Episode 223: Jeromy Proulx on Project Management Skills for Enablement Practitioners

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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 Jeromy Proulx from Humana join us. Jeromy, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Jeromy Proulx: Hi Shawnna, thank you for having me. I’m Jeromy Proulx and I currently serve as the head of sales technology and transformation at Humana. We’re a leading Fortune 50 healthcare organization that provides a number of different products and services to help people achieve lifelong well-being. In addition to my responsibilities at Humana, I also serve as an adjunct faculty at Northeastern University, a top 50 research institution in Boston Massachusetts. My career started in sales and marketing across several different industries including consumer packaged goods, investments, and insurance products, before stepping into sales management, execution and enablement roles over the last several years.

SS: Fantastic. Well, we’re excited to have you here Jeromy. I noticed that you also actually teach as a professor at Northeastern University and one of your areas of expertise is around project management. From your perspective, why are project management skills so critical for enablement professionals?

JP: Thank you for the question, Shawnna. I believe project management skills are imperative regardless of what role you serve to an organization, but more particularly within the sales enablement space. My focus in the classroom has been on the intersection of common waterfall project management skills and agile project management skills that have become more prevalent in the workplace today. These are skills that absolutely transcend both disciplines, such as being an effective communicator, the art of negotiation and influence, general time management, and risk management skills, just to name a few. If you think about it, these are also critical skills to being a great enablement leader. Whether you’re focused on training and development activities or enablement tools and technology, you will undoubtedly have to use project management skills to deliver value to the organization. Over the last decade, the emergence of agile project management has created greater alignment in my opinion with the enablement space as you think about some of the core principles and agile methodologies.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. You talk about this a little bit, but what are some of the key principles of project management that you found most essential to your role, particularly leading sales technology and transformation efforts?

JP: One of the first agile principles centers around the rapid and continuous delivery of value. Whereas traditional project management methods would focus more on a big bang that could take several months to get to. In the sales enablement space, it’s all about the value of delivering to field-facing roles. If you have the ability to deploy practices, test, learn, and iterate, that is way more effective than doing a significant amount of work only to find out you missed the mark in the end. Agile inherently promotes this fail-forward mentality and teams which ensures that you achieve the desired impact as efficiently as possible in your work. By taking this test, learn and iterate mindset, you hit three other agile principles, simplicity is essential, regular reflection, and continuous excellence promotes agility. As an example in action, if you are tasked with building a 90-day sales onboarding program, rather than go build out all 90 days in detail, you would break down the work into minimum viable program elements that would allow you to get some feedback, incorporate that feedback and enhance the design. That might mean focusing on the first 30 days, or even smaller increments to understand what are the right things for a rep to know to improve ramp or time to market.

SS: I love that approach. Now when it comes to implementing new tools in your tech stack, what are some of your best practices for managing that process?

JP: This is a great question and I think there are two parts to this answer. First, is the project management side of implementation, and the second is the change management components. When implementing new tools, there was some advice I received from a leader a few years back as we worked through a pretty tough transformation and merger of two companies. She always used to say for every project it is imperative that there’s clarity on scope and that everyone operates with a sense of urgency. That’s not really earth-shattering advice but it’s a good grounding factor whenever you’re working towards bringing new capabilities to your sales partners. Having clarity on the scope means you’re crisp on what the new tools are intended to do, who your impacted audience is, and ultimately your path that gets you to that objective. Without a clearly defined and documented scope, you’ll end up moving the goalpost for the project and driving an increased risk of going behind schedule or more adversely, over budget.

When it comes to a sense of urgency. I trace this back to the aforementioned points on value. The quintessential saying in sales time is money, the more time you take to implement a tool ultimately means time lost when the value could have been delivered to your end user.

The second part of this answer is the change management components that support the delivery. We often get sucked into the project plan for the development of these capabilities and overlook the most important part, which is how we generate excitement and desire with the end users. Don’t discount how important this is having great change management, go-to-market or operational readiness plan can make an incredible difference in driving a successful tool or technology implementation. People often think of change management plans as being a communication plan, and while communication is absolutely a major component of the change management plan, it’s not the only thing, it’s about managing everything from the why we’re giving this awesome tool to you, to how you manage resistance and provide reinforcement as individuals move through the change curve. There’s a ton of research that points to, you know, nearly two-thirds of implementations failing due to the inability to manage behaviors and drive adoption. Two-thirds is a lot.

SS: Absolutely, it is. As you mentioned, one challenge that can arise is driving that adoption, especially amongst reps who may be resistant to change. How can enablement practitioners overcome this challenge to help sales reps navigate digital transformation?

JP: I’m a big believer in the adkar model for change management and every go-to-market or operational readiness plan should address each element within that model. Adkar stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, assessment, and reinforcement. While there is no one component of the adkar model that’s more important than the other, I want to focus our conversation on desire as executing well in that stage is the best way to manage rep resistance right out of the gate. Think of desire as either the carrot or the stick to quoting that often used idiom. In the enablement space nearly everything a team will deliver is an effort of making reps more efficient and effective in their job with the carrots being more time, more sales, and ultimately more commission in their pocket. To take that a bit further an approach I’ve used several times is to designate a pilot or change champion group. They get to be a part of the sausage making if you will and ultimately lead the change in their respective roles as you start to inch closer to deployment.

A dear friend of mine and author of The Snowball System, Mo Bunnell, described this approach well. It’s called the red velvet rope approach. When you bring a certain group of people inside the red velvet rope, they feel that exclusivity, that special treatment that not everyone is getting, and in nearly all situations, they become your biggest supporters. Inversely, those that are outside of the velvet rope start to hear that positivity from your change champions and inherently develop a sense of excitement and desire for the change. If you do this well, you’ve likely captured the hearts and minds of 90% of the group. Now for the remaining 10%, this is where the preparation for your front-line managers with a plan to handle objections and resistance becomes important. Research shows that when it comes to talking about the impacts and importance of changes, they don’t want to hear from the enablement team or even the executive leaders. Over 70% of the recipients of change want that detail to come directly from their front-line leader. So ensuring that you equip sales leaders to handle those conversations and potential objections is very important.

SS: Absolutely, I like that adkar model. Now, beyond adding new tools, what are some of your best practices for ensuring the long-term efficiency and effectiveness of your existing text stack to help drive up productivity?

JP: In today’s world of sales enablement there are so many tools and technologies that can drive productivity and I think a lot of people inherently go to we need another application or vendor to solve X problem when really that problem could be the result of poor adoption in another capability. From my perspective, there are three core components in ensuring that you get efficiency and effectiveness out of your technology. Knowing your platform KPIs, creating a regular cadence of communication, and an approach to ongoing reinforcement are those 3 components. If you know what outcomes you want to see, maybe that’s time spent in a particular application or tool, you communicate regularly on how things are going, top to bottom of the organization, and use that data to build that reinforcement plan, maybe that’s more training, maybe that’s some sort of compensation penalty. By doing those three things consistently you’ll ensure you’re getting the most out of your text stack.

The other piece of guidance I would give here is to look for opportunities for integration and rationalization for the organizations. I’ve led we don’t even consider a tool if there isn’t a CRM integration since that’s the primary technology we want our sales teams to utilize. There are so many things that a rep could use to execute their job effectively and going back to the agile principle of simplicity is essential, either rationalizing these tools into one vendor or having integrations that make them feel like it’s one vendor is a straightforward way to avoid barriers to utilization.

SS: I do like that approach. Now, the last question for you, Jeromy. Looking ahead to the next year, how do you think the digital landscape will continue to evolve and how can enablement practitioners effectively prepare reps for those transformations on the horizon?

JP: There’s a ton of research pointing to digital or omnichannel sales interactions being the way of the future coming out of the pandemic. B2B buyers have shifted their preferences to digital and when you think about the purchasing process, less than 20% of that time in the process will the buyer actually spend with a sales rep. That means as a sales rep, you need to find ways for you or your brand to show up in a digital mode. As a sales manager, you need to ensure that reps lean into those capabilities that promote that digital engagement. So much revenue intelligence can be gathered through digital channels and this can be incredibly insightful to how that buyer’s journey progresses. As a practitioner, preparation starts with the organization’s culture. The saying of change is the only constant is so true. We continue to be in this time of unprecedented technological advancement and that means the way in which we sell will also evolve. I believe if you create a culture of empowerment, and transparency and remain highly communicative, your organization will be less change adverse and will decrease the amplitude between the peaks and valleys of your transformation.

The last piece of advice here is to watch for leaky sponges. When you think about the pace of transformation, like a sponge, an organization can only absorb so much. When you start to see people’s sponges leak, you know it’s time to take pause, let them dry out, and give them the ability to absorb more.

SS: I like that analogy. Jeromy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. I appreciate your insights on digital transformation within sales enablement.

JP: Thank you Shawnna. It was great speaking with you.

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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