Episode 201: Daniel Haden on Digestible Learning to Enable Agility

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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 Daniel Haden from Google join us. Daniel, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Daniel Haden: Sure, thank you. My name is Daniel Haden, I’m currently the lead of the Sales Skills Curriculum at Google, based in Chicago in the US. We’re part of the sales organization in which we support a lot of sellers and managers across our organization. Prior to Google, I spent ten years at American Express in a range of roles from sales enablement to marketing to training, analytics – a range of different roles at American Express.

SS: Absolutely, and you are a returning guest to our podcast. We actually had you with us back in 2020 and during that podcast you had mentioned that delivering effective training programs really requires staying on top of the changing needs of the business, which over the past two years I feel we’ve been submersed in change. What are some of your best practices for anticipating change and then proactively aligning with your stakeholders and their priorities?

DH: Well, the number one best practice I always keep in my mind whenever I’m working on sales enablement programs is to really stay close to the customer. You’ve really got to try and pre-empt how their needs will change in the future based on problems that they face. You really want to look at competition to see what they’re doing and anticipate what their weaknesses are, what their next move will be. That can help fuel you in the right direction to ensure that your sales teams are really honing in on their strengths and being supported with their opportunities to really ensure that the learning that you create is going to have a measurable impact on the business. I would say the closer you can stay to the customer and the more you can plan your business and sales strategy and enablement tools around that, the more successful you’re likely to be.

SS: Absolutely. One of the things we’ve been talking about a lot, I feel especially in the last two years, is this need to be agile and flexible. How do you keep your training programs flexible so that you can adjust as the need arises?

DH: Yeah, if I think about sales enablement programs I’ve seen over the years or learning programs in general that I’ve seen over the years, there is a tendency that the more information you can cram into it, the more useful it is going to be for the learner or salesperson. I think that we within sales enablement are realizing that this isn’t really true anymore. My advice, in terms of keeping training programs agile and flexible, is to keep the message in the training very simple and very concise. If you can, keep your training programs short to strengthen your engagement because you’re more likely to engage with learning that seems digestible and possible to actually fit into your very busy day.

Also, it makes it easier to update and adjust the programs as needed because they are shorter. You want to keep your eye on changes in the business so you can respond as quickly as possible, and that training development cycle can take some time, so the shorter the engagement the easier it tends to be to update and make sure the message still stays on point. My advice would be to pick a few key points that you’re trying to make within the training engagement and really find effective ways of crafting that message concisely so that if you do have to make updates later, it’s much easier to inject those updates into something that is five or ten minutes versus ninety minutes. That would be my advice.

SS: I love that advice. Now, in addition to keeping the training programs agile, in our last conversation you talked about the importance of enabling salespeople to be adaptable and agile in their approach as they have to respond to a lot of shifts in the sales environment and even within their buyer’s needs. How have you built these skills through your training programs?

DH: This is a very important topic in the area of sales. It’s very difficult with skill development programs, if you’re trying to create incredible sellers, to just rely on content or just rely on knowledge because ultimately, the only way you’re going to create a very strong and impactful sales force is to develop their skills and change their behavior. In training programs, you should ideally create a framework that gives the learner structure, but at the same time allows freedom within that framework for them to use their own style or respond to customer objectives that could throw them off a little.

They’re going to get questions or concerns that are raised by customers and if you give them a rigid script to follow, that’s not going to be very much use. If you gave them a framework on to how to tackle those particular objections, then they’re more likely to be effective and they’re going to be able to respond in the moment so that it’s a really relevant response and really helps take that customer towards the solution. You want structure without that rigidity, and I think that approach to learning can really help develop salespeople that feel empowered to take what they’ve learned from the learning, but actually apply it in their own way to their own set of customers.

SS: That’s fantastic. I want to shift gears a little bit. You were recently featured in another interview, and you talked about practice as the key ingredient to building skills. How does practice help reinforce knowledge learned in training?

DH: Yes, this goes back a little to what I was just discussing. Knowledge or content alone is just not enough to be successful. I can read a book on how to play soccer, and even if I remembered that book word-for-word, it doesn’t mean that when I go onto the pitch that I will be any good at playing soccer. The only way I’m going to get better at playing soccer is if I actually practice, get coached by people, great soccer players themselves, who know how to play soccer well and it’s that continuous practice that’s going to make me a fantastic player. I’m only going to get better by applying techniques over time so that I can really perfect the way that I strike, the way I tackle, and it’s the same for any skill development.

Whether you’re in sales, whether you’re learning a language, whatever it is, you’re going to have to practice, because ultimately, it’s the change in behavior that’s going to take you to a much more effective place where you’re going to be more effective at selling. The practice helps you reinforce the knowledge by changing your behavior and that’s why within sales enablement, you can’t just rely on great content and long e-learnings, for example, because they just don’t have the same impact with skill development as they do with, let’s say, having to acquire product knowledge at a company.

My advice would be creating programs that actually rely on practice and have a really big practice component rather than lots of content because it’s going to encourage your learner to want to try and develop these new skills through many different activities. When they go back to their day jobs, they have already learned new behaviors that they can experiment with and try on the job, which is ultimately, potentially going to make them a more successful salesperson. You really want to ensure that the practice components are within the sales enablement programs, otherwise that knowledge will easily be forgotten and won’t actually have much impact on the sales resource.

SS: Absolutely. I’d love to double-click, what are some of your strategies for going about embedding the practice into your learning curriculums?

DH: I think the main one that I mentioned before was really reducing content. What this helps to do is reduce how much information the learner has to consume so they’re not overwhelmed, and you can bring people together to practice in really smart ways. There are many different things you can do.

You mentioned strategies, so you can implement pair-to-pair team sessions where they learn from other people that they work with, which can be really good because they’re working with people that understand and do their roles today, so it’s incredibly relatable. Simulated coaching, gaming platforms is something I’ve seen in the past being utilized because it’s fun, it’s a bit more engaging; you kind of feel like you’re playing a video game rather than in a learning experience. What’s becoming quite popular, particularly simulated coaching when gaming is integrated with the real world, when you have, potentially an avatar or a simulation, where you’ve got real people that are actually driving the learning for the learner – that’s getting pretty popular. I’m seeing that get more and more utilized by companies.

Coaching role plays with your managers, not a particularly popular one, but it can be really effective if it’s done in the right way. Even trying new things with different customers just to see how receptive they are. The proof is really going to be in how different customers respond to the way that you position the product or the way that you have those conversations. I wouldn’t practice something for the first time necessarily with a customer, but I think if you’ve been trying new things outside of with the customer, then go to speak to a particular customer in a particular industry, you might want to try a particular technique that you’ve learned and just see how receptive they are. I think practice has to be embedded not just outside of the customer situation or the sales conversation, but actually when you are working with the customer because that’s when you’re going to really see the impact and how that has helped change and improve the way that you sell as a salesperson.

SS: I love that approach. In closing, the last time we spoke I think I asked a question about the future of sales enablement, and you really anchored that around tools and access to knowledge. How has that come to fruition for you this year and how can increased accessibility impact the success of your learning programs?

DH: Well, as you know from my conversation last time, I think it was early to mid-2020, at the start of the pandemic, it’s really brought to life that accessibility is key, particularly when it comes to many people working remotely or having geographically disbursed sales teams. Knowledge is important in learning, but it changes a lot, so you really need to make sure that that knowledge can easily be updated and stored on a tool that is, as you said before, easily accessible to the salesperson. Increased accessibility to that knowledge really enables learning programs to focus on developing the skills that will ultimately make the biggest difference with customers and prospects. If your tools and the technologies that you have available are really powerful at bringing the knowledge and the product information and the product benefits and all that to the salesperson, then your sales enablement and learning programs can focus more on changing behavior, really ensuring practice is at the forefront of learning and really getting your salespeople to explore different ways of doing things so that they can be more effective with the customers. That’s the way I would think about it.

I do think there are a lot of great tools out there, there are a lot of great sales enablement tools out there that provide really easy access to information. The key is really blending the practice and learning opportunities with how the salespeople access the information. Just because you know every single thing about every single product doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be a great salesperson, so that practice and that behavioral change is really what’s going to help you improve as a salesperson.

But if you haven’t got easy access to the knowledge, then it’s going to be difficult for you to communicate the benefits of the products to the customer. I think it’s a bit of a mix. You do need some knowledge, but I think the key really is to have great tools where you can access the knowledge easily so it can be updated because product knowledge is changing, in my view, at a much faster pace than it has ever done before as companies strive to update their products to make them more attractive to new markets but also to existing customers. That would be my advice, really, focus not just on the sales enablement programs, but also on the accessibility as well.

SS: I love that. I always get phenomenal enablement advice from you, Daniel. Thank you so much for coming back and joining us as a speaker on our podcast. Again, thank you, I really appreciate it.

DH: You’re welcome, thank you.

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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