Episode 80: Daniel Haden on Embedding Behavior Change with Virtual 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.

I’m excited to have Daniel Haden from American Express join us. Daniel, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Daniel Haden: I’m the director of global sales training and enablement at American Express. I’m based in London in the UK, but I have a global team across the world. I have training representatives in every different region around the world.

SS: Fantastic. Daniel, I’m really excited to have you here today on our podcast. Now, as sales teams everywhere kind of transition to remote working environments, it sounds like you’ve had reps all over the world already. What can you tell us about your experience with the transition? What has been the biggest challenges that you’ve learned along the way?

DH: Yeah. First of all, I’ll probably start by saying what my biggest learning is and my biggest learning leading a global training team during this COVID-19 pandemic has been the importance of working in the most agile way possible and being able to quickly adapt whatever your program of events or whatever your curriculum looks like for the year, being able to adapt and tweak that given the changing business needs has been really important. One of the things that we’ve been quite lucky, with as a global team is that we’ve been used to working virtually for some time because if I think about my team calls, I have people dialing in from New York, Phoenix, London, Madrid, Sydney, and we used to work in a much more globalized virtual way.

I think the big challenge came with really convincing sales leaders to really buy into virtual training because we’d done some virtual trainings in the past with things like live webinars when we brought in different experts for particular topics. But we’d never converted the entire curriculum for a year into a virtual environment. And I think although we’ve been pretty effective at doing that, getting the leadership buy-in and the stakeholder buy-in, it was probably our biggest challenge that we faced over the past couple of months with COVID.

SS: That’s really interesting and I’m sure a lot of other sales enablement practitioners are facing the same challenge. How did you guys go about getting the sales leadership team bought in?

DH: Yeah. So, one of the things that I’ve always said to my team is it’s really important to try and pilot any curriculum or any sales training program that you have to really demonstrate the value that you’re adding to the organization. And also then, the value that you’re adding to the sales performance for those sales professionals to integrate those learnings into their sales practices. Where I had particular teams or markets that were really open to virtual and said, “look, my teams don’t have to have as much work at the moment. They’re really hungry for any training and development opportunities that you can give them. We would love to be the first teams to move with some of these virtual programs.”

So, what I did is given there were some markets that were more engaged and open to it, I kind of started with those markets. and I went running with them and kind of delivered some really, really good programs, but we got some great engagement. And then looking at how that went, we kind of gathered feedback from those different teams, really made sure that we could integrate all of the behaviors we’re looking to change into their day to day learning. And we stayed really close to them to make sure that those learnings were integrated and also sustained.

Then we use those results to really sell that to the stakeholders that were less open to the virtual environment. We’ll probably go onto it in a moment, but I really think there are some great benefits to virtual over in-person. And I think a lot of it was just the mindset of how to convert training to be better or even the same as in person. Actually, in some instances, I’ve found that there have been some really great opportunities to show that virtual learning in some instances can be a lot better. I’m sure we’ll probably touch on that at some point during today’s podcast.

SS: I’d love to touch on that now. If you could explain to our audience the benefits that you’ve seen from virtual training, I think a lot would love to hear how you’ve articulated that?

DH: Yeah, sure. So, one of the big things in sales training theory at the moment is all around this importance of spaced repetition. For those listeners that aren’t quite familiar with this learning concept of spaced repetition, it’s all about making sure you focus on one or two key skills that you’re really trying to exploit and just continuing to reinforce that particular behavior over a certain period of time. By having space between the training, what you’re essentially doing is giving the learner the opportunity to integrate what they’re learning into their day-to-day role.

So, if you think about it, if you’re a salesperson, you could attend maybe a one or two-hour session that’s focused on a particular subject or a particular skill. For example, my team in Europe at the moment is doing a lot around negotiation skills. You could deliver a two-hour session on negotiation live online in a virtual session. They can learn best practices from other markets and other teams that are also in that virtual learning session. You can give them a few weeks to integrate that into that role and experiment and practice with their clients to see how well using those new skills that they’ve developed and then everybody regroups again a few weeks later to continue the development of that particular skill.

By having that approach, you’re really giving people time to integrate the learning in a much more digestible and manageable way. And if you compare that to what we had before COVID-19 – which was potentially six to seven hours in a classroom delivering all of this content. If you think about the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, which is another learning theory, 90% of that in-person classroom training is probably forgotten within the first week of that training course, if not within the first 24 hours. So, I think that we’ve really seen an advantage that a lot of leaders haven’t had a choice but to move to virtual. And that’s given us a real opportunity to prove the value in virtual training.

SS: That’s fantastic. Now, you’ve touched on this a few times, but I want to talk a little bit about behavior change. How do you go about measuring behavior change in a way that your sales executives and your leadership team can see that actually occurring within the organization?

DH: Yeah, so one of the things that I think I’ve realized in the 10 years that I’ve been at American Express working across multiple training teams and multiple markets is that behavioral change is really the goal of any training and development program. Because ultimately, what you’re trying to do is change the behavior in a more positive way so that the output or the outcome from the particular training, and then, therefore, the results in terms of the sales performance, are improved.

I think that what we’ve traditionally looked at from a learning point of view is we’ve not been as close to the business. A lot of training teams have said, “we’re a training team. This is our program for the next year. This is what we’re going to deliver. Feel free to join the programs that you’re interested in.” The problem with that approach is there isn’t really any follow-up to whether or not behavior has changed. There isn’t any understanding completely of whether or not the training has impacted the results and even if the results have gone up, how much of that is correlated positively to the training that was delivered and how do you know which components of that training even contributed to the performance in the sales scorecard.

So, I think one of the things I’ve done a lot with my training teams in the past couple of years is look up what behaviors can we change that are going to make the biggest impact overall to the sales performance of the company? Then this could be quite easy, basic sales skills that you would just assume a lot of salespeople have. And maybe they do have those skills, but they just need updating or refreshing.

We have a global learning experience review survey that goes out at the end of every year. We do focus groups with all stakeholders and in-depth interviews and really try and figure out and hone-in on what particular behaviors do we really want to change in the next six to 12 months. And then using those results in that survey data to figure out how do we build a learning program around changing that particular behavior. And by doing so, the sales leaders, more than ever, know exactly where the gaps are within their team.

So, if you can figure out the gaps within those sales teams, then you can really focus on what behaviors are going to plug those gaps and really help boost the results. And then how can the training team deliver programs that are focused on or targeting those particular behaviors? And also, how can the sales training team then continue the sustainability of that behavioral change once you deliver the training program through things like reinforcement activities or follow-up calls or whatever it may be, and actually stay close to the salespeople throughout the whole journey of selling and not just being there at the point that they deliver training.

And I think that’s how we’ve integrated behavioral change into the organization. It’s all been about follow-up, learning, reinforcement and giving the salespeople time and that spaced repetition I referred to earlier to really embed the behaviors and the new behaviors that they’ve learned into the way that they sell.

SS: Fantastic. I love that answer. Now I want to shift gears just slightly, but still talk about the notion of change. On your LinkedIn account, you talked about scaled change management as being central to your current role, and it is particularly important right now in the sales enablement space, especially as many businesses are experiencing large changes at the moment. In your opinion, what is sales enablement’s role in helping organizations navigate change in the current environment?

DH: If you think back to what makes a great salesperson, one of the things that I’ve realized from my research and all of the data I’ve collected across the organization is the best salespeople are the ones that can adapt, and they’re the ones that can adapt not just to changes within the organization that they work for, but changes within the organizations that their clients work for.

By being able to adapt and change your approach, you will provide a much more tailored sales experience to any clients that you work with. That’s what will drive your results. It goes back to the classic notion of, why do people buy? Well, it’s partly because of the great product, but it’s partly because of the sales experience and the relationship that you have. And if you’re able to adapt to change and you’re able to adapt to your style and the way that you sell to different clients in different organizations, you’re going to be much more effective as you start to navigate through your sales career.

One of the biggest changes, obviously, that we’ve seen recently with the global pandemic is that ability to continue to sell for some people in a very different environment – we’ve got teams at Amex that are used to going into different stores and restaurants day-to-day, knocking on the doors, and saying, “Hey, do you guys want to accept American Express? Here’s the value proposition.” One of the big questions we’ve been asking, particularly in the U.S. has been, how do we now gain access to those merchants? A lot of these stores are closed. A lot of them are answering their phone. A lot of them are completely out of business. It’s a case of how do we not only sell to them, but how do we support them through these difficult times? The salespeople that are most effective at doing that are the ones that can adapt.

As a training team, we can really support those salespeople by helping them develop those skills around tailoring your messages to particular clients and different industries around making sure that you really consider the needs of the client. Making sure that they understand active listening, and therefore can reposition the value prop in a way that really makes sense for that client. So, whatever change comes your way, you have that skill to quickly pick up what your product is and pick up what your value proposition is and position it in probably a very different way. That’s what makes a really successful salesperson.

So, a sales training team or a sales enablement team, it’s their job to really make sure that the salespeople have that skill of being able to adapt and work in a really agile way so they can navigate through the different portfolio or the prospects that they have to be more successful in closing those deals and making sure that they’re able to sell the company’s products.

If we look at our curriculum for American Express sales training for the next year, it’s all around developing those skills. And a lot of the time, salespeople come back and go, “these skills seem pretty basic. Why are we even doing this? I already have these skills.” The point I keep referencing is, “you may already have the skills, but how deep is your knowledge and how much do you really feel that you have those skills? Because you may not have been tested in all the different environments.” The recent pandemic has really tested those salespeople and really shown which ones can adapt in times of crisis and which ones maybe thought they could but didn’t necessarily have all of the skills?

So, it was essential as a sales training and enablement team that we recognize those gaps and we really make sure that the sales teams can adapt really quickly to any change that comes their way.

SS: Fantastic. Now, I have a question because you’ve talked about adaptability and you’ve also talked a little bit about what I’ll summarize as empathy and teaching your reps how to be empathetic. And some of those can be trained skills, but some are just in essence, core to maybe the hiring process. How much does sales enablement get involved with the hiring criteria for the sales reps within your organization?

DH: The sales training enablement teams that I lead have always been very much focused on the sales training. And we started recently to really look at the bigger picture of the sales experience for the client and really putting yourself in the client’s shoes. And by doing so, you can look end-to-end at how you potentially could change the performance of that salesperson.

One of the things that I believe we need to get more involved in as a sales enablement team is in the recruitment. I think it’s not really been helped by the traditional structure of organizations where they’ve had maybe sales training owned by a learning team or HR even. And what we’ve done at American Express is we’ve really ensured that the sales training and enablement team is owned by the sales organization, but also that it’s not just about training, but it’s about enabling.

And you’re going to be much more successful at enabling salespeople if you’re recruiting salespeople that are right for your organization. And although I believe in a lot of instances, I’ve always said, you can train the skill, but you can’t train the will. That recruitment process is essential because you need to find salespeople that really have that will, that have that drive, that have that passion and that are really going to excite your clients. Even though they may not know much about how to navigate through difficult conversations with your clients or how to potentially use adaptability to be more successful in tailoring that value proposition message that I mentioned earlier, what you’ve really got to make sure is that during the journey that they’re trained on all of those skills, but they have to have that will from the beginning, because that’s what’s going to make the difference.

So, when you couple the will that they have from the recruitment process that you recognize with the skills that you’re developing as an organization to drive your sales performance forward, those combined can be really powerful in having and creating strong training teams. I believe that my global team needs to get much more into the recruitment process and figuring out what gaps are we seeing across the organization and how do we make sure we plug those gaps with the new wave of talent that’s coming into the organization.

A lot of the time at American Express, we put a lot of investment into our people, so we tend to find that you can get a lot of tenured salespeople, which is a good thing because they know your products and they know things that have changed and how to potentially adapt to your clients. And they know the value prop. But what sometimes we do need is fresh ideas. So, if we can make sure that we integrate any needs that we’re seeing across the organization from those evaluation programs that I mentioned earlier on the learning experience review, if we can identify the gaps and the opportunities that we have, some of those gaps may even be plugged when we’re recruiting.

I do feel that my team needs to be much closer to that recruitment process to make sure we can bring in that fresh talent that’s going to plug some of those gaps and then use best practice sharing and learning reinforcement activities to share all of that knowledge across the organization to really improve the organizational culture overall. That’s what’s going to elevate the sales performance and really drive the sales results forward. So, I do believe there’s a place for sales enablement as part of the recruitment process, but I think it’s got to be really well integrated into the overall journey for that seller, not just from recruitment to embedding them into the organization, but right through to when they’re selling and that experience that they create for any client that they work with.

SS: Absolutely. If you don’t mind, I’d love to drill in a little bit more. Now, you’ve talked about a learning experience review. Can you explain to our audience a little bit about what that looks like and then also how you layer in additional reinforcement and potentially even working with your sales managers on coaching based on what you’re seeing there?

DH: Yeah, sure. So, one of the things I’m particularly passionate about, and prior to this role in sales training, I led a global performance management team out of Florida. And one of the things that performance management role taught me was the importance of using data and feedback. Then when I moved into the sales training and enablement role, I was all about the data. And I think if you can make sure that you’re getting regular feedback from your stakeholders and you’re doing so in a way that makes it easy to interpret what they need, and you can do that on an ongoing basis through programs like the learning experience of you that we have, then you’re going to be much more successful in delivering those sales training programs and making sure you change the behavior.

So, the learning experience review was something I introduced with my global training team in 2018. Essentially, it touches every single stakeholder that we work with. It could be anyone from the seller, right through to the sales leader, right through to the supporting functions like pricing or product or marketing. And we essentially use that as a way to figure out what’s going on in the sales organization and with our clients and our prospects, but also what’s going on in the rest of the company and bring in all of that together to really create a strong curriculum that’s going to be impactful and really make a difference, but also utilize the resources that we have elsewhere in the organization.

That data can change on an ongoing basis. So, we look to do not just surveys at the end of every single training program, but we have touchpoints throughout the year where we gather data to really fuel the adaptation of those training programs so that they’re more effective and more tailored to what that particular stakeholder group needs.

I think it’s essential that we have learning experience reviews in any sales training enablement team, because you can’t keep delivering effective training programs if you’re not staying close to the changing needs of the business. I think what’s happened over the past couple of months with COVID has proven that even though you might have a really shiny, great, effective training curriculum laid out for the year in January, it can change the moment you hit February when things like the pandemic happen and you’ve got to adapt and change. And without that learning experience review giving you that global understanding of how the world is changing and what your sales training teams need, you’re not going to be able to adapt or customize your programs quickly. We found it a real essential tool to make a difference in how effective we are as a training and enablement team.

SS: I love that. Now, you talked about the importance of data. I want to broaden this out a little bit and talk about what are some of the business metrics that have been most important in your organization in demonstrating the success of sales enablement initiatives?

DH: Yeah. So, one of the things I’ll start by saying on metrics is it’s important to make sure that they are focused metrics and that they are filtered down enough that they make sense. So, I think there’s a real tendency across many organizations, and I’ve seen this across many teams at AmEx, where they feel like more metrics are better because it will give them a better insight into how the picture’s changing. The problem is, and the way I used to think about this with my performance management team was, every additional metric you add to a scorecard dilutes or devalues the other metrics that you have within it.

If you have one metric on your scorecard that your sales training and enablement team is focused on, they know exactly what their number one goal is. It could be, for example, sales revenue. If you just had sales revenue in there, they know all they’ve got to focus on is sales revenue. Now, if they focus on other things like staff retention or increasing prospects in every seller’s portfolio, those things are good, but they ultimately ladder up to the sales revenue.

Even if you’d focused on all three of those metrics, there’s probably other metrics or there are other things that you’re missing that would still contribute to sales revenue. So, I’m a big believer in less is more and really making sure that you educate not just the salespeople, but also the sales training and enablement teams on what the main metric or main two or three metrics are that we need to drive. I’m a little nervous to introduce any more than two or three metrics because I believe that it starts to distract and distance people from the core message or the core deliverable that we have as an organization.

When I talk to my global team, I always say to them, work with your sales VPs and your sales leaders and figure out what is the one thing that they’re really focusing on with their salespeople this quarter or this half of the year, and let’s look at how we can support that with the training and enablement activities that we have planned. I would say to anyone that’s in sales training enablement, really make sure you craft that message effectively and know what the main one or two metrics are that the sales team’s trying to drive. Because if you don’t have that, it’s going to be very difficult for the team to really know as they’re developing learning or developing training programs what they really need to keep reinforcing that makes sense for the salespeople and makes that change in their behavior.

I would say when it comes to metrics, what is it that that sales team is trying to drive? And it may not always be sales revenue. It may be other things that the team wants to focus on, like client retention. But I would say make sure you’re crystal clear with the sales leaders on what it is that they’re focused on as an organization so you can position your training in the right way, so you accommodate that request and you really make sure you drive them forward to achieving those results.

SS: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Now, Daniel, I have one closing question for you. Given everything that’s been changing recently, how do you envision sales enablement evolving in the next year and beyond?

DH: That’s a really good question. And I’ve been to quite a few conferences in the past 12 months that have talked about this. What I’m seeing across many organizations and from my network is this real shift from learning or training to performance support or performance enabling. I think sales enablement as a concept is relatively new to many organizations. Some organizations don’t have sales enablement teams, and they’re still focused on the traditional training teams.

I think sales enablement is absolutely crucial to the future of the way that we sell, because the thing that I like about sales enablement versus just pure training is it looks at enabling the sellers. It looks about how can we really support sellers, not just with training programs or learning content, but also with tools, resources, organizational cultural change, all these different components. And as you mentioned before, recruitment’s another one. What can we do with our talent pools to really enable sellers to be more successful in the future?

So, I think looking at the future, sales enablement is going to change in quite a few ways. I think one, people are going to shift from training much more to sales enablement because they’re going to realize the value. The organizations that are focused on sales enablement are probably going to be more successful in selling.

I think another point that people are going to realize as we move to the future of sales enablement is that we need to look at tools and resources and not just training to ensure that performance improves. Particularly with technology nowadays, there are some great sales tools out there that you can use to present your sales pitches and really connect well with clients. I think we’re going to see a lot more around tools.

The other thing I would mention as well is we’re probably going to see a lot more partnerships going forward within an organization. Rather than just a salesperson going into a client meeting or prospect meeting, they’ll probably be going along with multiple stakeholders. So, you might have somebody from the pricing team or the product team and the salesperson, rather than being an expert on everything about the product, they’re going to bring those experts that have that specialty and are going to be really able to present the power of what that product is about and the salesperson’s job will be all around connecting those stakeholders together to make sure that the overall pitch or the overall conversation with the client is much more powerful.

I think what we’re going to see, like we are generally in society, is that people now that are successful are the ones that know how to access information, not necessarily the ones that always know the information, because information is changing quicker and quicker every single day, and you’ve got to be able to access that and remain on top of it. Because to be honest, by the time you learn it all, it’ll probably be all be out of date. So, the future of sales enablement for me is all around tools and access to knowledge, and I think we’re going to see much larger sales pitches and much larger stakeholder meetings as we go forward, because that’s what’s going to be much more powerful and impactful for any clients or prospects that we work with.

SS: I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much, Daniel. I really appreciate your time today.

DH: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I look forward to speaking to you soon.

SS: Absolutely. 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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