Episode 236: Lisa Contini on Best Practices for Improving Sales Productivity

1.4K View | 19 Min Read

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 am excited to have Lisa Contini from Redis join us. Lisa, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Lisa Contini: Thank you so much for inviting me to share my experience. I am the Vice President of sales enablement and go-to-market strategy for Redis. I started my career in sales many years ago out of college and I would say in the nineties I found a niche as an independent contractor and then built a business with my sisters where we worked with very large technology companies like HP, Oracle, and Cisco, helping them drive adoption around their sales methodology because many companies had methodologies that just sat in a binder on a bookshelf. What I did not realize at the time was that I was pioneering this concept of sales enablement. I’ve been in the field for probably 20 years or so. I have a lot of practical experience in sales and it’s my passion.

SS: Well, I’m excited to have you here with us today, Lisa. I’d love to jump right in based on your extensive experience in enablement, particularly around helping sales. In this current economic climate predicting trends is vital. Can you explain how you use data and analytics to identify early signs of potential decline in your seller’s productivity?

LC: Absolutely. Taking a look at leading indicators is really where the magic is. For years, many people would use lagging indicators. Many companies use lagging indicators such as the percentage of sellers to reach quota or even looking at quarterly or half yearly or yearly revenue goals. The problem, of course, is that looking at those numbers is that they’re lagging indicators and it doesn’t give you any time to fix anything. We take a fairly detailed look at all sorts of leading productivity indicators. That is everything from the number of new contacts that are added to our customer database. The number of contacts that are put into different sorts of sequences for the purpose of outreach through the number of meetings that an individual has. Then, we also look at things like deal age and conversion rates, etcetera. There’s really a whole plethora of numbers that we look at and we look at them constantly in order to find those trends that will signal sometimes it can be a different product that is across a particular region, particular sales segment, or the whole company.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. What are some of the key metrics that you track when it comes to sales productivity and how do you gather the right analytics?

LC: We actually, in the last two years have really focused on operationalizing how we use data to identify trends and sales productivity. One of the things that we did is we put together a scorecard that allows us to look all the way down to the rep level. Let me start there. With the individual sellers, we have about four different categories that we track for productivity. We look at data in the pipeline build and account planning, opportunity management, and close deals. Those are the different areas that we know provide us with these leading indicators. For account planning, it can be things like the number of account plans, and the activity on account plans, it’s not just about having the plan but it’s actually having the activity, and some of those activities will be like new opportunities created as a result of that plan. That’s a little bit of a longer-term view that we look at because account planning tends to be half-yearly and yearly.

The next category is what we call the top of the funnel and that’s where we look at pipeline generation. We look at pipeline generation, and certainly, as a company as a whole, we take a look at what marketing produces. We take a look at what is delivered through our sales development organization, but also reps. It’s very important for reps to own the building of their pipeline. We take a look at not just the pipeline ad, but also conversion rates and the age of that pipeline. When it comes to opportunity management we have a program that was developed by somebody on my team called Deal Health. We have a sales methodology that we piece together based on all the best things that are out in the market. Then, a gentleman on my team worked with sales operations to actually build this methodology into our CRM by sales stage.

Now, what that allows us to do then is to gather data and analyze data that shows us not just where the deal is in terms of the sale stages but at each sales stage there are different elements for health. That may have to do with who we’ve met, whether have we identified a business problem that the customer agrees needs to be fixed, etcetera. There are these different subcategories of data at each sales stage that we’re monitoring and that has a weight and a score against them. Now, as a seller or as a sales manager, I can take a look at the deals in a dashboard for any period of time, for this month, for this quarter based on the pipeline or sale stage. I can look and see what’s the health of these deals and where there may be a subscore. Then, it gives the salesperson and the manager an indication of where they need to be digging into that deal.

That’s an example of these are a couple of examples of things that we do at the rep level. Also at the rep level, one of the things that we’ve just started implementing that we do for each of our sellers is we created a scorecard for them that looks at their individual pipeline build, their own conversion rates, their average sales price, their average discount, their attainment, and we can look and based on that information we can tell somebody based on their productivity and activity, it looks like the number of meetings they are having per week needs to be stepped up a little bit because if they continue down the path based on their past performance they are going to end up short. Does that make sense, conceptually at least?

SS: It does and I love that. In fact, I’d like to drill in a little bit more on that, Lisa, because to the point that you’re making around seeing trends in some of the analytics that you’re looking at. Can you explain your process for determining how you then go about doing course correction?

LC: Yes, absolutely. We do look at the individual level, as I mentioned, but we also look at the sales organization by the market like whether it’s our mid-market or enterprise or strategic and we look at the aggregate numbers which are important to look at in order to find where there are within that sales role cross-functional dips in the attainment of these different metrics. Now, one of the things that I absolutely recommend to anybody that chooses to do this is that you look at medians because averages can hide lapses across a team. What I mean by that is you can look at a sales manager and say, wow, they’ve hit their quota every quarter over the past two years, but then if you look at the median attainment of each person on their team you can see often times that there’s a huge exposure to risk because they’re making that number based on one or two people. What we do is we have different metrics that we look at across each segment or part of a sales engagement cycle. We have those metrics that we talked about. We look at that for example, that is the top of the funnel, we look at conversion rates at the top of the funnel. Then we take a look at what’s going on mid-funnel and we’ll look at how we are doing with regard to the length of time that a deal is in a stage of qualifier scope versus onto the to the next place where it should go. We take a look at these metrics and the next thing we do is look at those metrics against different cuts of the sales organization, meaning attainment.

We look at those that are under 25% attainment, which we understand many times can have people that are ramping. We look up to 25% then we look at 25 to 70% and then 70% to 100 100% and over. The reason why we do that is that there’s nothing worse than investing time and money with sellers who are already doing just fine. We find that segmenting our sellers by attainment and then mapping these different leading indicators of data against that it helps us be able to narrow in on a group of people that are all struggling with likely a particular area of skill, tactics, or knowledge. Then, what we do is we have coursework that we have set up across all of those stages. What we do going into a new quarter, we go to the managers and we’ll say based on the scorecard, it looks like this person and this person are doing a really great job when it comes to getting their pipe built, but they’re lagging and they’re not getting stuff closed. You can see there’s this huge drop off after 60 days, it goes into nowhere as land. We’d like to have those folks join our workshop on accelerating deals through the late stages.

SS: Absolutely. I like your approach to that now. I noticed on LinkedIn that you have implemented a plan that significantly contributed to a 32% improvement in sales productivity. Right now improving sales productivity is definitely something that is top of mind for a lot of organizations. Can you share more about how you went about doing that?

LC: One of the ways that we did it, I don’t wanna say it’s counterintuitive but not what you would expect, which is we made a concerted effort to clean all garbage out of our pipeline. Our data will tell us after a certain date there’s a cliff. The chances of a deal closing after, let’s just say 90 days, it drops down to like .2%. One of the ways that we increased productivity was by removing those opportunities that reps should not be even focusing on and removing them from the pipeline. I’d love to say that it was our skills, although we did skills training, part of what we did is we helped reset a salesperson’s mind to less is more. It’s not about having 30 or 60 or 80 open opportunities that you haven’t touched in whatever period of time, but rather it’s about prioritizing your opportunities in any given quarter using data, both data that we have and external market data that are now available that will tell you things like this customer appears to be in a buying mood et cetera. We teach our reps how to focus and amazingly when you remove opportunities and deals and busy work and you force the reps to work on only a certain number of opportunities, the productivity in three quarters completely turned. It was amazing.

SS: Those are some very impressive results. I think you’re spot on when it comes to folks being a really important thing to drive for your sales reps, particularly in the year ahead. I’d love to understand how you take the work that you’re doing, the enablement initiatives, and what are some of your best practices for correlating those initiatives to the improvement that’s being seen in sales productivity.

LC: Good question. I’ve mentioned a lot so far about these different dashboards and data points that we look at. When we put together a dashboard we first work with sales leadership to gain agreement and this can be not just sales leadership, I should say this includes leadership from finance and from operations etcetera, and we’ll say, okay, do we agree that these four or five metrics are the best ones for us to be looking at with regard to, let’s say it’s pipeline development is a place where we’ve been having problems. Last year, as many people did, especially as this year has gone on, we started to see some big slips in pipeline generation. We looked at the analytics, and the data that we were using, and we gained agreement across all businesses that was okay. We agree that if we can move these leading indicators then we’ll be successful. The next thing we did then is we said, here’s our proposal, leadership team, these are the different workshops, coaching sessions, sales tools, these are the different requirements that we recommend that sales managers hold their salespeople to for this next quarter.

We get their agreement, and then the most important thing that we do is we report that out weekly, to at least two front-line management. Each week the SDR manager knows these are all of their SDRs here, here’s how they all are against their quota. These three people had a lagging indicator with the completing sequences or something and here’s how they’ve improved. By sharing the data at that level at the appropriate level of depth for the sales role and keeping in constant contact with the sales manager while we’re working with their reps, they can reinforce it and they’re always seeing those numbers. As a sales manager, I think that’s probably the hardest job in sales these days because there are many different competing priorities that are sort of begging for your attention. I actually see it in my team, we see it as our job to be watching those dials and surfacing these data indicators to the managers so that they know this is what we’re working on with their salespeople so that they can reinforce it.

SS: I love it. I think that’s phenomenal. Last question for you, Lisa, and I really appreciate the time I’ve learned so much already. We’ve talked a lot about how times are changing significantly right now and many enablement teams are really needing to prove their value. How do you leverage data and analytics to communicate enablement value to some of your stakeholders?

LC: Let me give you an example. We rolled out a new onboarding program last year and in the development of that onboarding program, we did some of the things that we do for all different parts of the business, which was, we looked at the last few years of data that we had around the performance of our ramping reps and we created targets. We looked at the last three years, the sellers that ramped the most quickly and the most successfully, here is what their activity looked like. Those were the metrics that we used in order to report back to leadership on how effective our onboarding was because our arm boarding program then, all of the different content pieces and segments were directly aligned with moving the needle in those different areas.

For example, in order to drive pipeline, a seller needs to understand the market that we’re in, the competitive landscape, and the differentiators of our product and they need to be able to articulate that. We would take metrics around pipeline ad and persona engagement and we would use that as a measure of okay, this is we’re going to say that we’re doing well with the content that we’re teaching around market and persona because we’re seeing a successful ramp against building a pipeline with that persona. One of the ways that we can communicate our value to stakeholders is through data and numbers. The other thing is by being actively involved with our sellers and with our manager’s side by side using our own personal sales skills and experience.

I’m kind of picky with my team, I require anybody that’s on the sales enablement team to have recent meaning within the last 3 to 4 years, and recent relevant sales experience, it’s a really difficult thing to try to earn credibility with sellers and sales leaders if you’ve never been out there doing it yourself. Not only are we able to communicate or show our value by things like here’s the numbers. Look, we have this program, and isn’t it getting better, but also by our participation in go-to-market strategy meetings, how we partner with our alliances and partner organization and with our marketing organization and we see our function as the glue between these different parts of the business that need to work together in concert in order to deliver results. I think it’s a combination of the numbers that we have to back up the assertions that we make and then the ability to have really credible conversations around sales and selling and strategy with our leaders.

SS: I think that is phenomenal. Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing some of your best practices and tips and tricks around how to leverage analytics to help reinforce enablement value. Really appreciate the time.

LC: You bet. It’s my 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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