Episode 197: Kathryn Schoeberlein on Igniting Performance With Experiential Learning

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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 Kathryn Schoeberlein at Twitch at Amazon Advertising join us. Kathryn, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Kathryn Schoeberlein: Hi, my name is Kathryn Schoeberlein. I am in global enablement for Twitch at Amazon Advertising. I started at Twitch two years ago. Prior to that, I worked for a variety of different startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before I got into enablement I was, very involved in education. I started as a K-12 educator and worked my way up into administrative roles within middle school and high schools, and then pivoted to the enablement space when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Enablement was a great fit for the skills that I had developed as an educator, and it was a great way to kind of make the connection to working with curriculum, working with training, working with creating learning pathways, and some of the skills that I had developed in the classroom and as an administrator. That’s where I have been building my career for the last few years in the global enablement sales enablement space in tech companies.

SS: Well, we’re very excited to have you on our show, Kathryn. I love to learn more about how folks have come into enablement from a variety of backgrounds. As you mentioned in your introduction, you have an extensive background in education, including both classroom teaching and enablement, but also outdoor education.

I’d love to start there. How does your outdoor education experience influence your approach to enablement?

KS: Outdoor education was always a huge part of the reason why I loved teaching in the first place, it was an opportunity to get students outside the traditional confines of a classroom. Get them excited about learning about the natural world, experiencing some of the same skills that we wanted them to learn in the classroom, but in a totally different context.

One of things that I love about outdoor education that I’ve been able to apply in a lot of the work that I’ve done in enablement is the development of skills, like decision making or problem solving, empathy towards others, and that classic learning by doing philosophy. I found that in outdoor education, you have to think about things in a different way when you are 1500 feet up a mountain and something goes wrong, or when you are trying to figure out “how do I put together this tent and I have a missing pole for it.” Or, thinking about going on a class hiking trip and you have some friends there who may be very experienced hikers and you have other friends who this may be the first time they’ve ever been hiking. How do you help work as a collaborative team on your hike to make sure that everybody stays together and works together to get to your final destination safely? I think a lot of that’s enveloped in the concept of learning by doing.

The more you practice something or the more you step outside of your traditional boundaries and try something different or try something for the first time, you ignite those learning pathways that help you to develop skills like self-confidence or the ability to creatively problem solve in situations that are new to you. For me, outdoor education was this great tie into all the traditional ways of learning that I was seeing in the classroom. A lot of what I learned from being an outdoor educator I try to apply in my adult education trainings and in the way that I help learners approach enablement.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic application of your existing experience into your current role. Now, you’ve also mentioned you’re a strong advocate for experiential education or learning by doing. In your experience, why is learning by doing so effective and how have you created these experiences within your enablement programs?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I think that learning by doing, or what’s commonly referred to as experiential education, it’s tackling a real-life problem by adapting and learning based on your interactions with the environment around you. The pieces of the puzzle that you have, how can you mold those and change those around and experiment with those to get to the destination that you want to be in or to solve the problem that’s at hand. I think that experiential learning is super helpful for any type of learner, whether you’re five or 55 or 105, because you’re really modeling and learning to execute those new skills in an entirely new situation.

The more that you can get your hands dirty with the experience I think the more the learning sticks. Think about like baking cookies. It’s one thing to read the recipe. It’s another thing to get in the kitchen and mix up the flour and the eggs and put it in the oven and taste the final product. I try to always think about that “baking of the cookie” analogy when I’m working with creating learnings or trainings for learners of any age. I think when you speak specifically about tech, for example, that guided practice is a huge component of that. I found that helps learners keep in mind those foundational pieces that are so important to increasing their ability to be confident in the skills that they have and developing and refining them over time.

For example, when I was doing a lot of sales enablement and training new reps on different products, we did a lot of playing with the product. In order to sell the product, you need to know what it does. Like try it out, see what it looks like, run it by yourself, pull up the app, see how it works. Get to talk to some of the product engineers and the product team, and just really understand the why. Why does this product exist? What is it doing? How does it work? Kind of the background of the entire experience.

I did a lot of utilizing tools where early reps were able to shadow more veteran reps and hear them go through the practice. We would utilize a checklist, like, “Hey, did the rep introduce themselves? Did they come in and give an objective for the call or an agenda? How many times did they ask questions?” That checklist could help new reps guide themselves. What does the framework look like for a really good sales call?

We did a lot of role-playing and mock calls. I would do things for example, where I would get a bunch of situations that we were currently facing about a product that we were selling and I’d type up these situations and we’d put them in a hat and we’d divide the room up into sellers and potential customers. Everybody would pull a situation out of the hat and we would have to work on that mock call the sellers wouldn’t know what the customer’s potential objections were and the customer also had a series of questions that they had for the seller and the seller would need to expand and iterate on them as a conversation was going. It gave the ability to practice a real-life situation by doing it in the most repeatable way possible without actually getting in the high stakes call situation.

I think the last thing is a lot of gamification. If you can learn by doing and by gamifying it and making it fun and exciting, that just increases the engagement and gives learners a real chance to take that information that they’re interested in developing more thoughtfully and make it the framework of how they develop their thoughts and their learning about a specific topic.

SS: Now, I also want to dig in a little bit because your team recently launched a new e-learning for advertisers called Twitch Game Plan. With the rise in virtual learning over the past few years, what are some of the ways that practitioners can create opportunities for practice and reinforcement in a virtual learning environment?

KS: Absolutely. Game Plan is our premier agency training tool. We use it to help agencies and media buyers understand who Twitch is, what we are, what we can do, what kind of ad products that we have, and how they can leverage those ad products for their clients and brands. We made Game Plan with the idea that we wanted learners to come in, be able to understand the basic tenants of who we are and what we do, and also be able to think creatively about how our solutions might be helpful, effective, interesting for their own clients, for the media companies, or for the brands that were interested in advertising but didn’t really know where to start with Twitch.

One of the ways that I think that we’ve really focused on the practice of taking those learnings and reinforcing upon them is gamifying our learning pathway. We worked with E-learning Brothers who helped us to create these very interactive modules. Each of the modules has a lot of informational content, but it also has reinforcing games whether it’s matching, or we have a couple of games where there’s little races where you race little icons. We have examples of Twitch chat where we use our bits and different Twitch emojis to showcase conversations of how things would actually look on the Twitch platform to reinforce some of what Twitch is capable of as a service.

Then, also to reinforce the learning that we are trying to get across to our audience, I think another thing that we’ve done that’s been super helpful to reinforce our key points, especially with virtual setup for learning at this time is having some type of takeaway. We’ve created some downloadable one-pagers that are graphic heavy with the main points so that even if you’re overwhelmed and you’ve listened to nine modules worth of information and it’s all swimming around you in your head and you haven’t had time to really digest all of it, we’ve got some one-pagers that you can download that you can take away those key points and bring them into your next meeting, or sit with them and digest it before you have a client meeting and they want to talk a little bit more about Twitch. You’ve got those key points with you.

Another thing that we’ve found that’s been really successful in getting learners excited about taking Twitch Game Plan and going through the certification to become a Twitch expert is creating some virtual live events. Whether it’s through an exciting launch opportunity or through things like a seller’s office hours, for example, where we block time on our calendar, and then we invite agencies one by one to come in and block their calendars and we go through certification with them. We talk about the modules. We offer some type of FAQ help or technical help if they might need that. We’re there to answer questions. We’re there to dive deeper into the modules. That’s been a great way to take that e-learning experience and make it more individualized and more of a person-to-person experience when we give the ability to have learners connect in real time with our team, while they’re also partaking in this e-learning experience.

SS: That’s very cool. Now, when it comes to engaging participants in these learning experiences, you’ve mentioned before that you’re passionate about creating that “aha” moment. How do you create those moments for learners and how does engagement in a learning experience really translate to the success of the program?

KS: We’ve always heard that the more engaged that you are with any subject material or the more that you put into something, the more you’re going to get out of it. In a day and age right now where there’s a thousand different trainings for things, and everything’s virtual and you’re sitting through meetings all day, taking another training or doing another course or sitting through hours of onboarding can sometimes be tedious. One of the things that I think that I try to focus on is how do we make that content engaging and exciting for learners and not just, “oh boy, another training, another learning, another module that I have to do.”

I think the more engaged that a learner is, the more that they retain and especially in sales, the more information that you retain. Whether it’s about a project or the sales framework or the methodology that your team uses or even just about sales in general, about how to interact with people, about how to show in your conversations, how to ask questions, how to take notes when you’re on a sales call. The more that you are engaged with understanding that, and the more you are engaged with learning new techniques the more that you will be able to retain and put into practice. We always hear the more you practice, the better you perform. I think creating those “aha” moments where you are able to create a learning or develop a type of training where you lead learners 90% of the way, and then you let them come to that conclusion on their own is helpful. Are we always successful at doing that? No. Sometimes there are some learnings where you have to give all learners step-by-step instructions or very concrete steps here and there.

Something like sales scripting, for example, is one of those places where I feel like you can really develop an aha moment. Having a prescribed script is not a great way, in my opinion, for sellers to be their authentic selves when they’re on a phone call with a potential customer. I have always preferred that when we talk about helping new reps learn about a product and speak fluently about a product on a phone call with a client that we utilize a framework of bullet points or a framework of general ideas, and then let them talk about it and develop their own cadence of language or their own different take on the topic at hand. It’s more deliberate when the sales rep can use their own language or use their own cadence to help have a natural phone call with someone.

Again, I know that I have been on phone calls before, whether it’s with sales reps, or even people calling me to sell me different products where I can tell that they’re reading a piece of paper in front of them and, of course, that comes across as, “oh boy, another sales pitch. I’m not interested. Thanks anyway.” I try to help our reps get to that “aha” moment by giving them the framework and then letting them experiment with it on their own. Maybe a sales rep goes through and they try to write a script and they realize, “oh yikes, that didn’t go as well as I thought.” Give them the framework to experiment with that, let them make their own conversational piece about a product or about specific components of what they’re trying to sell and let them be. “When I say it in my way or when it makes sense to me and how I talk about it this is great. I’ve already got a second call booked. This is awesome.”

I think helping to create those guardrails, that framework for “sales scripts”, helps to create those “aha” moments down the line so that you are not leading them straight to the solution, but you’re giving them the opportunity to explore and experiment on their own and find what works for them. Of course, anytime that an authentic learner figures out, “Hey, I can do this on my own. I get this, this is awesome,” that just increases the confidence that they have and their excitement about what they’re doing. Of course, a confident and excited sales rep is somebody who’s going to be making sales and that’s what we all want.

SS: Now, you touched on this just a moment ago, and I want to double click into it where you were talking about experimentation. I’d love to understand, how is experimenting with new ideas an important part of your process as an enablement leader and then how does experimentation help you refine your programs?

KS: Experimentation for me is one of the key foundations of being a lifelong learner. Learning just doesn’t stop when you graduate from school. Learning doesn’t stop once you’ve onboarded. All the products you’re selling, it’s a continuous ever-changing part of life, of the learning process. I love experimentation. When I was a classroom teacher to even now an enablement leader, I’m always open to new ideas. I love hearing what other people doing. I love iterating on projects that I’ve done in the past. What can I do differently? How can I make this better? How can I refine this?

I think finding what works is just as important as finding what doesn’t work, what resonates with learners and what was a total miss. Some of the ways that I try to take advantage of that experimentation when I am building programs or learning pathways is through beta testing, for example. I’ll mockup an example role play or I’ll mock up training and I’ll hand pick some people from my organization, sellers to directors to even people that aren’t even associated with it. Somebody may be on HR. I’ll say, “Hey, what do you think of this? Do you have time to just like do a once over glance? Does this make sense? Is this like interesting to you? What kind of feedback do you have? Does it make sense? Is it confusing? I also like to try it myself and step outside of the blinders that I sometimes get in enablement and say, “okay, this makes sense to me, but is this going to make sense to a brand-new sales rep who’s coming in for onboarding? Is this going to be engaging as a continued training for somebody who’s been selling here for five years and knows a product inside and out?”

I think gathering that feedback and doing that beta testing before I release or launch anything is super helpful in figuring out what does my audience need and what are they looking for to make this exciting, make this engaging, and make this a worthwhile learning journey?

Another key component of the experimentation and how I utilize that in my building of enablement programs is always, always, always keeping “why” as a central question to everything that we’re doing. Why is this important? Why is this our business objective? Why do this activity? Especially with adult learners, I feel like if you set it up and you’re like, “we’re going to do this and that’s the end of it,” people immediately tune out. It’s same with fifth graders, same with kids. If they’re like, “okay, we have to learn about this. Why?” If I don’t have a good answer for why, kids are tuned out. They’re not paying attention. Adults are tuned out. They’re not paying attention. If you lead with a why, “this is why we’re doing this training, this is why it’s important to practice your mock calls. This is why we are going to do this specific feedback grading”, that helps to give learners, the ability to think about how the program can be helpful or successful for them in terms of learning. Then, it also helps me to continually refine and iterate on my programs because sometimes that why changes. Sometimes it becomes, “okay, well, this isn’t necessarily a business need anymore, but this is a super important skill, so let me re let me rephrase this. Let me re-look at things and make sure that the why is lining up so that it doesn’t come off as, well, you just have to do it because, or this program exists because it’s just a program us to exist”

SS: Absolutely. I have two young children myself, and I know that route does not work nine times out of 10. Now, last question for you. This is something that I’ve heard you say before, that failures and mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process. As an enablement leader, how do you cultivate a learning environment where people really feel safe making mistakes, and how does that help reps improve their confidence?

KS: Like you said, I think mistakes and misses are part of any successful learning process. I’m sure if you go and ask Tom Brady he will tell you that there’s been a lot of misses and mistakes in his career, but he’s still out there as one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest quarterback, of all time. Mistakes and misses are part of what get you to be at the top of your game, literally and figuratively. For me, what I always like to make sure that everybody knows that mistakes are part of this. There are no perfect sales reps out of the box. Nobody shows up and is automatically the top sales leader for their region. Two weeks into the show, six months into the show, a year into it, there are always things that you can learn. There are always going to be things that trip you up. There are always going to be things that you thought were going to be an easy success that turns out to be a big failure. There are things that you go into and you might be like, “I don’t know about this.” Then, you turn out to be a raging success.

Understanding that there’s an ebb and flow and there’s a give and take, and that mistakes are just as important as successes and setting that context from day one with new reps, I think is super important. Some of the things that I do to help reps understand that mistakes are part of it is I would involve some of our top reps. Of course, everybody knows in an organization who are your top sellers? Word goes around during onboarding, “oh, these people are great, watch what he does at his desk. She’s been top of the charts for a number of months, listen to her calls if you get a chance.” I love to bring those reps in and have them highlight, “this one time I forgot to take notes for this meeting.” But I also try to have them explain “from that time when I blew that call, this is what I changed.
And now look what happened. I wound up closing this big deal”. Or, “I forgot to take notes that time and it was a total mess coming into it, so next time I used a notes template and I really used that template until I got it down. That was able to help inform me from my next calls and these amazing notes that I took for this call helped me close this deal six months later and it was the biggest deal of my career so far.”

I try to showcase the fact that there are going to be misses. There are going to be mistakes. It’s totally part of it. Nobody closes every deal all the time, even though we all like to think so. I want to highlight that as part of the learning process. I also like to utilize a call recording software that I can go back and give examples of “here’s a call that needs a little bit of work, and here’s why, and here’s the same person doing that call after they’ve gotten their feedback after they sat down with their sales director and talked about what they could do better. And here’s an example of how they change the call — they brought their talk time down. They set the agenda really early. They created follows.” Using those real-life examples and showcasing that no one gets to the top of their game by always winning and having things come easy that there is a learning curve for everyone, for the top reps, for the sales directors, for the CEO, there’s always going to be a learning curve and making sure that you’re able to rebound from those mistakes or those misses, learn from them, and apply those learnings is what’s going to make you successful as a sales rep. It’s going to make you successful in relationships. It’s what’s going to make you successful as a learner. It’s what’s going to make you successful with friendships. I think just being able to identify when something didn’t go the right way or missed a little bit or was off and then figuring out what we could do differently, applying that critical thinking and that feedback from others who may have been there before you, and has been through the same thing, and then putting that into action will lead to success down the line. It’s okay to not be successful overnight.

SS: I think that’s fantastic advice, not just for enablement, but life itself. Kathryn, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciated learning from you.

KS: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

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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