Episode 8: Marcela Piñeros on Onboarding and Frontline Manager 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, 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 20 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.

I’d love to just kind of hear from your perspective, how do you guys delineate between what a lot of companies consider traditional onboarding and where does that either dovetail or coincide nicely with traditional training components for sales reps?

Marcela Piñeros: I look at it from the perspective of– and I don’t know, you’re probably familiar with the 5 Moments of Need, that framework?

SS: No, I’m not actually.

MP: If not, I encourage you to look it up. So it’s Conrad Gottfredson, and I want to remember, I want to say it’s Bob Mosher, are the ones who created this framework. And essentially, there are five moments of need in any sort of learning journey, and one is when you’re learning for the first time, so when you’re being onboarded. This is your first exposure to something, and the level of information you need, the type of channels that you’re going to be most receptive to are very specific for that process, right? It also varies if you have folks that are from a very prescriptive culture, they are accustomed to having very prescriptive directions: “This is how you need to do the job, and I’m going to give you these five steps and I need you to follow these five steps.” From a cultural perspective, that’s what they’re expecting from you. And if you don’t give that to them, they’re going to be very upset and disappointed.

Then you have groups in other regions where they want to have full autonomy to decide what they want to pull and push. So you need to keep that in mind, but that sort of first-time exposure to something is the first moment of need.

The next one is when you’re wanting to go deeper into something. So you’ve already been exposed to it, it’s like that 201 level where you’re wanting to practice your skills, you’re wanting to build your knowledge, and that is much more of that sort of crowdsourced, you provide that pull content that they can just go in, do a search, and dig into it deeper. But it’s up to you to make sure that your catalog covers what those needs are, and that the catalog aligns to the strategic priorities of the business. So what is it that you’re offering them?

You’ve got first moment of need, you’ve got diving deeper, then the next one is when you’re needing to apply something. So the information that you need is more like job aids, it’s like performance assistance. When you’re needing to apply something, it has to be very quick, very convenient, very fast, it’s when folks are going into YouTube to watch that two-minute video on how to change their tire. That is that application level.

And the fourth one is when you’re troubleshooting, so if something has happened that is not at all covered. So, what do you do when you’re fixing a problem? And that troubleshooting again, it’s a different channel, it’s a different format. That’s where you want to have that face-to-face component or you want to have actually somebody there to help brainstorm with you because no one is ever going to be able to plan for all of the different possibilities, so you want to be able to have that conversation.

And then the last moment of need is when something is going to change. So I think I remember hearing, I want to say it was Bob Mosher, but I remember hearing sort of an explanation to this framework for the very first time and the description was, imagine that you are driving to work and you always take the exact same route and then one day, you’re taking somebody to work with you and you absolutely forget to go pick them up because you’re just on autopilot and you’re just taking your route home. Like that, when something is going to change, it requires a different level of engagement, it requires capturing people at just that right moment.

So, those five moments of need, basically the first one is the only one that really applies to onboarding. Everything else applies to on the job. Everything else is training. Does that make sense?

SS: Gotcha. Yes, absolutely. That makes a ton of sense. Deviating a little bit away from that question, but focusing more on the onboarding component, how do you guys go about measuring the business impact that onboarding’s having within New Relic?

MP: It’s everything. So getting into metrics, that’s my top priority, but to say that is a very hard thing to do. “It’s a hard nut to crack” would be an understatement. At the end of the day, we’re trying to figure out what are the direct metrics versus the influence metrics that we’re going to monitor. And in past lives, I’ve seen many, many, many organizations just focus truly on the direct metrics because that’s the only thing they feel they can control in the sales enablement function. So, how many learners attended, how many sellers were certified, those are the direct metrics that you can get from your LMS, you can get from sign-up sheets, etc. But the truth is that where the function is evolving is looking at the influence metrics. So it’s tracking through your CRM like, what is the average deal size, what was the time to first deal, how many products were sold, what is your pipeline forecast accuracy, all those things, understanding that enablement will influence those numbers and is not the sole contributor to those numbers changing.

And it’s really a catch-22 because in the enablement function, on one side of the house, you feel you’re disempowered to really move that metric exclusively, but on the other side of the house, if that metric doesn’t move, you’re the one to blame. You know? You’re kind of caught in the crossfire, which is why direct metrics are good. But you do absolutely have to shift your focus to what are those influence metrics? And you need to identify what are the variables that really matter to the business because there are hundreds of metrics you could look at, hundreds of metrics. Which are the most important to start with? And that’s where you want to spend your time.

SS: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I want to go back to something that you said around frontline managers, and really leveraging them as basically a way to make sure that you are able to get enablement efforts out there further and faster and directly in front of reps. What have been some efforts that you have implemented that have been most impactful in enabling your front line managers?

MP: So it’s interesting because again, that’s a program that’s currently being evolved. I have somebody on my team that’s exclusively focused to that. The reality is that most managers see enablement as one more thing on their to-do list, they don’t see it as their job, as a direct piece of what their job is. And it was funny because the other day, we were doing an interview of a focus group and one of the managers said something that I thought was spot on, he said he knows when someone is ready to be a manager because they are more concerned with making other people on their team successful, versus making themselves successful. And that sort of coaching and mentorship view is a really good indicator of somebody that is going to be successful.

On our end, what we’ve done is we’ve got direct coaching, we sort of focus on what the strategies are to make them more efficient so that they can find time to do some of this mentorship and to do some of this work. It’s been critical to be very sensitive and very aware of the seasonality of their time, so what weeks are completely off limits, what months are completely off limits, when are you more likely to get their attention? We have a monthly webcast and in that webcast, we provide a critical call to action for managers. But we’re becoming more and more judicious of really editing back the content and figuring out if there isn’t an “aha” moment within those first two minutes, we’ve lost them. So what is that “aha” moment, what is that most critical nugget that they’re going to get and be like, “Oh okay, this is going to make my life better, this is going to make my team more effective, this is going to be easier.” And also because it’s sales, you can never under-state competition, and just highlighting that this group is doing a great job, how are you? Let them benchmark themselves against others, and there’s a little bit more of a drive.

As the program has continued to evolve, I expect to see more of a trend towards topics and sessions and modules and titles that are directly aligned to our strategy. So they see very clearly, “Wow, if I miss this then I’m going to miss all these other things and I’m going to be at a loss for all these other conversations that are happening that I want to be a part of.”

SS: Yeah, that’s awesome. And it sounds like you guys are very selective about who you move into frontline management. I know within a lot of other organizations it’s definitely a challenge because unfortunately what a lot of organizations tend to do is take the top performing reps and they tend to move them into manager roles even though they’re not necessarily the person that is quite yet at that place in their career where they’re looking to help elevate the rest of their team members. And so I’ve seen that happen in the real world for sure, definitely within organizations I’ve been at where it’s been very difficult for sales managers to understand how to manage and so I’ve definitely seen the impact of enabling them.

MP: Yeah, for sure. It’s a super rep. It’s crazy because you’ll even have managers– it’s sales– that their nature may be to go ahead and coach and build their team and identify, benchmark them against themselves and all that good stuff, but when it comes right down to it, where are they going to spend most of their time? Odds are they’re going to want to spend most of their time on their top performer in their team and making sure that they are closing those big whale deals and they’re taking it across the line.

So, what I’m driving as a message is enabling the middle. You’ve got your top performers, you have the folks that are struggling to make it, either managers are going to be covering all of their energy on their top performers, typically enablement likes to spend their time on the folks that are struggling to make it. I say focus on the middle. Make the middle top performers and the ones that are struggling to make it, it’s harder to get from a one to a 10. So, you’re going to get more RoI from getting the folks from a six to a 10 or a seven to a 10.

SS: Yeah absolutely. And actually, I’d love if you don’t mind even going a click down there. That’s also another conversation we’ve been having around here a lot is focusing on the middle pack and taking the best practices that the top performers are doing and applying them to that middle pack. What are some of the things that you have done to help enable or empower or improve that middle-range rep to get them to excel or improve? What are some things that you’ve done to be successful in that?

MP: There’s a couple of things that come to mind. On one side, it’s sharing the best practices, so making sure that the community of practice exists. We have some really active communities of practice through our Slack channels, and folks can select to join, but they’re very dynamic and there’s a lot of resources that are regularly shared and a lot of conversations that are happening. What I love about those is that it’s not driven by what we think is important as sales excellence, it’s driven by what is actually important in the field. So they will share articles that they’ve seen and they’ll show resources that worked for them. They’ll post questions and like hit these big obstacles and blockers that then we can look at and be like “oh, product should really take a look at these”. So it’s a great way to get that conversation and keep the momentum of the conversation going.

Another piece is within the Activate program, which is our onboarding program, we have designed a sort of mentorship loop. I don’t know if I’ve explained this in the past, but basically, you’ve got three tiers. You have a buddy, you have an advisor, and you have a mentor. A buddy is somebody that’s going to tell you how to log into this calendar, the best place to get sushi, like that’s your buddy. We like to say, “here is your co-locator, you’re in a hub” and pretty much every single person is a buddy for you.

The next click up is an advisor and that is somebody ideally that is still technically ramping. Somebody that is in their zero to 12-month period at the company, and think of them as an academic tutor. Their job is to make sure that you know what you need to know about the product and about process. That’s it. They’re not the ones that are going to be taking you to lunch, their job is just to review your assignments, make sure that you’re ready for your scorecard assessments, that’s their job. And we limit that to three hours a week, so it’s a very focused like, “this is how much time you have, you’ve got to do your best.” And at the end of every week during the Activate program, managers should be doing assessments and roleplay assessments with their new hires, or just having them on cold calls and assessing how they’re doing on those cold calls. The advisors are encouraged to attend those assessments because then if you have a new hire that’s floundering, it drives accountability. Managers look back to the advisors like, “What’s going on?” But the cool thing there is that if new hires ask an advisor something that the advisor does not know, the advisor ends up going out to try to find that answer. So it maintains a very up-leveled group, there are constantly gaps that are being filled.

And then the last tier up is the mentor, and these are the top performers. Where typically in an organization you’ll have the top performer be tapped to onboard new hires, “Oh you’re the best person, here, Shawnna, I want you to go ahead and spend all of your time with this new hire.” In sales specifically – and some other industries not so much – that is a recipe for disaster unless you happen to have a top performer that loves to train. It’s a recipe for disaster because it’s going to impact the productivity of your top performer, they’re really not going to want to be spending their time with the new hire, the new hire will understand this and perceive it so they’re going to hold back on their questions because they know that they’re “being a nuisance”, and the entire dynamic is broken.

So what we recommend instead is we have mentors and we have people schedule fireside chats with the mentors. They can shadow the mentors, they can listen to as many calls with the mentors as they want in absolute silence. But they can observe, they can collect their questions and then once a month they sync up with the mentors and the mentors can answer everybody’s questions in a one-hour block.

SS: Oh wow, I like that.

MP: It’s a very structured model that kind of divides and conquers what a new hire is going to need. They’re going to need to know how to handle Okta, they’re also going to need to know how this product is different from that one and how this customer is and who the buyer personas are. They’re also going to need to know, when the rubber hits the road and people are asking these objection questions, how do you handle that? Like, they need to know all three of those, and so you have different people or different roles that address that in a very focused way, letting them continue to do their job.

SS: Amazing. That is very cool. Thank you for that advice. I am curious if there is any other advice that you think is relevant for sales enablement professionals. Anything that is maybe trending in the market today that you think is worth deeper exploration? I’m constantly looking for the topics to address.

MP: I think there are probably two things. One is that I find more and more conversations lead with tools, what tool are you using and how is this tool helping you? And I’m finding that less and less folks are taking the time to really figure out what they need to tool for and to really design what that tool is supposed to accomplish. So that’s one thing like leading with tools is sort of like a pitfall that I see lots of folks headed toward.

And the other one which is an ongoing project on our end is role profiling. So developing competency profiles so that if you’re training somebody to run a seven-minute mile, you know how much they’re running right now, you know how much they need to run, you can actually coach them around that. So what are the specific behaviors, what are the specific competencies, how do you assess those, and then what development plans get filled off of those competencies? And if you don’t have that information because maybe you’re a one-person enablement team, make sure that somebody in your organization potentially has that on their immediate short-term radar so that you do have the possibilities to eventually shift from building sort of reactive learning patches to proactive programs, intervention programs, things that you can eventually point back to and say, “Oh, this helped.” So spending more time role profiling and getting those competency maps I think is critical.

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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