Episode 255: Jennifer Ryan on Building Seller Confidence With Enablement

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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 Jennifer Ryan at Blackline join us. Jennifer, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Jennifer Ryan: Absolutely. My name is Jennifer Ryan. I’m the director of global sales enablement here at Blackline. I went the long way around to find my way to enablement. When I was a solutions consultant, I was a customer success manager. I’ve done IT support, I’ve done customer training. I’ve done all of these things, and my senior VP of sales came up to me and he says, you keep circling the barrel, but until you understand sales, you can’t understand business, so you have two choices. You can go into sales enablement, or you can go into sales. I chose sales enablement.

SS: I love that. Now, you also describe yourself as someone who specializes in navigating fear and leaning into trying new things, as you just alluded to in your introduction with all of the various experiences that you’ve had throughout your career journey. How have you applied this mindset now to your role in enablement?

JR: When we think about enablement, the whole goal, whether we’re selling widgets or we’re selling software, we are asking people to change. When we ask others to change, that means that there’s something in us that has to change. As human beings, we are emotionally driven. Change is very difficult for us. It’s always steeped in the fear of the unknown. I use this idea behind being experimental, being okay with trying something, and failing because the magic is in the quote-unquote failure.

The idea that failure is negativity is horrible, it’s where all of the magic comes from. Think about science. How many things were discovered by accident because someone just tried something and what was a failure for one thing became something else? I apply this mindset to the folks in enablement that while you might be afraid to try something new, that while you might be resistant, there is absolutely nothing that you should be afraid of and just trying.

SS: I love that mindset. Now, that all being said, the sales environment has undergone a lot of change in the last few years, and change can cause fear for some folks. What are some of the common challenges that can arise from giving into fear?

JR: What I see most often that comes out of that fear mindset, and if we even think about all of the information that’s come out of Gartner and this idea behind buyer enablement, this idea that it’s not so much about us as the salespeople, but more about what the buyer knows about themselves. There’s a lot of fear of loss of control in the sales cycle. There’s this idea that historically we’ve gone in discovery and we’ve peppered questions and now it’s, how do we coach a buyer into answering those questions for themselves that we lead them instead of tell them?

That’s scary because you don’t know what’s coming. You have to be agile and you have to use your active listening skills. Those are not muscles that we always flex. Some are very good at it, but others struggle. When we struggle and then there’s the looming quota, those are all very fear-inducing instances in sales.

SS: I love that. What are some of your best practices to help sellers overcome fear though, through enablement efforts?

JR: My favorite practice to alleviate fear is humor. When you’re laughing, our bodies release serotonin, and dopamine in our brains. It’s almost like we’re drug addicts if you will. I don’t mean to use that term loosely, but we are subject to that release in our brains, and when we associate that with something new, something that we’ve learned, we have a Pavlovian response to learning.

With laughter, you release defenses. You get people to just relax. They lower their shoulders, their facial muscles release, and they’re with you. When people are with you and they feel like you are meeting them where they are, the fear goes away because you’re not lording over them. I use humor more than anything else in enablement and it has served me well for the many years I’ve been doing it.

SS: I think you’re spot on. Humor does alleviate a lot of that held in tension. Beyond that, the learning process can play a big role, I think, as well in helping sellers navigate fear because then it is no longer the unknown. It also helps to build a lot of confidence amongst your sales teams. I know one of your areas of expertise is in multimedia learning. How can a multimedia approach to learning help sellers develop confidence?

JR: I don’t know if you’ve ever read the books by Don Norman, and if you haven’t, do yourself a favor, they’re phenomenal, but Don talks about how cognitive learning by itself, that people only absorb so much information. If we couple new learning with an emotional response, if we associate emotion with it, then not only are people Viscerally responding to what’s happening, but they are also engaging a part of their brain that creates a reflective approach in the future.

That means that they can recall that learning again in the future. When you think about multimedia learning, I always lean into it. I’m going to age myself now, but when I was a kid, we had Schoolhouse Rock. At my age, I can still recite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence because I know it in a song. If you think about when someone tells you something new, and then you also see a picture of it. These things combined create an environment for learning.

We’re engaging people at different places instead of just a singular point of bringing learning to new people in whatever form that takes. My other favorite is storytelling. If I tell you a silly story with a point that makes a correlation between something that you don’t know, that correlation makes the learning.

SS: I love how you’re able to draw that correlation for your learners. If we can double-click into this a little bit, what are some of the key components of an effective multimedia learning experience?

JR: One of my favorite things to look at is called sensory motor synchronization. There’s been a lot of research done on it, but basically, the research started in babies. If we can do something that aligns with the beat of a baby’s heart, or the beat of the intake and outtake of their breath, then we align to the very basics of these babies as humans.

It also works with folks who are further in the ending stages of their life. I spent the early part of my career studying music therapy. I used to work in an Alzheimer’s unit and that’s where I started to align with that idea of the power of music, the power of the beat, and how we can reach people that the brain has literally made them unreachable for us.

One of the key components that I use is helping people align learning with that beat. Think about when you’re looking at a PowerPoint and someone has multiple lines and if you put a little music behind it and it comes out synchronized to that beat, that effect draws people’s attention, people’s attention and they’re like, oh, I loved that part. Look at how that exactly went with that beat.

Things like that are my favorite things to do in training. I’ll put up a picture that elicits that awe factor, like a picture of a kitten, and I’ll ask them, how does this make you feel? People will respond, oh, it’s just so sweet, or oh, look at that kitten. Then behind it, I’ll play the Jaws theme. Now, all of a sudden, this sweet little kitten’s eyes look like it’s coming for me! That idea that we can change the feeling, we can change the scenario of something by combining pictures with stories, and with music, we can control how people come to the table and how they’re going to ingest what we have to offer for them.

SS: That was quite the visualization, I have to say. Last question for you, Jennifer. What is one thing that you’re planning to try in your enablement programs this year? What is one thing that you’d recommend our audience try in their programs that maybe they haven’t tried before?

JR: This year we are actually rolling out what we’re calling Blackline TV. What we found is that our learners were giving us a lot of feedback that, we get too much email, and our LMS sends out email notifications. Our learning development team from HR sends out emails. We send out email announcements. There are emails about new meetings that are coming.

We had to find a different way to reach people in a way that they would again be open to learning something new. Blackline TV gives us this idea, think about the very best movie trailer you’ve ever seen. As soon as it’s done, you think, where’s my $20, I can’t wait to see that movie. Blackline TV is a snippet of different parts of the business. We didn’t just limit it to enablement functions, but we figured that this collaboration, this learning opportunity around the entire business would create not only collaboration between different teams but also reinforces that we are one company as a whole, not separate groups that happen to be part of the same quote unquote company family. That is our big one this year is BlacklineTV.

I would really recommend finding something that is off the beaten path. Something that people haven’t seen before. The beautiful part about this experimental mindset is that just try it. What’s the worst that could happen? Did it fall apart? Okay, well then you try something else. Try quickly, fail quickly, and iterate quickly.

SS: I love that advice. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for joining us today. I learned a lot.

JR: Absolutely. My pleasure.

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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