Episode 95: JP Mantey on Fostering Culture Through Sales Enablement

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m 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 John Paul from Icertis join us. JP, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

John Paul Mantey: Sure, thank you for having me. My name’s John Paul Mantey. Most people like to shorten and say JP. I live in Southern California, originally from Philadelphia, and I head up sales enablement for Icertis, which is a SaaS, enterprise contract management company based out of Seattle. Our first customer was Microsoft, so the company is actually across the street from Microsoft. I’ve been there three years and we are an analyst-identified leader in the space of CLM or Contract Lifecycle Management, and really helping companies have the rubber meet the road in their digital transformation efforts around unlocking the data hiding in a lot of their most important documents in their entire company, which are their contracts.

If you think of every dollar in and out of any organization, it’s tied to a contract. What would be the power of unlocking all that data, to not only have it available, if and when you have tough questions, such as if a pandemic hits and you want to know who’s responsible for that event that you sponsored and was canceled and do you get your money back?
You need to go and find the force majeure clauses, which everybody’s been doing. Imagine if you could not only do that very quickly, but have the data in your contracts proactively tell you what key obligations or risks or entitlements or rights you had around all of your suppliers and all of your customers?

SS: Fantastic, and yes, I had to look for a few of those myself. Unfortunately, we had to move the Sales Enablement Soirée events out until next year, but I’m glad that you were able to join us, JP. I wanted to talk to you because I noticed your title in particular had the term culture in it, and I want you to explain to our audience how you perceive the responsibilities of your position as it relates to the culture aspect.

JM: Yeah, thank you. A bit of the interesting dynamic of how culture ended up in my title– earlier in my career, I worked for a private equity firm, I worked in industrial real estate. So, I’d travel around the country and analyze logistical markets and understanding, you know, ports and infrastructure. Ultimately, we were trying to buy the farm next to the highway for farm prices, get it rezoned for industrial and predict where a company like Amazon might want their next distribution center. There was a big gap or value that could be created when you bought land for farm prices and then sold it for industrial warehouse prices.

So that’s what I did, and I worked for this company that was very successful and had raised $850 million and had a lot of brilliant people and great people in the organization. One of the things I thought was that if you had a company that had a lot of resources and people there made money and, you know, had all their needs met, then that would by default be a great culture because why wouldn’t you have a great culture if you have a ton of resources? Working in that environment, I realized that my thinking was flawed, and I still started to get really curious about leadership and about culture and what is it that enables great leadership and great culture. That sent me on a journey, where even though I stayed in real estate for over a decade, I went back and got my masters in organization development and change leadership, to really study the science of how do you build healthy organizations, healthy teams and develop leaders.

I started, then I became a consultant and my job was to go and look under the hood at different companies from Silicon Valley startups, up to Fortune 50 companies and analyze all the data from within the organization, measuring levels of trust, and then feed that analysis back to executives to help them understand how they are doing and then what could they do to strengthen or repair or build a healthier culture as a competitive advantage for helping them achieve what they were trying to achieve as a company. And that was my dream job in a lot of ways.

That then segued into an opportunity to help drive the culture transformation internally at Microsoft. So, I went and worked at Microsoft as Satya Nadella took over CEO. He was really driving a different culture shift and I was part of the internal team to help activate that and then got a call to go look at this little startup across the street.

I was really interested in being part of a startup journey. They said, ‘Hey, you have this sales background and this organization development and consulting lens, we think that’s a great pairing to help us build out this practice of sales enablement’, which I didn’t know what that was.

So, I’ve spent the last three years trying to define that and the way culture comes into it is, having been a salesperson onboarding in an organization where you can be thrown into the deep end with a quota, you either sink or swim. And if and when you swim, they may pull you out and kind of make it easier for you, but until you prove yourself, in a lot of sales environments, no one’s feeding you anything.

I want the experience of new salespeople that are hired around the globe at Icertis to be exactly what I wish I had when I was a salesperson. What if I, as the head of sales enablement could design everything I do to make it so that I give a salesperson exactly what I wish I had when I was starting on the first day in a new role in a new sales organization.

A big thing about culture and how it all ties together– I think of culture as an organism in that the culture of an organization is like this organism that is super connected and paying hyper attention to any stimulus from external forces that threaten the organism or could help it thrive.

As an organism, culture is trying to figure out how do we thrive, and/or survive? A lot of times that’s all about learning and making sense of things. So, when a new person comes into that organism, a big part of how they’re going to not only survive, but thrive is how quickly can they learn how things are done here and the ways people work and what’s acceptable and what’s not.

So, an easy way to talk about the pairing of culture and sales enablement is we’re trying to proactively lower the learning bar and capture, distill, and codify the tribal knowledge of the culture of the organization that has helped people be successful, that has helped the organization be successful.

And then put that in self-service system, so that if a new person starts tomorrow in Europe, they’re going to be able to get plugged in and we have lowered the learning bar as much as possible (and we’re continuing to try and do that) so that they can become part of the culture and part of helping the overall organism perform faster and better and have an experience where there’s less friction in that, and they feel part of a team and they can find individual success and contribute to the greater success of the organization. So, long-winded answer.

SS: But I love it, I do love it. I think you’re right, I feel like we almost wrote an article on it, relating culture to, I think it was like ecosystems, like the coral reefs, so I absolutely agree and understand that analogy. From your perspective, what would you say are the three most important ways in which sales enablement has helped to either build or improve a healthy culture within your sales team?

JM: So, the first part, related to what I already said, is I found that when I came in the organization, it took me a while to figure out what is it that this company does? How do they create value for customers? And what are we doing to try and redefine this space of contract lifecycle management, and why does that matter?

So, there was just so much learning that a lot of times it was the executives in the company that had helped to get the organization off the ground and redefine the space and make advancements in the technology and platform that we sell to, to really create a lot of value for customers.

There was this whole way of thinking and seeing things and kind of consultative mindset that the only way to get it seems to it’d be through osmosis and time. Like osmosis X time X hope = you’re onboarded. And, for me, I went through that, and so as I went through it, I realized like, ‘Wow, this is a lot to grasp for people that aren’t from this industry’. I really think of what we do as trying to capture the tribal knowledge in the organization and make it digestible for people so that our executives that have the most important information, but don’t have the time to transfer that to every new person, we as sales enablement are ultimately creating mechanisms for them to get time with, and mindshare from our top subject matter experts or executives without requiring all the time.

So, a ton of videos, a ton of all kinds of different assets, where you can go on a self-directed learning journey and really absorbed that tribal knowledge to help you be successful in the organization, and then go and have these consultative conversations with prospective customers to advance the way they think about what contract management can do for them and how leveraging that service platform could really create value for their organization.

SS: Now, how would you say that culture influences the qualities and characteristics that you prioritize when it comes to bringing new people into the organization, like hiring new sales reps?

JM: I was somebody that thought all people are valuable and to be valued, and hence letting go of people or firing people just made me sick to my stuff. I remember I was sitting on a plane and this poor gentleman ended up being seated next to me because he had been bumped back from first class. I was reading the whole time, I was in grad school, and he finally turned to me, and he said, “Are you an author or something? You’re reading and taking notes this entire flight across the country”.

I said, “No, I’m getting my Masters and, and I’m doing work”. So, we started talking, and it ends up that he was CEO of a Fortune 100 company. We spent four or five hours talking, because I now had a thousand questions and he had 35 years of business experience. And one of the things he said that we essentially disagreed on was he said, “Whenever I’m tasked in my career with going and turning around a difficult team or division, I usually go in and fire everybody, and start off fresh”.

I thought that was such old school thinking, and in a lot of ways had to be wrong or archaic or whatever. I’ve shifted that thinking because I actually think anytime you come in, you’re trying to build a healthy culture that just going to that direction as an extreme is wrong, I don’t think that’s right. But I align with the thinking of like, Jim Collins, who says rule number one, get the right people on the bus. Rule number two, get the wrong people off the bus as soon as possible.

In some of his research, he talks about a manufacturing facility where if they hired the wrong person, the employees would chase that person out of the building, and the executives never actually had to fire them. That’s a sign of a strong culture, where if you don’t fit into what we’re trying to do and align on values of how we behave, and group norms, et cetera, then the culture, the organism rejects you and you get kicked out.

I think we try and be very transparent about who we are as a company, who we’re trying to be, what our values are. When we’re recruiting, we want heavily to invest in people that fit our culture and can be successful, and then also bring diversity and different perspectives, different ways of thinking and experiences.

We want all that, but there’s this alignment on values and group norms of how we behave and treat each other and how we serve customers that if you, through your own behavior or whatever, show that you’re not actually aligned with that, then you get invited to step off the bus pretty quickly, and that’s part of a healthy culture.

SS: Absolutely. Now I have to ask the question because I think that this is always something sales enablement practitioners are trying to better understand, but what metrics can you associate to culture? Do you currently track any that help you understand how culture impacts things like sales proficiency and performance?

JM: Yeah, we’re trying to. I’m very interested in the metrics side of things and part of being sales enablement, I like to use a personal analogy, like all of my strongest and or most admirable qualities, personally, my mom says come from her and any of the bad ones come from my dad.

The lens of that is, anytime we win deals or someone ramps quickly or we find success, it would be great if enablement could jump up and be like, ‘See, look, that’s because of us’, but anytime deals are lost or things don’t go well, we don’t want to, instead it’s ‘Oh, who’s fault is that, I don’t know, that must be them, they didn’t follow protocol’. There’s a bit of a challenge when we look at data to try and define what is actually leading to increased efficiency and effectiveness and ramp time and things of that nature.

As we’re maturing as an organization, we’re getting better data over time so that we can see trends. For me and my team and us personally, we are really looking at– since we’ve been a startup that’s in hypergrowth–tracking, onboarding and ramp time engagement, and then time to when a rep is able to go and drive significant value in a deal and really contribute and then time to ultimately achieving quota.

When we see things, when we see success– like we just had one rep come in and, and really do very well, very quickly where they closed two deals within a few months–it’s hard for us as enablement to say, ‘Is that because this person comes from a significantly advanced background and was able to hit the ground running? Or was that because our enablement and our tools and everything else were really great? Or is that because this person got lucky and had some ripe opportunities show up in their pipeline as soon as they started?’ So we’re asking these questions and don’t necessarily have always a really clear metric-based, science to what is going to lead to success, but we’re trying to answer those questions.

For the most part, if we end up becoming more qualitative, but if we make everything available to people and we have designed a learning journey for them to come in and direct their own path based on where they are, what their background is, and what skills or muscles do they most need to develop or for the round out– when people are highly engaged and highly energized to engage with all the materials that we make available to them and the processes to help them learn, when they’re very proactive and how they’re starting to build pipeline and connect with customers, when they take this consultative, trusted-advisor approach, those people usually find success pretty quickly.

They’ll be the ones that we find data that says, ‘Oh wow, this, this person’s doing a bunch of things right’, and usually it fits with those qualities. We try to make onboarding include a bunch of the findings of what we’ve learned from both metrics and qualitative analysis of when things have gone really well, and when top performers have come on and hit the ground running. Also, for people that are no longer at the organization, where things didn’t work out, what did we learn about why they maybe weren’t a culture fit, or they didn’t take advantage of the first few months to really learn as much as possible, or they didn’t maybe have the background or the hunger to catch up on the learning curve, to make it, to be successful in a very consultative role, which is what Icertis requires.

SS: Absolutely. Well, I think that those are really good metrics to get started with. So, thank you for kind of walking us through that JP. I have one closing question for you, and this is more related to the shift that a lot of organizations have had to experience in the last few months, with a move to remote or virtual work environments. What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered in trying to build culture, especially culture-based initiatives into a completely remote work environment? Have you been able to overcome that?

JM: The short answer is, have we been able to overcome them? My default would be no so far, and that’s just a little bit of holding a high bar, because I think it’s easy to say, like if people aren’t complaining and they’re their Zoom or Teams work, then you could say, ‘Yeah, we’ve overcome them, everybody has connectivity’. The ability to go fully remote, we were probably set up much better than a lot of organizations and our sales force was already fairly well dispersed across the globe, so I think we had an advantage in a lot of ways of there wasn’t that much that changed when we had to go fully remote other than less face to face interaction in the office and travel.

The main challenge that I think we are seeing and everyone else is as well, is how do you recreate the dynamics that are available when you’re face to face with people, whether they be colleagues or prospects, that are just sharing a ton of information of what is actually going on in this organization with this person or these people, what’s the felt sense of, ‘I want to work with you or partner with you because of this interaction we’ve had, whether or not I understand fully what’s gone on, but I view you as somebody who’s credible and cares about us and wants to develop a long-term partnership’.

I think it’s easier for someone to get to that visceral level of awareness around who they want to partner with or not from in-person interactions. I think it’s harder to get to that when everything’s remote and there can be a lot of abstraction as part of quality of video, voice, everything else. What’s the felt sense of being in a zoom call with somebody versus being in the room with them?

That’s the biggest challenge that we have because our competitive advantage– and this has been validated externally from customers and consultants that have worked with organizations that are trying to buy technology– when we asked them, ‘Hey, when we show up, what is our competitive advantage? How do we double down on what’s going to help us win’? The feedback has been ‘Your competitive advantage at Icertis is your culture. The fact that you show up with a team, that’s really trying to understand our world, understand our challenges and set up a long-term partnership where you’re going to help us move towards a better place’, that can be felt in the interactions and in the responses and in the meetings and in the questions over time.

We hear that a lot through the sales cycle, is that we create that experience for customers where a downstream effect of the culture we’re trying to build is that our sales teams are creating this connection with customers that here to be true trusted advisors and partners for the long-term with you. That is way easier to do in person. We’re trying to find creative and intentional ways to do that while working remote, but I think we’re not there yet. I hope we can get as strong as possible in that area, but I don’t think it will ever replicate the beauty of being face to face and breaking bread with another human.

SS: Well, thank you for being so honest with us, JP. I really appreciated your time today. Thank you for meeting with us.

JM: Absolutely. Thank you.

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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