Episode 64: Marie-Louise Dalsgaard on Fostering a Culture of Openness

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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 tell us a little bit about yourself, your role, and your organization, Marie-Louise.

Marie-Louise Dalsgaard: Absolutely. And thanks for having me. I’m a native Dane, but I’ve lived across six countries, either for work or for study. So, I feel quite vested at least in EMEA, and I also lived in Canada for a while. I kind of honed myself as a tech enthusiast. I love testing out new ways of working, new tools, all of those kinds of things.

And I’ve always been quite an ambitious, people-loving kind of person, which kind of made me go into sales in the first place. I believe, regarding my role, I have completely structured it myself. It was an opportunity I saw as available to help Pleo grow. I presented the opportunity to my VP of sales and the CEO, and they agreed.

Since then, my role has kind of been focused on four core areas, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about. But in general, I deal with the onboarding, the ramping, the mastery, and promotion training of our sales teams. So, a pretty narrow sales enablement role, which is how I like it initially to make sure that I show value and show that success can be made in some of these areas.

The company that I work for is called Pleo. We’re a Danish FinTech company, and we’re quickly becoming sort of the go-to spending solution for forward-thinking businesses. We’re young, we’re ambitious, and we’re backed by VCs, which means that we have tremendous growth planned ahead of us, both in terms of revenue and full-time employees. So it’s just a really exciting journey to be part of Pleo. I’ve been part of it since we were 20 people, which has now grown to over 200, so it’s quite the growth we’ve had.

SS: How exciting. And I’m so glad that you were able to join us today, Marie-Louise, I really appreciate your time. Now, prior to your role in sales enablement at Pleo, you spent some time as a sales manager. I’d love for you to explain to our audience how sales managers can help empower their teams and help elevate performance.

MD: Actually, my time as a sales manager was quite short and a rather turbulent time, I would say, for Pleo. I wouldn’t say I necessarily lived up to the expectations that I’ll set out in my answer here, but it’s the best experience I’ve had for the role in enablement right now. I think in regard to empowerment and elevating performance, it’s not something that sales managers can do. It’s like the core function of their role. They need to do this. They have the people responsibility, and they’re the ones who ensure that there are growth plans and career trajectories for each of our people on the floor.

I give them ideas and guidance and how to motivate their reps and put together actionable plans, but they’re the ones who actually progress it through to the end. I think the key thing for the sales manager role to elevate and empower their teams is to realize that they are the role models.

They’re the ones who lead their teams all the way. Their behavior is bound to rub off on their teams in good and bad ways. And we as a sales enablement team are much more of a supporting function to the reps rather than the sales managers being the actual rock stars of the shows, in my opinion. So, having spent time in that role for me really helps me understand how we can help the sales managers do this, it’s a really big role to be a sales manager. In my opinion, it’s a really broad role and you need to do a ton of things beyond just training and development. Understanding this as an enablement team helps us help the sales managers in a sense.

SS: Fantastic. And now in your current role as a sales enablement lead, how do you work with sales managers and help provide them to better support their team?

MD: Yeah. So that’s the big question. We do a lot of things. One thing sort of as a baseline is that we provide plug-and-play training opportunities for their teams. We want the sales managers to deliver trainings and show their teams what they expect, but we also want to make it really simple and easy for the sales managers. So, we give them all of the content, all of the exercises, all of the speaking points. Everything that they need to run really good trainings with their teams is provided for them in a plug-and-play solution. And this is a very tangible way that we sort of try and help them and provide support for their teams.

Other than that, I would say working with the sales managers is probably the most important part of my job. I report directly to our VP of sales and have a close relationship with our director of sales as well. But the sales managers are the ones who sort of take a stance towards the trainings that I provide and all of the things that my team does. So, I really take a lot of time to sit down and speak to them, hear what they have to say, set out my requirements for them and vice versa, and try to understand what kind of feedback do they have for us and how can we often develop based on that feedback. For me, the sales managers are the key peers that I work with in my day-to-day. It’s super exciting.

SS: Absolutely. Now, I follow some of the work that you’ve done, and you recently said in an interview that a culture of openness is especially important for sales teams to thrive. In sales enablement, how do you help foster that type of culture among sales team?

MD: Yeah, I think openness for me, in general, is just important in a company as much as in a sales team. That’s why I joined Pleo. It’s a very, very straightforward, transparent company. But in sales enablement, I think we’re this sort of first people that every sales rep meets when they’re coming into the company because we run the onboarding of everyone.

And the way we try and foster that openness is to really expect them to give us feedback, really expect them to tell us things that we might not know, expect them to sort of open up and share while we’re in different onboarding sessions. That should lead to them sort of going out as they’re onboarded and they’re continuing into their ramping stage, that they will do that as well on the sales floor.

I think it also comes down a lot to hiring, which my team is not directly involved in right now. Often, certain people will be more prone to being open around feedback and new things. If we hire people who are really good at telling what they think and opening up and providing feedback, well, of course, this is going to be a culture in our company, right?

I think also what sales enablement can do, and what we’ve proven before, is that we can be a little bit of that sort of environment where you’re not under performance pressure. And that creates a very good foundation for an open conversation with these people who’ve just joined our company. I really try and just sit down and talk to everyone who joins us and try to understand who they are and really being open about the challenges that we face as a sales team, as sales enablement, and as an organization, so that they know what they’re getting into and also how they can influence it.

SS: Fantastic. Now, I want to return to that point that you touched on a moment ago around hiring, but I also want to touch on another trait that you had mentioned, which was humility – that it’s also an important trait that you look for in salespeople. Now, from your perspective, why is humility a beneficial trait? And again, how can you help instill that in your new hires?

MD: Yeah, I think humbleness or humility or whatever you call it, the reason why I find it to be an important but also an interesting characteristic in the people that we hire is that I often find that if you’re a humble person, you’re really curious, and that helps you learn more. That helps you grow, that helps you develop. At Pleo, we don’t have an option of not developing our people. We need our people to grow, to succeed in the growth trajectories that we have. If people are prone to naturally being curious, to setting up development tracks for themselves, to really digging into learning beyond what is just provided for them, that allows us to succeed. And that’s where I think humility is such a beneficial trait.

Honestly, I think again, it’s a really hard trait to install in someone. Either you are humble or if you’re on the complete other side of the scale. You have the sharp elbows and a big ego, which we have no room for in Pleo. And again, this comes down to hiring. I’ve done a lot of hiring in my previous roles in Pleo, especially as a sales manager and before. So, I know how hard it is to assess that piece. But when we find those people who are just really humble towards their own learning, that’s where we see the quickest career trajectory, the quickest growth in our company.

SS: That’s fantastic. And I just love your take. What other characteristics do you think help salespeople be more successful?

MD: Yeah. I think it’s quite interesting. I have two that I never really had a proper title for before. I have a really good working relationship with my current VP, but I do think they are the two that just kind of makes or breaks any good salesperson. And it’s about having business acumen, like really going out and understanding business, not just how does Pleo fit in. We’re a FinTech solution, as I mentioned, so it’s fine if you can understand the financial space, you’d probably be able to sell it, but if you can really understand how we speak into the company as a whole on their highest strategic level to the bottom tactical level, that’s when you have that business acumen that makes you more successful.

The second thing, which most of our trainings actually help salespeople to develop is what I call executive presence. Can you step into a room and be present in an authoritative, executive, professional, really good way? I think if you have those two things, you could not be more successful as a salesperson.

SS: Fantastic. I think all of those are amazing traits for salespeople. Now, I do want to spend a little bit of time circling back to that point on hiring. I know that you said that you aren’t currently overseeing the hiring at the moment. But for hiring and onboarding, how do you think sales enablement can help ensure that the salespeople that are onboard have those characteristics and begin to exhibit those a little bit better?

MD: Yeah, I think it’s a big part of any sales floor and a lot of enablement teams are obviously involved in hiring. And as my team sort of progresses wider, I’m sure we will be more as well. But we’re still really a silent, on the side partner in the hiring process. The way that we ensure that people exhibit these traits is through continuous feedback of our perception of our salespeople to the sales managers.

So, how has this person acted during onboarding? Have they participated? Have they been part of them? Have they showcased some business acumen or executive presence or other of our hiring criteria that can help the sales manager know either where to train them better or where they can really take their skills to the next level?

I think the feedback loop between sales enablement and sales managers is the key to ensuring that those salespeople continuously get better and better at those different areas. During the onboarding process, it’s also a lot about setting up exercises and different ways of having training that allows room to train these two things.

So, part of our onboarding, which is very frustrating, but at the end of it, it really giving session, we have something we call the prospecting war room, and it’s actually throwing people into doing prospecting already during their first week with Pleo. And it’s that time where they really get to understand who’s our persona, who are the ones we’re going for?

What kind of pitch should I give to this person? How do all the tools relate to all of this? How do I actually call this person? So, making sure that onboarding and training are not just telling them what to do, but making sure that they engage with everything. That is our way of working and our methodology during the onboarding.

I think that kind of sets the expectations for them, that we expect them to grow really fast and the areas that we expect them to grow in.

SS: That’s fantastic. And I like that notion of a war room and throwing them right in.

MD: Yeah, we’re good at that. We talk a lot about that, something we call the engagement score. We have an onboarding bootcamp for four days, and we want the engagement to be really, really high. And the way that we see engagement is by them doing things, not passively sitting and taking in learning. So, it’s one of the most engaging sessions for sure.

SS: That’s fantastic. Now, just in closing, I’d love to learn from you some of the other ways that sales enablement can help new hires get set up for success from the beginning of their tenure with an organization.

MD: Yeah. I think, again, having an environment where you can be sort of the go-to resource for Q&As that the new hires might not want to take to their managers during their first week. So really setting up that circle of trust every month as we get new employees. We get about between five to 10 new salespeople every month.

Another way that we set them up for success is to set really high expectations. The days of our bootcamp are not easy. It ends with a really strong power hour where they have to call their first clients after four days, and that’s a really high expectation that we have of them, and they all succeed and they all do really well. But making sure that we’re not sort of the soft spot, and then they come out on the other side and they get a completely different experience. We are a fast-paced company, so things need to move fast, and we show that during the onboarding.

Then I think it’s about not seeing onboarding as a one week kind of thing, and then sales enablement can brush their hands and say, “bye, have fun.” We have these four core areas that we are focusing on and they kind of are a continuous cycle of things that happen for the people who join Pleo. So yes, we host a bootcamp initially to immerse them into our company, and then we focus on ramping them over a course of three to four months where they really get weekly new learnings that they need to take in to master their experience. Then there becomes a time where we focus on mastery, and that’s really where we try and train them to become the next promotion level that they get. So really making sure that we’re not just sort of setting them up for success in the first couple of weeks, and then they’re forgetting about us, but we’re constantly with them throughout their whole career in Pleo.

SS: I love that, and I love that the end goal for you guys is mastery. I think that’s absolutely fundamental to an onboarding and ongoing learning environment for sales. Fantastic. Well, thank you, Marie-Louise. Thank you so much for joining us today, all the way from Denmark. I really appreciate your time.

MD: You’re welcome. This was so much fun

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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