Episode 7: Marcela Piñeros on the Evolution of Sales Enablement

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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. In this episode, we’re sitting down with Marcela Piñeros, senior director of sales enablement at New Relic. Marcela has over twenty years of experience designing and implementing learning programs in organizations across the globe in many different sectors, from corporate to academia. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Obviously, we’re seeing a lot of increased visibility and necessity for sales enablement in general across all organizations. Do you see this momentum continuing and where do you see the evolution of the sales enablement role?

Marcela Piñeros: First, I absolutely see the momentum continuing basically as long as enablement continues to be a competitive advantage. You can bet that revenue centers and sales centers and companies are going to continue to invest in it. And I think that the culture has now been developed in the sense that things are moving so quickly that people have more of a growth mindset and they have to stay up-to-date. So you need folks that are trained and focused on that. As far as the future of the discipline, I would say that it is much more data-driven than it has been. Up until now, it has been very reactive. I think that it’s much more around maximizing your tech stack so that any face-to-face content that you have is going to deliver the highest impact to the business so that with resource-strained organizations, you’re really putting those people in the right places. I think that it’s about measuring what matters, figuring out what programs you can build around skills and behaviors that you can baseline so that when you’re executing those programs you can come back to those metrics and track changes in those metrics. I think that’s where we’re headed. That said, it’s easier said than done.

There’s a lot of focus and a lot of conversations around metrics, but you know, it’s a hard nut to crack. If you think about the evolution of this function, where it’s gone through, enablement is going to be different to different people, different organizations depending on the company’s size or the industry. Like, you have different species of enablement that have cropped up, so one species is focused purely on onboarding, it’s like a ramp team, so if you say enablement, that’s what people think about, right? It’s just like how do I onboard my new hire? I feel the evolution there is going to be expanding your focus from just a moment in time of your first six to nine months more to that continuous learning because especially in SaaS sales you never stop learning, so you have to continue onboarding all the time. Like, it’s not something that you’re done, “oh they’re ready and they’re good”. So I think that’s probably going to be the evolution there, expanding past that moment in time.

When others think of enablement they might think sales coaches. So these are the folks that are more consultative and they focus on deal reviews and do value selling. That group I think are the ones who are going to be deployed much more strategically. Thinking through what regions need them the most and in what way are they going to have the highest impact. And then you have other folks that think of enablement as: these are the people that constantly send me emails of these learning modules. Or, these are the people that are responsible for case studies and white papers and that’s it. So I think it varies, with technology, like for example Highspot and Seismic and all these other groups, being able to surface up resources when people need them I think is critical, and that is part of that enablement definition whereas readiness is more in the behavior side of things.

SS: Yes, absolutely. So I definitely want to get your take on kind of the readiness component of it. Obviously, that’s an area that you specialize in. I know that you’re responsible for sales readiness. I’m curious, and this is actually one of the questions, I believe you introduced me to someone who is more on the enablement-centric side of the house at New Relic at the Soiree. I’m curious how your two functions work together within New Relic, and do you see a preferred reporting structure, org structure, between readiness and enablement? How do they work together and best?

MP: So, sales excellence is a single group within New Relic, we’re all under a single umbrella, and there are four pillars within the sales excellence team. One pillar is the instructional design team and that’s the team that I lead, and we are responsible for everything from owning the tech stack to designing the best user experiences and then our programs and processes and what we put in place is rolled out by another pillar which is the coaching and facilitation team. And they are the ones that have their boots on the ground, and they are the ones that are basically walking the floor and shadowing calls and executing our behavior assessments and certifications and that sort of stuff.

Another pillar is our technical enablement which is in and of itself its own creature. Here you have deep practitioners that also have the ability to speak English, so how do they do both things? So that’s the third pillar, and the fourth pillar is our communications and culture pillar. And those are the folks that are focused on what are the communication channels out to the field, how do we get those feedback loops, how are we rewarding our best practitioners, best behaviors, SKO, MVP, Club, like all of that comes from that group. So we’re all under the same umbrella.

SS: That is very cool. And actually, that sounds a lot more mature than a lot of organizations out there to be quite candid. In your thinking about sales enablement and how it’s structured, has it always been like that at New Relic or has it been an evolution over the years?

MP: Oh it’s been an evolution for sure. I think you know when New Relic started, which is a very common situation when you had maybe two or three people and they were building content. And their job was to build content as instructed by leaders. Like, we need this, we need that. Back to that very reactive situation, whereas I joined at a time that the company was making a major shift from a purely SMB business to an enterprise-focused business. And my background is in consulting for enterprise, so it was trying to figure out how do we up-level this to a much more strategic function so that it actually has RoI? So that we can actually point to, “look, this is how we’re helping”. So the strategic conversations, I’d say, in our organization probably started at the two and a half years ago mark. And since then, we’ve been able to structure and to organize, thinking of the different value adds that we can give to the business.

One component of that is how we process business requirements or tracking business needs to be able to move the needle. But then there’s a very tactical, again, boots on the ground function, where you need people that are exposed. They are on the frontlines, they are in the field, and they see exactly what’s happening. You want that group to be internal to the sales enablement team because they’re the ones providing that feedback to us so that we can modify and iterate on our program.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. So you touched on a couple of really key points there, and that’s really elevating the function to be strategic within an organization. How have you done that? If you could simplify it down to a few key practical advice or tips for other practitioners that don’t quite have that level of visibility within their organization yet, like how can they go about getting that buy-in from their executive leadership team?

MP: The short answer is you need to have a full understanding of your exec team’s long term vision. So you need to know what they are hoping to achieve in their one, two, five-year mark. And you want to invest your cycles on programs that are going to support that vision. That’s the short answer. The longer answer is that many don’t have that vision baked, they don’t know. They don’t have that strategy fleshed out, something that you could take and then run with.

So I like to think of sales enablement as having a whole lot of sales in it. You as a professional need to be doing constant discovery with your stakeholders, you need to identify their pain, you need to craft proposals, and quantify value and be able to build a business case, like that’s what we do in our job. We’re enabling other people to do it as well with our customers’ customers. But in our role, we are selling to our exec team, we need to understand what their pain points are, what their key initiatives are, and if we’re not doing that, then we’re missing a huge opportunity.

SS: Absolutely, absolutely. I am curious, I’ve heard a lot of sales enablement practitioners talk about building out sort of like a sales enablement charter, is that something that you guys have done at New Relic?

MP: Yeah we did. I want to say that it’s a work in progress, in that it’s a very generic charter, so it’s about increasing the efficiency and productivity of the team, so at that level, but when you look at what the objectives and the key results are that spin off of that, that’s where we’re constantly reiterating and updating and making sure that we are constantly staying aligned with the business.

SS: That’s awesome, yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about, you know, what are the critical components to a sales enablement charter so I was just curious if you guys had done that. I want to talk a little bit about obviously some of the onboarding instructional programs that you’ve built. At the Soiree, you mentioned the challenges– actually, you said you have a list of twenty, but then you narrowed it down to really kind of the top three challenges on building a scalable onboarding program. I’d love to hear directly from you, what those top challenges are and elaborate on how you went about solving those challenges.

MP: Okay, so the funny thing is that I don’t remember which I narrowed on as the top three, they may have changed. But if you ask me today, I would say that the first is how to scale high touch engagement with the teams. We have a relatively large sales excellence team, but our company is growing and we are constantly needing to expand. Not just into different regions but we’re also needing to expand into different roles, it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of enablement. So what we’ve started to do is we have global leads in our main regions, we have a group in Dublin, we have somebody that’s leading APAC and they are responsible for that high-touch component. We’ve also started to do a better job with enabling our first-line sales managers, and that’s really the biggest sort of amplifying factor. Do you have first-line sales managers that are able to build out and to extend enablement to their teams? And for that, we’ve been putting together toolkits. Our program is called Elevate, which is a first-line sales manager program to help them get very tactical around how they are building up their teams.

But the other piece there for scalable high-touch engagement is the tech stack, right? What tech can you use to help simulate high-touch and to help expand your reach and make things a little bit more scalable? So we’ve been looking at different resources and different systems of work and fortunately, I have somebody on my team who is fantastic at that, and she’s kind of leading the charge and making sure that we’re leveraging technology for that.

So that would be one, which is high-touch engagement. Another I would say probably is how to scale assessments. So we know that we can do LMS tests and we can get quizzes and we can get a number. The challenge with those numbers and a score of like, 93 over 100, is that they hide a whole bunch of stuff, and it’s not really meaningful, it’s just one data point, which is a valid data point but it’s just one out of many that you need to have to try to triangulate what’s happening. So behavior assessments are really much more where we want to land, where we’re spending, for example, our time with certifications. You actually have to complete a task in front of a panel and they have to see certain things from a scorecard and determine that you have achieved the minimum requirements and be able to provide you very prescriptive guidance on, “these are the things that you’re missing, this is where you need to go to get that”.

So how to scale those behavior assessments when you have a sales force that’s eternally growing, how do you do that? We have our coaching and facilitation team currently executing some of those behavior assessments and some of those certification programs, but we are looking at prioritizing tools in our tech stack that are going to support that, where you can upload videos, you can select proxy review or you can establish what the scorecard is and you can provide feedback just-in-time to folks, which is going to help us across time zones.

So I think I’ve covered two, right? High-touch engagement, behavior assessments, and then the last one today I would say is how to enable when content is constantly changing. In our world, product can change up until the day before it’s available for GA, everything from the UI is going to change, it’s entirely up in the air. And so, how do you enable when not only did it change before it went live but then afterward it’s in constant evolution. And for that, I think that this ties back to the evolution of sales enablement. It’s much more directed towards micro-learning and much less directed towards evergreen “this is what we’re going to teach you.” And that micro-learning piece brings with it a whole risk of like-content confetti, where you just have a ton of stuff in multiple places because it’s a lot of little bits and pieces. But how do you govern that? So, from our perspective, how do we get the information out in a way that it is easy to update but then invest our time and invest our energy in creating learning experiences that lead to behavioral outcomes that we can observe.

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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