Episode 138: Jennifer Robinson on Sales Advisory Council Best Practices
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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 Jennifer Robinson join us. Jennifer, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.
Jennifer Robinson: Hi Shawnna. My role right now is as the director of sales enablement for Proxyclick. I’m brand new to this role. Previous to that, I was in charge of sales engagement programs at Veeam software. I have an interesting background in that I’ve been in all three sales learning, development, and marketing. So, I have an interesting viewpoint on the intersection of where all those come together and how it can enable better sales, messaging tools, and training to get them to the next level.
SS: Well, Jennifer, I’m really excited to have you join us. You came to my attention because you wrote about some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to facilitating sales advisory councils. I know that’s something that a lot of sales enablement practitioners are considering implementing within their organizations this year. So, I would love to understand from you, when done right, what are some of the key benefits that you’ve experienced as a result of having a sales advisory council?
JR: Sales advisory councils are one of my big passions. What it does is takes you down to the street level in your information gathering. So usually, we have good contacts in the executive level, the management level, but we may not always talk to every rep on the street. This gives you a really intimate view of what’s going on in the day-to-day conversations that our salespeople are having with their customers. So, you can make better products, you can make better training, you can tighten the alignment between sales and marketing because you have real-time feedback on marketing assets, and just really can speed up production. It also gives you some serious buy-in from the sales teams and you get a bottom-up influence instead of only have a top-down influence. And combining those two things can bring you to a really strong place and a really great seat at the table.
SS: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Now you mentioned some tips about who should be involved, such as a mix of both experienced as well as maybe newer sales reps as well as maybe who should not be involved, including potentially sales managers. Given some of those parameters, what are some of the core characteristics that you look for in reps that you asked to join the council?
JR: Yeah, it’s really tricky to find the right people or it can be. I really enjoy finding people that are not necessarily always strong sellers. I like to have a mix of high performers and maybe greener members or even low performers just to get their perspective. But the one thing that they need to have in common is the confidence to speak up and to maybe go against the grain and disagree with the rest of the group. So, they have to be able to do that.
And at the same time, not take over the meeting because that can happen, too. So, if you have those personalities that are just overwhelming to everyone else, you either have to get really good at facilitating keeping them, in their time limit or make sure that you have people that are outspoken and yet won’t completely take over the meeting.
SS: You’re right. I think finding the right personality types is really important. How do you also ensure that reps across regions, time zones, segments, and all of the different variables that can go into, how you have your sales force set up? How do you ensure that you get equal participation across the various types of reps within your org?
JR: That’s a great question. So, in my previous sales advisory council, I had global regions. So, I did have a separate council for Americas, EMEA, and APAC. And so, each of those, we had a separate meeting, but then if we all got together for something like kickoff, which hopefully someday we’ll be able to physically do again. I was able to get all of the regions together in one room, which was just an amazing touchpoint because you could really see the similarities and the struggles that each of the teams were going through. But then I also make sure to have somebody represented in every segment within those regions. So, every region will have every segment represented so that we can have a really broad view over what is happening on that street level, across all the segments and all the regions.
SS: Now, you mentioned being back in person again, which I absolutely cannot wait for, but in the virtual environment that we’re in, what are some strategies that you have to foster engagement in the sales advisory council?
JR: It’s been tricky because everybody is burnout on Zoom meetings and everything else. But some of the things that I found that has really worked well is one making sure I do a round-robin approach to facilitating the meetings and hosting so that each person really has time and a voice, but secondarily to that also, including things like using the annotation tools, in whatever virtual environment you use, people love those.
It just amazes me how much interaction I can get using annotation tools. It is almost like in-person using a whiteboard and how that draws people in when they see the words going up as they’re happening. That really has seemed to bring out interaction in a lot of areas, especially in maybe regions like APAC, where they may not be as vocal as Americas. They really love those annotation tools, and we’ll jump in and start giving their opinion through that.
SS: I think that’s a fantastic tip. Now, you also wrote about the importance of asking meaningful questions. What are some of your best practices for crafting questions that prompt thoughtful responses from your teams?
JR: Well, I think the problem, a lot of people run into is asking questions like, did you like this training? Or did you like this material? And while that’s a great starting point to start a conversation, a better question would be something much more specific and how it’s being used. So, if you think of each material or action having a job to do within the selling process, getting the sale from point A to point B, what is the job that that piece has to do? So, you can ask, if you’re talking about a particular, let’s say a tool. How did you use that? What reaction did you expect from the customer or in what way were you wanting this tool to change the customer’s viewpoint so you can really understand that? What is the current state, what is the desired state that there has to be a reason why they’re using that tool, and did they accomplish the desired state? So that gives you a much more granular view of what job they are expecting that tool to do and if that tool did accomplish the job that they set out to use it for.
SS: I love that. Jennifer, this has been a fantastic conversation. I do want to close, but one of your tips for success was to create an atmosphere of open dialogue and honesty. I’d love to understand how for our audience in particular, how sales enablement practitioners can help to build an environment where reps feel really comfortable sharing their authentic feedback?
JR: That’s huge. That’s incredibly important in this role. And I think it starts with being authentically yourself and putting things out there that may be sensitive and being very honest about it, putting all your cards on the table, so to speak, and then also giving them ways to say things to you that they know will stay with you, that won’t get passed on. A simple example of that is let’s say you’re going to have a meeting with an executive and you’re representing some sales team, but the sales teams are there. If they have questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking directly, if you allow them some kind of method to funnel questions to you, and then you ask that question in representation of them for the executive or for the product team or for whatever the case may be. They start to trust that you will represent them without giving away their anonymity. So, they can be very comfortable in telling you anything that comes to mind and being very authentic and honest with you. And you can then have that information to be able to gather and make the actions that are appropriate to make your practice better.
SS: I love that. Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I really loved learning about sales advisory councils from you.
JR: Thanks for your time, Shawnna. It was a pleasure.
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.