Episode 249: Anna Duong on Enablement’s Role in Driving Sales Proficiency

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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 am excited to have Anna Duong from Cisco join us. Anna, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Anna Duong: Thank you, Shawnna. It’s a pleasure being here and I consider it an honor to be part of this podcast. I lead product, solution marketing, and sales enablement at Cisco for two multi-billion dollar data center portfolios. I am a marketer by training who aspired to be more. When I first started out, I started my career in product management, then product marketing, then I ventured into demand gen, and now into sales enablement.

In between these experiences, I practice and hone my trade in a variety of business environments from startup to mid-size, and now I’m multinational. My company, Cisco, is a global industry leader in networking which is the connection of people, devices, and things. I’m sure a lot of you have heard of Cisco. We are also known as the company that offers networking security and collaboration hardware and software solutions.

SS: Well, awesome. Thank you so much, Anna, for joining us. Now, Cisco was actually one of the award winners for our Sales Enablement PRO member awards around the business impact on sales proficiency, and it was a well-deserved recognition. In your opinion, what does good look like when it comes to optimizing sales proficiency through enablement programs?

AD: Well, first of all, thank you for the recognition and we feel very privileged to be recognized along with industry peers. With respect to your questions, the way we think about proficiency is all about competency. I’m sure many of my industry peers would say that the optimization of that is when people, processes, and technology work together in unison. However, there’s one aspect of proficiency I want to spotlight is competency and that is the ability to understand complex problems and solutions and then effectively communicate that to your customers, and then build relationships along the way.

The latter two are often addressed by sales mastery training or even technical training on how to sell, how to be a good salesman, et cetera, but the first, the ability to understand complex problems and solutions is often undermined because all sales teams have one finite resource, and that is time. This means time to research and learn, it is time not to sell. To us, what good looks like is when product and marketing intelligence, which includes market, industry, competitive, intelligent, et cetera, and the insights are provided to our sales team at the right place, at the right time, in an easily digestible and memorable format.

Some of the KPIs that we can use, which we also use at Cisco to measure good and how optimal we are improving sales proficiency, our high seller engagement that sustains over time, we call this sentiment. Also, high utilization of sales enablement content and program, as well as high converter sales opportunity from the usage of those sales enablement content and programs.

SS: I love that. I think that’s a great definition of what good looks like. Now, in today’s sales environment, what are some of the challenges, Anna, that teams can face in optimizing proficiency and how can enablement teams help overcome these?

AD: Oh gosh. I think this list will probably be really long, but for the sake of time, I’ll just highlight the top two. The most prevailing ones are informational overload, and two, the nature of the landscape, whether in the industry, in the business, or even in the market itself. I’ll start with information overload, which is the constant inundation of information coming to our sales team from products or new products to product details and features and nuances within those customers’ needs and challenges and how their business changes over time. The market trends, the industry trends, et cetera, and even the competitors.

Oftentimes for multinationals, we don’t just have one or two competitors, we have a variety of them in different ways and in different markets. A lot of that is inundating and very challenging for our sales team to not only digest, and connect the dots, but also effectively formalize them in a way that can help them be effective in their day-to-day selling.

The second part of that, which also compounded the first is the rapidly evolving landscapes. Even if you get a hold of it, you spend a lot of time building the information, and the insight that you need, and then you start using it and become successful at using it, guess what? It’s going to change again next week, next month, or even next year. That constant change makes it even harder to digest the information overload and to really have a good grasp on it, especially for sales teams who are selling more than one product. We call those the generalists, not the specialists where they master the product in the portfolio that they’re selling.

Obviously, if I state the challenge I’d like to also share some of the ways we can address these challenges. With the two I mentioned, really it all boils down to the ability to simplify complex information. Simplification means more than just creating concise, easy-to-understand content or product presentations or enablement collateral, et cetera. It’s all about connecting the obvious for our sales team. How does this particular feature or capability connect back to the value, or the business outcome our customer wants, and as a result of that, what kind of tangible or even intangible benefit they can expect from it?

That’s where the simplification comes in. With that, it also helps with a particular selling strategy where our sales team is customer-centric, so that as their needs evolve, their pain points evolve or get even more complex, we’re able to understand and lack of a better word, propose a solution that would address that specific challenge showcasing the breadth and depth of our value.

SS: I love that, and I think that that is a fantastic recap of some of the challenges, but also how enablement has helped to overcome them. As a leader of a team of marketers, what role does product marketing play in driving sales proficiency?

AD: You’re hitting on a sweet spot here because as I shared, I started my career in product marketing and I think it plays a pivotal role. The top three areas where I see product marketing can really contribute to sales proficiency are product and market understanding. As product marketers, we are the experts on the company, product, and services, and then the market that we operate in as well as the customer persona that our product and services serve. With all of that, we are able to simplify that and also tailor it to the different selling journeys or the selling plays for sales to be proficient at.

Two is competitive intelligence. We continuously monitor our competitors, the landscape, their strategy, or even the positioning of their offering against ours, and where we’re good at, but also where we are not so good at. With this intelligence, we can extrapolate insight and then we can help when a sales team is engaging, let’s say a competitive deal against some of our prominent players, and how do we go down the path of differentiating our solution? It isn’t always who is the cheapest product out there.

Last but not least, is the customer insight and persona. I think this is the key foundation when it comes to competency in sales proficiency because like I said, the efficiency can be tackled by processes and better utilization of resources, sales mastery on the sales skills and training, but without really understanding who your customer is, what is their care about, their pain point, their motivation, and how do we already engage with them or haven’t engaged with them is really the missing foundation in all sales proficiency program. As product marketers, again, we understand our customers, and all the research and intelligence we have can be shared and even can be customized into training that can enable our sellers to be more informed.

SS: I love that. As a marketing professional myself, I couldn’t agree more. Now on the flip side, given your expertise in enablement as well, what role do you think enablement plays in driving proficiency and how can you bring marketing enablement and other teams across the company together to collaborate on optimizing proficiency?

AD: Certainly an equally pivotal role, just like product marketing. It’s all about providing assets due to the right tool, resources, and support that are needed in a timely manner. I will talk about two areas. It all started with aligned goals and objectives. By having shared objectives, for example, revenue targets or customer acquisitions, or market penetration, all teams can work together toward this common purpose. Therefore they are aligning their resources and program in the same direction, and also share learnings across their teams and programs to fine-tune it further going forward. As a result of these aligned goals and objectives, the collaboration will become a multiplier effect.

For example, in cross-functional collaboration when marketing bill selling guides to help improve opportunity qualifications, if that guide is built based on a methodology that our sales team is being trained on in sales mastery, let’s say Mapic as an example, that is one way that it can become a multiplier effect. Now you have theory and framework combined with real data and real selling strategy, but we can also provide timely product updates and market insight, and we can also build collateral that helps you deliver those to your customer based on where you are in the selling journey.

On the other hand, enablement teams can share feedback from their experience and suggest improvements in messaging or even training material for product marketing. Then based on the customer engagement and wanting to share insight, again, this is one of the marketing intelligence that product marketing teams can inform the business development teams about specific segments of the customer where we are leaving money on the table. Perhaps there are certain common characteristics and a corresponding sales motion that we can drive through a program to grow total deal size to grow to attach rate or even incremental market share.

SS: Fantastic. I’d love to dig in a little bit. Could you share with us a story about a key initiative that your team has implemented recently to help drive proficiency and tell us a little bit about some of the core components of that initiative?

AD: Absolutely. As part of a recent tier-one announcement, we shared a vision and a strategy with our customer within our sales force and channel team, and then we followed up with a particular piece of training that was the first of its kind. With this vision and strategy, it’s very important that our sales force is educated on the fundamentals of who the customer we’re going after with this new vision and strategy, why is it a fit, how is it going to be future proof with respect to the market and the industry trend, and more importantly, what is the solution pitch or the message we are can enable our sales team to deliver.

We did exactly that. We shared the fundamentals, we taught our sales force who are the different customer persona that will be interested in this vision and very appreciate the strategy. What are the decision criteria? What are their pain points? How is that mapping back to where the industry is going, and particularly where the business challenges of our customers are going? Then we build a go pitch deck for them to use as a starting point, but that isn’t enough. We next follow up with a level 200 learning map where we put all of the above into action. Again, the simplification of complex information comes into play here. It’s a two to three-minute portfolio-specific video that we did that helps put together the product solution pitch that highlights not only the product and market fit but also the customer fit with proven use cases, customer success stories, et cetera.

With this training, we rolled it out to the team. That was the first part of our enablement strategy on this. With this key initiative, we got really broad support from all levels of our sales organization all the way to the geography, to the last mile of field enablement. We got lots and lots of feedback. As I shared earlier, one of the ways we measure how optimal or optimized we are is by enabling proficiency with seller sentiment. Not only do we have anecdotes, but we also have commentary and ratings on how effective the training was. We also have sales teams that actually reach out and want to be part of the next training module to share their story, their experiences, and even sales strategy and tactics.

SS: I love that. Anna, last question for you. How do you measure the impact of your programs on sales proficiency and what are some of the key results that you’ve been able to achieve?

AD: Thank you. This is probably part of the scope of one of our awards. As I mentioned earlier, there are three key areas we measure, and this is only a sample of a few. The first is our seller’s engagement. Engagement is very important to first get sellers on board to be able to share information. Secondly, to be able to gauge whether a seller is learning and retaining the information being shared. The second part is, are they using the information and how are they using it, and last but not least, are they effective at using them?

For example, in the sales play or the sales campaign we provided, we actually worked with the business development teams or the sales ops team, and even the sales enablement team that put together the program to insert it in a strategic part of the sales journey, that in parallel with sales programs, a sales incentive and any other sales resources and tool. Then we gauge whether that content is being used for and how they are being used from which personnel for the sales force are using them. For example, are the technical team using them more or are the generalist team or the very early sales qualification reps?

Last but not least, are they effective? We observe, for lack of a better word, data on how the sales pipeline is and a particular sales individual’s productivity before, and then we observe the aftermath of that. Then we also asked for anecdotal or real-life validations of whether it helped and it helped in what way. Those are some of the measurements. The last part is, of course, anytime there is an announcement, there is an awareness activity to make sure we are hitting the right audience. First of all, are we reaching the sales audience that we want to, and to what extent we’re reaching them? Second, are they consuming the materials, et cetera?

SS: Fantastic. Anna, thank you so much for joining us and sharing with us your expertise.

AD: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.

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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