Podcast

Episode 243: Kristin Klinkner on Building a Healthy Sales Culture

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I’m 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 Kristin Klinkner from Zumper join us. Kristin, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Kristin Klinkner: Hi Shawnna. I am the sales enablement manager at Zumper, which is a platform you can use to find your next rental property, whether long-term, short-term, or vacation rentals, we have them all in one place. We’ve got a fantastic user experience and because of that, we attract our audience organically, and then we’re able to provide our clients with high-quality leads for renters to their properties.

I’ve been at Zumper for a bit over two years. I’m a team of one, and this is the first job I’ve had with the official sales enablement title. I took a really non-traditional path to a formal sales enablement position as I spent the first 18 years of my career in the non-profit sector. The last 15 of those were for the American Cancer Society, where I started as a local staffer working on raising funds through events and sponsorships in a local community. I moved into a manager role and then into a national role coordinating corporate engagement strategy for some of the world’s largest fundraising events.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of that work in the early part of my career was sales. Fundraising is sales. My national role was really sales enablement. I built the strategy, infrastructure, marketing, resources, support, and training for thousands of employees and tens of thousands of volunteers to attract corporate financial support, essentially B2B sales. We were hugely successful raising around 80 million per year for cancer research and support through just my B2B programs, but when Covid hit, our in-person fundraising event method for the American Cancer Society had to change as our strategy for bringing in revenue.

My department was eliminated, as I’m sure many people can relate to back during the pandemic, but I really saw that as a great opportunity to find a role that encompassed all of what I truly love doing and it boiled down to the positive impact, the changes in programming, infrastructure, and strategy for gaining corporate partners through others providing the resources necessary for others to be successful in landing those partners, not doing it myself. That’s what I really loved about the last role I had there. We also had just gone through a transition to Salesforce as our CRM and I liked learning the technology and figuring out how I could use that technology to help our fundraisers achieve goals.

I started looking at the SaaS world and tech companies and startups, and I discovered some podcasts, probably sales enablement PRO, that mentioned sales enablement. As I dug in and joined webinars and online career fairs like I know you all hosted, I heard leaders in enablement talk about their roles and strategies to be effective, and I knew this was the right place for me, but I needed to figure out how to translate my career in nonprofits to sales, and that’s where a huge network of sales enablement professionals were really sold me on it and helped me find my way.

It was really scary at first, but I started being vulnerable and just asking to connect with some of those speakers in those webinars and asking them just to connect or give guidance. So many of them were willing to chat and give coaching advice and connect me to other leaders. That’s really where I started to take off, and one of the best pieces of advice I got was to do a better job of clearly translating fundraising to sales. That piece of coaching that I received. When I figured out how to do that, I very quickly secured a few offers and accepted my first enablement position.

That’s a really long-winded way to say that the coaching I received allowed me to see a clear path to achieve what I wanted to do with my career shift. I immediately started finding ways when I got into that sales enablement role to build the type of into the company where I work now.

SS: I love that. One of the things that stood out to me about you on LinkedIn was that you really focus on building a sales culture that values coaching, as you mentioned, and celebrates success, which I can’t stress how important that is these days. I’d love to learn more about some of the ways that you’ve built this into your company’s culture.

KK: I really do value a strong culture of coaching and celebrating wins in a sales team. Coaching is not something that came naturally to me, but I’ve seen that as more and more people in an organization embrace it, we can achieve greater things. Taking a step back for a second, about me, I’m a doer, a problem solver. When I was younger, I felt if I could just figure out a way to do something and then share it with other people, they could just copy what I did and we’d all be fantastic top performers, right? That didn’t go over super well, especially when I became a people manager, so I did a lot of introspection and work on emotional intelligence, and that helped me see that I didn’t need to, nor should I, solve everything for everyone because when I tried to do that, nobody was bought in and they really didn’t adopt my solution long term even if they gave it a shot.

Learning about and improving my EQ helped me figure out how to be a coach instead of a fixer, and that really gave better results for the whole team. There’s a quote in an episode of Ted Lasso that has really stuck with me, and it’s something to the effect of all people being different people, and that’s what I think building a culture of coaching can do. Explaining to our sales leaders or coaching them to see that all of the sellers on their team are different and need different approaches and methods of feedback delivery and have different learning styles is a good way to introduce some initial changes to our onboarding and ongoing development opportunities. The way I did that was by adding role plays to our formal onboarding and training cadence.

I know people hate role plays, because I kind of hate them too, but the vulnerability you need to show and the trust that you need to give that everybody there on that call or who’s giving you feedback is there to help you. All of that helps build engagement and really solidifies every person on a team or, hopefully, solidifies for everybody on the team who’s involved with this, that they are a valuable part of that team or that company and the shared success. When you’re open to receiving that help, many times it results in growth or a tangible win that then we can call attention to.

It’s sort of a cycle, right? Then as we start seeing those wins, based on a result of something we learned in a role play, it gains acceptance as a development strategy and garners buy-in for continuing that type of exercise. Even when I ask really directly after a role play, like, how’d you feel about that, I usually start by sharing where I messed up and saying like, ooh, I felt really awkward at this part. Then people also feel like it’s okay to say like, yeah, I didn’t love that either. In the end, they always talk about what they did learn and how it really did help them feel more comfortable with whatever skill they’re working on. It’s kind of those shared awkward experiences that propel a team to build stronger bonds, have more engagement, greater success, and then eventually enjoy helping others and celebrating those successes as a team.

SS: I love that. One of the ways that you’ve improved coaching at your organization is through sales management training to help them also become better coaches for their reps. Why are the role of the manager and their effectiveness as a coach so important, especially amid changing times?

KK: I think we can all agree that coaching is better in the long run. For somebody coaching them to find a result is better than me just fixing it. I think we can also agree and I can get a team of leaders to agree that if I’m the only person providing that coaching that’s not very effective either. Having several people in an organization who are strong coaches out in the field with our sellers can really amplify my work in enablement. I can’t be in every sales meeting and my particular industry is very face-to-face for our sales, so I can’t even listen to recorded calls to give coaching.

That’s not a function of our company for me in enablement that I know a lot of other companies have. Instead, it all has to be done either as a group on a call or face-to-face when out in the field and really making those presentations. When I know that a manager who is going to be in some of those meetings is capable of providing the coaching a seller needs to improve, or even just to keep doing the things they’re already really good at, that’s easier for me to focus then on correcting skills and knowledge gaps that can be detrimental to our sales. It’s amplified even further when our sellers feel comfortable coaching each other. So we incorporate that a lot at Zumper too.

For example, as I said, our industry is multifamily real estate. I didn’t know anything about that when I started here. I know how to sell and I know how to do enablement and coaching, all that kind of stuff, but multifamily, I’m not the expert there. Luckily we have a lot of those, like Patty, one of our VPs. She provides a lot of the coaching right alongside me for our sellers and where I can point out a different strategy or execution or something like that, Patty has actually had these conversations with clients so many times. The coaching that she provides is a whole other level of credibility and expertise, and when she takes the time to coach, it really encourages our sellers to grow because they see that somebody else, a teammate is investing her time in them and they can also see that these things work because of the massive success that she’s had in her career doing the same thing that they’re doing.

SS: I love that. What does that sales manager training program look like though? What do you think about measuring the success of that program?

KK: A lot of our sales leaders are competitive and they want to be the best. On that road, it’s maybe easy to default to ‘I’ll just fix it myself now and I’ll try to remember to talk to you more about this later’. The way we build our manager training is that it’s a lot of practice and it is, again, those live role plays and exercises and really learning and ingraining it in your day-to-day work how to take that pause and maybe rewire those managers for the tendency to immediately fix for somebody else, and instead shifting to ask questions and coaching a seller to see the fixes that they need to make for themselves.

That’s often a big change for a manager. I often start by explaining the benefits in the terms of what’s in it for me. The manager may have more time to do other things or focus on other team members, build strategies, and even maybe take some time off that they don’t seem to find enough time to do during the year. When we flip it in the terms of like, what’s in it for me, it might be a little uncomfortable at first for me to not just fix this and to see if they can work through it, but in the long run, it is going to pay off. Then, we teach how to coach instead of fixing and hardwiring that defaults to coaching. We practice coaching over a substantial period of time, so it’s not just a one-and-done type of learning. This is a really ingrained long-term program that we work on all the time.

Practicing with other leaders, with me, applying what they learn to sellers and receiving feedback and coaching on their own coaching, and then we repeat it over and over again, and that’s what helps it to stick. When they start using it and seeing the growth in their teammates, the bigger or more frequent wins that they get, they really become invested in coaching as a strategy for leadership and it helps the culture of coaching really take hold at our company.

Some of the ways that we measure this, yes, you can see more frequent wins or bigger wins or things for each of the sellers you’ve been working with. There are some of those sorts of lagging indicators that you can see movement, but there are other ways that we measure this at our company, and that is through engagement surveys. What we’ve seen as we’ve started to build the culture of coaching where we’re all supporting each other and working together to get better and improve, we see that people are really connecting with each other and that has improved our engagement scores tremendously. It’s really helped build a lot of teamwork when we are mostly remote and don’t actually get to see each other face-to-face very often.

SS: I love that. I have one last question for you. You have mentioned on LinkedIn too that you’ve seen some exceptional business outcomes from this approach to building a healthy sales culture. What do you think about tying the impact of sales culture back to things that the business cares a lot about?

KK: I think one of the things our company focuses on a lot is our core values. We’ve got five core values and we like everybody to feel part of the team. We call each other roomiez with a Z at the end. It’s funny, we add Zs to everything, so roomiez with a Z. When I started during the height of Covid, a lot of that engagement and people were shifting to a remote environment and they really started feeling disengaged, not just with each other, but I think even with the company. As we, in the sales team, started to build that culture where we’re all going to work together on this thing, we’re going to help each other out and we’re going to celebrate those wins, we really have seen an improvement in commitment to our company, commitment to the key performance indicators and the objectives of our organization, and just a real general enthusiasm to achieve it together and to do whatever you need to do, help wherever you need to help build the relationship within the company internally even, or eternally with clients in order to build that culture that we’re looking for in our company, which is just very inclusive and celebratory. Did that answer your question?

SS: That did. It’s important I think, to your point, to ground it back into the core principles of the company, so that makes a ton of sense.

KK: Obviously we have hard dollar goals and numbers to hit, but a lot of times what I’ve seen is sometimes it is just like a feel and those can be just as important to hit those number goals as well.

SS: Absolutely, because, well, there’s number goals behind some of the fields too, like retention of your top employees and all that fantastic stuff. Also, mental health keeps you from having to take massive amounts of sick days. Totally.

KK: 100%, yes.

SS: Thank you so much for joining us.

KK: Thank you for having me.

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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