Episode 174: Nina LaRouche on Driving Behavior Change With Continuous Learning

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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 Nina LaRouche from Salesforce join us. Nina, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Nina LaRouche: Thanks, Shawnna. Again, my name is Nina LaRouche, and I actually currently support our account executives in what we call our mastery enablement programs, or in other words, our continuous learning. This is for our .org sellers, so those are the ones specifically serving our education and non-profit verticals.
I’ve actually been in the enablement space, I would say in a formal capacity, since 2014. I actually spent about 15 years in a selling capacity, which was after I started my career as a high school science teacher. I’ve always had a passion for learning and development, and I love solving problems and building things, so this is why sales enablement is such a perfect fit for me. It truly is my dream job.

SS: Absolutely it sounds like a fantastic fit Nina. Thank you so much for joining us today. Now, you recently posted a video on LinkedIn detailing your process that you use when working cross-functionally with teams to design a learning experience, which is obviously something many practitioners need to do within their organization.
You called it the Learning Brief. Can you share with our audience what the Learning Brief is and how it encourages that internal alignment while delivering programs at scale?

NL: Absolutely. As you mentioned, the Learning Brief really is an alignment and design tool that I’ve used for several years now. It actually has evolved over time. It really helps to templatize the learning design process so that we can move faster and it creates transparency between our cross-functional teams, our key stakeholders, our subject matter experts. This essentially has become my source of truth for anything related to the learning experience that we are building.

It actually includes some basic information about the learning experience. It talks about the topic, the target, and secondary learning audiences. Obviously, if it’s a live session, it’ll be focused on the date and time of that live session or information about the course and delivery mechanisms.

Now, one of the most important elements of the learning brief is the alignment around learning objectives and then the measures of success. One of the first things that I always ask when I’m designing learning is what do we want our learners to do or to say that’s different than today? Then my follow-up question is always, how will we know when they can do that? That’s at the essence of designing those learning objectives, which I think is really important when you’re first starting to design learning.

Other things in the Learning Brief, I also began collecting assets that were going to help in development of the content or the course. This could be internal assets, external assets, anything really that might be helpful as we start to design. This is also where I start to draft the actual learning experience. In some cases, this is a single moment. It might be one course or one live session, but in many cases, it’s multiple touchpoints.

For example, we were recently doing some training around LinkedIn Sales Navigator and there were four learning, what I call, moments. There was the pre-learning, this was communications to the users. Some of our users didn’t have accounts, some of them did, so there was a communication stream there. We also created a sales guide to help our sellers optimize their LinkedIn profile. That was the second moment. The third step was really where we think about the traditional learning, which is where we built and assigned a course to our learners to prepare them for the actual live session. The last piece was a workshop that we hosted. In the Learning Brief, I actually outline that draft and iterate on that as we continue the development process. Now, I think any program has probably a communication stream that rolls around it for most of our big programs, so that would be outlined in that Learning Brief as well. Drafting those communications. When are they going out? Who’s sending them. What channel are they going through?

I would say finally, and this might be the most important part of the Learning Brief, is creating a work back plan. Understanding what those key deliverables are, who owns it, what the dependencies are. This document is, like I said, a shared resource between myself and any other content contributors, as well as our key stakeholders, so that we can all stay aligned from the very start of the design through delivery.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Nina, in your opinion, what are some of the key components of an effective learning experience for reps?

NL: That is such a great question. For me, as an enablement practitioner and somebody who’s been in the learning space for a long time, I really think about learning as a journey. It’s not a destination, it’s not an event. One of the books that I’ve recently read is by Laura Fletcher and Sharon Boller, and they talk about the four stages of learning. First, preparing to learn, second, acquiring knowledge or skills, third, building memory practice, and then fourth, sustain and grow. I think all of these pieces are critical when you think about really designing effective learning experiences.

I think oftentimes as practitioners, we focus really heavily on stage two, acquiring knowledge and skills. When we’re doing really well, we might also hit on the practical application, which is that step three. More often than not, we miss stages one and four. To me, my job is to really help sellers change their behavior. Let’s face it, change is hard. You have to be really, really intentional about how you design learning.

Stage one is important because we can’t force learning to happen. Our learners need to understand why they need to learn this information and they need to be receptive to the learning. Stage three, I think is probably the most important step in the journey, and this is where we actually get reps to demonstrate that they can do what it is that we’re asking them to do. Stage four really is about maintaining all of those great behaviors over time and continuing to sharpen their saw.

I think when you’re thinking about effective learning design, you’ve got to focus in on all four things, especially when there’s limited learner attention or time. When this is done really effectively, this is what creates the best learning outcomes.

SS: I think those are fantastic stages when it comes to a learning experience. Now, you also wrote an article on LinkedIn where you discussed some ways to engage reps in pure learning. I think a lot of sales enablement practitioners would love to be able to incorporate that into learning experiences for their teams. In your experience, what is the value of peer to peer learning and how can practitioners foster a peer learning experience within a virtual environment?

NL: Yeah, another really great question, especially in this time of virtual learning. I think there’s nothing more powerful than reps learning from other reps. They really value getting that information and getting those best practices from other people who are walking in their shoes. That’s really why this is so important. Peers have a natural credibility. The same information I could share as an enablement practitioner or potentially a subject matter expert, but when it comes from a peer, it is absolutely more readily accepted by the end learner. That’s why I think this is such a critical piece to include in any program.

I’ve used peer learning groups in a few different ways throughout my career. In the article that you mentioned, which I wrote a few years ago, we actually created what we called thought partner groups. These were in groups of two to three sellers across different teams and each month we would actually give them suggested topics to discuss. Those could be a variety of things from operational processes, seller tips, a number of things. This was really helpful because they not only got to partner with other people that maybe they didn’t get to work with on a regular basis because they weren’t on their same team, but it gave them a chance to really showcase what they knew for other sellers. I tried to partner folks together that were maybe less experienced with more experienced to bring in those different perspectives.

I’ve also helped facilitate account executive mentor programs where you can, again, partner together someone who’s maybe less tenured with someone who’s more tenured. You could also pair people together maybe in a career path progression. For example, here at Salesforce, we have different segments. For example, you could partner a small business rep with a mid-market rep and that way they can start to learn what things are different as they progress in their career. These mentor programs can be informal or structured, it really just depends on what your sellers are looking for.

Now of course, probably the most recent way I’ve used peer groups is for our learning workshops. We have live virtual workshops and in those workshops we create small peer learning groups.
This could be anything from four to six, maybe eight, you wouldn’t want to get any larger than that. In these workshops, we then push those peer groups into breakouts. Whether you’re using zoom or Google meet or whatever your platform is, we push them into breakouts and have them complete some learning activity. This could be a role play, it could be a pitch, it could be just a discussion. It could be all kinds of different things, but in that exercise, everyone has a chance to participate. Everyone’s taking an active role in learning and potentially in providing feedback if it’s a pitch of role play. I think creating peer groups in a virtual environment is probably more important than it used to be when we were all in person. This provides an opportunity for that natural exchange of knowledge and skills that just wouldn’t happen otherwise since we’re all remote now.

SS: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I love your approach to peer learning. Now, I think many sales enablement practitioners are, especially as we approach the end of the year, are deeply thinking about how to look at particular metrics for any of their given programs. You recently did a webinar where you shared insights into how you’re looking at training metrics to ensure that your programs are helping to move the needle. What are some of the key metrics that practitioners should be tracking to measure the success of their training programs?

NL: Yeah, such a great question. I think at the end of the day, we all want to make sure that our programs are moving the needle. When I think about metrics, one of the things that’s really important to understand is that the metrics that you’re tracking are directly related to the maturity of your program. I’ve literally walked into situations where there were existing programs and they weren’t really measuring anything, not even the baseline metrics of say attendance or course completion. You’ve got to start somewhere, and so think about where you are in the maturity of your programs and really where you want to take them to the next level.

Anytime I’m thinking about learning metrics, I always use the Kirkpatrick’s model for evaluating learning, which starts at level one, which is learner satisfaction. In other words, was the training or enablement program useful? How relevant was it? I tried to avoid asking questions like, did they like it? Yeah, it’s great if they like it, but it really doesn’t help determine if it was effective.

Again, more about was it useful or how relevant was it to their goal. Level two in Kirkpatrick is really about measuring the actual change in knowledge or skill. This could be accomplished through a quiz; it could be through some type of practical application or exercise. I mentioned before, a role play or a stand and deliver, those are good ways to measure a change in skill. Then you get to level three, level three is about really measuring the actual desired behavior. This could be a number of things. It could be the number of meetings that have been set it could be how many opportunities were created, how many demos were completed. These are all great measures of that actual behavior that we’re trying to promote through the enablement program. Then of course, level four, which is sort of the pinnacle of Kirkpatrick, is really where we start to tie enablement to the business impact by measuring things like, how did it impact deal size or win rate or deal velocity or in the case of onboarding, how did we impact new hire ramp?

In general, I would say that for most practitioners, getting to level three is pretty good. Obviously, level four is what we’re all striving for, but to be honest, I don’t see a ton of organizations that actually get there, especially if you have a long sales cycle. It’s just a little bit more difficult to tie those things together, but that’s absolutely what we’re striving for when we’re looking for enablement metrics is how are we actually impacting the business.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Now, as a closing question for you, how do you use metrics to communicate and demonstrate the impact of learning programs back up into your stakeholders?

NL: Yeah. We just talked about the different levels of metrics. One of the things that we have done for some of our programs, we’ve created Tableau dashboards using Salesforce to show some of those level one metrics that our leaders are using to help drive accountability in the enablement programs. This is something that we update pretty regularly as soon as courses or sessions are released.

Now, something else that we’ve been using for a while is what we call an enablement scorecard. This is something that we create internally with our enablement team, and this really helps us align on those key metrics that we’re measuring, and then also helps us to identify any adjustments that we might need to make to our programs to improve them even further. What we do is we create a bi-monthly slide deck. This is the format that it takes, and we review that together as a team so that we can ask questions, we can seek input from our counterparts.

The scorecard is made up of two parts. It includes what we call the executive summary, which is a simple red, yellow, green indicator on the health of the program based on our key metrics for that program. Then it has the more program details, which each program owner actually then creates their own view of their program. Right now, as I mentioned, we produce the scorecard as a slide deck, so each program owner would have their slide that they can highlight the specific metrics that are key for their program. Then we actually publish that scorecard out to our key stakeholders, our collaborators to help show the impact of our programs and to have ultimate transparency in what we’re building for our learners.

SS: Thank you so much for joining us today, I learned a ton from you. 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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