Episode 22: Nicola Bain on Change Management Strategies to Create a Culture of Winning
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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 they can be more effective in their jobs.
I’d love to start, though, just by having you introduce yourself and your role in your company.
Nicola Bain: My name is Nicola Bain. I am the global sales director at Infovista. Infovista supports network optimization for communication service providers, such as the Vodafone’s and AT&T’s of this world, and also large enterprises such as McDonald’s, Porche, and so forth.
SS: Excellent. And what does sales enablement look like at your organization?
NB: Sales enablement at Infovista is – well, Infovista is a small organization. We have less than a thousand employees globally; 350 salespeople made up of account executives, technical salespeople, and channel salespeople. So, that’s who we support. I report directly into our CEO, who is currently our acting chief of sales. My role is very much about alignment to the business, to the priorities and initiatives of our business – which is all about growth, revenue growth. And so, everything that I do is in complete alignment with our CEO and our executive committee.
SS: Excellent. And what are the key components to a successful sales enablement function, and what do you see to be enablement’s core responsibilities?
NB: For successful sales enablement function, for me, it’s about working with key stakeholders across the business, across the sales organization – product management or marketing. Sometimes that goes into the research and development area as well. It’s about alignment with the business. It’s about agreeing what the priorities and the initiatives are and then executing on those. It’s not doing anything in isolation, it’s absolutely hand-in-glove working with the business.
Because sales enablement within Infovista is a very, very small team, our scope is very wide. Our key programs are about the value proposition, both external communications as well as internally. We support HR with regards to attracting, hiring, and retaining talent. It’s about working on a simplistic and motivational compensation plan. It’s about training. It’s about enabling the sales organization not just to be productive, but effective, and we do that via our sales methodology, territory planning, and end-to-end onboarding. And a big part of my role is also sales communication and culture change. Culture change specifically is slow, but it’s a big and important part.
SS: If you don’t mind, I’d like to deviate from the questions a little bit because you mentioned talent and retention, retainment of your sales reps. Can you talk to me a little bit about some of the things that you’ve done, and an enablement function, to ensure that your reps are happy and stay with the company as long as they should?
NB: It’s something we’ve just started working on. We had a new CEO start at the beginning of this year, so things are changing for us. First of all, it’s about working out who these key players are in our business, and it’s about understanding what they’re good at and how we can make them more effective and more efficient in their role. And it’s working closely with them.
When I think about the work that I’ve been doing over the past eight to ten weeks, I’ve spent one-on-one time interviewing them, having those conversations, understanding what’s important to them. Our President’s Club, our winner’s circle, is a huge motivator for them. As is getting the comp plan right. And our compensation plan hasn’t been right. It’s been complex, we’ve been trying to make them jump through too many hoops of fire. And so, we’re working now to simplify that. As of the first of July, our new plan is in place. They’re going to understand it, they’re going to understand how to get their accelerators so that it can be motivational.
SS: Excellent, excellent. The other thing that you mentioned was sales communications and culture. And I think culture is really important to me, particularly when it comes to an organization that is growing or scaling. What are you doing to retain your culture within your organization?
NB: For us, it’s less about retaining and more about creating a new culture, a winning culture, a culture that doesn’t aim to hit their quota, it’s a culture that aims to overachieve their quota. That’s a lot of effort and it’s not just my effort, it’s the effort of all of the leaders across our business working towards the same goals. It’s about us making sure that we are joined up with our messaging, that our messaging is consistent and we just repeat and repeat the same messaging so that we get the message across. It’s a difficult process changing culture, you know. But bit by bit it does change. When we think of where we are now to where we were six months ago, and 12 months ago, we’re in a different – better – place now, which is exciting for Infovista.
SS: Absolutely. And on the topic of change, how do you feel – generally speaking – the sales environment is changing? And how has that affected the responsibility of your sales reps?
NB: For me, there’s a lot of information available for customers on the internet. They are doing their research before they reach out, and when they do reach out, they generally have a solution in mind. But of course, the information that they’re accessing is not unbiased and it’s not always clear the pitfalls of various solutions. And I’m talking about direct competition but alternative solutions as well. That can be really, really confusing.
I think what’s important for the way that salespeople react to that, the seller needs to really understand the client’s reason for the change, and what their ideal solution looks like. Not trying to put a square peg into a round hole but to really think, if you had the perfect solution what would it look like? And then trying to work from there. It’s really important that the sales reps are credible, that they know their solutions, they know the problems that their customers face so that they can together work with the customer to work on the best deal.
And there’s a lot of pressure on budgets within organizations, and those budgets are going to be allocated to fixing the big problems. Nowadays, selling software as a “nice to have”, it’s just not happening. If I’m a buyer of software, I’m only going to go through the pain of buying software and maintenance and integration and everything like that if the problem is worse – more painful – than the solutions. It’s really important that we are attaching our solutions to the biggest problems, that we are helping the client understand the value, the quantified value, the return on investment to their business. It’s working through, with them, on those numbers so they really understand what the value is to them.
Also, I believe there are a lot more people involved in the buying process now, and it’s really important that salespeople are able to navigate the politics within an organization – and be transparent and cover off all those different stakeholders.
SS: At the Sales Enablement Soirée in London, you spoke about the need for sales to get back to basics, to really understand the customer’s business problem and align solutions to create a sense of urgency. You mentioned that just now as well. What are some of the ways that sales enablement can help encourage that behavior, but also prepare their reps and arm them with a way in which they can create that sense of urgency within their existing deals?
NB: For me, this really aligns with sales methodology. We use value selling, and that is about aligning our approach to the sale around the customer’s business issues, their reason to change. The solutions that Infovista provides are very, very complex and the solutions are quite often unique to a particular customer. So, we need to understand the details of the customer’s business, now and in the future, to work with them on the best solution. And if the business issue and problem are not big enough, the deal will progress too slowly or it may not close at all.
Therefore, we’re not working on the right deals. We’ve got to be really cognizant of attaching our focus and time and energy on the clients that have the biggest problems, the ones that really need to change. Whether it’s that they need to break into new markets, reduce OpEx, whatever it might be for them, we have to align to that.
For us, value selling is embedded all across our organization, not just within our sales organization. It’s within our product management, it’s within marketing, it’s built into Salesforce. When our executive committee goes on client meetings, it’s what they use before they go into a meeting as a value prompter. It’s really us being as proficient as we can in the value-selling process so that we can sell to the right customers at the right time.
SS: You mentioned just a moment ago how important it is to be able to prepare your reps to go up against their competition. What, as a sales enablement function, have you done to arm your reps within your organization?
NB: Working with product management and product marketing to understand what our differentiators are. And I’m not just talking about the features and benefits and the capabilities here, I’m talking about what our differentiators enable the client to do that is different from our competitors. And that could be alternative solutions, as well. It’s enabling them to have a bigger conversation because although we may have a differentiator, that may not be of value to a particular customer. Therefore, it’s of no value.
We have to find out what it really is that the customer is looking for – what their ideal solution looks like, what their problems are – so that we can work with them on that best solution. We have comparator guides, you know, we have all that competitive intelligence. But the most powerful thing is being able to have those deep conversations with the customers about their problems and about their ideal solutions.
SS: Absolutely, that’s right in line with value selling. I’d love to also understand because you mentioned the cross-functionality that’s necessary in order for sales enablement to be successful. But what are some things that you’ve done at Infovista to collaborate across those departments and regions?
NB: At Infovista, we are a small team – I mentioned we have less than a thousand associates globally. But we are truly global, we’re all working in different time zones. But because we’re a small team, it means that we need each other and we all roll up our sleeves to get the work done. When I think day-to-day, I’m in contact with salespeople every day, with sales leaders every day, with our executive committee every day. It’s just part of what we do. To, as a whole company, grow together. That culture really comes from the top. I mentioned we have a new leader, he’s extremely collaborative – very open and transparent. He’s a salesperson, he has a sales background, that’s how he thinks. And that’s how our organization is changing, and that’s really exciting.
SS: I would love to talk to you and understand some of the initiatives you’ve been doing to date. I’d love to see if there are two we could talk about, but let’s start with one. What has been your most impactful sales enablement initiative to date and why?
NB: The most impactful for me has been introducing the sales methodology because prior to this there was not one. Infovista was a number of businesses that had come together – they had acquired a number of businesses. Each of these businesses weren’t siloed, they were working together, they were just all slightly doing things differently. And this was one of the ways we built the business case for value selling, to sort of have a common framework, have a common terminology across the business so that all of our sellers and the supporting business units all used the same language. That was really important for us.
Really, value selling as a salesperson is about your number. So for us, value selling is about turning 50% of those “noes” into “yeses”. And it’s about turning 50% of those “no decisions” into “yeses”. It’s about improving our forecasting accuracy. It’s about increasing our deal size, shortening the length of our sales cycles. It’s about practically helping us win more, and that’s what it’s doing for our business. So, that’s been the most powerful thing for us.
SS: Could you talk to me a little bit about what it was like to manage that change management process, rolling out that new process to your sales reps? How did you get them to widely accept and adopt it?
NB: First of all, it was getting the business – the execs – to understand what it was and why it was important. In value selling, part of the process is about quantifying the value to the business, so it was really important that I was able to quantify the value of value selling to our business. What it was going to do, bottom-line, for us. That took a long time. But we managed to do that.
It’s not inexpensive to make that commitment in the actual value selling methodology, but then obviously the whole training that goes in behind it is really, really costly. But if your ROI calculation works out, you’d be mad not to do it.
We then trained the executive committee. They didn’t go through the full two-days training course, but they did have training. And then we rolled it out to the management team, and then we rolled out to the next layer down, and then we rolled out to the global sales organization. When we were rolling it out to the global sales organizations, the managers and the SVPs were there, were present, and were part of the training.
We gave them exercises to do before the training – e-value selling – and then things to do after the training. It’s embedded to Salesforce.com, so we run reporting off it. But it’s also part of our review process. I personally sit in on two to three opportunity reviews a day. It’s a big part of what we do. This is how we get the “noes” to “yeses” and the “no decisions” to “yeses”. This is how it’s done. And it’s just embedded in what we do. And all we need to do now is just keep doing it, and getting more and more proficient.
SS: That’s amazing. It sounds like it’s already been wildly successful.
Would you like to talk about another initiative that you’ve done at Infovista, or just perhaps in a past life around sales enablement that’s been really impactful to the business?
NB: Another one that we have done at Infovista is an e-learning program. At Infovista, 18 months ago we had less than five key channel partners. It’s one of our routes to market. And we were very reliant on those few partners. We have an area of our business, the SD-WAN area of our business, where we have a very, very strong product and we have some very key differentiators. We knew that we needed to expand our channel business – and we’ve done that successfully, we’ve brought on a lot of new partners globally. We needed to enable those partners all around the world. And we’re talking thousands of sales partners globally.
We have a small team of channel account managers whose role it is to bring on those partners, train the salespeople and help them with leads and all of that. That’s a mammoth task, to do that, and we just weren’t scalable to be able to do that so we needed a solution. And so, what my team did was to build some e-learning. Some sales e-learning, some pre-sales, and some technical e-learning. We built that, with the help of our product management teams, and we created that e-learning – a very interactive, blended e-learning to be as fun as it possibly can be.
Then we rolled that out to enable nearly 7,000 salespeople globally. It’s been a huge success, and of course, when they do give training now, everybody has a base level of knowledge that they can then expand on. It means that the number of opportunities that we’re now working with has just gone through the roof. That’s what’s driving some of our business growth.
SS: 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 want to know more about let us know – we’d love to hear from you.