
Let’s talk about creating stories and creating content. Where does finding that inspiration in what your kid brought home from school? Where does good content come from? How do you know if it’s good?
Erin: I think it’s being like this is how I describe it. It’s being like a DJ, on an intuitive level, you can read the room and know when to bust out the greatest hits, and the crowd pleasers that make everybody just go wild. Then there’s the time to slow things down, and explain things on a deeper level.
Nick: But you don’t play cotton eyed Joe for every single song?
Erin: No, that wouldn’t go well. No, not at all. To follow the DJ analogy, you can do a remix of things that you’ve already done that also worked well in the past, so you don’t have to create other stuff necessarily from scratch. I think it comes down to being intuitive and drawing connections between things that otherwise seem unrelated.
My brain thinks in metaphors. I don’t think in terms of dates, events, hard facts, and the quantitative facts like that. I think in feelings, metaphors, and seemingly unrelated concepts. I think that is part of being a storyteller is curating information that in addition to creating that information as well, it’s being a really good observer of human behavior. Then figuring out where to go from there.
I think it’s also being cut-throat about what somebody would perceive as boring. I think it’s really easy to get high on your own supply, as they say, or think like wow, this is so interesting. People really need to know about this. I think that it’s having that ability to put yourself in somebody else’s position and say, why should I take time out of my day to care about this? Is this really gonna move the needle for me? Is this really going to help me?
Nick: Yeah, it’s funny. I feel like I constantly am a pendulum. I go back and forth from everything I create is awesome and people are going to love it to this sucks, everything sucks. No one would ever read the stuff I put out. Why am I making this?
I’ve actually gone back and forth several times during this podcast, but no I’m joking.
Erin: We don’t have to air this to the light of day.
Nick: Cut it, book it. Okay. In closing, can you tell us a little bit about your process then? If you don’t want to get, I don’t think they say get high off your own supply. I think that’s the thing that you’re saying. I don’t know that they see that, but that’s okay.
Erin: We learned something new today I guess.
So, my writing process is thinking. I don’t know how I think about something, or I don’t know how to communicate something until I write it down first. That’s a me thing. I wouldn’t say that, at least I hope not. I hope that other people don’t operate in that way. I think that that’s kind of a shortcoming actually, to be honest with you.
Nick: By the way, we will have another podcast on all of your shortcomings.
Erin: Oh boy.
Nick: No, no, keep going, keep going.
Erin: I think one thing that I find works very well for people who are the opposite of me, people who get stuck when it comes to the written format, people who feel a lot more natural in a conversation to talking about something is the good old fashion iPhone voice memo.
It’s almost like mad men. Speaking into your dictator, to your secretary, or is that what that’s called a dictator? Dictaphone, thank you. Speaking into your Dictaphone to make sure that your secretary knows where you stand about something, so he or she can type up the memo. That is exactly what I’ve done at times for people who are really stuck and taking their iPhone recording a voice memo tool and then just hitting record.
If you need to ramble, walk around your office, and step away from it, then kind of come back and work, it was working. Either in isolation or with somebody else. Pretending like you were listening to it for the very first time, and then seeing where you pay attention and helping your most relevant points bubble up to the surface.
Nick: Yeah, that’s actually a lot of the advice that I’ve seen, I love it. It’s used transcripts and software’s gotten really, really good. So that’s the thing I’ll do is a little short video or something like that. Trying to pitch something and I’ll read it and be like, can I get this down to three bullet points?
Is all of this bad and should I do it again? I liked that idea of trying to be a person that looks at your work in an unbiased fashion somehow and work out from there.
Erin: Yeah, and you need the time and space to do that, which isn’t always realistic these days. But that’s a really important part of the process is having the space to step away and come back to it because it’s really difficult being the writer and editor.
That’s an impossible ask. I mean, it can be done, but ideally it wouldn’t be somebody who’s creative and somebody who’s also editing the piece.
Nick: My favorite, and I know I’ve done this with you before, so thank you. It’s just to send something to like five people and be like does this sucker not suck?
Just like, I can’t get out of my own head right now. I need you to tell me this. Maybe this sucks, but it doesn’t suck. Just tell me. You get a lot of valuable feedback that way. Anything else to add before we break today?
Erin: No, thanks for having me. This was fun to chat about.
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Ladies and gentlemen, Erin Sarris, content strategist. This has been Mind the Gap, a podcast about sales and marketing alignment put on by Enablix.
My name is Nick Lopez. Thanks for listening.