Episode 125: Dagmar Eisenbach on Planning Your Sales Enablement Strategy Amid Uncertainty

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, 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 Dagmar from Salesforce join us. Dagmar, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Dagmar Eisenbach: Thank you, Shawnna, for the invitation. It’s great to be here. I’m Dagmar Eisenbach. I’m head of sales enablement for Salesforce. I’m responsible for the EMEA DACH central region. That’s Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I’ve been working for Salesforce for nearly two years. I joined Salesforce because of its’ strong positioning and belief and actions around business as a platform for change. So, I’m also trying to make my contribution to that change. I’ve co-founded a bile energy cooperative in my home village and I’m also the president of the board of a microfinance organization.

In my day job as I’ve mentioned, leader of a team of professionals that’s responsible for nearly 500 sellers across the region. Onboarding is a really huge part of what we’re doing because we are growing very strongly, but also having other big topics in terms of sales skills, operational excellence, product, and industry know-how. And like everyone, we’ve had some challenges in the pandemic to actually make sure that we can actually serve our sellers in the best possible way, specifically as they are learning a lot from each other and now they’ve started to rely a lot more on our offerings and I think we’re going to go into more detail about that right now.

SS: Well, we’re very excited to have you. Speaking of change, we’ve got the new year right around the corner, and many organizations now are starting to focus on building out their plans for the year ahead given all the change that’s occurred in the last few months. I would love to learn from you, how can practitioners strategically plan for the next year while also taking into account all of the uncertainty that still possible?

DE: So, you’re asking me how can practitioners strategically plan for the next year while also accounting for uncertainty? I see about three levels of how to answer the question: practically, operationally, and strategically. So practically, I think you need to leave room for the unforeseen. In this fast-changing world, strategic plans need to be increasingly flexible and responsive to change. It’s just not possible to think and know exactly for our forecast what will happen all of next year. Therefore, I recommend that you choose some lower priorities for some of your plans so that, you know, already immediately that is those items they would give for the unforeseen. And your stakeholders also know that they are of a lower priority. And ultimately that’s the purpose of a strategy, you know what you’d say no to.

Operationally, if you increase self-service offerings that you can complement with in-person skills then I think you’d be on safer grounds having a good mix of different delivery mechanisms and having a broader menu of topics that you can cover so that you can actually choose from that menu what is relevant at which point in time and be prepared to develop completely new ones. And I think for those new ones, it’s specifically the delivery in a hybrid way. Meaning that people get together face-to-face virtually, and potentially even at the same session so that a part of your audience is sitting maybe in different hubs across in small rooms or bigger rooms probably so that they can sit together, and others are online, and how to orchestrate that together that’ll be fascinating. And we’ll get some practice with that next year.

And strategically, you need to bear in mind that Gartner states that digital adoption was fast-forwarded by about five years. And now more than 58% of the workforce are reporting skills transformation since the onset of the pandemic. So, that refers to the change we can see in the skills that are needed and that will drive our uncertainty, or let me say our curiosity, in how we tackle the challenges and enable our sellers to tackle them in a productive, proactive, and constructive way.

SS: I’d love to understand how did you adapt your own strategy and plans for this year as your organization had to adjust to change? What are some of the key lessons that you learned from that process that you’re applying to your 2021 planning?

DE: Well, you know, like in an emergency situation, in a plane, you really need to put your own mask on first, then help the others. So, if you fall, focus on your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your teams, then the numbers, the sales numbers, will follow. They’re actually only possible if people are in that state of wellbeing. So, there were a few key things that we needed to adapt to and take into account a personal and local reality a lot more than you had to do before. I mean poor connectivity, you needed to be more patient, family constraints, being a lot more flexible of when to talk. But also, what we did actually was we had company all hand calls every week, and it was amazing how much inspiration and education comes from that.

And by speaking more often with the whole company actually helps to also respond to very specific changes that happened in that week. And where and how we position ourselves to that. We’ve also had some more be well initiatives, and the Dreamforce, to actually showing and demonstrating that there is a way of how to deal with all of those changes and making the best out of that. So, keeping the fun in the discussions and keeping the fun in our interactions. Secondly, we’ve also worked on increasing our virtual delivery skills. So also, enable the enablers. We did that by adding energizers, adding revisitors, you know, just like, what have you just learned? What did we just talk about? And also, by experimenting and innovating, trying out new things, some of them worked, others didn’t and that’s okay.

So, we figured out that we needed to be a lot shorter, sharper, more entertaining and therefore maximizing our interaction by using any tools like quizzes, polls to just make clear what is in the room, and gamification. For example, with a tool called Icebreaker, which is just always uplifting the energy tremendously, but anything that introduces more fun, more interaction, and more informal discussions, was something we tried out a lot and are still learning about.

SS: Now, you did mention that there were some challenges along the way. What were some of the key challenges that you think practitioners should anticipate when they’re building out their plans and how can they maybe go about mitigating some of these challenges?

DE: Clearly Zoom fatigue is in all of our words and minds, and we really need to overcome the Zoom fatigue with virtual socializing, which seems a contradiction itself. But it isn’t. These informal unplanned social connections, we really talk of social distancing, but it’s really physical distancing because we do really need to have a lot more of those social connections and conversations. They’re really crucial for innovation, it’s often in that unplanned space of discussing new ideas that something really groundbreaking is coming out and creating that in a digital space is really key. It’s probably a reflection on your own company culture and how you do that. But again, experimenting around that is something you need to do to mitigate that challenge, because you can have the best content if your sellers aren’t listening because they’re also in a call in parallel or in the email at the same time, it’s not getting through. So, you really need to make sure that they can listen, and their mind is open.

Another key concept is around team developing and focusing on the teaming side of things to overcome the distance bias. If you’re further away from each other, we may not have the space to share our feelings and our ideas and opinions. So simple activities like a check-in or having weekly reflections, that is more about sharing rather than performing. These are powerful tools to mitigate that distance bias and avoid unnecessary conflict that are a lot easier to see and to feel when you’re in a room together and therefore can be resolved easily. But, on the virtual side, we need to make that extra effort to overcome that.

SS: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Now, how have you gone about gaining buy-in from your stakeholders for your sales enablement strategy?

DE: I think some of the best advice I actually received from one of our senior salespeople is to approach our plan in the same way that they need to approach our customers. So, in that sense, I feel like we need to lead by example, and selling our plan the way that we’d expect our sellers to sell our services. So, you’d always need to start with a customer-centric discovery. So, in that sense, in my mind, it’s the observing what is needed, listening on the more people side and understanding the numbers on the more direct business side. And then it’s like the yin and yang of people and numbers. And the more of course you have in numbers of what the skills and competencies are in your Salesforce, the easier it is to describe where potential gaps are.

But where you don’t have that to the extent you’d like it, you really need to do it through the observation and the listening, and that discovery. In addition, all of this customer-centric discovery will help you build trust with your stakeholders. A trusted advisor status with the stakeholders is really like a partnership and we build and deliver enablement with and for them, not to them. So that partnership is key in gaining buy-in from the stakeholders. So, it’s not my sales enablement strategy, but it’s our sales enablement strategy.

SS: I love that approach. Now I’m going to pivot just a little bit with our last two questions, and I want to talk about the evolution of sales enablement. I would love to understand from your perspective, how has sales enablement evolved as a function in the past year with all the changes that have occurred?

DE: I think it’s clear that sales enablement as a function has actually become more important specifically as peer-to-peer learning at the coffee pot, where a lot of that learning would happen in the past. You know, also shadowing colleagues, it has become a lot more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult. It also impacts onboarding as this is taking longer. So, if you really need more of a scalable approach from sales enablement, we really need to be much clearer and programmatic about it because we can’t rely on those informal interactions. But we also, at the same time, we’ve spoken about it needing to be shorter and sharper. So, we need to chunk out that knowledge and virtualize it. At the moment, it’s a lot more difficult to do a two-day training event. We can do it and we have done it, but we’re really trying to do much shorter sessions.

Therefore, the chunking at virtualizing plays a big role. In addition, the sales enablement function has become more nimble and more segmented in the past year because in the past we could fill up big rooms and we could actually address a lot of people at the same time and that is still possible and adequate for certain content. There’s also a lot more specific content that’s coming out and we already have a critical mass in the online world where in the past we wouldn’t be able to fill up a whole room in that. And now that gives us the opportunity to have interaction with people that otherwise might’ve been quiet in a large room. It means that the enablement function, as I said, becomes nimble and more segmented to drive the specific needs of specific groups in the Salesforce.

SS: I love that. I think that’s a great perspective on its evolution so far. How do you think that sales enablement will continue to evolve in the next year and beyond? And what do you see as some of the core opportunities for success?

DE: The sales enablement function is becoming even more important in the new year. Specifically, as many sellers now need to work in new ways and cover things that they didn’t need to do in the past. Jobs are changing fast. We need to be adaptable probably in all functions. And in order to deal with that, to go with that flow, to understand what’s happening and deal with it, we really need to create a culture of learning as the past to grow within the sales organization. In addition, scalability, automation and self-service are becoming increasingly important within the function. As the functions becoming more important and maybe resources aren’t growing at the same speed as it’s importance, we really need to make sure we’re finding shortcuts for scaling whilst not losing the learning impact because you still need to have emotion in order to learn something.

I think that’s one of the scientific facts that without an emotion, you will not necessarily retain what you’ve learned. So, there may be some more development I can foresee in simulation applied exercises, virtual reality. Of course, meeting people that personal interaction is always the most powerful, but I think we also need to be open for other means. And I could also see that even once we can meet in person again, we will want to keep some of what we’ve learned and what we’ve started to value from the virtual tools. So, we become a lot more flexible and adaptable. What tool, what context they’re using for which learning, more nimble and segmented as I said before.

The other thing is that we probably need to capture the business impact of our actions a lot more, just so we can ensure that we are focusing on the biggest leavers. Specifically, as a ton more work than we would actually be able to do with the hours of the day in order to cope with this change, this increase in demand. So, I think the number side will be very important or even more important in the new year.

And, last but not least, hybrid delivery. Meaning that combination of face-to-face and virtual. I think that really means we can combine the best of both worlds, smaller groups, and more specific inputs, the right balance of keynotes for everyone. And then maybe industry-specific knowledge for the smaller groups where that is relevant. Maybe self-methodology skills, again for everyone, but then maybe specific deep dives or bite-size chunks of knowledge, just at the right time, just in the right place. Maybe even triggered by certain numbers-based triggers. That’s the thing, hybrid delivery will really help us and learn completely new ways of actually delivering training and should lead us hopefully into a really good next year and beyond.

SS: That was fantastic. And I love that outlook. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

DE: Thank you.

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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