Episode 213: Don Schmidt on Expanding the Role of the Enablement Team

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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 Don Schmidt, who’s an enablement expert from a wide range of tech companies join us today on our podcast. Don, I would love for you to introduce yourself to our audience.

Don Schmidt: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Shawnna. I really appreciate it. My background has really been specialized in business-to-business and SaaS model industries and I’ve been within enablement and training for more than 15 years. I’ve built five startup enablement teams series A through D with up to about 30 employees in some of those cases and I’ve led enablement programs that have served and supported more than 700 fields and sales reps and then about 20,000 clients. So really the area of my startups are really three areas. One was Fintech, which was with human interest, which provides 401k plans for small businesses, then E-learning startups, Lynda.com, which eventually became LinkedIn learning, and then Green Flower, which is a cannabis-centric training company, and then third was the automotive industry where I worked for cars.com and Edmunds.com setting up their programs. My point would be for our listeners is that what it shows is that enablement kind of stretches us across our platforms so don’t feel like you have to stay in one lane for your entire career. Within enablement, training is training no matter if you’re selling automotive or cannabis or financial services. If you’re in the enablement industry, you have a lot of opportunities and career options that are coming forward, so I’m glad to be able to share any of my thoughts or experiences to help your listeners.

SS: Thank you, Don. I’m excited to have you here and to the comment that you made around building a career in enablement, on LinkedIn you mentioned one of your passions as building enablement teams. I’d love to understand your opinion, what are some of the core pillars of an effective enablement team?

DS: Yeah, that’s a good question because it really has expanded over the years. It started with training and then just became kind of a fancy word for training and so I would say that it isn’t training alone, although that is a large part. The way I’ve set up my teams is really in three verticals and the first is performance management. What I mean by that is really looking at the data and not necessarily just working with revenue or sales operations to get data from Salesforce. I mean creating skill assessment health cards aka scorecards sometimes people call them, but I don’t particularly like that word because it feels like as the seller, you’re going to tell them where they suck. Health cards are really where we can help you improve your efficiency and your effectiveness and along with that. Often I set up the tech stack. With enablement, I definitely recommend taking over all of the productivity tools and then either managing or being part of that sales and retention process creation, the sales methodology, because performance management as that first pillar dictates what your content is going to be and technically how you’re going to deliver it.

That would be my second pillar — I create a content team and when I say team it could be one instructional designer, it could be a lot. My advice for people is not to just look at it as face-to-face learning and webinar-based content creation, there are two new areas in the industry that I’m really jazzed about. One is guided paths, there are great companies out there that lay on top of tools like Salesforce and guide people in a kinesthetic way. That should be part of your content creation and then also there are video coaching tools that are out there that are sometimes within enablement tools and sometimes outside sometimes within an LMS but video-based coaching I think is an important kind of delivery method of your curriculum team. Now, I often have taken over the communication because often salespeople get either so much slack or so many emails that they start ignoring it, so my team will consolidate that and try to make that more efficient so that people actually see what they need to see. Then also within content, I’ve never had a marketing team under me, but there’s marketing enablement that will build all of your sales collateral, but also I have had my team build out playbooks and battle cards to go against competitors.

Then the third pillar is really delivery. Obviously, it’s the training of new hires and veterans, but I would also suggest training to leverage and take over motivational events, the sales kickoffs, or whatever you might call it at your organization that are either quarterly or yearly. You’re all hands calls, my team takes that over and MCs it. You may still have sales leadership running those, but you have a facilitator and those, all-hand meetings I would say should always go down to the director level or regional level down to the weekly level where your trainers are in the weekly sales meetings for a specific regional director and then I think the last parts of that delivery is obviously data-driven coaching that comes from the performance management, leadership development and you know, I’ve done at two companies, recruitment support, where the trainers actually will conduct sales centric interviews with candidates that have gotten far into the process and just test them on one thing like their sales methodology so the hiring manager doesn’t have to do that during their service. My advice is really to think about what you aren’t managing yet and then begin expanding your team’s role.

SS: Absolutely. I love that approach. Now that said, in your experience, what are some of the challenges that can maybe come up with building and developing an enablement team, and what have you found to be successful in overcoming those challenges?

DS: There’s definitely a lot and it does matter if you’re a one-person show or you have a big team. Often what has happened with me is that I come in and it’s a one-man show in many cases for me or it’s two or 3 people and typically the enablement team or sometimes when I come in they were still called sales training were seen as kind of superfluous. What I mean by that is the number one thing is to change sales management’s view and that can be tough. There’s no doubt about it, but the question you have to ask leadership is do you want us to be a superfluous training team or do you want us to be an essential part of the sales organization? That makes sellers more effective at their jobs and if you can weave in what I had talked about earlier of all the things that you could do for the organization and support people to be more effective, it gives you more and more abilities to be valuable. I think my number one goal in that challenge is can you become that trusted advisor for sales leadership and if you can, you’re in a good position. Ultimately it’s getting their trust advisor set up that you need to concentrate on the right metrics and that’s often the challenge is that we’re not looking at the right metrics.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic point. I’d love to better understand how you measure the impact of your team on the rest of the business. What are some examples of the key metrics you leverage to reinforce the enablement team’s value?

DS: Yeah. That gets right into that main challenge. I think where I made the mistakes at the beginning of my career and I think for the listeners here in this situation of trying to create more relevance and getting management buy-in is that you have to steer away from what I would say are the least valuable metrics, which are how many classes we trained. The number of attendants, how many e-learning courses are collateral did we put in the LMS or the enablement repository? What were our evaluation scores? Smile sheets are fine, but if the trainers are really good at delivery, they’re of course going to get fives and so you can say to yourself, you’re really great, but sales management isn’t necessarily brought into that. Test scores, I don’t know about you and some of your other presenters that have been on the podcast, but I found that the people that test multiple choice questions in new hire training typically are like the worst salespeople. You think they’d be the best because they know the product but they get caught in the weeds. So giving a sales management test scores or how many people you certified is the wrong way to approach and I would say one sales metric, I always stay away from the time of the first sale. I know a lot of managers want to know that it is ramped and ready and get it really fast, but at the time of the first sale, there could be something that was already in the pipeline. I think it’s pretty misleading. So in that sense, then what are the hot buttons?

My advice, and what’s worked well for me, is to track from the date that that person started or the first day of the month that they started and follow them with their career so that everything that you train, you can see what goes up and down. My advice would be overall revenue, which is obviously a pretty easy one, but what was their overall revenue, was there an increase in sales, management wants to know what that ramp speed was in the sense that they are on their own and ready to go. Now, pipeline predictability we’re not the silver bullet in all of this, but we can absolutely affect that if you can say our prediction on forecasting and pipeline is more accurate because of this training it gives real relevance. Increasing retention of your top talent, improving quota performance, decreased time to close, the opportunity open to opportunity closed, that can be tough if an organization doesn’t follow that method of creating an op right when you talk to a client, but that’s a huge one and then decrease of the churn of not only the clients but also of employees. So there are a lot of metrics, but if you look at those and my advice to listeners is if you’ve never looked at this is Kirkpatrick 4 levels of ROI, that can help coupled in with all of the data that I was mentioning earlier.

SS: Absolutely, the Kirkpatrick Model is phenomenal. We actually had a representative from there on our Book Club Podcast recently. So to shift gears just a little bit as an enablement leader, you’ve pointed out in the past that one of your goals is to be a great coach. I’d love to learn a little bit from you, how can coaching help you develop the talent on your enablement team?

DS: I like how you do it internally about my team, but you know, I’m gonna step a little outside of that and say, let’s first start with the common issue, which is regardless if you’re an enablement leader or your sales leader or anyone else is that many leaders think they’re coaching, but really what they’re doing is directing and they don’t realize it. No fault to them, often, L&D departments don’t necessarily hit everyone with situational leadership training and other courses, but often somebody thinks they’re coaching. That is one thing to always be aware of, including thinking about yourself. So an example I’d give, I think everyone that’s a listener here has experienced this, have you ever been to a weekly regional sales team meeting where there’s a regional director and maybe there are 10 salespeople or so that manager goes around the circle of sellers and asks, what are they planning to close this week? And just goes around the horn, they say I’m going to bring in this amount of money, which sometimes is a lie because they don’t have anything, they’re not looking at their forecasting well, but they don’t want to say zero, right? Then the manager gives them pointed, what I would put in quotes, “advice” on how to approach those deals and to get them across the line, and then they’ll go from one person to the next person. Once you’ve talked, you’re just like, well, okay now and I’m not listening to my colleagues like I’m off the hook, so those can be really ineffective sessions and in my opinion, they’re a waste of time because all they are doing in those situations is telling them what to do. There’s no problem-solving.

Now I get into the coaching part of this with my team, and with the sales leader, you have to work and coaching is an individual basis and I kind of see coaching is more about self-discovery and having the person that you’re talking to discover those answers for themselves. Often I try to use data behind it to guide that employee to that new approach. It might not necessarily be my approach, it might be a better one actually, but for them to self-discover, because then they’re much more likely to execute on what’s being said. To give you an example, instead of telling a trainer that their delivery was too rigid in the classroom, ask him something like what would you change in your training delivery today if you were going to train the class again. How would you rate yourself training delivery-wise from 1 to 10? Well if they say 10, then we have a different issue, but anything from 1 to 9, it doesn’t really matter, it’s like, okay, well then how could we have gone up to 10?

Sometimes what I will do then with a trainer, I’ll look at verbal tics like um, or uh or you know, and I’ll start writing them down and putting in how many totals during a certain period of time. Then I ask them that question, so data-based, I say, what do you think your social, your verbal tic? They may come up with it, let’s say they say ‘Um’. Then I ask, if that’s the case, how many ‘ums’ do you think you said in 30 minutes? 107. So how do you feel we should approach this? Then I’d say it’s not just about the trainers you could put a coaching philosophy with anyone in your team. Instead of stating, let’s say we need to increase our competitive curriculum, maybe with you with one of your content people, you share the salesforce data and how many deals were lost to competitors as an example. So we know because when there is a close loss, there’s a reason why the person quit and maybe or didn’t sign, and maybe it was because they went with a competitor. So you show that data to the content person, and you say, okay, what are your thoughts about how we can combat this challenge? What are the ways we can do it? Now, you can then feed in your information based on that, but I really think open-ended questions are the best way for coaching. Now I will say at the end of this though, I did say you shouldn’t be directing. I also do believe in situational leadership. So if someone is brand new, they’re very enthusiastic but they don’t know what they’re doing well then you do have to direct them. You can’t just delegate a task to them. It’s not fair, but coaching you can use with new people or veterans.

SS: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. It works well across the team. You’ve touched on some fantastic best practices, but do you have any additional ones that you would recommend when it comes to coaching your teams?

DS: I am a huge believer in data-driven coaching. Even if you’re one person show, you can do this, you can do that, or where I’ve had actual data analysts combine all the data into a snowflake through tableau and create individual health cards. Earlier I said that they are sometimes called scorecards, I like calling them health cards, and that allows you to deliver customized and personalized learning to each seller and sales leader but also in regards to coaching. Now you know what to coach. We break that out typically in my teams in four areas, so sales metrics. So did you close a sale? How many units did you sell? What is your average selling price? How long did it take? Activity is the second part. So how many phones, email, and text outreach calls did you do, and then what’s your closing ratio based on those second meetings, third meetings, and such? Productivity tools, so if your team is in charge of any productivity tools, it could be stuff that’s within Salesforce. I’ve done this with Salesforce maps, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, with outreach with Highspot, there are all kinds of companies that you might have in your text stack. I would look at those metrics and see what the usage is.

Then the last one is just knowledge checks, did they complete training in the past? If you put that all into one kind of spreadsheet and look at salespeople individually, then you’re able to find what I would say are red flags. Think of it as like Moneyball in the movie, Moneyball with Brad Pitt and there’s this great scene with Chris Pratt and he’s watching a video of himself at the plate and they’re throwing pitches at him and he self discovers by looking at that data that if I let some pitches come through, I’ll get more balls, which means I’ll get more walks, which means I’ll get on base and it was an epiphany for him in the movie. I feel it’s the same way when you’re coaching. If you look at these metrics and you can compare people with others, then you’re able to coach them because they can see it compared to their colleagues, and that works really well. Now you’re not just pulling KPIs from the ether and saying, yeah, this is about how many calls you should do. You should look at the top salespeople and make it much easier to coach.

SS: I love that approach. Don, last question for you. You’ve also mentioned that results only come through collaboration. So how do you foster a culture of collaboration amongst your teams?

DS: It can be hard, especially the larger the organization, the more siloed it gets. At smaller startups, everybody’s talking and I find that it’s not malicious when silos start, it just isn’t. I think people just get in their own world and they start working and collaboration starts breaking down. I think you do it in two ways. You look internally and you look externally. So here are some suggestions that have worked for me. Firstly internally I would replace the weekly team meeting that you have with your enablement folks and I would actually break it up into more small group sprints and then do daily stand-ups with your direct reports and also assign productivity tools to each trainer. I’ll give you an example when I was at Edmonds, every trainer had one productivity tool that was assigned to them and they had to take ownership of it and now it forced them to then have to work with other teams to make sure that that works, so it’s not just working within our team, it’s getting them to think I need to collaborate outside because I won’t be successful.

The goal is always this, I want you to speak at whatever vendor’s conference is next. So one was Salesforce maps and I said to that trainer you should absolutely try to get to Dreamforce and she took it over and did an amazing job. She worked with the actual vendor with the sales team, found top sellers that were doing really well, shadowing them, used that for the training content, and worked with marketing to create collateral, all this happened and happened, and I lost her to salesforce and she’s now a salesforce maps employee. That is wonderful. That made me feel so great because she was expanding on her career and I was able to be that one that kind of started it. She got it all herself, but I got that started by assigning a productivity tool to her and then coaching her through it on how to collaborate.

Also, just the last parts of the internal I would say, I like conducting quarterly team in-person workshop meetings and monthly all-hands calls, but those quarterly in-person meanings are where you do your problem-solving. So everyone is working together on solving our five main issues. They’re all working together and they’re figuring out, okay, who do we need outside of our team to help us be successful? So then the last part of this is external. In regards to collaboration, I mean I could give you the standard ones that everybody does. You’ve got to have a meeting with the head of each of the department heads once a week. Okay, fine, but what has also worked for me that’s a little more outside of the norm is that I’ve created advisory boards. They’re not decision boards, but their advisory boards, which often are made up of top sellers. You create an advisory board for industry, for competitive, for selling, for retention and you find based on your health cards, who are those top users and then they help you create that content. Whenever you have an all-hands meeting where everyone is coming together, you bring them in a day early and you have these advisory board meetings and you have specific questions for them. It helps you create content. It creates people that will be rating fans of your content because they were part of that process and they’ll amplify it, but also it opens up for better content.

I would also suggest shadowing sellers if you’re in a management role, the best way you’re going to learn to be able to understand what are the real trials and tribulations is to shadow a salesperson and just listen. If they’re doing things that seem right or they’re following the sales process that you taught and they’re using it or whatever it might be, create a sales success video of them saying, hey, I love how you handled that objection. I saw that you used alternative close or you clarified, rephrased, and isolated that objection. Can we record you for a one or two-minute video on how you did that with a client and how much money you made and they get really excited and now you put that into the LMS.

The last one externally is as a leader, I not only meet with the managers of other teams, but I also attend the product and product marketing sprint meetings because the worst thing in enablement is that you’re given this time when you’re going to market and it’s limited and you didn’t know what was in the pipeline, get yourself in those meetings months ahead what the product team is working on so you’re ready with your team to go on day one.

SS: Don, thank you so much. I really appreciate the fantastic advice for our audience. I appreciate you joining us today.

DS: Thank you and I really appreciate the opportunity. I mean it’s great to work with an organization like yours and I definitely recommend for listeners to look at some of the certification programs that you have. I’m highly impressed with the Sales Enablement Professional Certificate and I really like Sales Personas also. It’s great to work with people like yourselves that are in this industry trying to help people get better.

SS: Well, I appreciate that additional plug. 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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