Episode 206: Terry Bird on Enabling Global Teams

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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 Terry Bird from Vonage join us. Terry, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Terry Bird: I’m Terry Bird, I am the vice president of enablement at Vonage. I’ve been here just under a year now. Prior to that, I was with IBM for around 13 years in various roles, many of them in and around the sales enablement space, and actually came to IBM through the acquisition of Cognos. So my background is in financial performance management and analytics.

SS: I’m very excited to have you here, Terry. Now, part of your background and your expertise is around leading teams across very diverse geography and cultures. I’d love to get a sense from you, what are some of the key things that you consider when you’re creating enablement programs for audiences, especially across different geography?

TB: Good question. I’m a big fan of design thinking. One thing I try to do and I always encourage my teams to do is really think outside in. A big premise of design thinking is really understanding the experience that your audience has, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what they’re saying, and what they’re doing to help inform what you do to help improve their experience. So definitely putting ourselves in the shoes of the audience is a very important thing. Many of the folks in my enablement team and enablement teams that I’ve worked in in the past actually come from sales or from technical sales, so from the field in some way, shape, or form, and having that experience really helps us to understand our audience.

Beyond that as well, I think it’s very important to have a really good geographic spread in terms of the team that you have. It’s something we’ve certainly worked on in the past 12 months since I came into Vonage is making sure that we have that geographic footprint with the enablement team. I’m very used to working with a global team that has that presence throughout different regions and markets that we operate in. So really having that outside-in perspective is very important in how we align what we do.

SS: I couldn’t agree more. In your experiences though, what are some of the key challenges that can occur in leading enablement efforts across the globe?

TB: Well, yeah, of course, it’s a global effort and that means that we have 24 hours of timelines to deal with. I certainly don’t work a structured 9-5 role, having a global role within Vonage and having had a global role for many years of my career, I’m very used to working in a way that allows us to connect around the clock. That means being able to sometimes be on late or very early to have calls with teams in the Asia Pacific for example, or it can mean having different times of your day to try and align our audience. One of the biggest challenges when you have a team with folks in the US or North America and in Europe and somewhere in the Asia Pacific that you’re trying to get on at the same time, that’s always going to be a short straw for somebody in the middle of their night, but I try not to make too much of a habit of that.

Like I said, having a footprint in the team where you can have a presence globally, always helps to address that. Of course, timelines are one thing, but we also have cultural and regional considerations that we have to appreciate at all times. Sometimes messaging that is very suitable for the North American market may need to be very different for our market in the Asia Pacific so you have these cultural business considerations and language considerations that we have to adapt for at all times. Our business can be very different in different geographies, you have different competitors, and different industries are prevalent in different geographies, so there’s not a one size fits all in terms of what we do with regard to enablement programs. There will be a core of content and messaging for sure, but it can only be truly effective with a geo footprint when we start to adapt it for their particular go-to-market models, that particular cultural appreciation.

SS: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. What are some of the ways in which you’ve overcome some of those challenges as you’re building your global programs?

TB: It is always an interesting challenge to work with other organizations or other teams around the organization to help them shape that appreciation of the audience. I think typically a key role of sales enablement will be helping other teams, such as product management, product marketing, engineering teams, in bringing our products to market to really not be led by our features and functions and really understand the audience from a sales enablement perspective. Those will be our sales teams, our technical sales teams, and other customer-facing teams, like professional services etcetera, and of course our business partners. If we go to market with partners and help them to understand that language that we use is very important. I think sometimes we have to help some of those teams, especially if they’re predominantly based in one geo, like North America for example, to use language that is truly universal and can be understood around the globe.

I also think it’s very important, and this is something that myself and other teams I’ve worked with for a number of years have really focused on doing, is when we produce things like customer-facing pitch decks or sales enablement decks, for example, to really understand that actually we have many parts of our audience that where English isn’t their first language and therefore to help them, simple things like scripting, comprehensive scripting of slides in clear English is really going to help those audiences. We would love to be able to translate and localize every single piece of content that we have and that isn’t always possible from a budget and time perspective. So being able to do things like comprehensive scripting, and very clear scripting helps our audience where English isn’t their first language to take that localize it and understand it because it’s one thing being able to watch a subject matter expert from different geo present a piece of content either in a live or prerecorded state, but having the script and quite often close captioning will help open that up and make it reusable and digestible for those teams to go and localize it themselves. I do think that having that local footprint and being able to connect at their local level helps with that.

I was lucky enough when I came into Vonage to actually be handed some headcount to hire as well. It was very clear that we had a gap from a sales enablement perspective in connecting very locally with our audience in Asia Pacific. So one of the people we hired actually spent many, many years of their career working in Singapore and is bilingual in English and Chinese and forged a very good connection early on during the interview process with some of our sales leaders in Asia Pacific. Now that person is giving us a true local presence but also bidirectionally is able to bring back and translate very effectively the needs of the local audiences in our Asia Pacific region.

I think again it all comes back to that design thinking and that outside in appreciation of the audience, their particular needs, and the experience they have on a day-to-day basis. The more things we can do to connect with that closely all the time will only help us overcome those challenges.

SS: Absolutely. Now you mentioned briefly earlier that oftentimes across various geography, there are also slightly different business needs or business plans or go-to-market plans? I’m curious to understand, do you also need to engage different business partners to ensure that your programs are successful, and who would you say are some of those core partners in building out your global programs?

TB: In terms of business partners in this context I’m going to frame that in terms of partners within our business. Obviously, they will go-to-market business partners as well and we do have some that are kind of software or tool based in terms of vendors that we work with. The partnerships within our business from a global perspective are very important and Vonage truly is a global company and it’s made up of a legacy of organic growth, but it’s also made up of some quite significant acquisitions over the past few years. Those acquisitions actually have a very geographic spread from Europe and the UK to Asia Pacific itself. One of our most recent acquisitions was actually based in Asia Pacific. We also have a strong footprint in Israel, for example, with some of our AI capabilities.

I think very naturally Vonage has a very global spread and a very global culture, but in terms of what we do from a sales enablement angle, some of my key partners within the business that I work with would certainly be regional VPs of sales. Vonage is split across three major regions, as many companies are, but I know everybody has kind of variances on this, but from an Americas, EMEA, and Asia Pacific perspective. I have peers who are sales leaders and technical leaders for the business. I talked to them and worked with them almost on a daily basis and in some way, shape, or form of the conversations that we have.

Something else we’ve done to really amplify and extend the reach of that ongoing conversation is to implement a program called SEAT. SEAT stands for our sales experience activation team. That team is really made up of a core number of sellers and other roles from across the business and different go-to-market functions that represent all of those geographers we meet on a structured basis once a month but we have a very open and ongoing communication channel through tools like Slack for example. We’re always listening to their needs. They’re very open with us. We’ve implemented that program on a rotational basis, so it’s a 6 to 9-month membership to keep the engagement and the involvement fresh, we try not to overload them with too many things in terms of the conversation, but the feedback and the engagement that we get from them is very high quality in terms of helping us to understand what’s working and, sometimes also of course what’s not working and where we can make refinements and advancements.

That’s just a really good example of just how we’re actively connecting at the local level. I’ve seen in the past examples where there’s a headquarter-driven approach to push out content and we just hope it’s going to get good leverage and a good footprint across the globe and that’s not always the case. So being proactive and being ahead of those conversations, connecting with our audience on an ongoing basis around the globe and across different parts of the business is very important. We can’t talk to everybody all of the time but finding a good balance in terms of having structured interlocks and also good feedback mechanisms, good abilities where anybody can ask questions and those be routed to the right people to answer perpetually is a very good practice and that’s something I think Vonage is very good at in terms of keeping that 360-degree process open.

SS: I love that and I love that communication is really at the core of everything that you guys do. To build on that a little bit, how do you continue to create strong relationships with your business partners so that you can really solidify the credibility of your programs and to the point, you made a moment ago, really helped to improve that scalability?

TB: Yeah, it’s an interesting one, I think I kind of talked a bit about this in that last answer, but we’re doing a lot of things all of the time and sales enablement is such a universal topic in terms of content that you’re delivering, training and activation that we’re delivering, it also covers technology in the way that we deliver tools to our sales teams to leverage every day. Also, the way that we communicate. Communication is a huge part of effective enablement and it’s very easy for communications from a number of functions to overwhelmed sellers and for it to just be noise every day. So we’ve really focused on four key themes in what we’re doing with our sales enablement strategy and very sharp and curated content that’s intuitive and easy to access, like structured skills and training curriculum now where we’ve also started attaching badges to that, so trying to pivot to an aspirational learning culture and a way to measure skills growth and then the text stack that we put in the hands of our sellers. There are many, many tools out there that cover all kinds of activities, from prospecting to outreach to engagement to negotiations, competitive research, etcetera.

I think the best technologies are the ones that you can put in the hands of sellers often in a mobile experience and bring intuitively and intelligently the most relevant content and messaging to them in the context of what they’re doing and ultimately streamlining communications and having a really clear message. It’s great having that connection and understanding the feedback, but it’s how we act on it in terms of delivering sharp content that’s globally applicable and can be localized very easily through technology that makes that very agile and easy to access and with communications and messaging that is very crisp and clear and really consolidating communications to a way that sellers can focus on a particular funnel and understand what’s important to them from a personal perspective. Otherwise, it just all becomes noise and they just switch off and enablement becomes almost null and void in terms of an exercise.

It’s great building great content, but the way that you deliver it is very important. The way you communicate is very important. All of those things when we build them of course then give us data and data informs us how effective a piece of content data is around skills and learning, where do we have gaps and where do we where can we proactively take enablement steps and then tours around digital adoption and tools around click-throughs on communications. All of that data gives us an insight into what’s working and what’s not working. That’s very important. So, constantly learning from that data in real-time allows us to get those insights, and that feedback that allows us to improve all the time in terms of what we’re doing and that’s really what we’re doing in enablement is constantly improving.

SS: Terry, I think that’s fantastic. I am curious to get your perspective, obviously, we’ve been working in either hybrid or virtual work environment now and as you know, a lot of organizations try to figure out how they really do kind of a transition from in-person or hybrid, what has been your approach to leading global teams and how has that evolved over the past few years? Do you think it might continue to evolve in the coming year?

TB: Where do we start with that one? I mean, I come from a place where even with a global team, traveling a lot and travel was kind of frictionless and seamless and we would be getting together at least every quarter and when we’re delivering events like new hire boot camps or sales kickoffs, the team is generally seeing each other face to face multiple times through a year in full or in part. There was a time when I was driving up and down from my house in Bristol to Heathrow a couple of times a month to travel around the world somewhere to be in person with teams and that makes engagement and having that relationship very easy. Then, of course, the world changed and for a good couple of years I didn’t travel at all and it’s only really starting to just get going again now, of course nowhere near like it was before the pandemic and certainly since I’ve been in Vonage. I joined in late 2021 and there are members of my team who I’m very close to, who I’ve never seen face to face and won’t for a while yet. So the way that we engage as teams globally has changed fundamentally.

I think technology has caught up to help with the way that we engage. Obviously, Vonage is in the business of unified communications, so if we can’t find ways to communicate and collaborate digitally, then there’s something wrong. So luckily our own backyard is technology that can help us collaborate very closely as a team, but it’s still very difficult when you don’t have the ability to connect face to face to overcome some of those challenges. Engagement is a critical word in terms of how we’re coming together as teams and that’s not just meeting in virtual environments and discussing in virtual environments. I think sometimes we have to get away from work completely and take extra lengths to really understand each other as people and how we interact as a team and interact with each other. Engagement activities that are completely non-work related are very important, focusing on digital teams and virtual teams and how we collaborate is very important. We have some very important program management and collaboration tools, without naming names specifically too much that really facilitate us coming together and working in a very agile and connected way, and of course, talking. I mean we have to talk to each other all of the time and really make sure that we’re connecting on a human level. I’m also a big ally and advocate for our ERGs within Vonage. I was a big diversity ally in IBM as well. I think it’s so important for people who work together in any organization in virtual teams to connect as human beings as well as colleagues within a business of course. So that’s incredibly important.

Now, will things change? They’re starting to change again. I don’t think we’ll ever see a working environment as it was three years ago with the ease of travel. Companies have adapted in terms of their expense models and their operating models and how people connect. I think we’re much more thoughtful now about travel and when we get together face-to-face sales kickoffs and other events like that, I think we will gradually come back to be hybrid models.

I think there will always have to be a combination of live in-person and virtual now, just because of the global nature of things like the pandemic and of course the way that business has changed for us. Something we’re experimenting with ourselves now as a team is really true hybrid events, true hybrid events where you can have a face-to-face audience and a virtual audience where the virtual audience hasn’t got an experience that is just being fed over a camera from a live event that’s happening in a room. I think you have to find ways to truly engage with that virtual audience in the same way as if you were looking at someone who sat in front of you and that’s something we’re really experimenting with now in our team and we’re hoping to get some success with that. We’ll see what happens with sales kickoff 2023 in terms of how that plays out for planning, which of course, it won’t be too long before our thoughts start to turn to that now.

SS: Absolutely. Agility is completely key as we go into the coming years. Well, Terry, thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation today. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

TB: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is 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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