When to Launch the Enablement Function

with Pete Thornton,

Customer Teams Enablement Manager, Postman

How do you know when your company is big enough to bring on an enablement team? How should you do that? What is enablement anyway? All of these questions and more are answered in this episode by the enablement lead at Postman, Pete Thornton.
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Key topics in today’s conversation include:

  • Defining “enablement” (0:41)
  • When to launch the enablement motion (2:12)
  • Series funding rounds (6:08)
  • The team and tools you need at the beginning (8:53)

The SaaS Ramp Podcast explores how tech leaders scale from product adoption to enterprise success. Learn more at www.saasrampmedia.com.


Pete Thornton 0:05
Hey yo, welcome to the SaaS ramp podcast this your host podcast, Pete Thornton. As a reminder, I’m an enablement lead at an organization called Postman as an enablement leader, I’m often asked, When should I initiate the enablement function? So, I have some answers for this out of experience, and then some answers based on probably best practice. It’s not always best practice that we follow in hypergrowth, right? It’s like when the emergency happens, but we can kind of cover both. And then it’d be interesting to get your feedback on where you feel your organization is currently.

Okay, so before we go through and be like, oh, when exactly and how and get very tactical on all these things. Let’s first define enablement. Okay? And let’s not even define it as like, what is the enablement function? Mostly do although I’ll give that to let’s go back to the definition of enablement because there are certain words that are utilized very frequently until they lose their meaning. And enablement is definitely one of them. Okay. So from the dictionary, right, the action of giving someone the means to do something that we’re very broad here, so but you can obviously understand this is a teaching coaching, mentoring type of role, except for I would argue that we should be doing the teaching coaching mentoring at scale because having one to one interactions is more like what management might be able to handle. Again, that’s why enablement exists, because it’s unable to be handled in that one-to-one function. But again, the action of giving someone the means to do something, someone the means to do something very broad. Here’s another one, and it had this little tag over top of it, they said computing. So this is interesting, the act of making a system operational. I like both of these, that second one is a little bit more like to my systems mind, I really, really liked that when the act of making a system operational.

Okay, so that leads really, really well into this question of when to launch the enablement motion, when the launch the function as a whole. To give an example, just the most recent example, I launched the enablement function at Postman. I was brought in by the head of customer teams over sales and customer success at the time. and my boss (still my boss right now today) said, ‘We are about to lift an enterprise motion and we are about to hire hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people.” That took place just a few months after a series D funding and it was not a second too late because then another two months after I was hired, we did launch the enterprise motion and it was launched a year in advance of originally scheduled, of a previously scheduled timeframe. And so we were running from day one. Absolutely running, and the hiring had already begun. All new leadership came through all new reps came through. And so we grew from a team of one myself to a team of nine actually now 10. When you’re combining both of the customer teams together in a matter of 19 months, I don’t necessarily recommend that it would be a slower, steadier progression would be better.

Okay, so let’s look at the things that had happened at Postman, for me to come to Postman, and for us to ramp that team so quickly on the win.

The first thing is, do you have product adoption? So is everything right on the product side, everything but you know enough that a lot of people really love your product. At Postman, we have the product lead growth motion is a freemium, there are 20 million developers who utilize it said there are actually four tiers, there is a free tier to self-serve tiers, basically credit card swipes, and one enterprise tier that is sales served. So amongst those, there are 20 million people who use it. And obviously the vast majority of those are freemium customers. What are the reasons why postman was able to wait to build the enablement function, I literally even physically able to wait until just past the series D is simply because they spent the time to build that flywheel through Series B, and C. Often, it’s a little bit earlier, and we can talk about that a little bit earlier that that would come in. But the main thing is, do you have product adoption? Because that will lead to your sales and customer success leaders, which is the second piece of criteria.

Do you have sales and customer success leaders in play? Are they there? Are they the people who say, “I have a vision. This is how I’m going to cast the vision.” Is there something essentially to operationalize? Because enablement can come in and help you come up with the answers but a better use of enablement would be to the act of making the system operational. Scale what your leaders in that specific role want to move forward with. Scale and align. Those are the two places where enablement can provide the best fit. You can buy a software, that’s not a perfect fit, but it’s getting the job done, still moving it forward, but it’d be better if it’s a perfect fit. Does use more like sales and customer success terms.

The third one is super obvious. Are you about to hire like crazy? If you want enablement really badly right now, and now all this is like, yes, yes, yes, you probably already are, you probably already are. And now you’re gonna get somebody and you’re like, hey, we have these problems, because we hired all these people. And now we also still have more people coming in. And could you create a program like magic from scratch and just lift it. Every organization I go to, I make sure there’s some kind of new hire rent program and play within 21 days, because it would have been better if it was 2.1 days, right. So if you’re hiring like mad, it’s time because it does take time to bring in the software is needed, scale the team, create the team, and create programs that can help your new hires so that you can move on into the continuous enablement motion of helping with the ongoing training.

So those three pieces are when. Let’s talk again about the series funding rounds because it’s an interesting indicator of when a company might need an enablement function. Again, Postman was series D, I’ve also come into an organization after acquisition. And so it was acquired, there were no longer funding rounds moving towards more of something like a funding rounds into acquisition, it was fully acquired at that point, but they were doing a relaunch of some sort. And they were going to turn over a lot of the hires that they previously had in, they’re going to have a go-to-market turnover. So it’s a little bit of a similar kind of look and feel at that point to that organization. If it wasn’t a product-led growth company, like super heavy on the product, lead growth side that you were going to use all your previous funding rounds to push the product and push the air engineering teams. Because when I came in, we only had five Customer Success reps, five sales hires, but we had 300 engineers or maybe 225, at that point, so huge engineering team. If not, then I would actually say if I’m making a 30,000-foot view guess about this, it would probably be more likely to be a series B funding, somewhere between 30 and a million dollars these days, some of them’s the fundings are larger. So a series B would be an indicator that you had product adoption, and you were trying to lift or validate an enterprise motion. Again, this podcast is actually most interested in that period of growth that I’m experiencing at Postman right now, which is in between product adoption, and a massively successful enterprise motion validated enterprise motion because that really is the final chasm. That is the most interesting last leg of a SaaS startup before they can pick and choose the time that they want to become acquired, move on into a publicly traded company with an IPO or all the myriad of options that open up for the founders and CEOs at that point, which is really, really interesting. Again, let’s go through the definitions one more time enablement action of giving someone the means to do something, the act of making a system operational, have product adoption, have sales and see as leaders in place who are ramped on their own making decisions, able to work with an enablement lead, and then hiring, are currently hiring. Maybe that’s a little too late or about to hire like crazy. If you even give somebody a 90-day heads up, that would be a wonderful thing to bring in your enablement lead 90 days before you’re about to hire like crazy. It would work out best for everybody sometimes indicated by a series B not always depends on the situation, of course. Okay, thank you. Thank you for the time.

As a bonus, and I mentioned this in another podcast as a bonus. Let’s do a bonus on here. We’re not quite done yet. I always run these things over anyway, right? As a bonus, what’s the team and tools you would need to bring on first? Okay, so again, these can all be done with only one enablement lead and all the free tools you can get your hands on, but if you weren’t going to do it with free tools and you wanted to go as quickly as possible, I would recommend a sales enablement lead somebody who’s been in the role before meaning been in the sales role or customer success role or both. Okay, maybe difficult to find, but with the heart and skill set of a teacher coach, but with the skill-based outcomes, perhaps of sales and customer success, that would be my recommendation. Having done it before at a like-for-like organization. Of course, that’s the best thing ever, right that person. The second role would be an LMS admin and the third would be an instructional designer. That is so you can create the curriculum and put it into a learning management system to lift it as quickly as possible. I also recommend those second two hires just because they are simply less expensive to hire. If you don’t have a sales or customer service as a go-to market background. You typically don’t demand as high of a salary It’s just a practical ideology there. If you could hire a second enablement person that did have that background, and you could instantly have an onboarding and on ongoing lead and create your teams that way. Even better, it’s a lot of different ways to do this. And you can start talking about vertical as enroll-specific enablement. And then horizontal, how do you align them across the various teams? And how wide do they go? For example, we’ve actually created some engineering, new hire rent programs here so that we could just tie the sales or go-to-market team and engineering data together and help both sides. That is highly unusual. That’s not something we’re gonna scale and do, please, over the course of time, but it’s something we have done before. So how wide Are you going versus how role-specific Do you want to go? Anyway, those three would be recommended. It’s about $350,000-400,000 to have all three of those, depending on where you’re hiring from, etc. You know how market prices are for headcount. The other thing would be the tools. And for the tools, I would recommend a Learning Management System, or learning management system, there are 800 learning management systems, they’re not all made the same. But that is one of the software’s that we have gotten right over the years. Thing about a learning management system is very manual to add data to it and maintain data over the course of time, again, why instructional design and an LMS admin very helpful as you scale out over the hundreds of new hires that you have. But an LMS very helpful to bring people from day one into job done with analytics and reporting on the backside. For a content management system. There are a lot of great content management systems out there. But you can get away for a period of time with simply using Google Drive. It’s one of those things that people are going to want to use anyway, they’re familiar with it. And so a content management system is just as heavy of a lift as a learning management system. I don’t recommend them both at the same time, unless you’re really up against it, like we are at Postman, we’re just going so fast that we did bring him on both, I had only choose one, I choose the LMS. And lastly, one of my favorites is expensive tool, but call recording software is amazing. And it’s amazing across the organization, so much you can do with the call recording software, we use Gong Chorus was also a good one. Golang is my favorite. And so if you’re going to buy a tool, consider that one as well. Again, maybe 8x, the price of an LMS but it’s going to also not require that manual lift and you will be able to do more things with it and more quickly. So do recommend that as the second tool, the call recording software.

Ping me if you have any questions about either one I do have favorites. I do have recommendations. And for those jobs that do actually have job descriptions if it’s helpful to you. Yeah, shoot over net. Thanks again for listening. SaaS Ramp Podcast, Podcast Pete, peace out.