Episode 56: Gretchen Sleeper on Creating a Frictionless Enablement Experience

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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.

Today, I’m excited to have Gretchen Sleeper join us from Cisco Systems. Gretchen, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your title, and your organization.

Gretchen Sleeper: Sure, of course. My name is Gretchen Sleeper, and I work for Cisco Systems. If you don’t know who we are, we’re the worldwide leader in networking for the internet. About 85% of all internet traffic travels across Cisco Systems.

My role at the company is to design, deliver, and manage the sales enablement automation platform that we call Sales Connect. It is built for our internal customer-facing roles and all of our partners globally. We have a really small team, small but mighty, on the biz side of about nine, and access to a larger it team with dedicated resources.

I’ve been with Cisco in various roles for over 10 years and combined with my background in sales enablement, I have experience in customer relationship management, sales strategy, financial analysis, acquisition financing, and I’m a certified change manager. All of which I bring to bear, in my current role.

SS: Absolutely. Those are all fundamental components to sales enablement. And that’s very interesting. I didn’t know some of that stuff about you. Well, I’m very lucky to have you today on the podcast. You also recently participated in an event that we hosted, the Sales Enablement Soirée in San Francisco, and there you had actually said that your responsibility is making sure that all customer-facing teams have everything they need to delight the customer at the end of the day. I would love to hear from you in your own terms why that customer-centric approach is important for sales enablement.

GS: Yeah. Well, it really starts back with Cisco’s DNA is about creating a long-lasting customer relationship, working together with our partners to identify our customer’s needs and really provide solutions to help fuel our customer’s success. To that end, we center our sales process around first understanding our customer’s needs. Our teams need to understand the segment their customers are playing in, whether it’s a public sector service provider, or a small business. And because every customer is different, we dive into their industry to really understand the specific challenges they may be facing and how those can be solved with technology.

To compliment this, over the past couple of years, we have been redesigning our content strategy and our platforms to align. We are enhancing the way we train both our sellers and partners and ensuring that our enablement assets and how we deliver them to our end-users take them on a journey of learning everything, from how we onboard our new hires that are early in career to our seasoned sellers is focused on a learning journey that takes them through specific phases of learning. No longer do they have to figure out what training to take next. We’ve built role-specific learning paths for our sellers and our partners, and it all starts with a discovery phase and understanding how you go have a conversation with a customer and discover what their needs are. Basically listening.

SS: Well, I love that. You had also brought up during the Sales Enablement Soirée cross-functional partners that you work with. And I think given your background, you have deep empathy for some of these, but you had mentioned some of the less commonly discussed ones like finance and customer success. So, why are those important partners for sales enablement?

GS: They both provide us with really valuable information, it’s just different. To either enhance our content or help us validate the impact of the content that we are providing. Our customer success or customer experience organization that Chuck Robbins, our CEO, formed over two years ago, is really the linchpin with our customers. They are on the journey with our customers after they purchase solution from us. Once a customer purchases solution, you could think of it as being physically on the dock. That does not mean the benefit to the customer has been delivered. They have the insights into the experience with the customer, which can help us inform our messaging and how it’s landing.

And just as many IT leaders, our customers are faced with and under pressure to really defend their investments. So are we, on the enablement side. The finance team really helps us understand two main things. One, the complete cost of enablement from people to vendor spend to IT spend and to helping us understand bookings, the sales cycle, portfolio trends, so we can make informed decisions around spend and we can help identify those areas where perhaps in the portfolio we need to make sure we’re giving them more focus.

SS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And how do some of those partners also help sales enablement become more customer-centric?

GS: Well, first I would like to call out and as you said previously, we do work with a lot of people throughout Cisco. A lot of teams. We work with product development, marketing. We work with the analytics and data scientist teams, and they help us understand and help us come up with an approach to enablement and give us that to help us with our customer-centric lens. So, I don’t want to leave them out.

My team really owns the enablement platform, but we don’t create content without those partnerships. Our users would basically see blank pages on the platform. But of the two previously mentioned, I would have to say that the customer experience team is really the one that helps enhance our customer-centric view.

Let’s start from the customer’s point of view because the way that our customers work and play, it has reached such an incredibly high level of sophistication and complexity that it really requires us to have a new approach to how we help customers plan, design, implement, and manage their technology to ensure that they’re delivering the outcomes that the customers are expecting.

We see our customer experience team at the center of that approach. As I stated previously, I like to think of it as the old game of telephone when we enable our sellers and partners with X with the hope that the customer’s heard X once we’re ready to partner with them and deploy their solutions. If there is a disconnect between the expectations that the customer has, this sort of customer experience team can help us refine and start to close those gaps in our enablement efforts. Was the technical information not sufficient? Do they need more information on a validated network design? Would it have been helpful if they talked to a reference customer in the same industry of the same size in the same country?

What we’re trying to find is that feedback loop that can continuously help us refine what we do at the start of the sales cycle.

SS: Yeah. I love that. I love that. Now, looking a little bit ahead, you had mentioned that you are beginning to think more and more about hyper-personalization and I think that this is a natural transition from being very customer-centric to kind of really personalizing each and every touchpoint. But what does hyper-personalization mean for sales enablement?

GS: Ah, yes, the scary stuff. We sort of think of this like imagine a day when a seller or partner opens up their sales portal on Sales Connect, our platform, and it has connected the unconnected. Remember at the Soirée, I owned up to the fact that we had a little over 200 systems. So imagine if we took those 200 systems and all the terabytes of data that tell us who you are, what training you’ve taken, what opportunities are in your pipeline, give you a full 360-view of your customer relationship and what is the next likely solution you should position based on support cases, TAM, and wallet share.

Because for us, enablement is ensuring our customer-facing roles have what they need at the right time so they can deliver that exceptional customer experience. That may be content, but it could also be a targeted list of customers by solution. It could be recent news articles about your customer or a list of partners with advanced credentials that can help you bring that solution to your customer.

What we don’t want or what we like to remove is the need for searching for applicable content. No more jumping from one tool to the other, out of those 250, who put it all in a single place. We’re looking to build a frictionless enablement experience that knows you so we can grow the business.

SS: I love that, and I suspect your sales reps would also love that.

GS: Yes.

SS: One area that you acknowledged can be a challenge for sellers is the proliferation of tools. As you mentioned, you have quite a tech stack. So, as the digital experience platform owner, how do you help reduce some of that complexity?

GS: Wow. Some of it is the bigger the company, the more tools. The great thing about Cisco is we have a lot of smart people and everyone is allowed to innovate. The bad thing about Cisco is we have a lot of smart people and everyone is allowed to innovate, which rapidly gives us a ton of boutique applications.

I have to say, we are making progress. Just over six months ago, our executive leadership made an investment in standing up a global organization, the global digital platforms team under Alan Love, for which my team sits. One of the first challenges is knowing the problem, just like a customers’: What is the pain point?

We need to understand the needs of our sellers and our partners, sort of virtually walk in their shoes to understand where that friction is within their day. So, what do they do from the time they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night? We know we have too many tools, some with usage in the double digits. We know we have overlap, multiple tools doing the same thing, just with a minor twist that is confusing and frustrating to all our customer-facing roles.

So, first, we completed an assessment with metrics for all the tools because metrics are really key for us to understand the impact the tool is having on the business. Then we set the criteria for those core applications. Luckily mine, Sales Connect, has been named core. Then we set the criteria for the potential retirement list. No business owner, you’re on the list, little or no usage, you’re on the list, duplicate the functionality of one of the core applications, you’re on the list and so on.

Then, Alan partnered with our global IT team around how and why new tools are deployed, and they’re jointly working on a governance model for our entire global sales organization. As such, we really start to see a slow-down in new tools. That’s the proof, seeing a slow-down in new tools, and we’re seeing more teams come to us asking us about functionality versus just building a tool themselves. One small step, but it’s the right one in the right direction.

SS: Yeah, it definitely sounds like it. And you touched on a very important topic there, just briefly, which is adoption. So, given the size and scale of the company, how do you help drive adoption of sales enablement initiatives across all the customer-facing teams?

GS: We’re in an enviable position with where I sit as being the platform owner, because we’ve been around for five years and we have continuously increased our capabilities over time as such. We have 90% adoption in sales. 90% of the sellers within Cisco are using our platform. We have over 200,000 unique users. When you say sales enablement, the first thing everybody says is, “Oh, did you look on Sales Connect?”

But what we consider our role to be in helping the other teams who are creating the content, creating those initiatives, is to constantly be improving our platform and thinking of unique ways to help them move their programs forward.

We work with the content creators and help them leverage the platform so they can reach their target audience. Everything from content publishing to building microsites, to allowing them placement on the homepage. We provide a full suite of services so that we can help them make smarter decisions about their content, and then we can make smarter decisions about new functionality on the platform.

We are continuously improving our capabilities and seeking feedback from our users and customers. Basically, the listening for us just never stops.

SS: I love that. 90% adoption, that is impressive. So, kudos to you, Gretchen, and everything that you’ve been doing over at Cisco. And thank you so much for joining our podcast today.

GS: It was my pleasure.

SS: Excellent. 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, let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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