Episode 34: Cori Hartje on Sales Enablement’s Responsibility to Change Management
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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.
I would love for you to introduce yourself, your title, and your organization.
Cori Hartje: My name is Cori Hartje, and I lead the sales enablement team, as well as a group of folks that do technical training, for Poly. Our technical training side is what you typically think of as the “university” and our sales enablement side is a global team that does all things sales enablement – from onboarding to skills and improving the continual learning of our sales folks.
SS: Well, I am so glad to have you today. It’s interesting, we were actually just coming out of the Sales Enablement Soirée event last week and one of the panels was really around change management. I know that you’ve been a part of Poly as it has experienced a massive change during its recent merger. How do large company changes like mergers and acquisitions impact sales enablement?
CH: Well, I’ve certainly been both on the acquiring, the acquired, and of course this new model of taking two rather large companies and putting them together to make a new company called Poly. And it is a really heavy lift for the sales enablement team. Every time there is a merger or change management or organizations coming together, it’s sort of like a snowflake. There’s no magic wand for driving together or managing that change. There are still some processes that have to be considered and actually be deliberately planned.
If you were taking notes on this, I would suggest that you write down four words on a big table. The first one is “people”, the second line will be “processes”, the third is “priorities”, and the fourth is “products”. They’re not in any particular order, although “people” has to be first. Any time you are doing any kind of change management, it generally falls apart or succeeds based on the people and how you manage that. I mean, any time there is change, of course, people wonder, what does this mean to me? How am I going to fit in? The key thing in sales enablement is making sure that you’re re-recruiting your best salespeople, your best sales leaders, to make sure that they stay on the team. A lot of people get fear, uncertainty, and doubt and start to want to change. And there’s a fundamental reason for that, and that is that everybody wants to be where they can be successful. Successful people want to be where they can be successful.
One of the key things on the people is that we over-communicate. So, with people, that people piece, it’s really about having a communications plan. And it can’t be just haphazard, it has to really be deliberate. I would say that any time there’s change management, people need to know what’s happening, why is it happening, what does that mean to me, how am I impacted by it, and then what do I need to do with it? Not only are salespeople impacted by change, but the whole company really is. We had to plan out in our last case how are we going to put that together? So, over-communicating is really the key to how are you going to manage change. As human beings, we need to know what it is, why is it happening, how does it impact me, and what I need to do with it.
I’ll go to the second thing that I think is important and that is the priority piece. In the case of mergers and acquisitions, knowing what the priorities are that come first and that comes second. Because you can’t do all the change that needs to be done in the six months after you’ve merged your companies or your salesforces or gone private or whatever you’re going to do — that big change that affects the salesforce. You can’t really know what to start with and you have to start somewhere. So, you have to identify what the priorities are, and maybe the priorities come from sales leadership. The best way that we found to do this is to really open up and talk to different groups — talk to sales leaders in different regions, talk to the big stakeholders in marketing or in HR, and find out what are their priorities.
Then, start to coalesce those together into: what does next month look like, what do three months look like, what do six months look like, in a year where would we want to be? I think you can say that you have to identify where we’re at now, like what is the steady-state right now of where we’re at with these priorities? What does it look like? What do we aspire them to be? Then, what do we need? What is the gap that we need to fill? And the gap is where you’re going to have all those tactics and actions that you’re going to look at.
The third area that we look at are the processes. In change management, especially in a merger or acquisition, the processes are probably one of the most overwhelming and time-consuming pieces. This is where the sales enablement team is going to be doing a lot of cross-team work, and it’s going to involve the IT department, the HR departments, sales operations. And depending on the structure of the team you’re going to plot a critical path. When I say “processes”, I mean things like two sales CRM tools, two pricing tools, two account management methodologies, negotiation standards, and policies. You’re bringing together two very successful sets of processes, and there’s sort of negotiation and a give-get of how do we take those two and put them into the best one?
And then, of course, another change area is the channels team and your partner ecosystem, which does impact all the marketing and all the tools. So, you have to sort of line out from beginning to end, what are the processes and how are they going to go? A lot of people will say we’ve got major systems. I’ve got CRM, I’ve got pricing-quoting configuration tools, I have different kinds of communications, I have content tools, I have learning tools, and what are the critical paths for those? And of course, the content management tools are super important to this because now all of your salespeople need to come to one place to look.
And then probably, the easiest one is the products, because the products people can learn. There’s no big emotional hurdle to picking up another part of the company’s products that are new to you. That is also where content systems really play. E-learning is an option, although it takes time to develop the learning. We have something called “Ask Me Anything” webinars. We’ll have an expert on the topic get on and we’ll record that.
What we did was we had two entirely different salesforces and we then took all of one salesforce and made a learning plan for them that we tracked within the LMS and they had three months to get all the way through it. Some of it was live, some of it was on e-learning, some of it was a discussion with different folks. The other side of the company also had a totally different learning path to learn their complementary products. Actually, that was probably the easiest part, learning the two products. I’ll tell you what the hardest part was — learning the products is easy but learning the scenarios and the buyer journey for each set of products takes a lot more time. So, in summary, those are the main things: people, processes, priorities, products, and then of course trying to make yourself a big chart and what is the steady-state right now, what do we aspire to be, and all the tactics and processes and actions that we’re going to take to get there.
Then, you want to figure out what does success look like? It might be a metric. People get very metric-focused. Sometimes it’s qualitative, sometimes it’s quantitative, sometimes there’s a survey. Of course, you want to make your revenues and your margins, and those are going to be always measured. But there should be some other areas that you look at and say, if this is working this way, if there’s full participation, if we do a survey, if we do feedback, and it’s at this top box level, we’re happy with what we’re doing.
SS: I love that, the four “P’s” of change management. That is amazing. I’d love to dive into some of the challenges that you’ve faced as you’ve been dealing with these change management initiatives.
CH: I think the logical largest hurdle in any kind of change management is the people area. And that’s because people care about what they’ve been doing and they love what they’ve been doing, and now someone comes along says, “Okay, we want you to do something about that and something else too — and by the way, you have three months to get at it.” What people need to know is the strategic vision about why we’re doing it. Sales management plays a big role in communicating that. Sure, our executives will do company meetings and that type of thing with a larger message, but how it plays out and what I tell my customers is just as important.
So, when sales enablement is helping the field get ready, they also have to have the field get ready to meet with customers about what this change means to them. There are so many moving parts that if you’re going to be going through this kind of a change, expect a lot of hours and sleepless nights.
SS: It sounds like from your perspective, sales enablement is really responsible for making sure that they are coming up and crafting those messages, not only internally for your internal customers by way of sales reps, but also externally with your buyers.
CH: There was one thing that we did that was interesting in a new hire sales class to test our theories about some of the changes. Our new hires weren’t brand new hires, meaning they hadn’t started that date, most who had been there a month or two during this change. We used a mobile tool to record them and what we said to them is, “we want you to practice having the conversation with a new account to you that you’re taking over from another rep.” Because now we’re merging the salesforces. What is that going to sound like? How are you going to make sure that your customer knows that we’re not to shoveling them around? The customers are just as upset about getting a new rep as new reps are about changing territories. It’s just as horrible. And I think if you’ve ever had a great rep from a vendor, you understand it when someone comes along and says, “Okay, we’ve merged companies and here’s your new route.” That doesn’t feel good.
So, we have to help that with these account transitions. Whether you call it a “white glove treatment”, there has to be a good account planning before anybody drops the ball on an account they’re working on. They move to a new set of accounts, playing musical chairs, they need to really brief on that account plan and together they need to present that to the customer and say, “You are an important customer of ours and we know that change is difficult and we want you to know that we thought about this. Here are the areas we’ve worked on, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s where we are with your account.” That is a good way to transition and I think that was a lesson learned for us that that there’s two sides to change management, not just the internal side but also the customer and a partner side.
SS: Absolutely, absolutely. So, you mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I’d like for you to dive in a little bit. How, from your perspective, should one measure the success of their ability to roll out this change management within an organization?
CH: Well, measurement in sales enablement is always the holy grail, and I have never met a sales enablement leader that has that totally nailed. I think when we look at how we might measure, of course, it is the obvious sales operations measurements: revenue margin, percentage of people meeting quotas, and that sort of thing. We can do that, and we can measure it that way.
One thing that we have measured is that we look at training and meeting quota, meaning, is there a correlation between doing all your required training and doing your quota? What we discovered was that there is a correlation. We don’t know whether it’s causation or not. What we found out in our own data was that if you met 100% of your quota and you did 100% of your learning – 100%, not 90% — you were probably the same person that met 100% of your quota. So, that person was likely to have done both more than not. That was really interesting. Now, could we say that those people are just A+ personalities? Maybe, so that is an area.
The other area in change management is tone, and you have to be really intellectually honest with yourself as you as you talk to the field. And you can’t do this from the ivory towers of corporate. You really have to be talking to sales leaders and sales professionals about what’s missing, what are you needing. We do surveys on the sales enablement program, and I will say that a sales enablement team that’s going through change management in a merger is likely to have some low scores because people are uneasy and it’s not going to be perfect. So, while we might have been really high before the merger, you have the whole norming, forming, storming, performing kind of thing. We had some bumps in that because we’re expecting a lot.
It’s hard, I think the empathy that we have, as sales enablement people we have to have a lot of empathy for the field. And when we express that empathy and they can see that we’re listening, that helps a lot. That we acknowledge that the extra training burden that we’re putting on you is really big, the extra account management is really large, you’re uncomfortable, you’re going to be carrying a new quota for new product — and just calling it out, just acknowledging that this is hard is important, and not to put too many other burdens on them. Change one thing at a time. It’s one piece of advice, and double test it before you launch it.
SS: I love that. And on the mention of advice, I would really love to understand from you, for sales enablement professionals that are maybe facing a change management initiative for the first time, what advice do you have for how to prioritize the sales enablement activities that they do?
CH: One important area of prioritization is making sure that the sales enablement team has done a read out with a number of stakeholders. And that might be the sales leaders, the vice presidents, the chief sales officer, as well as the marketing teams, listening in on things at the C-Suite. Depending on the size of the company, listening in on things the CEO is saying and looking at that. We need to then help prioritize and we have to be the voice of reason saying, “All this is not going to change at one time.” We have to help them prioritize a set of cascading outcomes.
And that takes a little bit of thought. We can’t jump to the end, we have to start with what are the critical paths for what things need to change first. Some of that might be account planning, it might be product knowledge, there might be process knowledge.
One of the really uncertain things that a salesperson goes through when they’re merging into another sales team is how do I even transact business? What are my processes? How do I log this opportunity? Who do I go to? Having the marketing team really engage is so important. The marketing team itself is probably merging together, and so as we can figure out who is responsible for what, making sure that they’re very available. And that is key, that we’re all in this together. We have to keep remembering that this is a team sport and when someone is struggling, that people are there to help.
One key area that any kind of big change the sales enablement team is going to get ahold of or be responsible for in the company, is to make sure there’s an alias that has a lot of people on it that will help support change. So, whatever the company decides, that on a company-wide alias, there’s somebody that can answer legal questions, marketing questions, sales questions, there’s a core group on the alias for anything that’s unknown. The reps can say, “I can get to that.” So, that’s a lesson learned that can help a lot.
SS: I just want to close on this particular topic because you had mentioned that successful people want to be where they can be successful. What’s one of the ways while going through change management that you’ve shown your reps that they can continue to be successful within your organization? What’s an initiative that you’ve done to keep them on board?
CH: Well, recruiting your best performers is certainly a really important part of change management. As I said, successful people want to be where they can be successful. There are a lot of ways everyone measures their own success. The obvious one to salespeople, of course, is quota attainment. We’ve been fortunate that our sales leaders recognized that there has to be some generous give to the change, meaning you can’t expect everybody to have the same attainment. Great performers are going to have a little bit of a hesitancy if they feel like, “Okay, I’m going to get this quota and suddenly I have to figure it out”. In our case, they really did a great job of transitioning through a couple of quarters of quota generosity, of commission, and that really helped a lot.
The other one is setting up peer support. Every change, every acquisition or merger, is going to be a little different. If you’re going to combine sales teams, then it’s really great if you can make sure that on each distinct team where there’s a manager, that there are a little bit of both companies on those teams. That way, there’s a person on there that’s an expert at their legacy products and processes and they can share that.
Those sales managers are so key to having team meetings where everybody is checking in on their personal feelings and status as well as their account status. Sales mantras cannot just have pipeline reviews during this change management. It has to be really on a personal level. Successful sales managers that do that and have team champions on different topics — maybe they’ll find somebody to be a team champion on Product A, Product B, who is the liaison to marketing, who is our voice to certain systems — so that they all feel like they’re engaged, they’re coming together as a team. That will help them be engaged. When they don’t feel like they’re hearing anything, that they have no responsibility, that they’re sort of left out there and no one’s getting their feedback, that’s when you start to lose really good people who think, “I don’t see a place for me here.” So, you want to make sure that everybody is engaged and that really goes beyond the sales enablement team to the local sales manager.
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.