Episode 60: Devon McDermott on Creating Competency Maps for Sales Roles

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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 Devon McDermott, VP of global sales enablement at CM Group join us. Devon, I’d love for you to introduce yourself to our audience.

Devon McDermott: Sure. My name is Devon McDermott and I am the VP of global enablement at CM Group. If you’re not familiar, CM Group is a portfolio of marketing technologies. Some of our brands include Sailthru, Campaign Monitor, Liveclicker, and Vuture, and that’s to name a few.

The global enablement team at CM Group is a very small but mighty team, and we support enablement efforts across all of our brands with a focus on internal sales and customer success teams and some of our customers.

SS: I’m very excited to have you on this podcast, Devon, so thank you so much for joining us.

DM: Thanks for having me.

SS: We actually met recently when you participated at our event, the Sales Enablement Soirée, in San Francisco. And there you had mentioned that one of your passions is breaking down organizational silos. Why is sales enablement well positioned to do so?

DM: Yes. So, I am all about breaking down organizational silos. And that’s because organizational silos don’t benefit anyone. And for enablement, as I’m sure you know, that is especially true. Enablement is by far one of the most cross-functional teams in any organization. And we have to be tightly aligned with, I’d say, just about every team, and that includes marketing, product marketing, sales, HR, product, and even IT for support with our tech stack.

It’s my opinion that by aligning cross-functional teams and program initiatives and ensuring they’re connected to core business goals and strategy, what we can do is actually up the chances of meaningful correlations between enablement efforts and business success. And more importantly, and also very selfishly, it increases the likelihood of executive and manager buy-in and reinforcement of the initiatives that we deploy. I think we all know manager buy-in and reinforcement can make or break any enablement initiative.

SS: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. So, from your perspective, what are some best practices for breaking down some of these silos?

DM: Yeah. I definitely have a few opinions about this. First, it’s essential to have a clear company mission and vision, along with very clear, tangible goals that are developed by the northern-most leaders in an organization. And knowing how each team is going to partner together to support that vision is something that we can rally around. Specifically, I think if we think about goal setting frameworks, like OKRs or V2moms, these are awesome for outlining team-specific visions, values, methods, and measures, with a clear path back to how it supports the overarching company vision. And what it does is provides almost like a map of how each team in the organization should work together to accomplish their shared goals.

One other thing that I think is essential to help break down those silos are team-specific charters with executive sponsorship. And it’s my opinion that charters are essential to gain the alignment that we need with that detailed map of who our key stakeholders are, who our key players are across functional roles and responsibilities. At CM Group, in our charters and in our V2moms, we outlined which key partners support various dependencies to help us reach our desired outcomes.

SS: And in building some of those cross-functional partners, you had mentioned earlier just a moment ago that one of your key partners is HR. Why is it important for sales enablement to work closely with human resources?

DM: Yeah, it’s not only important, I think it’s essential for enablement to partner closely with HR. For us, they’re part of our onboarding accountability flow, and by cultivating a meaningful relationship with HR, we’re able to take a holistic approach to onboarding and go beyond the bottom line and basic metrics and actually develop and nurture our sales team and really our full employee base.

At CM Group, enablement also partnered with the HR team to standardize our company-wide roles, responsibilities, areas of expertise, foundational and role-specific competencies, as well as an approach to career leveling for standardization across the organization, which is really key for determining the right learning paths and milestone tracking to actually empower people to move up or across our company.

And actually, one other thing that I think is really important about the HR and enablement partnership is it allows us to improve our hiring process. So, by aligning on those roles and responsibilities and competencies, we can create clearer assessments and skill tracking. On the enablement side, that’s really important because that empowers us to curate a more targeted onboarding and ever-boarding experience for the teams we support, along with much more meaningful certifications or assessments and coaching opportunities throughout the process. What that does is ensures that we’re focused on continually developing and empowering the teams we support to make sure that they’re executing flawlessly and be leveling up and seeing progress in the organization.

SS: Absolutely, and I think those points are very valid to this next question, but I want to anchor it a little bit more concretely in two particular areas. How can sales enablement impact retention and attrition, and why is it a sales enablement responsibility?

DM: Yeah. So, there are myriad reasons why someone chooses to leave an organization, and I think we could probably sit here for hours and share our personal stories. I think we can save that for a different podcast though. But what we know is that the main reasons why people leave companies are lack of motivation and progress, limited career growth, boredom, and bad managers. Additionally, we know very clearly that the cost of hiring and onboarding a new sales rep is extensive. It’s expensive, and it can take anywhere from six to eight months, sometimes even 12 months, to fully ramp a typical sales rep to begin seeing results. So, clearly retention is crucial, and retention begins by hiring the right people.

It continues with a targeted role-specific onboarding process and continues even further by supporting the new hire with the right enablement programming, and most importantly, manager support. But by doing this, we can increase the new hire’s chance for success, which facilitates mastery and gives them a clear purpose and path forward.

So, at CM Group, we started to strategize our onboarding and our ever-boarding programs. We actually did so by partnering with HR and sales leadership to fully understand why people left. I took some time and looked through a number of exit interviews to uncover the answer to the greatest question, which is why did people feel that their only option was to leave our organization? And what I did, is we used those findings to build better programs, to support our team members at every single point in their life cycle with us. And it’s about building what I like to call the “success machine.” So, with the right components, with the right enablement partners, with sales leadership, and delivering and reinforcing and assessing the impact of these programs on rep success and development, we have a meaningful plan in place to retain our best players.

SS: I love that. What are some of the ways that sales enablement helps to nurture career progression for sales reps?

DM: Yeah. Again, I think it comes down to the fact that we’re all human beings, right? And human beings crave very basic things. One is momentum in their personal and work lives.
And I think we can all agree that nothing’s worse than being in a static or stagnant place in any aspect of our lives. What we also want is a clear path to success. So, I’m very into Daniel Pink’s three key components of intrinsic motivation. Essentially, what Pink says is that motivation is based on three key factors. Those factors are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

So, quick overview. Autonomy is the control you have over what you do. And the theory says, the more control you have, the more likely you are to be motivated. Mastery is momentum, as we mentioned before, and the progress that you’re able to make. So, as you improve and see progress, again, your motivation is going to be a little bit higher. And the third one, purpose, is the meaning you get from your work.

So, enablement along with managers and leaders – there’s that partnership again – can play a key part in empowering our teams to embody these motivating factors. And if we think about specifically, if we want to look at how enablement programming can address some of this, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a little bit of a story with you about how we’re currently doing it.

So, we run a 30-day, role-specific onboarding program for our sales and customer success teams. We have, as I mentioned before, a very detailed competency mapping along with roles, responsibilities, areas of expertise, and leveling. And we share this up-front so that team members know how to get where they want to go.

We also offer very robust ever-boarding programs, and that includes skill development and manager training, coaching opportunities, the opportunity to engage in external classes, so things that we’re not necessarily offering in-house or even workshops. We do offer on-the-job certifications and we have opportunities to level-up through what we cleverly or not-so-cleverly call our mentor program.

The mentor program is actually tied to the 30-day onboarding programs that we run. And it’s not just someone who takes you out for coffee or takes you to lunch. This is a coveted role. And to become an onboarding manager is kind of like getting a gold star or whatever the cool adult version is to that, and the mentor is sort of a manager-in-training. Sometimes I call them like the mini manager. They support and coach and help to certify and empower the new hires that come onboard. They’re partnered with them beyond even the 30-day track. What it does is it allows them to flex their managerial muscles in a really meaningful way.

In addition to that program, which is awesome for that career progression, we also encourage our sales team members to lead various trainings for the team. So, obviously with enablement support, we help to guide them, but they cover skills training, process training, product, or deal execution. What it does, selfishly again for enablement, it helps us to support adoption and process adoption on new things that we’re launching to the field. But it also helps to develop reps’ skills. So, those are your presentation skills and delivery skills and so on. It’s an incredibly meaningful program to help our reps truly excel and feel that they’re being supported and developed in everything that they do.

SS: Now, you mentioned this, and I want to dive just a little bit deeper so our audience that’s interested in doing something similar can kind of follow your best practices. You mentioned mapping out kind of robust roles and responsibilities and competencies. What does that exercise entail?

DM: I totally surprised myself by becoming a champion of enablement’s role in competency mapping. It’s definitely something I avoided in previous roles because it felt that it was just too big and too nebulous. But once I started taking on the strategy development and deployment of role-specific onboarding to drive meaningful, tangible improvements in ramp metrics, it actually became essential to understand exactly who we were hiring, why we were hiring them, where they excelled, and where there were competency or skill gaps.

I’ll also say that if you are trying to deploy this at your organization, it is a massive undertaking. And what I learned is that you have to keep it simple. It’s something that – and I think I’ve seen this at other companies – is so easy to overcomplicate and over-engineer. What happens when you do that is that it becomes impossible to implement. It becomes impossible to support. It becomes impossible to update, and it very, very quickly becomes outdated and unusable.

So, I started very simply by bringing together a task force, including key leaders from each team at our organization, so that cross-functional work becomes essential in this process.
Thankfully, the task force did include folks who had already been brainstorming their roles and responsibilities and competencies for their team so that they could start establishing career ladders and targeted development plans. So, those folks were very excited about the alignment on this project.

But I started with a spreadsheet in Excel, and thankfully we are now using a project management tool, but I asked each team to map out their foundational and role-specific competencies. Our head of HR was and still is a key stakeholder in this project. And what we did from that point is we layered on company-approved career levels maps to each role. From there, and we’re continuing to do this now, we’re developing robust hiring plans for each team with targeted questions tied to specific competencies and areas of expertise along with a basic assessment and scoring rubric. This is to ensure we’re hiring the “right folks”, and that we have a plan with the right learning solutions to develop, grow, nurture, and most importantly, retain those happy and successful employees.

I do want to say one other thing on this topic though. I took a great class through ATD with Reza Sisakhti on sales talent development where I learned so much about this process, how to track results, and most importantly, how to bring it to life. And that course was essential to help set myself up for success with this project.

SS: Fantastic. And in closing, because I want to bring this full circle, how can competency mapping and focusing on career progression impact sales culture? And then why is that an important metric for business success?

DM: Yeah, it’s so important. Sales culture and employee development is so much bigger than competency mapping, but what competency mapping tied to career leveling and development planning does is it provides the right motivation. There was an article in the Harvard Business Review called “The Power of Small Wins” that talks about worker motivation. And they mentioned that the biggest motivator at work was the sense of making progress and not feeling stuck or stagnant, which we talked about earlier. And obviously motivation and movement are key. We’re motivating the team by giving them foundations for mastery and success through a very clear roadmap for leveling up and providing the enablement and talent development solutions to actually get there. So, it’s the full scope of what we need to do to empower our employee success and to drive a meaningful sales culture.

SS: I love that. Thank you so much, Devon, for joining us today. I think our audience learned a ton from you.

DM: Awesome. Thank you so much. This was great.

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

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