Episode 33: Laura Welch on Delivering Sales Training to a Remote Workforce

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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 are here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Laura Welch join us. Laura comes with a wealth of sales enablement experience from several notable organizations like Poly, and most recently HP. Laura, let’s dive in.

SS: I want to talk to you first a little bit about sales training and gamification. How do you engage sales reps in sales training activities? What are some of the strategies you have for reinforcing what they learn in training sessions?

Laura Welch: Well, I think one of the most important things about enabling sales reps is to provide training in a way that supports their sales activities. What I mean is, it doesn’t occur as an interruption or a problem. They don’t roll their eyes when they get invited to an enablement activity, and I’ve found the best way to do that, to have it really support them in making more money for the company. That’s what it’s all about.

So, the best way I found is to make sure that they know what’s happening and what’s coming quite a bit of time in advance. We set a cadence of activities and we do the same thing every quarter, so they know and can expect that in the first week of the quarter, products are going to be launched, promotions, campaigns, new sales tools, etc. Then, in the first month of the quarter, we do a one-day training over video with each sales team. There are 15 of them worldwide, so it’s a four to five-hour event and we try to get all of their enablement that we can, that we need to do in person with them, done during that time. They love it. They get face-to-face interaction with subject matter experts, they get to ask questions, we play games with them during that event, and it is their critical time for learning, for understanding what they need to know to be successful that quarter.

During that, some of the strategies that we have to reinforce what they’ve learned – I’m really big on checking in on learning – so at the very beginning of their one-day training (this is that four-and-a-half-hour session that we do with each team), I pop up a survey and the survey says, “how comfortable are you with the following topics?” And we list everything that we are going to be covering in one-day training. It could be a new product announcement, it could be a sales skill that we are going to reinforce, it could be an update of some of our alliance partners, so a variety of topics. So, I say, “how comfortable are you with new x-y-z product? How comfortable are you with our latest competitive update, etc.?”

And then at the end of the day, I ask them the same questions, and I tell them, “Listen, these questions are not designed to trick you.” If you said, “I’m not at all comfortable with every single thing” at the beginning of the day and then answer at the end of the day, “yes, now I’m comfortable”, that is perfect. That means you have had a 100% increase in learning in every section. I said answer honestly because I’m not at all comfortable is a great response at the beginning of training where we are about to teach you about everything.

I found that this is really beneficial in a couple of ways. One, it reinforces to them that the things we are going to be covering during that one-day training are important and we want them to learn and here are the subjects. And at the end, it has them really look to say, “am I comfortable with that, do I need more information, and there is a place they can write in a request for more information?” It also lets us go back to the speakers and say, “Hey Brian, there was a 70% increase in learning in your session that you did overall across the 15 sessions. It was an average of 70% learning, so congratulations, I think that’s really successful.” And he can use that to tailor his training next time when he is training on another new product.

That is the one-day training and then throughout the quarter, we have non-mandatory things they can attend where they meet subject matter experts. We call them AMAs. You can meet a subject matter expert and ask them questions, and we hold those, and those are super popular. And then we do podcasts and we do just-in-time videos, little two to three-minute short videos. I find that if I put most of the training in that first month, most of the things we really want them to do and then give them optional things they can attend and listen to and participate in throughout the quarter as they need to, they really like that. I would say our sellers think of sales enablement as something that really adds value. It is not something they have to do, and they are burdened with.

SS: I love that. I’m curious, how do you deliver some of the training throughout the quarter that is a little bit more real-time for your reps to digest and when have you found them most likely to actually engage in that material?

LW: We do a few different things. So, if it’s a competitive update, let’s say a competitor of our launches a new product and it’s really going to be a competitive threat. We put out what we call a 10-11 and if you see the words 10-11 in your inbox as a salesperson, you know that’s a competitive alert. It is one short page: what was the announcement, why should you care about it, what are the things they are going to be saying about us, how should we respond to it, etc. So, it’s just a one-page, short quick hit and then it has links if you want to go more in-depth on the new product or whatever. That’s how we do competitive stuff.

How we do the AMAs is all over video. It’s a live video call. The subject matter expert joins. Any salesperson or systems engineer that wants to come in and ask that person questions joins. We have about 900 sales reps and that includes the systems engineers, and we probably have 60 people on each AMA, and we do them in the different regions, so we cover all the different time zones. So, I think they’re very well attended, especially as a mandatory thing. But it’s all over video, live, so someone raises their hand to ask a question, people can talk over each other, it’s very casual.

The podcasts and the just-in-time videos are delivered through our intranet but also through an app that we have that is really specifically designed to deliver podcasts and videos. If you’re a salesperson, you’re getting on a train, you can listen to the latest podcast. We do really fun topics on podcasts like what’s your morning routine, how do you manage your time as a really busy systems engineer, sales skills, as well as just life lessons. And then we also do more product or solution-focused things. So, they are always really well received, so we put that on the app that they use and also on our intranet.

And the one-day training are all delivered over video. We don’t really get people together in person. We are very dispersed with a huge work-from-home environment, especially on the sales team side. So, getting over video together as a team is beneficial, it allows them to interact with each other and see each other. Then of course, once a year we have our worldwide sales meeting where they all get to interact in person.

SS: Very cool. And obviously, a component of providing a lot of this training remotely is to make sure that it’s engaging. We’re also going to talk about gamification a little bit. How do those programs really help to drive better engagement with your reps?

LW: Well, let’s take a couple of examples. We do a lot of gamification with new hires. A big reason we use it there is I find that when you play games with them, they remember it better and they have fun and they don’t get so exhausted. New hire sales training is like a firehose of information and data that is just coming at them and they are hypersensitive anyway; they want to make a good impression, it is a new company, so it’s just exhausting if you just throw information at them.

So, we play Family Feud. We break them up into teams, they stand up, they cheer each other on, they have to guess answers to questions about the company, and they have a lot of fun. Family Feud is always rated as one of the fun things. Last time, we gave them Nerf guns and there was a tower of plastic cups built up, and every time they answered a question right, they got to shoot at the cups and try to knock them over. If they knocked them over, they got a point, and the people with the most points at the end of the day won. So, that was really fun.

We play Jeopardy with them. We split them into teams, and they earn points throughout the whole new hire sales training. They get to know each other as a group, and at the end of the three to five-day event, whoever has the most points gets gear, like hats or something like that. So, we have them have fun together.

One thing I did – not in new hire sales training, but in one of those one-day training – we had a new product out. I told everybody I wanted them to write a haiku. I explained to them briefly what a haiku was, and I told everybody to email me their haiku and over the lunch hour, I would gather them together and then we would vote as a team on some of the great haikus. And they did a great job. They had to do a haiku on the benefits or the features of this new product. And let me tell you, doing something like that has it burn in your brain what a benefit or feature is because you’ve just written a poem about it, which is fun.

Doing things like that cements the information into their brain a lot better than just going through PowerPoint slides and telling them what the benefits are or having a speaker up there talking, even if the speaker is really engaging. Having them actually do something and stand up is good.

One time, we had them be a product, so we gave them all placards with a little string and they wore it around their neck, and every time we talked about something where that product would be a good fit, they had to stand up. “Yes, I’m this product and this is a great place to be in this particular customer scenario.” That was really helpful for them to really understand how to place and put our solutions around a customer environment.

SS: You mentioned cementing the knowledge with your reps. I’m curious what you’ve done to be able to measure how well your reps are actually retaining some of this knowledge when you are using more interactive and engaging ways of training them via gamification.

LW: Measuring and understanding how sales enablement impacts the overall success of the company is really important to me and my team. We have one measurement that we keep our eye on that’s kind of our north star. That measurement is if you’re a sales rep and I’ve given you these four activities to complete this quarter – attending the quick start, attending your one-day training, watching this product video, taking this online class – at the end of the quarter, if you have checked off that you have done that, you are marked as having completed 100% of your sales training. We call it your learning plan. You have completed your learning plan for the quarter, and everybody has a learning plan, and everybody has to check off all of their activities in their learning plan.

Here’s what we do: people that completed 100% of their quota, so they’re at 100% or better, how many of them also completed 100% of their training? And it gives us a number. It gives us a metric that we use, and we say if more people that made 100% of their quota, if more of them completed their training than not, then that is a positive correlation. Then we say that sales enablement has made a difference.

We are now going a little bit deeper where we are taking off the top 10% of the sellers and the bottom 10% of the sellers and looking at that middle 80% and seeing how that is improving quarter after quarter. Because anecdotally I think, your top sellers, you’re not going to hurt them or help them really with your sales enablement activities. They are going to win. The bottom people are having issues that probably can’t be helped with general sales enablement activities, and it’s that middle group that you really want to have an impact on. So that’s our one measurement.

Now, we also measure attendance at our AMAs, how many people watch our podcasts, those surveys that I mentioned in the one-day training. Sometimes we will throw out a survey about their knowledge on a particular subject and we measure that. We measure downloads of playbooks. So, we measure a lot, but I don’t think the sales leadership cares about that as much. That is more of a fine-tuning effort on our end. If they’re not downloading a particular playbook, maybe we need to go update it. But what the sales leadership cares about is, is sales enablement having a positive impact on my salesforce? That’s really what they care about. They don’t care how many times a playbook is downloaded.

So, that’s the key measurement that we really have in front of us. If that measurement starts going down, then we have to just stop everything, rethink what we’re doing. Maybe we’re making things too busy, maybe there’s too much going on, maybe we’re not enabling them on the skills or the competencies or the products or the processes that they need to win. So let’s rethink everything. That’s really important to us and that’s how we measure our success.

SS: And you mentioned something really important there, which is that your focus as enablement should really be on improving the middle pack of the reps. I would love to understand kind of what are some of the initiatives that you have done to actually better improve the performance of those mid-performance reps, if you will?

LW: I find that the mid-performing reps are usually struggling in a specific area, so either they’re not comfortable with the products and so they’re not really sure and they don’t have the competence in front of their customers or their partners, or they are struggling with the processes. They haven’t really figured out how to work that well and it’s burdening them and weighing them down, or maybe our expense report process is really driving them crazy and burdening them. How do we figure that out? Or there is a skills gap. So, they are great, and then they are horrible closers. Or they’re great at selling one product but they’re really not great at cross-selling.

What we do is before we do those one-days is I poll the sales leaders, and I say, “tell me some of the things that you think your reps are struggling with, especially your reps that are in the middle of the pack.” I don’t define it, like 80%, but they know what I mean, and each of the sales leaders might have a different answer. What the India sales reps are struggling with may not be what the west coast in the US sales reps are struggling with. So, we try to reinforce the learning and try to adjust the learning for that one-day training so that it really fits the needs of the majority of the salesforce of that team.

SS: And how much are you leveraging those sales leaders to also reinforce a lot of your training?

LW: A lot. I hold a sales enablement council in every region, and I count on and I invite the sales leaders to the council as well as leaders from other functional areas, so they understand what is happening in sales enablement. And I rely on them for feedback. I give them all of our metrics. I ask them their opinions. It is critical that if we are training them to interact with customers in a particular way around closing, it is critical that when they are coaching their reps, they are reiterating what we are training them on.

And if they have a problem with the training, they don’t think it’s effective, or they’re finding in the field that really this is better, then they come and tell us. They want to be in alignment with us, they want to make sure that their reps are getting the most out of their sales enablement activities. The last thing you want is your rep to attend a training, and then they go out in the field and it doesn’t work, and you have to teach them something else. That’s just wasted time and effort. That’s crazy.

One of the things we did to kind of drive this home to our sales managers is we looked at, what is our revenue as a company and divide that by the number of salespeople. Divide that by the number of hours that they sell and look to see how much our salespeople are worth per hour. It’s in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Is what you are doing with them by taking them out of the field, is that worth x hundreds of dollars per person that you are spending? Because that’s what you are spending.

It’s kind of a simplistic way to look at it, but it really has people step back and go, “oh I need to interact with this team, I am spending x number of dollars by spending an hour with them training them on something. I better be prepared. I better make sure that it’s clear what the sellers are supposed to do with it and what their call to action, why I want them to take this action.” It has really kind of sharpened the skills of the people I have asked to train our sellers, whether it’s a product manager or a product marketing manager or a Salesforce.com expert. I really make sure that they know this is a super valuable resource, our sellers, and you better deliver super valuable training.

SS: That’s excellent. Beyond just your sales leadership, how have you gone about getting executive buy-in, not only to just your sales training efforts but enablement as a whole?

LW: As the leader of the sales enablement group, it’s important that I understand what all of our executives care about, what they need and want from the sales enablement organization. So for example, finance, the head of our finance team. What do they really need and want? Well, one thing is they need to make sure all of the reps are in compliance for finance rules, so I include finance mandatory training. It’s not very often, maybe once a year or once every six months, in the sales enablement effort. So instead of having that be something separate finance has to deal with on their own and try to beg the sellers to figure out and complete, I include that as part of the e-learning program.

The HR tool – we work hand-in-glove with them to bring on and to retain our employees. It is important that as we are hiring our new sellers that we are hiring the skills that we think are going to make them most successful. We’re hiring the kind of people that we think are really going to fit in and work well, and that the best way to do that is to get them really involved in the onboarding program that we have put together. And they love it.

Marketing. Wow. I talk to marketing reps all the time and it is important that I understand what our CMO is doing from campaigns and promotions and what she is looking at from her roadmap so that I can plan to make sure that our sellers are up to speed with everything. So I make sure that I understand their strategies, what they care about, what their pain points are, what their goals are. If I can impact that in my sales enablement activities, that means we’re all on the same team and I would say that’s really important.

So, if you have an organization where the sales team is just being bombarded by messages from all these different groups randomly at no particular interval, it is disruptive to them. It disrupts the sales cycle, it takes them out of the field, it takes them out of the game, and if you can align that all in a single program where you have a newsletter and that’s where this kind of information is. We have AMAs and that’s where we do this kind of information. We have our one-day training and the marketing team can come in and talk for 30 minutes about what is happening on the marketing front. Like I just said, we include finance training into their learning plan.

When you have a plan where it’s all-inclusive for a seller, they can just be like, “okay, when I look at my learning plan and I can plan out four to five hours of my time over the quarter to complete that, I know for sure it’s going to be four to five hours of my time.” It’s not going to be four to five hours plus. Does that make sense?

SS: Absolutely. It’s amazing how much you’ve focused on kind of cutting out the clutter for your reps.

LW: Yeah, my job is 100% making sure I help drive more revenue for the company. If my reps are being distracted and pulled out and confused and having to do three hours of work to put together a presentation for a customer, if they are spending time in ways that we don’t want them to spend time, that’s on me. Because that’s my job: enabling them. So before I do anything with them, I think is this really going to add value or is this going to distract? Do we really need to do this right now? So, I think it’s important.

We just had this big communication that one of the teams wanted to give out to our reps, and we’re in the last ten days of the quarter and we’re driving business, and I said to them, “I don’t think this is going to help us close the quarter. I think we need to wait until the first week of July or the second week of July to pull this together and ask them to watch this video that they wanted them to watch.” If I didn’t have the relationship with the other functional teams, that would have gone out and I would never have known until somebody complained to me about it. And then I just have to try to fix it, which is not what you want to do when you could get in front of it, obviously. So, having those relationships with the other executives and the cross-functional leads is really important so that we’re all playing the same game. We’re all playing the game of having our company be successful and we’re double-checking with everybody to make sure that what we are doing is driving the behavior that we want.

SS: Thanks for listening! For more insights, tips and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you would like to share or a topic you want to know more about, let us know. We would love to hear from you.

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