Episode 122: Mike Rioux on Data-backed Onboarding and Training

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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 really excited to have Mike from MongoDB join us. Mike, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Mike Rioux: Sure. First and foremost, thanks for having me Shawnna. So, my name is Mike. I am the director of sales enablement at MongoDB. I started my career as a developer, actually, at a small iPhone Apple company, then I moved to a quite larger company at IBM continued my life as a developer, and I was quickly drawn to technical sales. So, I did a few years as a solution engineer and solutions consulting, and finally ending up at MongoDB as a solutions architect. So, I spent a lot of my time in the field. I guess it’s not really a traditional path to leading a sales enablement team, but this role opened up and I was really excited about the thought of being a force multiplier. So, like I said, I run the sales enablement team at MongoDB, and Mongo is a cloud data platform company. So, the industry we’re in, you can call it high growth software or more specifically data platform or databases.

SS: Well, Mike, I’m extremely excited to chat with you. I think that the sales enablement market is very familiar with the work being done at MongoDB, you guys are really above and beyond, particularly with regards to your onboarding efforts. And so, I’d love to understand from you, how has the onboarding program structured to set new hires up for success at MongoDB?

MR: Well, it’s great to hear that we’re doing something right. So, thanks for those kind words. But I’ll say our onboarding or ramp, as we call it, is constantly evolving. Every single quarter we get smarter as a sales organization and we ensure to add those lessons learned back into our ramp. So, what I tell you right now is you go by the time this podcast comes out, we’ll already be outdated, but I’ll give you the gist. So, at MongoDB, we give you your first six months to ramp to productivity. So, no quota your first six months. All we want you focusing on is getting up to speed on what we sell and how we sell it. So, with MongoDB, or really, any cloud data platform, there’s just so much you need to know. And we have one of the most comprehensive and data-driven sales processes I’ve ever seen.

So, we need a prescriptive and extensive ramp to enable you as a seller so you could internalize all of this information. So, the first starts day one, you figure out where the washrooms are, and we get you your pre-work. So, pre-work for our sales bootcamp and this includes, technical foundations, database fundamentals, sales fundamentals, sales process introduction. And you do some pre-work you meet with a solutions architect buddy. So, a solutions architect is basically a technical seller, a salesperson’s counterpart. So, we pair you up with them, you meet with them and you dive really deep into the technology. They help you close any gaps that you have with the pre-work. You do a final exam. You jump into bootcamp. So bootcamp is a live intense weeklong sales training, or at least it was a week-long when we were allowed to do it in person. So now that it’s virtualized, it’s a little bit shorter zoom sessions, but it’s still live and you’re going to come to bootcamp and you’re going to hear from the most successful sellers, the most successful sales leaders, you’ll probably hear from our CRO or our CFO or our CEO, or sometimes all three on, you know, on where the company’s going.

You’ll hear from the best solutions architects at Mongo, teaching you about the technology. So, you’ll get a really good understanding for the value that we provide as a company and how we can go sell this product and our products and our services to our customers. Then once you graduate bootcamp, which happens in and around the one month, you basically, you get out into the field, you start having some conversations with your customers, some nice conversations, some not so nice conversations, and you gain a lot of contexts. You do a lot of contextual learning. But we don’t just kind of throw you out there. We have a pretty prescriptive post bootcamp, self-paced learning track. We’ll call it where we sprinkle in different bits of information and knowledge that you need at the right time.

So, things like different sales skills, different technology, we don’t want to overload you. So, it’s kind of like a mini drip campaign you’ll get between month one and month five. And after you get all that great contextual learning, we’re going to bring you back for another in-person or live training now called the van sales training, where we dive deeper into the technology, deeper into the modern data architectures deeper into our sales process. It’s kind of like the three one level, if that makes sense. And then after event sales training, you are ramped up.

SS: I love that. It’s amazing how detailed you guys have gotten with your onboarding program. And, I think obviously one of the things that a lot of sales enablement practitioners also have to take into consideration is kind of reinforcement post onboarding. So, how do you continue to build on and reinforce what’s learned during your onboarding program through more ongoing training?

MR: Yeah. So, learning never stops at MongoDB, never, ever. So, my boss Cedric, the CRO, he said that he believes reps should be spending at least five hours a week on growing their skills, whether that’s with our enablement programs or books or podcasts, articles, et cetera. And we have no shortage of topics to train on at MongoDB. Like I said earlier, we have a comprehensive and data-driven sales process. Each stage requiring different skills and knowledge, and those skills can always be sharpened, and knowledge always can be increased. And on top of that, our engineering team on Mongo is insanely good. They are constantly developing and releasing game-changing features, game-changing products that sellers need to be trained on. So, they need to understand what the product does, what value does it provide our customers? What’s our go-to-market strategy? Which personas will most likely resonate with our message, et cetera.?

And there are a few ways we do this. So. If it’s a simple training or a short kind of smaller topic, we’ll say, we’ll probably use e-learning modules. You’ll watch a few videos. You’ll do a quiz. You’ll record yourself, delivering a pitch or delivering a proof point where then later your manager can watch it and give you feedback, or we can use the AI capabilities in the tool to give you some feedback. Then there’s the next step, which is we will build training packages, self-contained packages with content and maybe pre-work and exercises. And I’ll train the trainers or someone on my team will train the trainers, which means we’ll train the RDS, the regional directors, or the, the vice presidents. And we’ll get them to lead the sessions because of course, sellers are going to internalize content from their leaders much more effectively so, we’ll kind of force multiply ourselves by getting them to lead these sessions globally. Then even more comprehensive, is kind of like a multi-pronged approach where we do a bit of both and we kind of build global scoreboards.

So, as an example, what’s top of mind because we’re doing it right now is a discovery program. We’re calling Marco Polo. It’s a, you know, he’s a famous discover. So, basically what we’re doing is there’s different levels of learning and there’s different goals at each level, but it’s a comprehensive program of about maybe more than a hundred hours of content. It’s meant to be consumed in different ways. So, basically, you’ll do some self-paced training. There’ll be some RD led follow-ups to reinforce the content, and we actually have some spiffs or some prizes for whoever does this the best. So basically, you go through your entire training, whoever, whichever team scores, the highest they qualify to teach back the content to a panel, which is going to include our CRO, our CEO, myself. Basically, they kind of have to prove that they’ve internalized this.

So, there’s a lot of it, we try to have a lot of fun with it and get these regions competing with each other. And the last thing we’ll say on this is one interesting thing that we’re exploring is conducting some of these live sessions in a virtual reality setting. So, we’ve engaged with the VR platform company and that’s kicking off as we speak. So, if that’s really successful some of these live trainings might be all in virtual reality.

SS: That sounds very cool. And I do want to come back to how you guys have been conducting training virtually in just a minute. I think what I’d love to understand is how at MongoDB you guys have identified the specific competencies that you want, your sales reps to exhibit, and then how you’ve designed training to target those specific competencies?

MR: Yeah, that’s a great question. A very, very important thing for sales enablement teams to understand. So, step one is you need to understand the core tenants or core competencies that your sellers need to succeed. And this is going to be very different at every company and at what stage the company’s in. So, for example, what we needed a seller to be great at when I started four years ago is very different than what we need to sell her to be great at now. So you need to sit down with your sales leaders, and some of your executives and analyze your top-performing reps. Like I said, we’re everything we do is data backed no surprise for a data company but go analyze your top-performing reps and understand what makes them so good. Marry that with what your experience, amazing sales leaders from all of their experience and you’ll be able to identify and understand what skills and knowledge you need. And as I mentioned, you can just do this once, so you should always be refining this, and it’s interesting because you know, it might seem like a lot of work to go do this, but once you have it as a sales enablement leader or sales enablement practitioner, it acts as your North star.

You can always ask yourself, does what I’m working on fit into any of these competencies or any of these skills or pieces of knowledge they need. And if not, maybe you need to recalibrate. So, at Mongo you can break down everything you need to know. And we break it down into two major buckets, there are the sales process and skills type side, and then there’s the technology. And as I said, probably we’ll say a hundred times, we have a comprehensive and data back sales process.

At each stage and gate of the process, it actually requires a different set of skills and knowledge, different bits of value. You are providing the customer in different bits of value you’re taking from the customer. So, it’s important to acknowledge those and understand them. We also have developed the ability to track success at each stage for each opportunity for each rep. And this is then exposed to the leaders with dashboards so they can very easily and quickly identify what a rep excels at and where they might need some help.

So, as an example, if a rep has a ton of qualified pipeline, they’re probably great at discovery. But if they seem to get hung up at the business justification stage, for example, maybe that rep needs some training from our business value consulting team on how to build a better business case as an example. Each stage has their experts, like the people in the company are known for being amazing at PG are amazing at discovery, are amazing at business case. So, when we flag the people who are really successful at that, we will a hundred percent tap into what makes them successful and build trainings around it.

Then there’s the other side of the coin which is technology. So, you know, what product are we looking at? Which value does it provide to? What value does it provide to our customers? How do we show that value? What are common requirements it solves, and then there’s enabling and adjacent technologies, so does Mongo compete with them or compliment them? And then that brings up the competition. So, who do we compete with? What are the silver bullets? Which don’t exist, but know, I’ll leave that one for other people, but, basically, you break it down into two small buckets. And then at that point it becomes simple. Find the person who does it the best in the company and get them into a training.

SS: I love that. Now you’ve mentioned this a few times, but that you guys are a very data-driven company. So, I would love to understand how you guys, and I know you talked about, some of the tracking capabilities throughout the training to identify competencies, but how are you thinking about measuring and tracking competency improvement amongst all of your reps?

MR: Yeah, this is the million-dollar question. I don’t think there’s a bulletproof way. Like there’s no Bulletproof perfect way of doing this. You can quiz them, or you can assess them, or you could get them to record themselves and get their manager to grade, but some of this stuff is subjective, and we do all that because it is data points. It does help you. I’ve seen people make the mistake of correlating success to the program they just went to and you can’t necessarily do that either, because what if we just released a marketing campaign? What if, we’re an open-source company?

So, what if that customer already had built their huge platform on MongoDB, and then we just kind of stumbled into it. You know, there’s a lot of different factors at play. So, we try to use all the tools and all the technology that we can, but we take it with a little bit of a grain of salt and kind of have to rely on the gut at times, or anecdotes from, you know, sales leaders or, or executives.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. Now I do want to go back, because I’m very interested in understanding how you guys are going to be leveraging VR. I think a lot of organizations have had to transition to more remote training this year. So, I would love to understand some considerations that sales enablement practitioners need to keep in mind, when they are conducting all of their training virtually.

MR: Yeah, that was an undertaking and a half to have to virtualize all of our in-person trainings in what seemed like overnight? And I think we made the mistake of trying to replicate exactly what we did in person, just over zoom. So, you know, basically five full days of, six, seven hours of zoom and it works especially for bootcamp when you have really excited people coming in and starting a new company, we had their attention, but we could tell it wasn’t the same. And you know, we kind of did this as a band-aid because we thought, like everyone, we’d be back in the office after a couple of months after this little thing blew over. But as we know, I’m going to use a cliche that I absolutely come to hate now but this is the new normal. So, we’ve revamped it and revisited it and reimagined it.

And we basically are trying to do short bursts of zoom, but all of the learning really happens upfront in a self-paced, kind of way. And, the time we spend on zoom as a global company together, and as a cohort, is a lot of practice. It’s like a lot of reinforcement, a lot of practice. You get to practice with your peers. We’ll give you some coaching, things like role-plays and exercises and things like that. So, we’ve spent, we try to focus all the time on zoom or virtually with, doing the like hands-on stuff. So, keep people engaged and there’s a lot of other tips and tricks you can do to keep people engaged. One that works a lot for us is for every cohort and every live training, we’ll have a Slack channel dedicated for it. So, for example, it’s topical because there’s an event sales training running right now. And we all go on this channel and the facilitators are on my team are trained up to basically say like, anytime they want to ask a question to the audience, when you’re in person, you can usually see whose kind of engaged and leaning forward.

You can call on them because they want to answer. You can’t really do that in zoom. So, what we say is, okay, everyone here’s this question, type your answer into the Slack channel and it gets everyone kind of interacting with each other and you get to see 30 different answers to the question you just asked, and you can kind of pick and choose the right ones and maybe dive a little deeper into some people who, you know, they had a misconception of the topic. So, you can dive in and ask second, third level questions and people will get a lot of learning that way and it keeps them on their toes. It keeps them on their toes, because we know we’re always going to be asking for interaction and there’s different ways you could do that too. You could say, if you’re on zoom, you can say, “Hey, everyone thumbs up if you think the answer is A or a smiley face if you think the answer is B.” And you know, different mediums to get them constantly engaged because otherwise after 30 minutes turn camera’s off, they go on their emails and you’ve lost them. So, different little things like that.

You could use web apps too. We’ve used what we call the wheel of names. So, if we have a particularly quiet, group, we’ll throw out this like kind of huge big game show type wheel with all their names on it and we’ll spin it. And whoever lands on is to do a thing, whether it’s deliver a proof point or share their proudest moment at Mongo. But basically, if I can summarize all of that, it’s think of creative ways to constantly get them interacting with you. And cameras on a hundred percent of the time. If your camera is off in any of our trainings, we are a thousand percent asking you question after question after question until you turn your camera on, otherwise, like I said, it’s just way too easy to dip into emails.

SS: Absolutely, I can relate. So, you know, I think the thing that’s kind of top of mind right now for sales enablement practitioners is sales kickoff. A lot of organizations that run on kind of traditional fiscal calendars are probably trying to figure out how they transition at least part or some of their sales kickoff into a more virtual format. So, in your opinion, what are some of the key challenges that practitioners might encounter when planning an effective virtual sales kickoff and what are some of the strategies that you’ve seen practitioners leverage to overcome those challenges?

MR: Yeah. So, this is very top of mind because we’re doing our SKO planning as well. I’ll start with the biggest mistake I see, which is kind of like what the mistake I mentioned for our bootcamp, where people try to emulate what they had and it’s just impossible. So, you’re not going to emulate the in-person feel of a conference in Vegas with all your friends and all your colleagues and everyone’s in person, you’re bumping into people, et cetera, et cetera. So just don’t try it because it’s not going to work. But here’s what you should do. What you should do is like we talked about with core competencies, take a step back and break it down. Why do you have sales kickoffs? It falls under different buckets, right? There’s the excitement kind of hype bucket. There’s the new messaging bucket or new product bucket, getting to see and getting to know your executives, bumping into people from around the world that you maybe you went to bootcamp with two years ago and you know, “Oh, Hey, how’s it going?” Let’s grab a drink type of thing. If you could take those down and kind of break up each core component, there are different ways you could go and solve for those problems and solve for those requirements.

Maybe it’s not one event, maybe it’s multiple events. Maybe you utilize technology, maybe utilize virtual reality. Like we said to simulate a happy hour with groups of people from around the world, so there’s lots of different things you can do, but like I would say my suggestion is break it down into each part. So as an example, what we’re doing is for the excitement slash executive keynote part, we are going to, because you can’t really have those live, unless you only have a localized kind of company. If you’re a global company, it’s impossible to do those live without excluding a good chunk of people because you’re not going to ask them to join at three in the morning.

So, what we’re doing is we’re utilizing a technology company that basically is going to produce some really cool, high-quality recordings. So, we’ll have like virtual backgrounds that are interactive and things like that. And we’ll have our executives give their keynotes, but we’re going to pre-record them using a technology company and a production company. So, there’ll be really high quality professionally developed, and we’re going to deliver those to different regions of sales teams so they can watch it together. And we’ll have different things before and after that, but it can kind of simulate the feeling of going to a keynote. So, we’re using technology there and a production company to our advantage to really double down on the excitement and hype.

SS: I love that. I think that’s fantastic. Now, Mike, I’ve enjoyed this conversation a lot. I’d love to close on a measurement question and a metric question. How are you kind of holistically looking at the impact of all of these readiness programs across obviously sales kickoff, which we just chatted about, and onboarding and ongoing training. How are you thinking about demonstrating that impact back up to your executive team?

MR: Sure. So, what I like to do is I ask my CFO for a year over year growth chart, and then I just take 100% of the credit for that. Now I kid of course, this is actually a really tough question to answer because like I alluded to it a little bit earlier, there’s so many things that go into the success of a rep, and the success of an account and the, the sale of a big deal. It’s hard to carve a specific number of percentages of effect that we had into that particular deal. Right. So, here’s what we do. There’s a couple of things the first is, and actually to be honest, this is my favorite and the thing I rely on the most is just anecdotal evidence. We’ll ask people how their training was.

We survey them throughout the training. Was this effective? What did you want to see? What was it, or what was there that you love? What was there that you didn’t love, et cetera, et cetera. That’s a little, you got to take that with a grain of salt because everyone’s excited to be finished a training or when they finish a training they’re hyped up. But we’ll ask them four or five, six months after, “Hey, you remember that training we had, do you still use the knowledge you’ve learned there,” and sometimes we’ll get, “Yeah. I still to this day, check my notes from that training. It helped me with this deal, that deal.” One guy just got promoted and I pinged, I messaged them on Slack and said, “Hey, congratulations.” He said that the huge deal that he closed that helped him get his promotion he learned everything about that at advanced sales training. And I was like very proud and very happy to hear that.

So, we use anecdotes a lot and we’ll talk to sales leaders and we’ll say how has your team been after this training, we’ll talk to executives, we’ll look holistically. Then another thing we do is data-driven, so we’ll look at a rep like I said, we bring these reps through in cohorts, so we’ll see how fast the ramping. We’ll see how fast they get to pro productive capacity and hopefully that time gets shorter and shorter and shorter as we improve and get smarter and smarter in our ramp-up plant, and it has, which is great. Always more to go, but then there’s also, “Hey, you just took training X, Y, and Z. Let’s go and look at one month, two months, three months later at the cohort level.” If they’ve actually improved on the thing, we’re trying to get them to improve on.

So, as an example, if we just released the data lake product, we gave training on the data lake. We can go see how much data lake we’re selling after, or, we just released training on pipeline generation. And as I mentioned before, we kind of expose through dashboards rep by rep opportunity by opportunity, how these opportunities are progressing or how much pipeline a rep will have. So, if we released a pipeline generation training a month later, two months later, three months later, we can go look at the cohort of reps who did it and see if the pipeline is increased. Again, you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt because there’s a number of factors, you know, correlation versus causation type stuff. But I feel like the combination of all the things I just told you gets us a pretty good indication of what’s valuable and what isn’t.

SS: Absolutely. Mike, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed our conversation.

MR: Me too. Anytime. Thank you for having me. It was a blast.

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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