Episode 10: John Dougan on Metrics, Sales Culture, and Frontline Manager Enablement

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we are here to help professionals stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

We are welcoming John Dougan to the podcast again today. John is the director of global sales and productivity at Workday and he has spent most of his career helping organizations grow revenue through sales enablement. He is here to talk about some of his advice to build sales effectiveness.

So, John, you’ve obviously written some pieces around sales enablement and one of the pieces of advice that you wrote about, it really resonated with me, and it was about making sure that sales enablement professionals understand the current state of the sales culture before they start taking on too many initiatives within their organization. For practitioners that might just be getting started within their function, I would love your advice to them about assessing the sales culture.

John Dougan: Shawnna, I thought about this morning, believe it not! In your first 90 days as a sales enablement professional – and obviously it’s dependent on what the specifics of your role are, if they are defined, if they are not, even better – you have to spend time with the salespeople on the front lines because until you’ve walked a mile in somebody’s shoes, you cannot provide the relevant context to the field. So, anybody who wants to assess the current state of play of the field organization really does need to understand what is being asked of our sellers entirely. What is the sales process they go through? How does that align to the core behaviors that are exhibited by our buyers? What is the process that they go through? What are some of the challenges and what can we help them fix, accomplish, avoid? And then understand how they feel about their role. I am talking about, you have to survey. “Survey” is probably a poor word, it doesn’t have to be a survey, it can be done face-to-face, but understand how they feel about their role. I mentioned a little bit earlier about the utility of what’s being asked of them. Their confidence in executing against what is being asked of them, and then their motivation to actually do it. I think until you’ve spent time with your field organization, you don’t understand the receptivity that you are going to get from your major enablement initiatives.

The other thing is not understanding the challenges that are faced on the ground but also get a clear understanding of the short, medium, and long-term vision of the executives in your sales organization as well. Because without that, you’re not able to sell the initiatives up, and make no mistake, we are a function that is in servitude to the field organization, making the lives of our sellers better whether or not that is achieving the compensation that they desire. Maybe it’s just being more productive in their role and getting to spend time with the people they love. Whatever their motivation is, we need to understand that at an individual, team, and group level. Then we need to understand what is the vision of our sellers and does it align to that? And because we are in servitude to a business, we need to constantly be thinking of are our customers, as in our frontline customers – the sales organization – happy with what we’re doing? Do they believe it’s relevant and useful? And does it align to the vision that our sales executives have? Because we serve and we sell. We sell up what we’re going to do and the outcomes that that’s going to produce for our executives, and we serve an organization who need to feel like they’re part of it.

I think there are many larger organizations that you will speak to, Shawnna, who will say to you that the relationship between those who ask of the field and the field who receive what is pushed or put on them is probably one of friction. And that’s something I would want to remove as quickly as possible. I would want sellers going, “aw geez, the enablement team that is in today, I’m really looking forward to what they are going to deliver on x, y, and z.” Or, “this initiative has come from our enablement function, I know that that is going to have been made with our best interests in mind.” That is what I would do.

SS: That is excellent advice. I want to dive just a little bit deeper on that because I also saw an article that you had put together around obviously managing sales rep performance. So, there is an element where sales enablement is responsible for making sure that reps are performing up to par and if they are not, they are getting the assistance that they need. But obviously having to measure a rep’s performance kind of puts you in that bad cop bucket sometimes.

What are some ways that you’ve seen enablement help improve the way that organizations measure the results of reps and then actually act upon them to improve reps’ performance? And another conversation that I had yesterday with a gal at New Relic who kind of leads sales readiness is where she is focusing a lot of those efforts and she actually brought up the point of making sure that she is focusing on the middle pack of the reps, not necessarily the lower performers which is where a lot of, she said, sales enablement professionals make the mistake of focusing most of their time.

JD: That’s very fair. She’s obviously very in line with some of the old executive board research around investing in your core and listen, you can’t argue with that research. I think the biggest uplift as a sales organization in terms of performance is in investing in that middle 60%. There’s no doubt about that. And often what we try to do as sales enablement professionals is we try to take what the top 20% are doing and push it down onto them. The truth is we just need to deliver a way for that core to be more consistent, measured, deliberate, and thoughtful around what they do, and in our organization certainly, that is around effective planning and opportunity management. That way, we can almost produce a formula and measure or put a quality assurance measure on how good certain people are at the different stages of that process or formula.

I will answer your first question as well, Shawnna, which is what is the role of sales enablement in assessing capability as it relates to performance? I’m a big believer in competency analysis and I do think that whatever assessment channel you run, it should be both quantitative and qualitative in approach. And the quantitative piece should be measuring the performance data, the Salesforce metrics that are available so that you can define what good looks like and also where they are tracking. And then obviously, you can assess the movement of that over time. But the competency analysis for me is the frequency with which you can observe, as a frontline and second-line manager, the frequency with which you can observe your sellers exhibiting specific skills, behaviors, and practices that contribute to them being a better seller. And I think that it is worth rating people, as in giving them a score so that we can provide an index for where they are, but doing it across core areas that contribute to performance as a sales professional.

We do it in a variety of manners. We assess account planning and opportunity management, as I discussed, territory planning, some soft skills around effective questioning capability, your ability to manage an engagement plan, and ensuring that our competitive differentiation is explained. All of the things that contribute to being a successful seller and, believe me, when you sell ERP, I don’t think there’s a more complex solution sale out there. So it’s vast, to the point we only actually do it twice a year for all AEs. So that level of assessment needs to be done and then a conversation needs to take place around what the belief is in terms of why they are not performing or where they are going wrong. And I actually have someone on my team on all of those calls, and they are listening out for consistent themes, trends that determine what would be a good intervention for that. And then that’s actually discussed as a working group, chaired by the person who leads intervention programming at the business, who helps us really approach our sales leaders with a definition around what we’re not doing well and where we think we can solve it.

And at that point, well what does that do? Well, it ties back to a previous question. We have observed over time what we believe are the performance areas that need improvement within the business. We’ve socialized that as a team and then that is then presented to our sales leadership function, both as part of their SMT (Sales Management Team) meeting and then also on an individual basis when it pertains to their groups. So that is us elevating our role to the strategic level because we are actually sitting down with sales leaders and saying, “here is what x, y, z, from a competency deficiency actually means for your team.” And we are becoming the experts in the analysis.

SS: I love that. You mentioned a very key component to that which is kind of the frontline sales managers. Is there anything special or specific that you do to enable your frontline managers in the Workday team?

JD: Yes, yes there is. One of the movements from a sales training organization to a sales enablement organization or function, and one of the areas I’m most proud of, is the way we have handled improving sales coaching within our organization. And I think it’s clever. I think it meets the field where they are at because let’s be honest, frontline sales managers are consistently time poor. The movement is this. We have adopted a 10-20-70 framework for sales coaching. The 10% being we are teaching our sales managers something new. The 20% – we are giving them an opportunity to socialize and discuss the practices that they are learning in one-on-one coaching calls, in team meetings, in a variety of different ways for them to socialize what they are learning. And then the 70% is we are giving them the circumstantial capability to practice that every day of their lives.

Let me define what I’ve just said there because it needs some context. We call it RSD Coach and it is a 15-minute consumable document that you are sent every month. And every single month, this 15-minute piece of material has videos embedded in it, it has thought provokers built into it, it has field exercises built into it for you to solve a particular coaching circumstance that is common for our frontline sales managers to solve. Now, two weeks after that, we arrange regional calls where we get all of the RSDs on the phone and we speak about the challenges, the opportunities they’ve had to implement it, where it’s worked, where it hasn’t worked, and then suggest ideas for how we could make improvements on it.

That’s not even the clever part. So, they get taught something new in the 15 minutes, they spend 90 minutes socializing, discussing, learning from each other from a peer context, and then we drop this incrementally 12 times over the year. And embedded in every single one of these coaching modules is a coaching methodology that is not called out. In fact, it is relatively understated, but it’s a really simple model of “observe, assess, coach.” That is actually just the structure of the 15-minute consumption. Now when you drip-feed that to someone over a 12-month period, what they eventually become well versed in is using that methodology for circumstantial gain. Then the opportunity when it arises to deal with the circumstance that hasn’t been approached, they apply the same framework naturally.

So, what we’ve done is we’ve met the field where they are, we’ve taught them something new, we have given them the opportunity to socialize and discuss that, and then over time we have embedded a sales or coaching methodology that allows them to solve issues outside of what we just talk about. That’s clean. It is incredibly well received. The participation rate within it is exceptional. I think when you look at the pretty seismic rise we have achieved in the amount of people within our organization who hit quota and participate, that has been a huge contributor to that.

SS: That’s awesome. That sounds amazing. I would like to use a few more minutes, if you don’t mind, just understanding some of your upcoming sales initiatives that you might have that excite you and that might also be relevant to other sales enablement professionals within other organizations that are looking to what’s next, or what’s the next challenge they should take on within their company to have the biggest impact?

JD: I think that a lot of the investment we have put into fiscal year 20 around the efficiency of our sales organization, I think we’ve established a good blueprint for success across the organization. I think we have really established process and methodology. Don’t get me wrong, there are still aspects of that to come. But the big investment has to be on our technology stack. As you well know, Shawnna, the success we’ve experienced in our content platform – and small tap on the shoulder for that – has been instrumental. It has actually allowed us to bring podcasts. It has allowed us to build smart pages, which have acted as layers to our sales process methodology that allows you to get the just-in-time assets that you need based on role and stage of the process immediately. So, that has been a huge success.

We are also rolling out a couple of other technology platforms this year to improve our engagement strategy, to improve our account planning capability and opportunity management capability, and we are principally focused on how do we now take things off the plate of our sellers. And I think the technology gives us a wonderful opportunity to do that so that administratively our guys are spending less time and from a proactive selling point of view, they are spending more time at the frontline where it matters, helping customers.

So, what do I see coming over the next year? I see a big investment in our own technology stack. I see Workday as an organization that is achieving phenomenal growth and I can’t see any reason why that would stagnate in the coming year. So, a lot of our time is going to be ensuring that new hires and acquired hires come up to speed with selling a solution as an internal sales committee, and I mean a lot of investment into our extended sales team outside of just our AEs and sales managers, so that they have the capability to sell to a true buying committee. I realize that there’s a lot of research out there about who we sell to, but we’ve got to understand that we sell to traditionally about 15 people within an organization, especially if we are talking about the full suite solution. We just need to get better at understanding what those people care about, and I think that’s our focus for the next year. How do we really get to know our customer more intimately than any of the other players out there? And I think we’ve already got a huge advantage and I think we have a team who are focused on and believe in themselves that that is something that Workday can achieve.

SS: Thanks for listening. For more insights, tips and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you would like to share or a topic you want to know more about, let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

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