Podcast

Episode 247: Christian Palmer on Establishing Credibility With Reps

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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 Christian Palmer from Riskified join us. Christian, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Christian Palmer: Thanks so much, Shawnna. Happy to be here. In my role at Riskified, I’m the global revenue enablement manager. I sit on a global enablement team that focuses primarily on the sales org that handles both inbound and outbound selling as well as our customer success function as well. Riskified is a fraud and abuse platform that aids and assists e-commerce companies to make sure that only the good customers are the ones who are buying and performing acts on their websites.

SS: We are excited to have you here, Christian. Thank you so much for joining us. Now, as an enablement leader, I’d love to hear from you. Why is it so critical to establish credibility with reps?

CP: This is a great question and I feel like it does not get spoken up enough about as we go through all the different enablement functions that we take on on a daily basis. When you think about enablement itself, your audience is your sales reps, your clients are your reps essentially. They can be your biggest advocates internally, not only to your enablement department and your manager but also to sales leadership and cross-functionally. What I think is really important here in establishing that credibility is to have strategic communication and more specifically within that over-communication.

I hold this to a pretty high standard when you enter an organization. You want to be able to shape the behaviors of the reps to help impact the future of that function and also get ahead of any future change that’s going to come and make it a little bit less of a blow to the sales function, especially for reps that have been there for quite a while. If you have great credibility coming in and you can establish that off the bat, your voice will matter that much more. You are destined to be able to make an impact very quickly, and like anything else, similar to sales, enablement is in the business of influencing. It is an influential role and because of that, having that credibility with reps is going to be so powerful for you down the line.

SS: Absolutely. I think that’s important to establish, especially for long-term relationships. What do you think enablement teams are commonly missing when it comes to this and how can some teams avoid these mistakes?

CP: Sales enablement itself is still relatively new. I think you guys, as well as myself and other people in the community, are still defining what sales enablement is. It’s funny because, in past roles and any other places that I worked probably prior to a couple of years ago, it felt like I was doing an enablement role, even though I was titled trainer, or learning and development and what have you. I think now as the role becomes a little bit more mature, there are probably some best practices that you can be thinking about that don’t generally come top of mind to people when they enter an org.

I think the biggest one is when it comes to reps, not being able to understand their perspective, and this is not dependent on you being in a previous sales role, it could still happen even if you’re in a sales role, but obviously will happen a little bit more if you’re coming from a non-sales background. It is important to align with what the reps are really going to care about. What at the end of the day are they there to do, and whatever it is that you’re asking them or working on with them, how is it going to benefit them? That should be at the forefront of every initiative that you’re trying to push. Start with why I think is a good way to kind of emphasize that. Very Simon Sinek of me, but essentially always starting with like, Hey, why are we here? What are we trying to get out of this? What’s the point really?

I think that oftentimes people come into the role, they just kind of dig in and jump right in, and they don’t necessarily take the time to see what it is that reps really care about. In addition to that, I think another area, and this is probably going to apply a little bit more towards folks that are on larger enablement teams, but staying siloed to just your enablement department and not branching out cross-functionally. In roles past that, I’ve been in a lot of the times where there would be teams that don’t necessarily interact with enablement that often but, could benefit from having an enablement voice in the room. At the very least, be a liaison to the sales team about any messaging or things that need to be communicated if there is any particular confusion around what it is that they’re trying to get across and how I can deliver that to the sales team, I think is important.

The last one, I think it’s commonly missed is something that I think in any role, you’re entering an org you really should take the time to do. This is a very traditional piece that I think is probably a part of everybody’s 30, 60, and 90-day plan, but more specifically the 30-day piece, but not building real relationships with reps is a problem. I always tend to start off personally with folks, and this could be applicable to sales org that only have 10 to 15 reps, or similar to the org that I’m in now, which has north of a hundred.

Taking the time to learn more about them, I’m not just saying like where they live so you can ask them what the weather’s like, but also what interests them, who’s in their life that’s important, why did they choose this role in the first place? All those things show that you really do care about them, and I think in order to avoid all of these different mistakes, you really do want to take a concerted approach with who you’re working with. Again, whether or not you were in a sales role previously, kind of putting yourself in the shoes of a sales rep is really important here.

If I was a sales rep and an enablement person was coming into the organization, how would I want them to exhibit themselves? How would I want them to work with me? What’s the best way of learning? Can they pivot and be flexible and necessary? Those are all the things that I would be caring about as an individual contributor who’s going to work with a support function like this, but it often is amiss and I tend to see it a lot more with organizations that have leadership that’s not echoing positive messaging about enablement.

What I mean by that is your senior leaders, your C-suite, really should be the ones who are helping advocate why having the role is going to be important for the organization that’s not happening. It can be difficult to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success.

SS: Now, you touched on a few tips and tricks on how to begin to build relationships with sales reps, but do you have advice for our audience on how to do so and how to start gaining their trust?

CP: As I had mentioned before, getting to know them personally, I think is a really important piece. Not only in a group setting but more importantly individually. If you want to insert yourself into projects, initiatives, and conversations, you are positioning yourself to kind of become an agent of change in that case, and if you’re involving yourself more often, the more agency you’re going to have when it comes to change management in the future.

A lot of the times how I generally start, and this has kind of been like the de facto starting point for me in any org, whether or not I was joining in an enablement capacity, is to be vulnerable. Recognize that you don’t have all the answers and that you’re here to learn just as much as they are. Emphasize the journey of learning and how impactful one nugget of knowledge can be to a rep and how that can change their entire perspective on their role and what it is that they can impact.

I always will come in straight up acknowledge the fact that I don’t have knowledge around specific topics or enablement is still ongoing, you know, function that’s being developed and I’m here for the ride, but I by no means, know more than you guys do, and I’ll be wanting to learn just as much from you, especially upfront as you will be wanting to learn from me. That’s definitely number one.

I think the second piece, and this is kind of an assumed one, but one thing it’s lost in the sauce, especially when you have a lot of priorities and projects you’re walking into, but deliver on what you say you’re going to. What I mean by that is if you say you’re going to do something for somebody, whether it’s following up with a Slack message or helping out with another person, or facilitating something, whether it’s a session or a project, or let’s say document that they’re going to walk away with, do what it is that you say you’re going to do.

I think this is a special piece to add to it. Ideally do it ahead of the time that you suggest. Anytime I’ve been a part of a project with a group, let’s say it’s like writing up different emails and how they could be structured, I would give some type of date that I was gonna be circling back to them on. Let’s say it’s the following call that we’re going to be meeting up on a recurring basis maybe like a week later, and then I would have the work done like the next day or the day after so then those reps know like, hey, I’m way ahead of schedule. Christian already sent this over to me, so we’re moving right now.

The few other ones are to be okay with citing specific examples from conversations with reps individually, and then inserting those into larger group conversations. I don’t mean this just on a work front, like, hey, this rep had a great deal that was similar to this, do you want to discuss that? But also on a personal level too. At the beginning of conversations or the beginning of a meeting, let’s say where all the small talk happening, like, oh, hey, you’re working from home today, the weather’s really nice here, bring up things that maybe another person had revealed to you, like one rep maybe went to the spa or something and they had an unbelievable experience there getting a great Thai massage, let’s say, and then say, hey, you know, I heard Zach really got a nice Thai massage, do you wanna share with the group how awesome that was?

Those small things really do indirectly help you build relationships with the larger group and ideally with that person that you’re calling out to. The fact that you remember those specific details and then you bring them up again shows that you really were listening to the person.

I think the last piece is to help build the relationships with reps is again, a little indirect, like the previous point, but gets incredible buy-in from sales leadership. You’re bearing a weight that they likely have had to hold up until this point, so you’re truly helping them do their job more effectively. A lot of the time you’ll have a sales leader who’s one of the people that’s interviewing you, and those are the people that generally are going to be the ones you’re probably going to be working quite closely with.

If you nail the interview, you score a home run or you have a slam dunk type of interview, that sales leader is gonna be advocating for you from day one, even though you have no knowledge about the company, its product, or what it is that they do. The more you have that buy-in, the better it’s going to extend to their reps. If the reps really love that manager, they’re going to take what that manager says as a band and we’re all playing on the same team here. If the manager is not as big of a fan for you, nor are they echoing sentiments that you mentioned, that can be a little bit debilitating to your credibility in the role.

SS: I can absolutely see that. How can you also go about showing reps that you have their best interest in mind, and that you’re not really just trying to make more work for them? In other words, how do you show them what’s in it for them as, as you mentioned at the onset?

CP: This is a great question that somewhat for me has a simple answer, which is to help them with the work. I mean, an example of this is, I had mentioned it before, but I like creating an email sequence and the content of each email. How is it positioned? How are we starting it? How are we ending it? What’s the messaging? What’s the subject line? How can we make it as punchy as possible so that we’re getting a little bit more than just a good open rate, but instead we’re getting a reply rate that’s stellar?

An example of this was when a rep had found a great article around a topic and we decided to base a sequence around that article weaving in the story of the article throughout the four to five emails. By the time the prospect gets to the fifth email, they know now who Riskified is, let’s say. I purposely don’t commit to doctoring up a rough draft of that, or another similar type of project. If somebody obviously asks me to help out with it or whatnot, I will jump in, but I purposely don’t commit or say it out loud and then I actually do it in the next day or two and help them jumpstart whatever further brainstorming there may be or edits that need to be had. I think that surprise shock element is refreshing for a rep. Those reps maybe we’re not expecting me to have come up with the four or five emails within a day or two, but hey, it’s there and ready for them to go. That’s very much appreciated.

I think another piece of this kind touches on the EQ portion, which is that professionals need to have empathy and understand the life of a sales rep and wherever possible look to reduce their cognitive load. Reps are thinking about a lot of different things and fluctuating between this deal that deals with what’s going on internally, processes, infrastructure, and all of those different role responsibilities. The job’s hard enough as it is, so you want to position yourself to look more like a teammate, not as much as like an authoritative figure up top, similar to how their leader is viewed.

Another way that you can kind of help them see that, hey, you know, I’m here to really help you and what’s going to be in for you is over-communicate, follow up, even when you don’t have anything legit to come back to them with. This is something that great sellers do. I’ve had a lot of success with it in my time selling. I used to tell a client, hey, I don’t have an answer yet for you, but I’m working on it and I’ll circle back with you on this date. It goes an incredibly long way, and I think more often than not, we see the flip side of that, which is, hey, you never followed up with me, or, hey, we don’t really know where this is going.

Always take that time to respond to somebody. Don’t leave a person hanging. Always let them know like, hey, I am working on this. I just wanted to make sure we touched base. That really does help show them that what’s in it for them is that they’re going to have somebody who’s going to help them out with the work, be empathetic to their situation and help them and point them in the right direction, and also somebody who’s reliable and will follow up with them as much as possible.

SS: I love that. Now on that point, we’ve talked about it a few times, what’s in it for them. For enablement practitioners who don’t have a sales background or may be further removed from individual contributors or IC roles, I think trying to figure out how to position what’s in it for them might feel a little daunting. How can leaders build credibility with sales reps in a way that’s both relatable and authentic?

CP: I used to think that not having a sales background would be a detriment to somebody coming into a sales enablement type role, but it’s really actually the opposite because I think you can offer perspectives that maybe sales reps are not thinking about. I think if you look at it the same way that you would actually conduct best practice sales behaviors in the past, it’s very similar. Ask thought-provoking questions. This helps you show that, hey, I’m listening to what you’re saying. I want to build off of that, and it also allows you to help show your authenticity about the way you’re thinking.

The types of questions you want to kind of start off with, it’s again, going back to like getting to know that rep upfront. Start with personal-type questions, not anything that you could just find out from their LinkedIn. Go a little bit deeper than that. From there, you can ask more opinion-styled questions like, why do you think you’re feeling this way or where do you think this deal could fall short? Then the last level is a little bit more developed, which is like observational. How many of these deals have not worked out as a result of this issue in maybe the last six months or so?

You can follow up the personal questions with some anecdotes of your own past experience and honestly, if you can align non-sales experience, I think that’s even better because it’s going to show that you can relate on a non-sales level and then follow up opinion and observational questions with that empathy and the like.

Sellers really don’t want to be told what to do, but they will answer great questions all day, especially if it is things about them. People love talking about themselves. I think if we think a little bit less about like how to position ourselves with the things that we tell them to do and more so how can we learn more about them and show them that we’re eager to understand what they have going on, who they are, what do they care about that really will help people propel themselves to the next level.

SS: I think that is phenomenal advice. Last question for you, Christian. You now work with, I believe, over 150 reps across sales and customer success departments. What are some of your best practices for building credibility at scale?

CP: I think especially when you’re in a global type of enablement function, sellers differ across different cultures. It can be difficult to see the same way I would establish credibility upfront in the US may be different in a different region. Understanding the nuances between what’s culturally acceptable as a sales rep in different regions can be really effective.

Also, the way that they learn a lot of the time, and the way that you build credibility at scale will depend a lot on how developed the infrastructure is within the sales organization. If we start with like, maybe more smaller startup leaner type teams, you can focus on the simplicity of it, which is people, process, and platforms. For people it’s like what teams are successful, which are struggling, do those teams interact with each other, is there any plan to develop those roles further and or change them down the road depending on how well they’re doing.

For process, what priorities do they have? Go down all the way down to activity metrics, like how many emails are they sending, or the flow of the sales process. What are the bottlenecks within that? What potential solutions are there that we can take action near term and then long term? And then lastly, for the platform, it’s going to be both from a proprietary platform, if that’s what your business is promoting, or for any tools that the sales teams use. Can we consolidate those? What is working well? What needs to go? Is the platform where it needs to be from a selling standpoint versus what are we actually selling?

In the case of maybe some businesses promoting on the website, hey, we have a certain proprietary platform it solves for this and does this, that, and the third, what is actually going on in the day-to-day. That will help you kind of understand and be able to bridge the gap in conversations with folks that are across all those different departments because you’ll show like, hey, I understand the inner workings of the teams, I understand the processes that we have in place, or lack thereof, and platform wise, are we aligned or are we not aligned? Where are we?

For larger teams, it is going to be a little bit more ambiguous. One thing I really do like to do is I tend to get myself out there immediately and early. One thing I’ve done to help differentiate myself, this is a practice that I’ve learned from one of my favorite directors in my past role is I send a Slack video introducing myself, talking through what I’m there to do, what I’m not so great at. That’s where the vulnerability aspect comes in, where reps could help me, and how I’m going to help them.

I usually tie in some type of sales tip or talk track that they can walk away with, and that’s proven very popular in the past and people ended up yearning to get to Sales Juice Fridays, as I’d like to call it where I’d do something funny. I would make a joke or something like that and especially in organizations where you don’t tend to see as much, rah-rah, not to say that rah rah-ing is the end all and be-all of an enablement function, it definitely is not, but it is helps. I think if you’re going to kind of promote yourself, you really need to be visible. Sending a video to a group of 200 reps, let’s say, will really get right in their face with who you are.

This is going back to a previous point but get in good with the sales leadership. Their voice is going to go a lot further than yours, especially in the beginning, so if they’re shouting about you from the rooftops to their higher-ups and other reps, their reps on larger calls, that helps build your presence in the org. Always make it a best practice to ask a sales leader to echo your same sentiments with their teams, with or without you there so there is alignment.

When they hear reps hear me speak about something that their manager had then echoed, it’s going to make a lot more sense. They’re gonna be like, yeah, you know, I’d heard that already and my manager also said the same thing, so it’s got to be right. Some people would say that this is like playing mind games with people, but I like to call it accelerated rapport building.

SS: I love that. Thank you for taking us through that, Christian, and thank you for joining us on this podcast today.

CP: Absolutely, Shawnna. It was a pleasure. 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’s 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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