Episode 6: Christopher Kingman on Impactful Sales Enablement Initiatives

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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. Joining us today is Christopher Kingman, the director of international sales enablement for TransUnion. Chris has extensive sales enablement experience in training and mentoring, and increasing seller efficiency and effectiveness, as well as problem-solving to increase sales productivity. I would like to better understand what have been your most impactful sales enablement initiatives to date and why?

Christopher Kingman: When I was in the U.S. part of TransUnion, I created a program to address a very common sales problem. Most sales organizations, as they grow, take their best seller and they promote them to sales leader. But as we learn, and as a lot of people know, those jobs are very different. The skills that make you great at sales aren’t necessarily skills that make you a great leader, and just because you’re great at selling doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader and vice versa. I absolutely bombed in sales but I tend to think that I’m an okay sales leader because the jobs are different, the elements are different, the skill sets are different.

So, I designed this program, a 16-week program. It really went from these fundamental concepts, like right out of the MBA program business book down to the very tactical, like “this is the report that you receive on Tuesday, here’s how to interpret it, here’s how to use it” and everything in between. It focused a lot on coaching, developing, and understanding your teams and your people, which I think is one of the most common things that’s overlooked about being a sales leader. Your job is to ensure that your people are successful, that’s it. You’re not selling, you’re not closing, you need to know how to get the best out of your people, and I really focused this program on that. I took them through coaching and made them coach, shadow, lead meetings and talk about presentation skills, negotiation skills, pricing, contracting, all of these things.

The feedback was excellent. All these guys were great but seven of the nine that went through it got promoted before I left that program, and that was huge for me. I was just really proud of that because I think it really made an impact on a lot of these guys. I had one seller who was all about “I don’t understand why my people can’t do this, they need to listen to me, I’m their boss” and went to “I totally get it now, they’re my boss, I work for them” and it was a really great feeling. Personally, I felt like it was a really great achievement for me to just have that impact on people because I like developing leaders. I think if that was the one enablement piece that I could focus on and do, that’s what I would do. I would create a sales enablement leader factory somewhere and just churn out leaders. That’s the thing, when you go through all of the discipline and stuff, it’s kind of built of all these little things that I built, that was the one thing that I really loved doing and so it was just really rewarding for me.

The second thing I did was: we’ve got Salesforce, every little business unit within TU has their own little instance. When I came to head the CRM, it was a proprietary intermediate platform that talked back and forth. I was able to make a lot of improvements from what the Salesforce that we had was, to when I left, chipping away at the field, taking away functionality. In that was an international piece as well, just because it was like, “here’s the U.S. instance translated into Spanish Salesforce, good luck”. I’ve been able to really impact the usage, adoption, and the data hygiene which was an absolute mess, and get people to understand that this tool is not just for your boss to see, this tool is for you. This is a success tool for you, here’s how to prioritize your day, here’s how to figure out who to call first, here’s how to keep track of your opportunities, here’s how to figure out how much money you want to make, here’s how to figure out how to do that by a win rate, in a close race, all these different things.

I laid out a strategic plan. It says, “here’s how we’re going to consolidate six international regions down to one, here’s how we’re going to migrate the UK over to Dynamics and Salesforce, and then here’s how we’re going to migrate everybody over to Lightning”. It just laid out the strategic path because, as involved as I am with technology – and I write about technology, I actually write for Nancy Nardin as well on tech – I really hate clunky technology. It drives me insane. I’m motivated by, “I would never want to use this, so I’ve got to make it better for somebody else”. I would never want to be a seller whose CRM is so out-of-date and clunky that it just eats another job, so I was proud of what I’ve been able to do outside of my own. I’m not an admin, I can’t do that, but what I’ve been able to do with teams, with regions, etc.

SS: That’s awesome. In some organizations, Salesforce can be extremely clunky, so that is impressive. So, what are some of the fun initiatives that you have coming up for the coming year?

CK: Like I mentioned, I just inherited the UK team. They weren’t really aligned to any sort of mission statement or charter. Not one person had any real clear idea of what they did, I mean, somebody had this one piece and then everybody was just kind of reacting to what I called “responsibility roulette”, where they spun a wheel and said, “oh, we need a rules program, well I guess it’s your turn”. So, I sat them all down and had a nice list of everything that they did and I’d say, “what do you want to do? What about your job do you like? What sucks? Where do you want your career to go? I want to align what you’re doing and what we’re going to invest in you to get you into the direction you’re going.” So, that’s been my immediate focus, is just getting this team standing up. It’s a great proof of concept because internationally, I don’t have a lot of enablement resources. I have sales ops resources that are really focused on recording outputs and stuff like that, but training and development-wise I have nothing, sales tech-wise I have nothing, QA doesn’t exist. So this is a good proof of concept to say, “listen, if we invest in this or if we invest in this, this is what you’d probably be able to get out of it”. So pouring my time into that is good.

The other thing is finalizing this inside sales instance here. So, straightened out, they’ve got two different sales roles, they have a point-and-set role and then they have your typical account executive, a hybrid of a sales support role, and a customer service or account manager role.

I developed a three-year plan of how to grow the team to about sixty people by the end of 2021, how to bifurcate the hybrid account manager and sales support role with a 16-week development program around role clarity for the account managers. So, they can decide if they want to be support or if they want to be an account manager which I think is something I’ve never seen before—teaching people how to sell before asking if they want to sell. Most people just kind of fall into it and they’re like, “oh, it’s sales, I could do this” and then they get steamrolled. That’s certainly what happened to me. I thought I could do sales and I failed miserably at it. Then, doing role clarity around account executives and a very aggressive sales skills training roadmap because I think a lot of organizations just assume you can sell.

This is interesting because nowhere else do you just show up and not continually develop your skills. Football players don’t just go to the Super Bowl, they actually have to play games and practice, so why do we assume salespeople don’t need practice or rehashing of their skills? And then, as I said, this international redesign of Salesforce I think is key just because I want to consolidate reporting. I want clean reporting, I don’t want to have seven teams of business analysts across the globe try to come up with numbers and all that stuff. Those are all the things that I’m focusing on, at least here.
Then outside of TU, working with vendor neutral. I go straight to vendor-neutral about sales tech, buying sales tech, since I sort of have an interesting skill set. I’ve gone through the entire buying process multiple times and then now with Nancy Nardin doing write-ups on sales technologies and benefits of that, as well.

SS: Very cool. On that note, the closing question is just really what resources would you recommend for other sales enablement practitioners where they can learn, or maybe a particular resource that you’ve found helpful along your journey?

CK: There are some pretty good books. Corey Bray and there’s another author, I can never remember his name, and they wrote “The Sales Enablement Playbook”. It’s very introductory but it’s great because it gives you the foundational stuff. There’s no Series 7 for sales enablement people, there’s no universal sales enablement code like there are accounting codes, it’s kind of that you just come to do what your business needs and align to the things. His book is great and it’s written for people that are just getting their feet wet. The book by Tamara Schenk and Byron, that ones good too. That one is a little bit more advanced and I would say probably has a little bit more applicability to larger organizations than the solo act or the person who is sales enablement who probably does ten other things. That stuff’s great.

Joining a sales enablement society would also be beneficial, attending some of the seminars are good. The Sales Enablement Soiree I would say is something that people should attend, especially since Dreamforce itself is having more and more enablement content and breakouts, it’s a no-brainer if you’re in that area. It’s very rare to get immersed with so many like-minded people and people who thought they were the only one who had to put up with all this crap because that was definitely my reaction to the first several conferences I went to.

Then, reading the white papers. Mary Shay obviously loves writing about this stuff. Or, getting on LinkedIn and searching – it’s hit or miss with the content but it’s good enough. I think Highspot put out a couple of those little introduction to sales enablement/sales readiness guides, which are good. I mean, I brought them over here and left them on somebody’s desk and told them to read it before I got back, so stuff like that. We all laugh and it’s like, “oh, that’s whatever”, but to some people, that’s like a blueprint. Stuff like that goes a long way and I really wish I had that when I was trying to figure this out or figuring out what I could go do because my default is to go find a problem and fix it. Fix a problem, spin it off, have somebody go demonstrate why fixing this problem matters, have somebody go run it for you, and then build that function out to where we know it’s making an impact. Then go fix another problem. So, anything like that would help people really figure out what’s wrong with their organization or, not even what’s wrong, but here’s how I can go make it better.

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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