Episode 257: Marja Moore on Human-Centric Enablement to Achieve Data-Driven Outcomes

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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 Marja Moore join us. I would love for you to introduce yourself to our audience.

Marja Moore: Thank you, Shawnna. Hi, everyone, my name is Marja Moore, and I am in the Seattle area. I have most recently worked at companies like SAP, Concur, and Infoblox. Right now, I’m taking some time off to explore some new adventures, but I have worked in everything from marketing to business development to sales enablement and value methodology building. I have a diverse background in many industries and I use all of that to inform how I go forward with every new role, especially with enablement. 

SS: Wonderful. I’m excited to chat with you. There was something on your LinkedIn profile that caught my eye. You mentioned that you lean toward being a human-centric leader who is also focused on data-driven outcomes. I’d love to understand from you, why are both sides of this coin important as an enablement leader. 

MM: I would say it’s an important thing to have for any leader. First of all, we’re dealing with humans every day. You need to know what’s going to compel people. What’s going to get them to do what you need them to do, not only perform in their roles but also in the organization? How are they expanding their view? How are they becoming greater than what they were before? Understanding who you’re working with, whether that be people on your team or people that you’re trying to enable, you need to understand their values and what makes them tick is important.

I think every enablement leader will say, you always have to give them what’s in it for me. I think this is true for literally any leader you need in order to compel somebody, you’re going to need to know who the human is behind it. That’s important to me, not only knowing the people that I help lead, but those that I help enable. What are their needs? What compels them? What gets them to do the things that we need them to do, and how does that make them feel? 

On the other side of the coin is the data, and that is really driven by the need to say, okay, we see a hurdle, what does the data tell us? I think all business data is important because it tells you a story. How you interpret that story may differ, and it may tell people different things. For me, it’s important for me to look at the data, not only to help lead in the right way but also to help innovate and grow in the right way. Whether that be growing people or growing the business, the data is important, but the human element of it is always there.

You need to make sure that you’re looking at both in order to make the right decisions. Data is only part of the story. The humans that interact to create that data or make that data are also important. Going behind the data to see what that looks like from a human perspective is important.

SS: I love that. I know on the human side, one of the ways that you focus on this is by developing a sales council to support your enablement strategy. Tell us about that program. What did it entail and how did it impact your enablement strategy? 

MM: This goes back to that human focus part of it. What we learned from interviewing a lot of our sales personnel was that we were hearing things like, we need more experts, more SMEs teaching us. We need a better way to actually understand what we’re supposed to be doing. To me, that human element of people coming to us saying what we need is a data point. You take that human element and that data point and you say how do we fix that for me? 

There were two things. One, you always know that people in your organization are trying to move up or trying to better themselves, and often It’s the ones that are excelling in their specific roles so if you look at your sales field and you say okay, I have this top 10% and they’re just kicking butt at everything they do. Why is the other 90% not performing as well? Well, we should be leveraging that knowledge those skills, and that experience to help teach the rest of the field. 

I think a lot of times we go outside or we use a sales coach. I’m not saying that we don’t need those things. I’m saying that you have a lot of knowledge in your salespeople today, how do you leverage that to give back to the rest of the field? How do you lift those salespeople? Who is that 10% to give them something to work towards? The program was really built around how we take the top salespeople who are interested in growing, who are interested in evolving, who are maybe one day interested in leadership, and how we build them up to help them achieve their goals while also achieving the business goals.

That whole council kind of came together and there were a lot of different facets of it. Not only would the participants be nominated and have to keep a certain threshold of meeting their quota, but they would have the opportunity to take part in special different programs. Those things could be mentorship, mentoring someone who is new in their region, or being a part of our field studies. Once a quarter we would bring them together to talk about what the issues are and get their best practices every different quarter. Every quarter it would be a different kind of subject so that we could gather more information and skill building and then take it from there to put out to the rest of the teams. 

They would also be featured on the enablement webinars. They would get some special training as well. All of this bundled together is a way to lift up your people who may want to continue to grow, learn more about the business, and learn more about leading by example. Transferring that knowledge to the less experienced sales reps, or even to those that are just coming into the business, and so we built it as a one-year cycle. You have to be nominated and once you take part in it, you’re basically on the bench for leadership. Then if you want to become a sales manager or some other leadership role within sales, this is a great boost for those people to do so because they’re learning more about the business and about the ways that we need to really focus in different areas in order to be successful. 

Of course, one of those is enabling the field. It gives both sides of the coin. You’re getting some people who are really great at what they do to share their experiences and their best practices with your field, but you’re also giving them the opportunity to take on increased responsibility and participate more in the growth of the company as well. 

SS: I love that. The other thing that I love about your background is that you have a blended background that incorporates customer success. How has that customer-centric approach to enablement? 

MM: That’s a really good question. I would have to say that if you’re thinking about customer success, one of the most important things that’s happening in the industry, especially if you are a SaaS company, but this actually works for all kinds of companies who are providing a measurable service for their customers. The thing that you’re going to see is customer success is where all of those proof points for sales come out. If you’re looking at building a value methodology, which is what the industry is working towards, how do you show value to your customers? 

We’re not talking nerd knobs here. We’re talking outcomes and value to your customers. What is the bottom line that that CEO is going to say? Yes, I need that product or I need that service because it’s going to save me money, help my people, reduce my risk, and save me time. All of those things are important to getting to that economic buyer. If you don’t have a value methodology, the one place you can look is your customer success team. They’re the ones that are going to know the success of the customers using the products or services. They’re going to be the ones that are engaging with them on a regular basis. That’s where you can do most of your learning to see where that success is. 

For me, customer success is important because that really helps you understand the customers and then it helps you dive further down into those customers to really get that clear understanding to then build. On the front end of the customer life cycle, how do you go about approaching those kinds of customers in the future? When you think about enablement, you take all those learnings and you kind of transfer them into the value methodology to make sure that you’re starting with that at the beginning. What value are we providing our customers? How do we build that to help the sales teams actually understand the technology the service or the product? 

You have this ability to really empower your sales teams to have better discussions. They’ll get to the C-suite a lot faster. Your customer acquisition costs will go down. All of those things. Learning from customer success is extremely important. It’s extremely important to organizations because that’s where the customer is having success, and then you can leverage that in the sales cycle to make sure that you’re finding those customers that have those similar scenarios to kind of push that sales cycle through based on the knowledge that you’ve learned from customer success.

SS: I love that. So you blend your understanding of your customer. You’re also leveraging feedback from sales, and then there’s also the data side, which we talked about earlier in the conversation. What are some of the ways that you leverage data to inform and optimize your sales enablement programs? 

MM: This is going to be a tricky one. We touched a lot of parts of the customer life cycle. We were enabling a lot of parts of operational and administrative things that sales need to do in order to keep the engine going. I think for me, it depends on where we are involved in enablement. What are we responsible for enabling? In that vein, if we’re looking at all of that data to say, are we being more proficient in our activities that we have to do when they’re engaging with the CRM, what does that look like? Your very first indicators of success, in my opinion, are how they’re doing in the prospecting and getting everybody through the pipeline.

If you’re seeing that they’re holding on to prospects for too long, there’s something going on there. They’re not qualifying them out or disqualifying them, if you will. They’re holding on to them and that’s not really efficient. You need to look at all parts of the sales cycle and where you can influence. For example, if that was a problem that they’re not qualifying their customers and they’re sitting in there for months and months and months on end, what kind of qualifying framework do you have? Do you need to adjust that? Do you need to reinforce it? How many people are actually paying attention to it?

That goes to how you are enabling and how you are graduating folks. We look at data all the time to say how we are performing in the business relative to what enablement is doing, but also what is enablement doing to qualify those people out to say, yep, they’re ready. Is it an individual looking at something? Often people do a pitchback practice and then they have the manager say yes or no on it. Well, the manager needs a butt in the seat. Is that really the right way to go about it, or do you really need to have a panel of people that are going to provide a more holistic view as to what that person pitched and say, no, you didn’t quite hit it, you need some more education here?

That’s another way to look at data. Not just looking at strict numbers, but also the stuff you can’t quantify, the skills, the abilities of those salespeople. I think when you talk about data, there’s so much that could go into it. It’s hard to pick one specific data point that’s going to matter the most to you because it really depends on where you fit in and where you have influence or ownership. You might not own all the parts that you could influence, but along that customer life cycle is most important for you to focus, to be more productive, and to make sure that your enablement programs are functioning the way you need them to.

SS: What are some of the key metrics that you look at to quantify enablement’s impact and value to the business?

MM: This goes back to what do you enable on? A lot of companies have separate enablement groups for different activities. For example, some people will enable the operations, and then the enablement team will enable the skills the product, and the way that we do things. The companies that I’ve worked at, have owned all of it. It depends on what I have to look at as far as my span of influence or my span of ownership. If I’m looking from my perspective, I’m going to look again at how long it’s taking them to either qualify or disqualify a customer or prospect.

I also like to look at the end. Once they’ve already purchased, they’re going to go through another sales cycle at some point. A good way to think about enablement is if you are enabling your customer success teams and you do have a value methodology. You’ll notice that once you sell to them and customer success is able to prove that value, the next sales cycle if they’re going to be buying another product or service from your company in CrossSell is going to go much quicker. You’re actually going to reduce that sales cycle for the next iteration of whatever they buy. That’s one way to tell that your value methodology is working, not just that they get through the sales cycle, but then their continuous sales cycle that you’re doing with them at the end. Is working and is moving faster.

Those two things are really important because they are the bookends. You’ve got the prospecting, how quickly are they churning through their pipeline, making sure that the people that they are looking at are qualified? If I’m looking at that, I’m going to look a lot at things like the scores. Are they focusing on the right customers? Are they getting the right customers through? Are they disqualifying customers that they shouldn’t have been? Doing a review of their books of business sometimes will be helpful and that’s a really good metric to say okay, they disqualified out all of the D’s and C’s of their scores, they’re focusing only on their A’s, and B’s. Great. 

What happens when all those A’s and B’s are gone? Do you need to adjust that behavior? I think it’s a matter of really where you fit into the customer life cycle, picking the bookends and then pulling in from there. If you’re pulling from prospecting, then you’re going to go to how long it takes them overall in the sales cycle, I always like to look at how high are they getting in the organization. That’s a data point where we can take that through and say, okay, you’ve got your list of contacts, but you have no one from the C-suite that tells me that you’re not getting to, the real decision maker. 

Even if you’re getting to a VP, that’s great, but how are you going to evolve that into your sales enablement to make sure that they are getting higher up in the accounts that they are able to sell to that decision maker and that economic buyer? For me, it’s a matter of what you touch, what you influence, what you own, and then taking a deeper dive into all of those facets, from start to finish to say, where can I pull this through into my enablement and make sure that we’re doing the right things for the field to make the company successful. 

SS: I love that. Last question, Marja. This one I think is going to be of a lot of interest to our audience. AI has rapidly advanced and evolved in the last year. How do you envision AI impacting both the human and the data side of enablement programs in the future? 

MM: I love this question because I have been working with a lot of this AI since I think before it became the latest and greatest thing out there. It’s a funny transition for the world. I think we’re all experiencing a little bit of wow, and then some people are scared that it’s going to take away their jobs. I don’t think that’s the case. I think AI is going to help us both do things a lot faster. One of the things that I used it for is taking meeting notes or a meeting transcript and distilling it down into some of the points that were most important from that meeting. That helps sellers too, to even understand what those points were in meetings that they’re having that were good points, bad points. Were they stuttering? Were they saying the wrong words? 

I know a lot of AI is now integrated into a lot of the products that are being used by the fields. That’s the sales fields that are collecting information on their calls and analyzing it and telling them when they’re saying the right things and when they’re saying the wrong things. I think that can only really help us in the future because it’s going to make us more efficient. We’re going to be able to look at that data and say, okay, you said X 12 times during that call, and X every single time made the customer hesitant. What’s something else you can say in place of that to move the customer forward and not have them have that kind of visceral reaction to it where they make a face or they grunt little things like that? 

Then we can start to get into the nuances of how you actually treat that human on the other side of your sales call to be a more engaged and fruitful relationship. I think that AI is going to help us grow. It’s going to help us learn. It’s going to help us evolve. We need to use it carefully as well because you need to remember that if you’re going on to some of these different platforms, the information you put in is now in there. You have to be very cognizant of what you’re providing what you’re trying to get back and, where that information goes. You don’t want to put anything proprietary in there, of course, because then it’s in the system, but at the same time. You should be able to leverage it to get the things that you need.

What are some of the best trends in certain industries used to help sellers and giving them education on what to look for is another way that enablement can be helpful in the whole sales cycle. What should they look for? How should they prompt the AI? If they need to understand more about their customer, what kind of questions should they be asking the AI? These are all opportunities for enablement to be a part of that journey and to help them maximize their interactions with AI if they are going to use it as a salesperson to do research. 

The one thing again I will say is to make sure that you’re talking to your legal department about using AI because you want to have some rules and regulations around it to say, hey, don’t put this kind of information in there, but you can use it for this kind of information. I think it’s a requirement going forward for every sales enablement team to learn how to use it, to leverage it, and to make sure that you are focusing on moving forward and evolving with technology. I also think you need to be careful and cognizant that it is basically sharing with the world. You need to work with your legal departments to make sure that you understand where those lines are of what you should share in those kinds of programs and what you shouldn’t. 

SS: Fantastic advice, Marja. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve enjoyed all of the insights that you’ve shared with our audience.

MM: Thank you so much for having me, Shawnna. Much appreciated. 

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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