Episode 150: Ruben Boom on Global Sales Training and Coaching in a Virtual World

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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 Ruben from ifm join us. Ruben, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Ruben Boom: Thank you, Shawnna. As you mentioned, my name is Ruben Boom. I live in the Netherlands close to the German border, near headquarters for the company that I work for. I have been working for ifm for the last six years. I live in a region that’s very green with a forest nearby, and what I love to do is being involved in technology as well as in business. So, not only on the business side or only on the technology side, but really combining both. That’s also what I found within the company that I work for now. The company is located in over 42 countries globally, with about 230 locations and over 7,000 employees. It’s really focused on industrial automation, so helping machine builders, but also manufacturers. If you find a machine, then the chance is big that there’s a sensor, a cable, or a controller from ifm involved.

SS: Ruben, very excited to have you here. One of your responsibilities at ifm is to accelerate sales training activities for the global workforce. In your experience, what are some of the challenges to designing training for global teams and what are some strategies that you’ve used to overcome those challenges?

RB: Well, if I think about the challenges and I look at our organization, it’s definitely the cultural differences and language differences. If we have all these different countries and we talk about Australia and compare it with Japan and compare that with Italy and the U.S., etc., we see many differences. If we want to train people in sales, it’s not always the same way. The way we close a meeting in the Netherlands might be different than how our colleagues close a meeting in Vietnam. We really have to keep all those cultural differences in mind as well, and also the languages. Of course, it’s already hard enough to set up a complete program in one language, but if you then have to translate it so that everybody understands, that makes it very complex.

How do we overcome that? We overcome that by keeping the material limited, so really condense it to what matters most. So, no long videos with two hours of training material, but two and a half minutes, for example, so that we really come to the point. Limiting the time that people have to watch this material makes them excited and keeps them excited.
It also has the benefit that we can translate this much easier.

SS: Those are some really great insights. Now, what steps do you take when developing a new sales training program from scratch?

RB: If we think about sales training as well as coaching with sales enablement that we’re working on and developing, there are so many ways of doing this and there are so many good ideas from other companies that sometimes it might be overwhelming in the beginning. That’s why we really do internal and external research before jumping in and start working on things first to ask our colleagues what their expectations are. What do you expect from a sales enablement department? A lot of good feedback came in and we put all those ideas together and then really came to the point, “okay, this is where we’re needed most at this time.” That helps with really setting priorities. Getting input from colleagues globally means lots of talking, lots of calls, etc., but it is definitely needed.

SS: Now, as part of your background, you also oversee coaching activities. I’d love your opinion, what does good sales coaching look like?

RB: We really need the sales managers. A lot of things can be automated. It’s like looking at numbers and what are the trends? What is in my funnel? All those things there are good. There’s good software for that. What cannot be automated is working close to the people, to the sales team, asking them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, what their challenges are, what they would like to do in the coming years, etc. For example, in our company, we have a slogan that is “close to you”, and we often use that slogan for our customers. We want to be close to our customers. But with sales enablement and with coaching, we say “close to you” really means being close to the salespeople. Just as they are close to their customers, we should be close to them. That’s also really an expectation that we bring to the sales managers and expect them to be true coaches.

SS: Yes, absolutely. That’s fantastic. Now, what are some considerations sales enablement practitioners need to keep in mind though when conducting training and coaching in this virtual setting that a lot of us are in today?

RB: We often hear, “let’s wait until the COVID-19 situation is over because face-to-face is always better and different than virtual.” The reality is that we’ve already been in this situation for a year, and we don’t know what’s ahead of us. We have to deal with what we can do now. That is the only thing we have the power over, so to speak. We cannot influence what’s going on outside. What we say is the show must go on and we must use the tools that we have. That means that we also should not be afraid of the tool. It’s okay to turn your camera on. It’s okay to talk digitally. Just like we can also have a good conversation via phone, we can also have a good conversation via the digital means that we have nowadays. We should not postpone improvement just because we cannot do certain things. We have the tools, so now let’s just do it. Let’s move forward.

SS: Absolutely. Ruben, what do you think are the most important skills sales teams need in order to be successful in today’s environment?

RB: Definitely listening and asking the right questions. All the other things often can be automated as well. Sometimes I like to compare sales engineers with a robot, and you could say, what if a company would introduce a robot that is never sick, that does not have to sleep, that does not take vacation, that does have a database with all the technical knowledge, knows exactly what to do. Would that really be a danger for the role for sales engineer? I believe not because there’s one thing missing and that is empathy. The robot does not, it cannot place itself in the situation of a customer, of a real person. If we don’t want to be automated or replaced by robots, we should do what Google cannot do. Google can give us the input we ask for, but Google never asks us the questions as to why do you do this? What keeps you awake at night? What are some issues you have in your facility? How can we help with that?

We really see the role of a salesperson – that we call sales engineers in our company – as local doctor, so to speak, really finding the pain points by asking the right questions, just like going to the doctor. The doctor does not just give you a medicine, the doctor asks you questions and then sees how he or she can help you. That should be our role as well.

SS: This has been a fantastic conversation. I have one last question for you. How do you track whether salespeople are building these skills through training and coaching?

RB: That’s always the big question, because we would all like to see a dashboard with exactly who’s improving, who’s not improving, etc. Can that happen? Yes, to a certain extent, I believe that that can happen. There are great learning monitoring systems, etc., around, so those dashboards will be there. But truly knowing and tracking if salespeople are building these skills, that has to be, again, these coaches. I had sales managers just seeing on a global level, how everybody is doing in the sales force. That is, in my opinion, a utopia. There will always be a certain level that you can see, but there’s always a story behind the numbers. For the story behind the numbers, we need people talking with people, have peer-to-peer conversations, and those are those coaches locally.

That’s also what we’re really investing in in the beginning. It’s not immediately jumping into tools and jumping into training. With the sales enablement department, we started to say, “okay, let’s build that foundation of coaches first, work with them, the managing directors, to learn who the true coaches are in their company.” We also ask them who are excited to be true coaches sometimes that might not even be a sales manager, or really ask them who is excited and onboard them with the coaching program. We make sure that they have the knowledge they need to make sure that they have the help they need. Then when that foundation is there, we start building with training programs. In the meantime, we have frequent sessions between all of these coaches in different countries, link them together and make sure that they learn from each other. We really believe the foundation in sales enablement is coaching even more than training sometimes.

SS: Thank you so much, Ruben. I enjoyed learning from you today.

RB: You’re very welcome and enjoy the rest of your day.

SS: Thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you want 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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