Episode 69: Alan Love on Core Elements of a Go-to-Market Tech Stack

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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 Alan Love from Cisco Systems join us. Alan, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Alan Love: Yeah. Thanks. It’s great to be here, I appreciate the invitation. My name is Alan Love. I’m the go-to-market digital platforms leader at Cisco. What that means is that I lead a team of professionals that develop the strategy through execution for all of the digital platforms that support our global sales organization. I’ve kind of operated off of a pretty simple principle from the beginning of my career – which was in sales, carrying a bag, so to speak – that nothing good happens until somebody sells something. So, we want to help our sellers make great things happen for our customers and beyond.

SS: I love that. Now, in your opinion, what are essential elements of a go-to-market tech stack? What types of tools do you think go-to-market teams need to drive results?

AL: Yeah. I use a couple of lenses. I’ll clear one first because it may be the most obvious, and then I’ll give the one that we actually use. The first lens is obviously a process lens. You can think about sort of the ability to generate and nurture demand. So, think about that as the typical digital marketing stack that really stretches end to end across the process life cycle. It’s more than demand generation. It’s nurturing our relationship with our customer up to the point of sale and beyond. As we onboard and help customers adopt technology and even renew and expand the relationship out into the future, from a sales-specific perspective, there is plan, land, and expand. We need tools that support all of those processes.

And then finally, the ability to manage and reward performance is another sort of foundational process that runs from beginning to end. So, there’s clearly the process lens that you can use to define the essential elements of the go-to-market tech stack. But for me and for the team that I lead, the way we’re thinking about it is more through a capability lens. And really three buckets of capability, if you will: enablement, engagement, and execution. So, enablement really for us is about ensuring that salespeople have what they need when and where they need it. Think about access to experts, access to assets, access to training, access to expertise. Whatever they would need access to when and where they need it. That’s really the goal of enablement and the tools that support that capability.

The second category is engagement, which is maybe even an overlooked aspect of the “go-to-market tech stack.” Because if you think about where sellers spend the majority of their time, it’s in an email tool, in their calendar, or in some sort of chat tool that you might have available. Obviously, there are various tools that support those kinds of capabilities, but that’s where they spend the majority of their time collaborating internally and externally. So, that’s what we mean by engagement, making sure they have the right tools to collaborate internally with colleagues and externally with partners and customers. And because they spend so much time there, we want to make sure that we’re contemplating those tools as part of our overall stack because we want to capture data there. We want to present capabilities there because we want the motion to be as normal as possible and as natural and native as possible for the sales professional.

And then the last piece is execution. And that’s really what we do to accelerate impact in the market by automating and improving core sales processes. So, think about that as the ability to manage a deal, the ability to manage an account across the end-to-end life cycle, the ability to manage performance. And so, when we think about our tech stack, we’re really making sure that we have touched all the bases in that capability framework to ensure that we’re really supporting our sellers in the most effective way possible.

SS: I really like that. It’s like three E’s: enablement, engagement, and execution. I think that’s a really good way to think about it.

AL: Yeah.

SS: Now, for professionals that are in the early stages maybe of evaluating a tool in one of these three categories, what are some good resources that you would recommend people look at to learn more about sales and go-to-market technology landscape?

AL: Yeah. Well, it’s such a prolific space right now. It’s just multiplying exponentially. So, it’s a tough space to keep up with. I’ll give you some of the things that I do personally that I’ve cultivated over the course of my career. First is to identify a couple of trusted peers, whether they worked for companies that are in similar industries, obviously no competitive constraints, etc. But the size and scope and scale of the companies that they work in, as well as the roles that they have, are very similar to mine at Cisco. So, that expands my line of sight. Where are you experimenting? What are you doing? Where are you seeing value? What tools are you encountering that are making an impact in terms of real results in your organization? That is really a critical part of my evaluation process.

If I’m looking at anything new, I want to first check my near-peer network to see if there’s some direct experience that they’ve had with the tools too, because as I said, it’s all about expanding my line of sight and expanding my experience because I trust these people so significantly. That’s an important one. And I think we share this same sort of cross-pollination. It’s a great peer network that I rely on in a related way.

One of the things that I’ve learned in evaluating technology solutions is obviously we’re constantly asking about customer examples. Share your customer examples, give me your case study stories, etc., that are relevant to the use cases that we’re presenting to the various vendors. But one of the things that I’ve found important is really holding the vendor accountable to make sure that the story they’re telling me is a similar scope and scale as it would be to our anticipated solution.

So, for example, there are a number of tools that are in place in various pockets of Cisco. And a vendor can rightly say, Cisco is an existing customer. However, a tool in play for a very specific use case inside a single business unit is one thing, compared to a tool that is being used across the enterprise. I want to make sure that the story they’re telling me is a story about a customer of similar size and scale as Cisco, but also want to make sure that the way they’re using the tool is of similar size, scope, and scale as we are anticipating using that tool within Cisco. So, ask other customers of our scale and other customers that are using it in the same way that we’re anticipating, whether it’s a single business unit or across the enterprise.

And then for me, the big vendor conferences are really just an opportunity, especially those that have strong ecosystems. I would say that’s a great opportunity to interact directly with this rapidly expanding, solution landscape.

SS: Excellent. I think that those are three really great areas to focus on when evaluating a tool, and great resources. Now, as far as criteria building goes out, when you’re assessing potential solutions, what are some of the key criteria that practitioners should consider to find the right fit for their organization?

AL: Yeah. I think we want to make sure that we’re balancing stability with innovation in this space. There has been a safety-first sort of perspective historically as it relates to selecting technology vendors, but in a space that’s evolving so rapidly like the go-to-market space and the customer engagement space, which is maybe the way I would expand it a little bit to say we have to balance a safe decision versus innovation and experimentation.

I want to look at the outcomes we’re trying to deliver. Are these consistent with what the purpose-built intent of that tool is? I want to make sure I’m very familiar with their roadmap. Speaking from the context a large enterprise like Cisco, do we have the opportunity to help influence and shape that roadmap? Because many times we have a relatively complex set of use cases that we’re trying to support with the tool. So, the roadmap becomes very important. So, transparency as I evaluate the tools, and the vendors and their culture – are they being transparent with us about success, challenge, roadmap, etc.?

That becomes a big part of building the trust that we can be in a partnership together because that’s what it is ultimately. We have needs, they have some capabilities, and we want to work together to make sure that their capabilities are achieving the outcomes that we need to achieve with our business.

SS: Now, I want to dive into the weeds a little bit because the procurement process for any new tech solution can be rigorous, at any organization. I’m sure Cisco is no different, especially with the number of stakeholders that are involved in the buying decision today. So, I’d love your advice on some steps professionals can take to really build a solid business case and secure stakeholder buy-in for the new solutions that they’re looking into.

AL: Yeah. What is it now – six, seven, eight people on average in a deal? Which means that there are many times a lot more people involved. I know at Cisco, there’s a lot of people involved in any decision that we make. It’s a complex process. But for me, as a platform team, we’re not in the business of building solutions and selling them to the business we’re in. We’re in the business of helping our sales team sell bigger, faster, and smarter. We want to go find the tools they need.

My first collaboration point is with the leader who is our group of leaders who are experiencing the highest degree of pain, because they’re going to help me navigate the process of building the affirmative coalition that we need to make a decision and to avoid just getting stuck in status quo, because that’s what can easily happen. If a decision is too hard to make, too hard to get alignment, we’ll just stick with status quo, and that’s a path to disaster. We’ve got to be innovating, experimenting, driving change in the business.

So, I want to collaborate with the leaders who are experiencing the highest degree of pain and then work with them from day-one on, holding ourselves accountable to have a business case, because it’s easy to say, “Oh, we’ve, we’ve got to do this. This is a tool that we need,” or “this is a change we have to make.” You know? And it’s just self-evident around the world that this is required. But the minute something shinier comes along, or we hit some sort of market correction like we’re experiencing these days around the globe, it’s easy to lose our resolve and change our priorities. We’ve got to have a business case, business outcomes that can be measured, that are baselined, and we’re reporting on them whether the news is good or bad because we want to show that we’re committed to tuning our solutions to deliver the outcome. So, I think just not overlooking the business case.

And then really, the last perspective that comes to mind is just I think when you’re trying to build alignment, working incrementally is so important. If I try to take essentially a fully baked decision out and get buy-in, then there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for people to influence. But if I’ll take sort of step one of the decision and coalesce a group around that and then take step two to that same group and coalesce, and build incrementally until we get to the place where we’ve got a fully baked approach or solution or plan, and we have built alignment over time, a one step at a time, that seems to be a way to help navigate this complex environment.

SS: I think those are some great insights. Now, obviously once a tool is selected, adoption then becomes the next big hurdle that larger organizations need to be able to make it across. And given the size and scale of Cisco Systems, what are some of the ways in which you have driven adoption of digital tools across all the different go-to-market teams?

AL: Well, I’d love to get the right answer to this question. So, if you could ask some other people, that would be awesome, because this is a challenge. I would say adoption is not the challenge. I can put requirements in place that create adoption. It’s really willing adoption, delighted adoption, really using the tool as it was intended to be used. That’s more of what we’re trying to achieve. This is a constant challenge and we’re constantly evaluating our progress – what’s working well, what’s not working well?

One of the things that seems to work well is if we think in terms of the basic selling unit, I think a lot of times over my career, a lot of the sales tools were top-down driven. How do we get leadership the data and information that they need to be able to make decisions and guide the business with visibility? That doesn’t work if we don’t get adoption. So, we need to think for the end-user. And we started thinking about that. How do we help make that end-user successful?

I think the unit of the first-line manager to frontline seller, that group is the unit that we need to be thinking for because they work together. What I’m expecting of the seller needs to be consistent with what I’m expecting of his or her manager. And what I’m equipping the manager to do needs to be consistent with what the sellers in their organization are being expected to do. So, that basic unit seems to be a critical part of the change management strategy. How do we help that team work together effectively?

The other thing that I would say is more of a challenge for me now in this role, which is technically part of our sales strategy and operations group at Cisco. Previously, I spent the majority of my career in consulting, driving technology-enabled sales transformation. But I would always say to my clients, “sales ops is not sales”. I want to talk to people in the field who carry quotas, who meet with customers, who have to create decision points with customers, who have to compete in the marketplace. I want to start with that field individual at the very beginning of my process with as few translation points as possible so that I’m really building a design and a solution that has that field user fingerprint all over it.

So, those are a couple of key ideas. Think for that smallest unit of the sales organization and then really don’t get caught in the trap of sales ops breathing its own oxygen and as a consequence, building a tool that makes sense to us, but just is lost in translation when it gets to the field.

SS: That’s really great advice around adoption. Now, Alan, in closing, this is my last question for you. With so many solutions available today, one area that can become a challenge for organizations is just the proliferation of tools, and I think you talked about that a little bit earlier on in the podcast. As the leader of digital platforms for Cisco Systems, how do you and your teams kind of help reduce some of that complexity?

AL: This is a live challenge that we have here at Cisco. It’s an environment of innovation. There’s been really the development of a lot of great tools just to solve relatively single-threaded type problems. All of them may be fit for purpose and do exactly what they were intended to do, but over time, it’s resulted in a lot of places that a seller has to go to do their job, or a sales manager has to go to do their job on any given day.

We’re actually in the process of simplification. And there are a couple of things that we’re doing. One is just how do I take weight out of the system? So, are there redundant systems that I can shut down? Is there unnecessary weight even within the tool itself? As you manage a lead or an opportunity or an account and your CRM system is there, is there a way to take weight out of that object and make it easier, simpler to navigate, etc. So, sort of the simplification by removing weight from the system. I call that making the ball and chain lighter. It’s still a ball and chain, but it’s easier to drag around when it’s a little bit lighter.

But we don’t want to think just in terms of ball and chain, we want to think in terms of how do I put a jet pack on the back of the sales organization so that they’re accelerating their impact? What we’re doing now, which I’m sure many others have already done, is really starting with the experience and saying, let’s stop thinking about what problem could we solve with technology. Let’s think about the day in the life experience of an account-driven sales rep. Let’s think about the day in the life of that team that I was talking about earlier, the first-line manager to frontline seller. What are their interactions? What are they doing when they get up to start their day? How does their day progress? Where do they need information? Where do they have pain points? Where do they get held up trying to track down information or a person or some insight that they need?

And we just really build an experience vision, a North Star that is experience-based, and then shape our roadmap against that experience, decluttering where possible and streamlining and tuning to that experience. So, I think those are a couple of key components of the simplification process. It’s a mandate from the executive level of our business to simplify because complexity is just the natural evolution over time, right? We’re going to evolve to complexity, so we have to fight for simplification.

SS: I love that, and I love that you guys put the experience at the core of everything that you guys do. Thank you so much, Alan, for joining us today. I really appreciated your insights.

AL: Great. Thank you very much.

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 our topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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