Sales Enabler of the Month: Jenny Dearborn

Jenny Dearborn is the chief learning officer and senior vice president at SAP, where she leads SAP’s overall learning strategy and program design. Her award-winning team was recognized as #1 in the Learning 100 award by eLearning magazine in 2013 along with numerous other awards from ASTD, Brandon Hall, and CLO Magazine. She is thought leader in L&D and talent management and regular contributor to business and professional publications. She was the recipient of the Silicon Valley Tribute to Women in Industry award for 2013. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @ DearbornJenny.

What is the scope of your role?

I lead a team that executes all cross-SAP employee learning programs, including onboarding, professional skills, companywide competency, knowledge and change initiatives, and management and leadership programs.

What does a typical day in your life looks like?

When not traveling (which is about 50 percent of the time), I ride my bike from my home to the SAP office in the Palo Alto hills. Time at work is spent connecting with clients and team members for planning and design sessions. Then it’s back to home in the afternoons to be with my kids to help with homework and have family time. Then it’s back to email until midnight.

What are the top three projects you are working on at the moment?

At SAP, we work to simplify everything, so we can do anything. With simplification and increasing measurable business impact in mind, the learning team is redesigning and relaunching:

  1. new hire onboarding experience
  2. diversity and inclusion curriculum
  3. management and leadership curriculum.

What is an area within sales enablement where you particularly shine? What are some best practices and resources you use to help you be successful in that area?

I think I shine in measuring the business impact of sales enablement programs and harnessing the power of big data. A best practice for us is bringing data sources together and showing clients the return on investment of their resources. Clients are blown away by the accuracy of the models predicting sales rep success built when connecting data sources from the CRM, LMS, HRIS, social media, and commissions files.

If you could have three wishes granted to make your job easier, what would they be?

I wish there was more time in the day to get everything done that I want to do. I love traveling to meet with employees, customers, and partners. I love working as a mentor and developing young talent. I love working with my clients to untangle messy problems and develop enablement solutions to drive measurable change. I love doing original research, writing, and presenting at conferences. I love everything about my job from strategy to the last detail. I have endless new ideas; I just wish I had the time to do them all.

How did you get started in your career? Since then, how has your career evolved?

After grad school, I spent two years as a high school teacher. I then transitioned to industry and moved up in the corporate L&D field as an instructor, instructional designer, education consultant, and into managing a learning team. After supporting sales clients for a few years, I moved into sales carrying a quota to sell learning services. I have continued to take on roles with increasing size or complexity.

What skills or competencies did you need to advance in sales enablement? How did you gain those skills?

To prepare me to lead sales enablement, I think being in sales, carrying a big quota, and running a P&L were the toughest but best business experiences. I sold learning services as the CLO at Docent and CLO Americas at Sun Microsystems. There is nothing like the pressure and adrenaline rush of living the 13-week cycle. It’s awesome!

What steps did you take to rise in your career? What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from your career journey?

Stay as close to the business as you can, it will keep you sharp. I took time off in the middle of my career to get an MBA. My client’s metrics of business success—quality of pipeline, conversion rate, win rate, deal size, cycle time—are my metrics of success. I don’t measure “butts in seats” because the client doesn’t care about that. 

Who do you look to for guidance and support? What about that relationship is most valuable?

Karie Willyerd was the best boss I ever had. Many years and job changes later, I still call her for advice and guidance. I often stop to think, “What would Karie do in this situation?” Also, I find great inspiration from my team of amazingly creative and forward thinking instructional designers—the best I’ve ever known.

Other than the ASTD Sales Enablement Community of Practice, what are your go-to sources for professional inspiration and development? How do you stay current in the field?

Basically, I try to listen, learn, question everything—and think critically. I attend conferences like Sales 2.0, and I love reading business magazines: The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today, to name a few. I’m also a member of the Institute 4 Corporate Productivity and find great benefit from that professional association. And I love Twitter and follow my competitors, customers, clients, and friends. 

How have you seen the sales enablement function change in the last 10 years?
Sales enablement has become much more data-driven, which is a great thing.

What are you most excited about in the profession today?

Clients know that the sales enablement profession is capable of doing forward-looking predictive analysis vs the rear-view mirror reporting of the past. Our field is even more of a science and less of a art as we move forward and it’s exciting to be able to add so much more value to the business.

What advice would you give a young sales enablement professional?
You must take a tour of duty in sales. You need to earn street credibility by carrying a sales bag.

What question would you like to pose to the community?
How are you using big data to measure the effectiveness of your enablement programs? How are you connecting your enablement programs to the business impact metrics and key performance indicators that matter to your client?


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