Podcast

Episode 13: James Bridgeman on the Sales Enablement Tech Stack

| 16 min read


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 they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, we’re joined by James Bridgeman, the head of sales enablement and operations for Siemens’ building technologies division. James has experience working with massive sales teams and markets across the globe, and we’re thrilled to have him on the podcast.

James, as you know, we’re seeing more necessity for sales enablement, so I would love to hear from you, your perspective on if you see this momentum continuing, and where you see the evolution of sales enablement going.

James Bridgeman: Definitely. Yeah, I absolutely see the continued importance and momentum behind sales enablement. Looking back, I think a lot of it was technology, systems, platform-based, technology stack-based. But what I’m seeing now is a combination of technology, but really technology-enabled programs. I think I talked about it at the Sales Enablement Soiree.

One of the areas we’ve seen really good early returns is we have a Ready-to-Sell program, which our data shows – you can almost pin your hat on it – it would take about three years for a sales rep to get up to speed as far as full proficiency. So, one of the things we thought was that anything we can do to get them proficient and up to where we thought they should be at in terms of a sales standard the better. We implemented the Ready-to-Sell program probably about a year and a half ago, and really it’s, over the course of a year, a series of milestones that a sales rep needs to hit. So, it does a couple of things. It gives them on-the-job training, classroom training, experiential training, a whole host of different ways to learn across key areas within sales. Then, we have somebody on the team who tracks their performance, holds them accountable, because if you just launch them like that, salespeople aren’t really going to follow through on it.

And we actually saw some really good returns, we saw a 26% increase. So, we did some analysis where we compared year one Ready-to-Sell reps compared to year one reps before we started the program. We actually saw a 26% increase in order intake, which is huge. And then we saw actually a 53% reduction in turnover. Now, you can’t attribute both those great results to purely the Ready-to-Sell program, but that’s a good thing.

We have a Ready-to-Sell program manager and then we have somebody who administers it on a day-to-day basis, really just making sure that sales reps are hitting their milestones. And then we recently moved the program to what we call the Siemens or the Sales Excellence Academy. It’s MindTickle, you might have heard of MindTickle, it’s like a learning reinforcement platform. We’re actually tracking the performance of that program through MindTickle.

And then just last month we said, “you know what, we need to continue the success” and we came out with a program called Ready-to-Lead. At the companies I’ve been with, usually, people that are in either branch general managers or sales managers, they’ve typically been salespeople that have been successful, but that doesn’t mean you’re a good leader, right? And you don’t just want to throw them to the wolves. So, we took a similar approach. It’s over the course of six months instead of 12 months, and we came up with five areas like strategy, leadership, financials, there are some other ones, where we wanted them to have a core competency.

We have MindTickle monitoring or administering the program but then we also have a team of national sales managers who go out and verify competency. And we’ve taken a tough stance, we’ve had sales managers say, “Hey, I’ve been around forever, can I opt out of the program?” and my response there is, “Look, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this, we all need to sharpen the saw and we all can get better.” So, we’ve taken a very strict approach where every sales manager or every branch general manager with direct reports needs to go through the program. We’ll see how the returns are there but we’re excited about it.

SS: That’s awesome, that sounds exciting. I know that you have a hand in both sales enablement and sales operations. I’d love to understand how the teams are organized and structured, and how that works out because that’s sometimes the case. Sometimes sales operations and sales enablement are very closely related and in other organizations, they’re not. Sometimes sales enablement reports directly into a sales leader or a marketing leader, so I’m very curious to understand what it’s like having it kind of in the operations house over there.

JB: Yeah, and you know even sales operations can mean different things, like sometimes it’s heavily focused on commissions and all that. I joined Siemens about two years ago and I joined really as a team of one, which was sales operations, to run sales operations. The way I approached it was really taking a lean approach to the end-to-end sales process. So I came in, gathered different people from throughout the field, and started to process map. We did rapid improvement events and really process mapped the end-to-end sales process and then tried to identify via lean techniques some of the paint points and going after those.

And then after about a year, I also took on the sales piece, which again historically has been mostly the tool side, so CRM, our estimating system, our proposal generator, other programs that are specific to our industry. We have something called Spec Writer, I mentioned LinkedIn Sales Navigator and now moving into some of the programs like Ready-to-Sell and Ready-to-Lead. I think the two actually go hand-in-hand really well because I think you need to start from a lean approach of stripping out all the stuff that’s non-value added, making sure things are customer-centric.

I mean, my mantra for the team is if it doesn’t either help the sales rep be successful or make the customer happy, we really shouldn’t be doing it. You know, we’re a 170-year-old German engineering company, so we have a lot of internal processes. Believe me, we’ve got a lot of work to do, it’s not like I came in and changed the whole dynamic. It’s an uphill battle because you know people, we do a lot of stuff to make ourselves happy but it doesn’t necessarily translate to making the sales reps be more successful and making the customers happy.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m going to gravitate back to the topic of obviously revenue, top-line revenue, being the most impactful thing that you guys can do to prove a return. At the Soiree, you were talking a lot about how revenue is enablement’s responsibility and we’ve talked about some of the programs that you built to expedite ramping reps to obviously have that impact on revenue.

I’d love to understand how you guys have kind of gone about measuring it. You alluded to the manual work with Sales Navigator but I would love to understand what are those kind of top-line metrics that you are presenting to your executive team in proving that enablement has return?

JB: Yeah, I mean, we focus primarily on order intake, which is sales per sales rep. We also focus on gross margins of making sure, not only are they selling the top line, they’re selling well. I mentioned turnover. I think we’re getting there, we’re doing some good stuff but I’d say still with some of the legacy systems – I think of our CPQ, our proposal generator – it’s still a lot of adoption. And it’s like okay, so what does adoption mean? You can measure it and say people need to adopt and use it. So, I think we still rely on a lot of success stories and people sharing best practices and saying how by using – it was Octave, now it’s Conga – the proposal generator, I’m able to see when a customer opens the proposal, what they’re focusing in on, I can follow up in a timely fashion.

But it can still be an uphill battle as far as getting reps who have been doing it a certain way for years and years to get with that. I would say we try to show how using a tool can translate into operating income or gross margin dollars, but I’m a big believer in sales reps are competitive. Sometimes you just have to stack rank them and you know they don’t want to be on the bottom. If you show them there are branches or areas or sales reps that are adopting these tools and they’re being very successful, they tend to perk up.

SS: Oh yeah, absolutely. That always works with higher-ups as well.

JB: Yeah, exactly.

SS: Alright, I have a quick question just sort of on the sales tech stack. I am curious, how often do you guys go about evaluating your tech stack, deciding what do you deprecate? Where are maybe some solutions to overlapping? Is that something that you guys audit on a regular basis?

JB: I’d say no, we don’t do it enough. I think we should do it every year, right? You’re not going to change your technologies every year but I think it’s smart to be thinking about what’s the next step, what’s the road map. We have an IT road map, I’d say it’s very IT driven. What I want is for the business to take more ownership of it. The nice thing is that we’ve got some folks with the expertise who are great at doing that, but I think it’s making sure you carve out the time to make that part of their goals and objectives. Part of their performance review is, “hey, I want you not only to manage the tool you have, manage the enhancement request, make the tough decisions, keep it under budget, but then as part of your goals and objectives, also be laying out what a road map is.” And making it a team event.

That’s why we’re trying to get more involved in Dreamforce and being more aware of what’s out there because it’s overwhelming. There’s so much going on. But I think that we’re trying to do more of it. I’m trying to drive that mentality with the team. I still think we have a way to go.

For example, our estimating tool is legacy, it’s our own homegrown tool. It’s tough because people get very attached and they feel like it’s their baby. Once you start talking about how we shouldn’t really be in the IT or technology stack business, you know people get a little worked up. And sometimes you have people that are true architects or developers versus program or product managers. It’s a different skill set, it’s a different mentality. But I try to create an environment where people aren’t freaking out about it. and it’s just good business to be constantly looking at what’s available. I mean, I’d say we don’t put as much priority on it as we should. We’re trying to change that and just cutting through the clutter. I mean, there’s so much out there, as you know.

SS: Yeah. Yes, there is. It’s crazy. And the space just seems to grow and grow. Every year there are new companies coming out that I’ve never heard of, so it’s been interesting.

JB: I mean, sales enablement to me, I don’t even know when it really started. Prior to Siemens, I hadn’t even really heard of it. I think it’s a huge value add. It still seems relatively young, and there are a lot of smart people starting really smart, innovative businesses to address a need that companies obviously have. So, yeah, it’s an exciting space to be in.

SS: Absolutely, absolutely. And you mentioned that Siemens is big on making sure that the business impact is front and center to everything that you guys do and the things that you choose to take on as initiatives. I would be curious to hear just in your own words how sales enablement provides a business impact to an organization like Siemens. Like if someone was in a similar size organization and maybe they wanted to make the case for sales enablement, how would you advise that they go about explaining what it is that sales enablement can do for the organization?

JB: I mean, to me it’s all – at a very high level – about providing salespeople with the tools, the technology, the process, and the programs to help them be more successful. It’s about being innovative, where some sales reps may have ideas on how to be innovative but most of the time they’re taking care of the customers. It’s about giving them innovation on a periodic basis to help them be more successful, and that’s why I think it’s so important and that’s why I think it’s a balance. There are the tools you’ve got to have; you’ve got to have a commission structure, you’ve got to have a CRM system, in our situation you’ve got to have estimating and proposal generation. So there are those things that are must-haves that you need to continue to nurture and innovate and show people the value of them.

But then there’s also the side where you can be really innovative yourself and say what are those things? We try to look at it in terms of, I mean we didn’t invent it, it’s just stuff that’s been out there for a while. But looking at the customer journey, we map the sales journey to that and we try to really look at our offering, our sales enablement offering and say which of our offerings is doing well, which do we need to swap out or innovate, where are some of the gaps in the process that we need to address?

Like I said, one of the areas we came up with was the getting reps up to speed. Another one I would like to do more of is previously in my career, I worked for a company that was a really big adopter of Gallup. What are the profiles of people that are going to be successful in that selling situation? I think we can probably do a better job of identifying the right kinds of talent to be successful. I think a lot of companies you rely on, if they were at a similar company to what we are then they’ll do well. I think you hire more for the person and the core skills and take some chances. Maybe they were in a different industry or not even in sales or whatever but you can have tools that would help you identify personal characteristics that would be successful. I think that’s a big area for us in the future.

SS: 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 want to know more about, let us know, we’d love to hear from you.