Episode 161: Malvina EL-Sayegh on Humanizing the Sales Process

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast, I’m 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 Malvina from Silverfin join us. Malvina, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Malvina EL-Sayegh: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I am really excited to join you on the podcast today. My name is Malvina and I’m the Head of Sales Enablement within Silverfin.

Silverfin is a SaaS, B2B company. It’s a startup scale-up disrupting the accountancy sector and the status quo that accountants are used to for the longest time. I’m heading up sales enablement at Silverfin.

SS: Fantastic. Well, I’m so excited that you’re here. In fact, I heard your podcast, which is called #stayhuman, and in it, you discuss what it means to be a great salesperson and how to do so by focusing on the human side of sales. From your perspective, what does it mean to humanize sales and why is that necessary in today’s environment?

ME: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think sales has changed so much over the years. I mean, if you look at how sales was done even 10 years ago, it’s a completely different ball game today. The buyer or the prospective buyer just requires and needs so much more from the seller. Actually, in a lot of these deals in a lot of these organizations, you’re really acting more so like a consultant to them, rather than just a vendor and selling a solution.

I am really passionate about being human within sales. What that really means is using the innate traits that we have within us. Those are things like empathy, communication, listening, and not focusing so much on the close. I think when salespeople focus so much on the numbers and hitting their quota for the quarter or for the year, it almost becomes a numbers game.

What salespeople have to do is really remember that ultimately, we’re in a human-to-human type business. We’re dealing with individuals and it’s not that organizations buy from us, it’s usually individuals that buy from us. By really leveraging things like empathy, showing your empathy, making those good judgment calls, communicating effectively, listening, which is a huge one because salespeople have this tendency to potentially go on a rant and maybe not listen to what the other person is saying because we’re so eager to get our message across. But what salespeople really have to do is just take a step back, listen, and actively listen, which is challenging in itself, but really take a step back and remember that we’re dealing with other individuals, and for them buying is just as challenging as selling is for us.

SS: It absolutely is, buying has become extremely difficult. Now, you mentioned some of the key human-centric skills like empathy, but why are those the skills that salespeople need to be successful today?

ME: Yeah. I think if you look at the way that sales has changed and evolved over the years, back in the day, salespeople were just information givers in the sense that the information wasn’t available on the internet. If you wanted to research product, you had to ask around, you had to ask people who had the know-how. Nowadays, if you look at any buying process, actually by the time that the potential buyer interacts with you, they’re already more than 50% in the entire sales process, which means that they have already done their research. They know everything about your company, they have the facts, and oftentimes salespeople have to almost act as information checkers, or actually validating that the information that the prospect has found online is accurate.

In order to really communicate and build that element of know, like, and trust, which is so important in sales because ultimately, we buy from people who we know, like, and trust. If you look at just those three elements, how can you effectively build on them and build that element of trust with your customer? You can do that by showing empathy, by really communicating with them, actively listening, asking the right questions and really taking a step back so that the best interest of the prospect is always in mind.

I think salespeople sometimes forget that it’s not about us. It’s not about us selling a particular product or service. It’s not even about us hitting that potential number at the end of the quarter, even though that’s what we want to do. Ultimately, to really make that buying experience as enjoyable and useful for the prospect, you really need to bring out those human elements so that you can stand above and beyond other salespeople who potentially aren’t doing those things.

SS: I love that. Now you mentioned that salespeople have to transition out of being information-based. You actually did an interview where you talked about the transition from being information givers to meaning makers, which I loved.

In the midst of all the change that has occurred in the past year with the shift to virtual, and now we’re actually transitioning back into in-person or hybrid environments, how can salespeople help to create meaningful experiences for their customers during this time?

ME: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. I think if we rewind the clock back to say a year, what is it a year and a half ago now when COVID really started, making that transition for a lot of salespeople from being able to meet customers in person to then having to do meetings fully remote was a huge game-changer. I mean, a lot of people, a lot of salespeople actually, struggled with that. You’re used to sitting in a room with someone, potentially walking to the conference room, grabbing a coffee, you’re able to read body language and potentially have slightly more meaningful conversation.

When COVID happened and salespeople had to move to this fully remote environment, we had to be, or we still have to be a lot more in tune with what’s going on. We don’t see the full body; we don’t see the full person that we’re speaking to. I see everything basically from the waist up. We have to really look out and see what are the facial expressions? What’s the body language or even just the hands telling us? What’s the tone of voice? We have to be really in tune with what the prospect or potential customer is saying to us.

I think if we look at meaning-makers, and why I think that’s so important, it goes back to what I said previously. In the past, salespeople were just giving out information. We were just talking about the features and then maybe linking them back to benefits. But everyone already today is well aware of the features of your product. I mean, they just have to go to the website, and they will have a whole list of the features and capabilities of your potential solution.

I think the reason why salespeople play such a crucial role in this is because they are answering the question, which is, “so what’s in it for me?” Ultimately, that’s what the potential buyer wants to know. It’s not about the features, it’s what’s in it for me, what does that mean, where is the value? You’re basically taking all this information that you have, the prospect has, and you’re really turning it into meaning for them. What does it mean in their particular situation? What does it mean for their business? How is that tying into the objectives, into the overall strategy of the organization?

I think if you look at why people buy, it’s usually to align with that strategy, with that objective. What capabilities are they missing? The salesperson really comes in to add that meaning and tie in the capabilities to the overarching strategy of the organization.

SS: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Now, I do want to for our audience pivot this a little towards the enablement lens.

You wrote an article on LinkedIn where you talked about how many customers are just overwhelmed with all of the information that is out there and available. How can enablement help salespeople cut through the noise to provide value rather than just more information like you just were talking about.

ME: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think what we have to realize collectively across any organization, whether you’re in a corporation, in a startup, or in a scale-up, is that our potential buyers, our potential customers, they don’t need just a whole lot of information. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do as salespeople is cut through the noise. I think if you look at the number of emails, messages, social media channels, even slack messages in the workplace, there’s a lot of noise out there. Ultimately, the role of enablement is to equip salespeople with information and content that they can share with their prospective buyers that will help cut through the noise.

It really has to be tangible; it has to be aligned with the buyer’s journey; it has to be aligned with where they are within our internal sales process. If we are in a discovery phase with a potential prospect, we want to be asking the right questions, but oftentimes salespeople need guidance. They need someone to almost hold their hand and say, look, potentially this is what you should be asking, this is what you should be looking out for. Maybe at this stage, it’s great to share a case study. It’s great to share an experience that potentially another customer has had with your organization.

I think where enablement really comes into play is making sure that the content that we’re sharing out with our customers, and also internally, is tailored, cuts through the noise, and is exactly what the salesperson and the customer needs.

SS: Yes, I love that. Now, the other thing that you talked about, you wrote an article on LinkedIn and you talked about behaviors that salespeople can control to improve their success. One of them I loved a lot and I wanted you to talk about that to our audience, and it’s the ability to be coachable. How can enablement people, help salespeople see the value in coaching and help them buy into the whole process?

ME: Yeah. I’m a huge fan of Mark Roberge’s book, which is called the “Sales Acceleration Formula.” I highly recommend it to everyone, but the reason why I love it is because Mark Roberge really talks about this aspect of being coachable. When making that first sales hire or second sales hire, the key thing that he looks out for, and he almost recommends that others do the same, is this element of coachability. How quickly can a salesperson take on feedback and really put it into action?

Ultimately, where enablement becomes slightly challenging is we’re dealing with salespeople, and salespeople always think one, they know it all, and two, they don’t need any help. We’re almost dealing with an audience that is slightly difficult in the change management aspect of things. I think where enablement really comes into play to help salespeople is knowing what’s in it and being able to say what’s in it for them. Your potentially providing training or you’re building out content.

I think this element of what’s in it for them, how is this going to benefit them? How is it going to make them better in their sales role? How is it going to allow them to have more intelligent conversations with their customers? That has to be the key selling point and I think when you deal with an audience like salespeople, you really have to start small to get their buy-in. Then, what you’re able to see really is, are they coachable? Are they taking onboard the small pieces of information and content that you’re providing to them?

I think so often where we go wrong is, a new person will come into enablement, and they will roll out an entire program that lasts for say two months. It’s a huge time commitment from the salespeople and that’s potentially when you can lose them. If you start in small increments, you’re then able to really look back and see, are they taking onboard what you have shared with them?

SS: I think that’s a fantastic example. Actually, that goes to my last question a bit. We’ve talked about human-centered skills, and we’ve talked about behaviors for sales success, but how can sales enablement practitioners track the impact of those things on sales success? How do you use those metrics to inform the design of your enablement programs going forward?

ME: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that’s always a tricky question when comes to enablement. The way that I look at it is that enablement really has a correlation with revenue and ultimately any kind of training or content that you’re rolling out really has to tie in very closely with the business objectives. That is the number one thing that I look at. If someone within the organization has an idea for a training, my first question is how does it tie into the business objectives? What is the outcome and how are we going to measure success? You can look at that correlation with revenue. Ultimately, if you’ve launched an enablement function and we know that there’s a correlation with revenue and you’re able to end the year on a high, that’s awesome.

Then there are smaller metrics that you can use. Tying back to that element of coachability, are people really implementing and putting into practice what you’re teaching or sharing with them? If you do a knowledge check or if you do a review or some sort of certification, have they actually retained the knowledge? I think just a point to add on here, it’s not that you roll out one training and it solves the issue. That’s never the case. Training always has to be done in small sizes; it has to be done in increments. Maybe there is an idea for a training, but actually you’re probably going to have to break it down and scatter it in. Otherwise, the truth is people are just going to forget the content.

Finally, it’s also that token of appreciation that comes from salespeople. I think that random thank you when they have learned something new and more importantly, when they were able to actually start using it in their conversations, on a personal level I think that puts a smile on any practitioner or people within sales enablement, that just makes them smile.

You really have to look at where it ties into the business objectives. Is it aligned with revenue? Are you capturing and actually checking that people have retained the knowledge and are they putting it into practice?

SS: I love that. Malvina, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. I learned a lot from you on our podcast, and I think your podcast is fantastic, so thank you again for making the time.

ME: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

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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