Episode 108: Evangeline Earl on Bridging Skill Gaps Through Training and Coaching

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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’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Evangeline Earl from Granite Telecommunications join us. Evangeline, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Evangeline Earl: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me to participate today, Shawnna. It’s a real pleasure to meet you and I’m looking forward to further discussions this morning. So, my name is Evangeline Earl and I am a senior corporate sales trainer for Granite Telecommunications. So, I have been with Granite for almost four and a half years now, and I actually started out in a sales role in business development, where I was bringing in new business logos for the company, before transitioning over to my sales training role, which I’m currently in.

So, Granite we have been around since 2002 and the best way to describe us is we are the largest managed services provider for wireless and wireline services in North America. So essentially, we have gained our success over the years by working with multi-location businesses, think about companies like Walmart, Starbucks or Home Depot, they’re all current Granite customers. And no matter where a brick and mortar business is located across the United States, across Canada, Granite through our wholesale partnerships with other telecom providers, we are able to provide service for phone, for internet, for any infrastructure cabling that’s needed for those brick and mortar locations.

My role here at the company is to, in addition to conducting our onboarding training every single month for our brand new sales hires, in addition to that, I also provide ongoing coaching, ongoing support for the sales reps throughout their first full year of employment at the company. And then as well, I also design different training programs, different workshops, which we conduct with the sales reps based around some of the skill gaps we’re seeing or some of the needs that are brought to our attention. And I work very closely with senior leadership, including the sales directors, as well as our senior vice president of sales. And even up to our CEO of the company.

SS: Well, I’m extremely excited to have you join us today. And as you mentioned in your intro, one of your areas of expertise is really around sales training. In your experience, what steps do you take when developing a new sales training program from scratch?

EE: Sure. No, that’s a great question. Really, we kind of work backward. So, we first want to figure out what is the ultimate goal of that training program, and then design the sessions, the material around that goal. So, if there’s a certain skill gap that we’re seeing, for example, recently we’ve been working with our sales reps on storytelling. So how do we get better at conveying stories through our messaging, with our prospects, with our existing customers?

That is one way that we really focus on designing new training programs is really just looking at what the goal is that we’re trying to achieve whether that’s a skill gap, whether that’s a business goal, maybe there’s a certain product set that we haven’t really been selling much of. And so, we want to focus on how can we improve the rep’s knowledge around that area. We also do a lot of work across the organization working with subject matter experts. For example, we have a lot of different department leaders that we like to get involved in our trainings. So, it’s not just the sales training team that is conducting these trainings, but we like to bring in those people who are extremely knowledgeable on the subjects and areas that we want to teach.

SS: That’s fantastic. And that’s great groundwork for our audience. Now, I want to go a little bit deeper because I know as part of building the sales training experiences, sales enablement often has to identify and target specific skills that they want to have developed through training. So how do you go about doing that, for those that haven’t had to go through that process? What does that look like to identify and target the specific skills that are needed?

EE: So, one way that we really look into identifying specific skill gaps and knowledge gaps across for our sales reps is, well, one way we do that is through our one-on-one coaching sessions that we have with each sales rep. So we like to conduct coaching sessions on a monthly basis. We have about 400 sales reps across the organization. So, we really prioritize the newer sales reps and when we’re looking at what specific skill gaps they’re lacking or they’re missing, or they just haven’t quite mastered. And then in addition to those coaching sessions where we’re actively talking with the sales reps, we are also doing, monthly roleplay sessions with the sales reps.

So, role-play is a huge part of our organization. I’m sure it’s a huge part of a lot of sales enablement teams, duties, and roles. Through those role-plays, we are trying to make it as realistic and lifelike as possible where the sales rep gets on a roleplay play with either myself or one of the other trainers. We also have quarterly roleplay sessions with our senior vice president of sales and our senior president of operations, of sales operations, excuse me. And they are actively working with the sales reps to provide real-time coaching around what some of those skill gaps might be. So, role play is a huge component, a huge asset for us in terms of identifying what some of those skill gaps are.

For example, I mentioned storytelling earlier, that was one way we were able to figure out, okay, we need to help our reps strengthen their stories that they’re telling to the prospects. And then another way that we can also identify skill gaps is by looking into their pipeline. We utilize Salesforce. And so, we’re able to actually dig in deep to understand based around, you know, how many meetings they have booked or how many opportunities are actively working on. We’re able to dig in deeper to understand what some skill gaps might be around some areas that they seem to be struggling.

SS: I love that. Thank you for digging into that, that level of detail. Now, what are some considerations sales enablement practitioners need to keep in mind when, you know, especially in this new environment that we’re in, when having to conduct training virtually?

EE: Sure. No, that’s a great question and something that we’re all getting better at, on a daily basis I imagine. So, one thing that I like to look at and that we, as a team collectively look at here at Granite, is the level of engagement. So how engaging are sessions? How engaging is the material that we’re trying to train on, what modes of training are we utilizing virtually?

For example, we’re using Zoom, we use GoToMeeting, so different modes of actual virtual training resources those products and services enable us to utilize during the virtual training. And then, one thing that’s huge as well, which ties into all of this, is making sure that the sales reps’ cameras are on. So, one thing we took initiative on back in April was actually sending out webcams to all of our sales reps. Moving forward for any new sales rep that comes into the organization we actually do require them to keep their camera on because we find that their level of engagement, their attention span is higher when they actually have the camera on. They know that they are accountable to participating and being involved in the discussion. And then another thing that we look at is, are the reps implementing what they’re learning after they leave the virtual training? So, we’re working closely with the field directors, we’re looking into their Salesforce pipelines, to really fully understand are they actually implementing what they’re learning?

Then, in addition to that as well, I think another thing that sales enablement practitioners can keep in mind is the timing of the different training sessions that you’re teaching. So, for example, are you teaching internal processes right at 8:00 a.m.? Or are you teaching really technical product training sessions right after lunch? Because that’s definitely something that we are very conscious of at Granite is really just looking into the timing of those different training sessions that we’re teaching and figuring out when best to capture the sales rep’s attention.

SS: I love that. I know I certainly don’t digest things very well at 8:00 AM in the morning either, so that’s fantastic. I love that you guys are that thoughtful. Now, obviously, the skills needed for a sales rep evolves constantly. But from your experience, what would you say are the most important skills that sales reps need in order to be successful today?

EE: Yeah, that’s a really good question, Shawnna. I think that today with everything that we are dealing with due to COVID, and really just the business and economic environment in general, one area that we’re actively helping our sales reps to improve on is identifying the value that a prospect or a customer would want. That’s one thing actually at the back in March. So, when all this started and we transitioned at the organization to working from home, one thing that we immediately did as sales trainers was to put together what we called a COVID-19 tactical guide to selling.

We actually put together a playbook around some objections that the sales reps would receive due to COVID and due to businesses transitioning to more of a work from home environment, and really struggling financially in a lot of ways. So, I think that the biggest skills that sales reps right now need to be successful is really being able to identify and pick up on what value would be of most important to a business.

SS: I love that. I think that’s a really good one. So, I want to pivot away a little bit from training specifically, because in addition to training you also have a lot of experience with one-on-one sales coaching, and that is a very critical topic and skill for sales enablement professionals. So, in your opinion, what are some of the core components of a successful coaching framework?

EE: Sure. Yeah, that’s a great question. I love one-on-one coaching. I feel like that’s really where my strengths lie, or shine is when I’m working individually with the sales reps on a one-on-one basis. I myself was in their shoes, I was selling at Granite when I first started at the company. I think that one of the core components to a successful coaching framework is really just being able to dig in and have a very transparent, open, vulnerable discussion with the sales reps to get them to open up and describe what their current challenges are, really get them to start thinking, and being very, you know, consciously, aware of where their gaps may be. And so that’s one way where we’re able to start to kind of pull out from the sales rep themselves, different areas that they might be struggling with or different challenges that see for themselves.

And then in addition to that, as a resource for myself, I utilize our internal databases here at Granite to dig in deeper to understand what the current pipeline looks like for that sales rep, what does their book of business look like? Are they booking enough meetings? Based on how many meetings they have booked, that’ll tell us something. And then depending on how many meetings they have, how many of those are turning into opportunities that they’re actively working on. And then how many of those opportunities are turning into actual deals that they close? We look at those types of numbers and metrics to really understand different gaps in areas that the sales reps may not even know that they’re missing and then from there actively working to help them fill in the blanks.

SS: That’s fantastic. Now on the topic of frontline managers, because they’re absolutely critical to getting coaching, right? How can sales enablement practitioners better enable frontline managers to improve coaching?

EE: Sure. Yeah. Great question. That’s something that we deal with a lot here at Granite, we work very closely with the frontline managers. We have many branch locations across the United States and multiple different sales directors across the different sales divisions that we work very closely with. And, one thing that we’re actually actively doing right now with all of the directors is running through an actual coaching workshop, how they can be more impactful in terms of their own coaching. So, we’re actually kind of modeling our own behaviors, so to speak.

We’re modeling how they can go about having discussions with their sales reps, getting their sales reps to open up, getting their sales reps to discuss different challenges with their directors. So that’s one thing that we’re working on. And then also making sure that the directors, you know, especially if we have a new director that comes into the company, making sure that they feel very confident in that resources available to them in terms of how to actually access and see how their reps are doing from a metric standpoint.

So, if there are any gaps that we see coming from the directors, we get with them one-on-one on a coaching call with the directors to identify and, you know, dive into how we can better support the director and whether that’s bringing in other subject matters from the company to do a one-on-one session with the director themselves, or really just, you know, pulling the sales reps in with the director and running our own workshop or our own session to kind of model that type of coaching and training behavior so that the director can then go on and feel more confident in their own skills.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Evangeline, I’ve loved this conversation. I have one closing question on the topic of coaching. I’d love to understand, well, actually, let’s go ahead and talk about training and coaching but if you want to take the response in two parts that works too. How do you measure the impact of training and coaching programs?

EE: So that that’s definitely a challenge. I think that it’s, you know, we definitely struggle with quantifying our efforts. Sales training in general is highly qualitative. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. It’s highly qualitative. So, one area that we can kind of measure the impact of our training programs is by word of mouth. So one way that we’re doing it at Granite right now is based on what the director’s feedback is, or the senior vice president of sales or based on how many different product offerings we’re selling, our product suites we’re selling, we’re able to sort of summarize how we’re actually doing.

Another way that we are actually able to put some numbers around it right now is to look at the number of meetings that the sales reps are booking and then looking at how many of those meetings are turning into opportunities. How many of those opportunities are turning into deals? One, that turned into customers. And so that is one way we’re able to put some actual numbers and metrics around it. Ultimately, our actual goal for Q1 of next year is to look into some outside vendors who can really help us to put more numbers, more metrics, really quantify how our training program is impacting the sales reps and the business as a whole, but that’s sort of a longer-term plan for us.

The main way we’re actively measuring how we’re doing is again through word of mouth. And then also just looking into the current numbers that we have. We also look, just to kind of add on to that, we also right now are looking into the actual individual sales rep’s book of business, as well as the retention of those sales reps. So that’s more a long-term strategy where we look at how long sales reps have been at the work organization and how much their books of business are growing on a monthly annual basis. And that can also help us to determine how impactful the training and coaching prep programs are.

SS: Thank you so much. I have enjoyed this conversation immensely. Thank you so much for making the time.

EE: Absolutely. No, it’s been a pleasure, Shawnna. I really appreciate you inviting me to participate.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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