Episode 27: Heidi Castagna and Brenda Herlihy on Building a Global Charter for Sales Enablement

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am 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 they can be more effective in their jobs.

Brenda and Heidi, thanks so much for joining us today. Could you each take a moment and introduce yourself and your role?

Brenda Herlihy: Sure. So, I’m Brenda Herlihy, and I am in the sales operations and partner program operations for NVIDIA. My role is to manage our sales enablement systems, make sure the users get what they’re looking for and providing administrative support and management.

SS: Excellent. And Heidi, could you introduce yourself?

Heidi Castagna: Absolutely. I’m Heidi Castagna, and I’m the senior director of global sales enablement at NVIDIA. What that includes is a heavy focus on training for our internal sellers and our partner community as well as technical training for – whether it’s field engineering or solutions architects at both NVIDIA and our partner community around the globe. In addition to training, we’re responsible for any tools, resources, or assets that help our field teams accomplish what they need to while they’re out working with customers and other partners.

SS: Generally speaking, both of you are rather experienced in the space. I would love to understand what sales enablement’s core responsibilities are at NVIDIA.

HC: So, our core responsibilities at NVIDIA include preparing our field for the variety of different interactions they may have out with customers and partners. And from a very specific charter, it includes the identification, design, and delivery of training content for technical training, sales training, and product training with the intended audiences being NVIDIA’s sales and field technical teams, as well as our partners’ sales and field technical teams.

In addition to that, it’s working closely with the subject matter experts within the walls of NVIDIA. Again, whether they be from our product BU, from one of our sellers’ organizations or from our technical teams, and mining from them the most important information that will help drive that education around the globe. And of course, from an enablement perspective that is coaching those subject matter experts to glean the most relevant content and information, but then transforming it for field readiness and then serving it up in a way that is when and where they need it most.

SS: I love that response. And Heidi, as the director of global sales enablement, what are some of those best practices working cross-collaboratively on a global scale with the other functions that sales enablement obviously has for stakeholders, like marketing?

HC: I would take that as two sub-topics. One, the regional alignment. Regional alignment is really, really important and what I’ve seen work best – and we are in the midst of deploying today – is to have a dotted-line reporting relationship with an individual or person in charge within each major geo. And with that, by driving close alignment, having a mutual stake in the game, and even identifying specific shared metrics so that your activities are in line with that shared success; some sort of a dotted-line relationship. We’ve currently got that in place in one of our geos and are working towards growing that globally. And that just, again, ensures that there’s lots of cross-communication and regular interaction with the other teams and those shared metrics.

Departmentally, it’s really quite fascinating. There is so much mutual benefit to a well-oiled enablement organization when it comes to the product we use between the marketing teams and the sales leadership. Getting excellent resources out in the field, getting those over the finish line is incredibly important, but also it’s not like pulling teeth because it is obvious where the shared benefits are.

But one of the things we do is, in working closely with cross-functional departments, we sit down on a regular basis and review the successes or challenges that we’ve had. We do internal QBRs that rely on shared metrics for us to look at them together and understand if we need to divert the plan in some way or change course and then come back and see what the impact of those changes has been. And again, having shared accountability for the success of enablement out in the field drives a lot of engagement and a lot of collaboration cross-functionally.

SS: Excellent. And I’m curious to know, where and how does sales enablement report up through at NVIDIA?

HC: At NVIDIA, we report ultimately into what is described as the worldwide field organization, and the senior leader who reports to our CEO runs that organization. And within the worldwide field organization, we report up through sales operations. That keeps us shoulder-to-shoulder and locking arms with the sales organization who is our ultimate internal audience or customer.

Equally, our field technical team also reports up through that similar organization. Not within sales operations, but again shoulder-to-shoulder in a peer organization. We don’t report directly with or next to marketing, yet the shared benefit of enablement as we described earlier is what keeps us really close in line with that team.

SS: Absolutely. And earlier – just circling back with something that you said when we asked about sales enablement’s core responsibilities – you mentioned your charter at NVIDIA. I would love to understand how you went about building the sales enablement charter and how you got executive buy-in on it.

HC: Good question. Let’s see, I’m going to pause for a second because I inherited, from a really awesome leader, a good amount of the framework that we have today and then I built upon it. The primary audience at NVIDIA up until about two or three years ago was our partner organizations. We rely so heavily on a strong channel partnership, a vibrant channel around the world, that our number one priority was to ensure that the sellers and the technical teams within our partner community were really well-served. We also understood that they didn’t live within the walls of NVIDIA and they did have other vendors that they were supporting, so it was even more important to have vibrant and relevant training and resources for them.

About three years ago when I joined the organization, we expanded the focus to really include our internal sellers and solutions architects. Three years ago about one-in-four of those team members would have completed training or leveraged resources from the enablement team on a regular basis. Today, it’s more like 90%. We can measure that, and we know that our NVIDIA team is leveraging enablement at a much heavier rate than ever before.

And we also know that it’s increasingly important because our team has grown quite a bit. Rather than rely on 10 or 15 years of tribal knowledge, it’s a much newer organization in a fast-moving industry with rapidly evolving technologies. So, our ability to design and deliver to not just our partners but to our internal teams, excellent sales enablement is more important now than ever. The charter really evolved by starting with the need to ensure our partners were well-supported, but then taking stock of the evolution of our internal teams and ensuring that their needs were being well-met as well.

SS: Excellent. And obviously, with a very technical company like NVIDIA, I imagine keeping reps up to speed on your complex product features is essential. And you also mentioned scaling rapidly. So, I would love to understand the ways in which you are going about training and developing your reps today.

HC: A couple of different things. One, we have essentially an annual refresh of all training curriculums that we offer the field. That typically runs around major product refresh timings, so it works out beautifully that just as a major topic or technology or product is about to hit the market, that’s the same timing with which we prepare or refresh or create brand new training and resources for our field. So, there’s an annual cadence, as well as regular updates, so that all of the training content remains fresh and relevant.

In addition to that, I’d say a more casual series of twice-monthly meetings that the entire field attends, that are being run by our product business units, and that ensures that we don’t go more than two weeks without getting any kind of real-time, interactive updates around key enterprise product areas. So, that’s the less formal but very timely way of keeping the team trained. Then on a more sustainable basis around a more planned approach, we have the annual refreshes.

And thirdly, we talked about ramping new salespeople. About three years ago now, we began something that we call the GPU Genius Academy. It’s an onboarding program probably not unlike many that are out there today. However, it’s got a lot of energy and passion behind it. We have our CEO typically spending an hour or more with a group of anywhere from 40 to 80 people in a very informal environment to share the top-of-line vision, ideas, and areas of success in becoming a NVIDIA sales rep. We also get great support from all leaders of our product business units. It’s just a very well-supported training that has enabled us to ramp new hires much more successfully than I think we would otherwise.

BH: And then, Heidi, to add to that – the GPU Genius Academy is held quarterly. So, for all the new employees that start in between, then we have Jumpstart, which is an online version of the academy where all the new employees can get up to speed on NVIDIA’s products, what we’re about, and how to sell them. We also, at the same time, use our internal sales enablement system and we have all the updated content there. And one of the key spots we have there is an “essential” spot, and that is guaranteed to be the latest, greatest, updated content. And the content is refreshed – it’s no older than 90 days old. So, they can always go there and get the latest information.

SS: Excellent. I’d love to hear from both of you, and I’m going to ask this question twice. I want to focus the first time specifically on onboarding and training. I would love to understand the key metrics that you use to understand if your onboarding and training programs are successful. And then after that, I want to ask more broadly across sales enablement generally how you prove the impact of sales enablement back into your organization. But if we start with the onboarding and training component and I would love to learn what some of those key metrics are.

HC: Boy, that’s such a great question and I think it’s that elusive set of metrics that we all are looking for. As I mentioned earlier, we rely upon a regular set of metrics on a quarterly basis in order for us to evaluate whether we stay the course or whether we alter in any way, shape, or form. We have those reviews and those conversations with our key stakeholders and our partners in collaboration. And we do it with key priorities and strategies in mind as we look through those metrics. So, that’s sort of the frame that we approach with metrics. We take them very, very seriously.

The data that we have available to us to make those evaluations oftentimes are things like in our training, firstly, what percentage of our target audience has completed the training? That’s just activity-based metrics. But then we also do a pretty exhaustive set of feedback analytics at the end of each course and at the end of each curriculum. And we do see very clear trends on certain topics. I can see that with all best intention, our audience is still looking for more information or different information in order to truly understand it. And that comes through the feedback metrics that we get. Whether you call it satisfaction metrics, we look at a variety of different things as we’re going through those measurements.

But the good news is that feedback and again we’re talking about thousands and thousands of people who have taken these courses so the sample starts to drive some consistent themes that feedback is taken very seriously and will go back and recreate or refreshed or revamp a training course based on the feedback that we get. In addition to those metrics, we also look at qualitative feedback and ensure that we’re taking that into consideration as well.

But primarily, it’s activity-based: what’s the percentage of completion and then what the feedback is. Ideally, we would be tying all of this feedback into Salesforce.com. We’ve made attempts at that and have not yet cracked that nut. We’re glad to learn of any other organizations that have because that’s really the holy grail.

SS: I’d like to take a moment and talk just briefly about partner enablement. I realize that is a component of what you guys do and that’s obviously what sales enablement’s initial responsibilities were around. How do you guys see partner enablement differing from direct sales enablement?

HC: I view it as being really quite different. Right up front, the fact is that the further that you get away from the core organization – in this example, of‌ ‌course, NVIDIA – the further that we get down the channel or downstream, there’s a dilution factor. There are just so many competing priorities and vendors that an individual working in a partner community has to balance. For us at NVIDIA, we recognize that we have to really market to those individuals and make it as simple as possible for them to be successful in the very dynamic environment that they work in as part of the channel.

So, that’s where I see a lot of what differs. It’s easy to say that 100% of a specific population – for example, the NVIDIA sales team – we can create an edict that says, “all of you must complete the following enablement activities.” That means you have to complete your training and you have to leverage the following resources. It doesn’t work that way when you get out to the channel. So, it makes us as an enablement organization have to really up our game with less time and less requirement associated with enablement.

We really have to be good at what we do so that this audience that’s further from NVIDIA gets what they need and they can deploy it and use it as we had intended. All along, that adds up to additional revenue for their organization. And that’s really got to remain the bottom line, is that it’s all about driving business for your channel partners, and doing it as effectively and efficiently as possible.

BH: Yeah, and it has to be compelling to them because as Heidi said, they’ve only got a short amount of time and their attention span is not that great. So we need to catch them and sort of reel them in and get them interested in it at first. And then because our products are so technical, or can be technical, we have to cut the training down to something small but it still makes sense and they still learn from it.

SS: Excellent. And Brenda, for you, since you oversee a lot of the partners and the systems, do you find that your partner ecosystem is able to use the same systems as your direct sales team, or do they require a separate set of solutions?

BH: Today they’re actually using the same solution as our internal teams, which makes it easier for us because then we can just share it internally and with our partners. It works out well for us.

SS: Excellent. And what are some of the things that you are looking at to ensure that your partner enablement efforts are going well? How do you manage their success there?

BH: I think for me it’s making sure that when the partners are ready to take the training and all of the great enablement tools that Heidi’s team provided, that they can. So, this would be that they can exercise anywhere globally and be able to complete the training in the required amount of time and have no issues and have a great user experience. Because there’s no point in having all of this great information that Heidi’s team is providing and not be able to share it both internally and with our partners. That’s really key to getting the content out there.

SS: 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 want to know more about, let us know – we’d love to hear from you.

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