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Effective Engagements for Digital Selling – Sales Enablement Soirée, Summer 2020

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CT: Welcome to our panel on Effective Engagements for Digital Selling. I think this is such a great topic to be talking about, especially right now because sales reps really do face unique and different challenges as we’re selling in this virtual environment. And so, I’m excited to hear from all of our panelists today. We’ll just have each of you go around, introduce yourself, say your name, your company.

And we will start with April.

AG: Hi, I’m April gross. I lead a global sales enablement for Solar Winds, MSP business unit. Solar Winds is a software company that makes IT look easy. We have an IT operations management section of the company and the MSP division focuses on managed service providers.

SW: My name is Spence Wickson. I’m the senior vice president of marketing and business development for a company called Challenger. We are in the space of developing people, messages, and audience for a complex sale. We have been conducting research and developing a concept around complex selling for a number of years. You may be familiar with some of the books that we have written “The Challenger Sale”, “The Challenger Customer”, and also a book around customer service called “The Effortless Experience”. Just a pleasure to be here as a part of this panel.

JZ: My name is Julie Zang, and I am the head of sales enablement for our institutional and retail business for North America for Russell Investments. We are an investment and asset management company that focuses on delivering solutions and consulting to institutional as well as financial advisors.

CT: And so, we do have limited amount of time today. So, I’m just going to jump right. And, I’d love to hear about what some of the key considerations that sales enablement needs to have as we’ve shifted to this virtual world and kind of this remote world in the past few months. So, what are some of those key considerations for reps that want to effectively engage buyers now that we’ve all shifted the way that we work? Spencer, I’d love to hear from you.

SW: Well great. You know, I’d love to start on that particular question, because I think in some ways there’s been a pretty substantial shift in the way we engage with customers and the way we talk about things. And then I think in some ways we probably overestimated the amount of change that’s it’s needed there. I think it really does go back to the fundamental in my mind of having a powerful message that sparks or catches the attention of that customer who is very distracted right now. And not someone we can as easily engaged page with, as we have in the past. I think it’s all about do I have the message that speaks directly to what this customer’s business is going through right now. And not just what this general sector that this customer’s business operates in is going through because businesses within sectors are reacting to this current environment very differently. And it really takes, takes some time and some real quick critical thought to figure out what specifically is happening to this customer’s business. And then crafting a message around that and delivering that message in a very effective way that sparks attention.

AG: I totally agree with everything Spencer said and I think, in addition to that, reps have to be ready and capable to add value really quickly. Sales conversations, customers going across the internet often come to sales conversations, at least thinking that they’re very educated about the products and the portfolio and the space and thinking that they might know about the solution.

So, reps need to be really credible with what they’re saying and be ready to ask some of those tough questions. I think from a sales enablement perspective, we also need to prepare our reps to engage across multiple channels. So, we have some of our traditional channels, like the phone and maybe a video conferencing, but are we enabling our reps to man chatbots? Are we enabling our reps in other sorts of new forms of communication? People have less and less time, but they’re on more and more channels. And so, are our sales teams prepared for those?

CT: Julie. Any thoughts on this one?

JZ: Yeah, I won’t go too much longer aside from what Spencer and April have already said. I think keeping it simple, attention span and storytelling, and it’s just keeping it short and simple and people don’t have a lot of time to figure out what it is you’re trying to say. So just say it, whether you say it over the phone or over a zoom meeting or over an email. Address I think people are looking for that value customized to themselves right away. So, don’t overcomplicate it.

CT: Love that, kind of love everything that everyone’s said on here. Kind of shifting gears a little bit, a lot of us have tried to shift to this digital environment and the online environment is incredibly noisy. There’s a lot going on. So, I would love to hear about how you can enable reps to better cut through that noise, the increased noise from this virtual environment, and really craft effective engagements that cut through that noise.

So, I would love to hear from you guys on this, Spencer, let’s start with you again.

SW: Sure. You know, and I want to go back to what, April and I think Julia as well hit on this of, we need a mixture of mediums when we’re engaging with customers today. And I think we also have to break a preconceived notion that a lot of reps have, which is I’m pestering people too much. I’m bothering people. Because it really does take persistence in this environment. And yes, it’s noisy out there. But customers, I think we presuppose that customers have consumed every ounce of the noise out there, and they’re fully aware of every message that’s been pushed their way. And that’s just not the case.

In fact, I had an example with the rep just the other day, whereas I looked back through the cadence that this rep had run with the customer. I think discipline cadences are super important right now. And the tools that allow us, the sales engagement tools that allow us to do very disciplined multistage, multi-mode cadences with customers are a super important technology to adopt. And it’s interesting because as I was reading through the cadence history with this customer and looking at all of the touch points, I in my mind would say, okay, when this customer does respond, he or she is going to be pretty aggravated by the amount of contact and messaging that has been pushed his or her way.

But then when I did get to the final result, the customer’s reaction was much different and much more positive than I would have expected. And it made me realize that our mindset, as far as pushing out and the persistence of message and the customer’s mindset, not having digested or really interacted with all of it are completely different. And we need to push beyond the period in which we feel it might be, too much persistence, too much communication.

CT: Love that. Julie, any thoughts on this one?

JZ: I think Spencer’s absolutely right. And I think Spencer, in his introduction also talked about the challenger sale. I know that everything is changing, but some things stay the same and how we interact with people, how we talk the, the tone of your voice, the energy that you bring, especially as a client facing individual that doesn’t really change. That’s more important than ever. So, a lot of it is revisiting the old and learning how to prospect again and how to do it over the phone. Because people are, we’re so used to depending on that face to face interaction.

And then it’s also so supplementing that with more up to date, current, trending type of training. So, we’ve actually been working with a copywriter vendor to teach sales individuals, how to improve their email writing, how to change up their titles and the subject lines of their emails, how to craft a messaging so, it’s more succinct and simplified and to the point. And sometimes you can say it until your face is blue but having a third party come in and do it is a lot more effective. And then the other thing we’re doing is hiring some of the more poignant storytellers within our industry and others to help us craft and refresh a story that maybe we’ve told for a long time and that we feel like is old, but to Spencer’s point, the client doesn’t necessarily feel that way.

The prospect doesn’t necessarily know that story. Right. But how do you reengage the salesperson to make sure that they feel like the story isn’t old? So, it’s refreshing something for them too. It’s reenergizing them in a new environment of how to tell that story. So, I think it’s investing in training and re-engaging the team in some old philosophies that just to say, ‘Hey, I know that a lot of things are changing, but some of these processes, some of the ways that you do the work is going to stay consistent, but we’re also going to help with some training and some technologies that are going to be more pertinent to today’s environment.’

CT: Shifting gears a little bit here. We recently did a study, The State of Sales Enablement. We found that empathy plays a huge, huge role and really effective engagement to the sellers. And so, from your experiences, I would love to hear just about how you foster really genuine empathy in your sales reps. April, I’d love to hear from you.

AG: Absolutely. Yeah. I actually, I’m really passionate about this topic. Solar Winds is all about our partners and our partner experience. And empathy, I think is kind of in three pieces at least in my mind, one piece is really about understanding our prospects and our partners and their world. And at Solar Winds at least, it starts with onboarding and a day in the life of an MSP. What do they do from when they wake up until when they go to bed? We have a session where we talk about, what do they worry about? What keeps them up at night? So really the day to day concerns, their priorities, really understanding and getting inside the mindset of helping customers and the prospects. So that you can have some sense of perspective of them. So, a piece of it is education.

Also, when talking about product education, certainly the features and benefits are important. I’m talking about really the problems that they solve for customers. So, in terms of education, really focusing on the education from the customer’s perspective rather than the company or the salesperson’s perspective.

And then when we talk about skill training, we’re really talking about two things, cultivating a sense of curiosity and then also active listening skills. So those two things can be, I know, challenging for sales teams. So, whenever we put together skills profile those are things that we focus on in particular to cultivate that empathy.

SW: Yeah. Look, I love the way April put it, particularly the two skills that you focus on there, the curiosity and the active listening. I think sometimes we can see empathy as something I only express in the moment when I’m in front of the customer. Right? Like, I feel empathy for you, or I appreciate the situation you’re in. I think empathy is something we develop for that customer long before we’re in front of them. And we demonstrate that empathy by our willingness to, as April said, be curious, do that homework, really understand their business, really identify what their issues are.

Hypothesize, think critically about what this business is going through. Cause if it were in front of the customer and we say the customer, I know the situation you’re in. I know what it’s like to be in your shoes. A customer could very easily say, prove it. You know, what have you learned about me? What have you thought critically about me? And if we haven’t and we’re just trying to express empathy we haven’t earned in that moment, then we seem disingenuous. So really empathy starts long before we’re in front of the customer. And we express that empathy appropriately. If we’ve done our homework

CT: Clearly, Julie, I see you nodding along a little bit. Any thoughts on this one?

JZ: I’m just enjoying the banter. I would say that I think it comes from top down too. It’s really hard to be empathetic to your client if your manager’s not empathetic towards you. So, I think at a top-level having a, I know that our CEO, Michelle Seitz has been incredibly empathetic to everyone going through this, including the Black Lives Matter movement and just being very present and understanding what people are going through in so many aspects of their life. And that flows all the way down to our employees and from our employees then to our clients. I think it just, it’s an ethos and a culture that the entire firm has to employ.

CT: Kind of along this line, we’ve also found that personalization is so, so important and critical when it comes to sale engagement, even before all of this. So even before the past few months, but how are you continuing to enable your reps to really tailor those personalizing really deep relationships with the buyer?

Spencer let’s start working on this.

SW: Yeah, look, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about this before and I think one of the interesting things is email response rates. I know are down significantly in a lot of sectors. It’s really hard to get people’s attention via email. And I know there’s been some research as well of like too much customization tailoring in an email can be like, unnecessary effort. But personalization in a phone conversation is critically important because it is a dialogue.

Right? And if you are curious, you’re showing that empathy, as well as you’re prepared and you’re engaging that individual in a dialogue, that’s where you can do a lot of the personalization and have hypotheses ready-baked, right? Like, ‘I’ve thought about your business, I’ve considered the situation you’re in. Here’s an idea I have for you.’ Like be very directive, be very prescriptive in that personalization. And that really, I think feels different. It feels refreshing to people where they’re like, ‘Wow, not only do you have something you clearly understand that you want to sell to me. You’ve thought critically about my situation enough to provide a very direct perspective to me.’ And really all the calls that I’ve listened on, those on the other end of the call, the customers or prospects on the other end of the call have really appreciated that very direct and energized personalization.

JZ: Yeah. I think we, a lot of times, we focus a lot on personalizing the conversation at the client. I think there’s also a lot to be learned from the previous question on empathy, is how do I personalized conversation from me? So, some of the emails and some of the conversations I’ve had, the highest engagement are stories about, ‘Hey, this is how my family has been surviving through this quarantine welcome home environment and Hey, when’s the last time you went to a concert? I really miss going out to a concert’ and relating that story back to, believe it or not, a product or a service that we provide. So I think it’s also personalizing it from the sales person standpoint and making it genuine, whether that’s through humor or stories or anecdotes from their own lives that make it feel like, okay, like I do want to tailor this conversation to your needs, but let me give you something personal of myself to open that door and make it a little bit more authentic.

CT: And so, I keep talking about how the world of work has really changed and brings about its own set of challenges. So, I would love to hear about what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve seen or faced when shifting to virtual sales engagement and how are you addressing those challenges?

So, April, I’d love to start with you.

AG: Yeah. Thank you. In my current environment at Solar Winds, we do run off an inside sales model. So, that’s been fortunate for us, within the COVID situation that we haven’t had had to make a huge shift from outside sales to inside sales. But that being said, we have had to deal with, workers being remote. There’s been a huge increase need for internal communications and also tools and process rollouts. So, we’ve met the call, to that need and we’ve been creative in some of the ways that we’ve delivered to it. But an increase in the frequency and also the modalities in which we’ve delivered those, have seen some really great results. In some cases, potentially even better than what we would have seen have they been working from the office because we’ve had really high attendance rates, which has been fantastic to see.

JZ: I think the biggest challenge we talk about at the client level, the attention span and the distraction and the difficulty in keeping that energy up in the sales process. I’m actually worried about keeping the salespeople motivated and challenged and excited because this is a mental grind. Like what we’re going through is mentally exhaustingly. You don’t, you have, unfortunately we don’t have just an inside sales model. We do have a lot of outside sales and putting them in a work home environment where we basically can, we basically converted a lot of very Type A extroverted people to inside sales. It’s a difficult mental exercise for them.

And so, I would say I’m always curious, how do I make sure that they’re not getting zoom fatigue and they’re not getting exhausted and they’re finding new ways of telling the same story. So that that’s my first priority. And then second is closing the gap and I’m curious to hear if Spencer and April have found the same thing. Like you have some people who have adapted really, really well into this environment and excelled and they’re busier than they’ve ever been. And then you have teams who are just. They just can’t figure it out. They can’t get to it. They’re not able to find the right prospects. They’re not able to connect with clients the same way in this environment. So, you have a larger gap, right? I think from top to bottom than you did before. and I think that’s a challenge as we’re trying to close that gap.

SW: Julie just to respond to what you were saying there, and I’m sorry, before I respond to what you said just there, I have to respond to what you said earlier, which I think is such a critical point. And it was so beautifully put of, and I’m sorry to go back to personalization, but I just loved what you said. Which is, personalization is all about selling person to person. And I think about some of the great things I’ve seen recently and people using video to really personalize that outbound message did they create for people? Cause it’s, ‘I’m a human being. I’m a person. I think, I feel, I act, and showing that we’re people selling to people even in this virtual environment is such a critical thing to keep fresh and keep alive.

JZ: Absolutely.

SW: So, I love what you said there. But it just goes into your point about, yeah, you do see that spread of people who have taken this virtual environment and thrived in it. And they’re performing at the same level or even greater than they were before. And some people who are really struggling. In our organization, as we’ve been looking to move the middle of the organization, because there are some people who this has probably woken them up to the fact that maybe this isn’t the best job for them. And that’s fine. It’s good when there’s disruptive situations like this, to move those individuals into a role that they’re more comfortable doing. But what you want to do is move the core of your organization up to a reasonable amount of productive in this environment. I was reading a book a few weeks ago called “Atomic Habits”. And I don’t remember the author, but he lays out a framework for habits in there that I then parlayed into our SDR team as a way of kind of diagnosing and figuring out how to make the job effective for them.

There are four elements to the framework. Do we make the job obvious in a virtual environment? Do they know what time to start? Do they know what to do during the day? Do they know what time, and do they have breaks? Do they have a good cadence of activity that becomes obvious for them to do? So, when they’re sitting at their desk any hour of any given day, they have a good idea of what they need to do. Make the job easy.

So obvious, easy. Do they have the tools they need to succeed? Do they have, what are the roadblocks that are keeping them from being as productive in that job as they can be?

And then make it engaging. Meaning have long-term goals and a long-term vision for them. That’s a thing that a lot of people struggle to have right now, because they’re not sure what the future brings six months, a year, a couple years from now. Help them continue to see a long-term career vision for what they’re doing. Help them see skills that they’re building and the career path that they’re setting.

And then this fourth one, which I think is really important is, make it satisfying. When you’re all alone in your house doing a sales job, there’s no, you’re not part of a bullpen. You can’t ring a bell, and everybody celebrate together. There is no immediate sort of dopamine rush with satisfaction from doing an activity. As managers, as leaders, we’ve got to find a way to make good activity satisfying in the moment for them, so that they want to keep doing it. And not just waiting for a few months down the line where I get my quarterly commission check.

CT: Moving along to a topic that we talk about a lot on sales and the problem that a lot of sales enablement practitioners talk about, which is metric. So, I would love to hear about the different metrics that you guys are all using to measure the success of sales engagement.

And so, Julie, I’m going to put this on to you.

JZ: Thank you. Well, I would say that I think Spencer and I have the same reading list. So, Spencer, if you’re looking for your next read, I recommend “Ultra Learning”. It’s a great book if you like “Atomic Habits”, but if you have any recommendations for me, I’d be happy to get them.

But I would say in terms of metrics, I mean, it’s an exhausting exercise. If you guys are all measuring KPIs, but I would say that has evolved too. I think before, because we had an outside and inside paired sales model, we’re measuring like, okay, how many phone calls were you doing versus how many in person meetings? And that has completely changed and shifted. I think, rightly, to now we’re measuring what are the total clients and prospects that you’re engaging in front of them. So, it is a number of people that you engaging in front of, rather than the type of engagements we’re still measuring the types, but that becomes less important when you think about virtual is both video as well as phone typical. So, you have to be a little bit flexible on that one. So, it matters more how many people you’re in front of. And actually, what we’re finding is that you’re probably in front of more people now than you typically were before, because you can do these group virtual meetings so easily and you can pull in subject matter experts.

I would say the second part that we’re measuring is how well are you using and engaging in the resources of the firm? So that can include the incorporation of subject matter expert into your phone conversation. Are you leveraging the support model? Are you leveraging different, experts into the field of conversation to progress a sale?

And of course, the third one that has not changed and really has a greater focus is, are you moving opportunities through the pipeline? Are you able to move the sale from a prospect phase to an advocate phase? And how fast are you doing that? How well are you updating that? And that’s a challenge because I don’t think any salesperson in the world loves engaging with the CRM. So, it’s improving that user interface and helping, and motivating them. Right.

So I think going back to Spencer’s point on satisfaction of like, what can we hit a pleasure center every single time you provide us with an update, but it’s really keeping track of those pipelines is essential to make sure that we’re not just getting in front of people beginning in front of the right people and that the engagements we’re doing with them is progressing in the right direction.

CT: A lot of nods on camera. Spencer, any thoughts on this one?

SW: No look, the one thought I would add, I think Julie hit on a lot of the important metrics, but the one thing that I would add to it is, be careful about broad averages because very different geographies are operating very differently here.

Say your large enterprise business may operate very differently than your middle market business. Your inbound may have different yield rates than your outbound. The more you can segment that data, the better understanding you’re going to have about what’s going on. It’s interesting, because what I’ve found in this environment is, you’ll have this very select group of engaged, ready to buy buyers in your inbound. So those will come through your website ‘Contact Us’ form or something, and they’ll say, we’re ready to buy because we believe in the concept, we have organizational support and we have budget. Which is a pretty rare thing these days, but those who have it and are ready to go.

And your conversion rates on that activity is going to be very different than your cold outbound right now, where you’re going to be running into a lot of organizations who would say, Hey, look, I like the concept. But I can’t do anything right now. And so, by measuring those things separately and not looking at an average like, okay, this is what I can get out of that select inbound channel. This is what I can get out of my outbound channel. This is what I can get out of my marketing influence channel. And you can, you can manage those separately more effectively.

CT: I would also just love to hear about how or what the different kinds of sales engagements that you have all found to be particularly successful, especially all kind of shifted to virtual and remote digital work in the last few months? Julie, I’ll start with you again.

JZ: When you say the different formats, you mean zoom versus others, or are you talking about specifically like phone versus virtual versus something?

CT: I would love to kind of hear about if you find that like certain formats have been working better, has zoom been something that people, I think we’ve brought up zoom fatigue to quite a bit and so have we found kind of different ways to start engaging the buyer? I think that that’s something that has, I mean, I personally, I do feel like I’ve experienced a little bit of zoom fatigue, but I love to hear on it. There are different kinds of things that you found to be, be a little bit more successful there.

JZ: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I don’t think that that actually has to do with the technology, whether you’re using zoom, (we’re a zoom from) but whether you use zoom or WebEx or Skype or Microsoft teams or Google Hangouts, it’s all really the same as saying type of functionality and features that they, that they have.

I think that in order to avoid that virtual fatigue, zoom fatigue, unfortunately, you have to get the technology to work for you and not against you. It’s not supposed to pull you down. It’s supposed to lift you up. So, if you feel like you can’t do anymore zoom meetings and for goodness sake, stop for a little bit, take a break. And you know, I think before, before this environment, we used to joke around I’m sure everyone knows the phrase like, Oh, that that meeting could have been an email. Well, Same thing now, like that zoom meeting could have been an email. You don’t have to schedule a virtual meeting for every conversation.

And sometimes like the email threads could be better over the phone and sometimes the opposite. Like just today I’ve rejected two meetings because I was like, “Nope. You can just send me exactly what you need and I will send you a response. I do not want another meeting on the calendar.” And before this environment, I was admittedly not very good at blocking time for breaks. Cause I just didn’t feel like I needed to. You do get invigorated when you’re walking around the office, and you’re seeing people and you’re joking around.

You don’t have that now. You’re alone with maybe some pets and some children and that’s about it. And so, you do need to force yourself to block off breaktime. So, I’ve gotten a lot better at that. And I think my team is grateful that I’m in a much better mood, by the end of the day as a result. But I don’t think it matters the technology that you use. I think that you just have to make sure that it’s working for you and not against you.

And to remember that you’re human too. And just because we’re working from home does not mean you need to work 14 hours a day.

SW: Look, put stuff in the mail. Put something physical in people’s hands. Let them let their eyes is gaze on something that isn’t a screen full of pixelated light. I just, I think it’s so refreshing. I had somebody send me a little bit of candy with something the other day. I loved it. It just was, it was different. And people appreciate things I think in this environment, just because they’re different. Because when we’re at well, we’re sitting in the same room for who knows how many hours a day doing the same things, when something is, just because something is different, it stands out.

So, find things that are different and mix it up. That’s why I think video has been working so well. That’s why I think some of these just new mediums, I mean, it just feels fresh. It feels different than that’s. That’s important right now.

AG: Yeah to add on to what Spencer said we’ve been finding a lot of success recently in, in video. And we recently launched a content tool, content sales enablement tool. And what we’ve been seeing is that our video specifically our short form video, and also our long form video has been a great way of connecting our customers and our prospects, with value. Kind of personalizing it, picking out the right stuff that would provide the most value and we see really good engagement rates over the video.

CT: Thank you to our panelists. And we’ve done this at every single panel that we’ve done for our Soirée events for however many years we’ve done them. But we love to leave our audience with one key takeaway. So, I would love to ask all of you to share one takeaway you want to share with our sales enablement pros on the line today.

Julie, why don’t you kick this off?

JZ: Sure. Well, I’ll be blunt. This is not the disruption, it’s an evolution. So, you can either adapt to it or you can become extinct.

CT: April.

AG: Yeah. I would say to stay adaptable and forward-looking. Just because something’s working today, doesn’t mean it will always work. And I think that situation has really shown us that to always be evaluating new solutions, tools, and technologies. she never knew when you might need to use them.

CT: For sure. Spencer.

SW: I think this is just a tremendous opportunity, if we see it that way. It’s a very difficult environment in, and I know it’s hard, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to learn and adapt as Julie was saying to evolve in some ways that I think are really important.

A lot of the asynchronous learning, and the kind of continuous bite-sized learning that organizations are applying. So that you can learn, apply, learn, apply, and that rinse and repeat motion that so many organizations have done so well in their virtual training over the last few months is really exciting.

I’m a huge fan of some of the conversational intelligence tools that are really coming into their own post-COVID because so much more of the interaction between sellers and customers is being recorded. And the fact that we can finally work so much around improving the quality of what we do and not just measuring the quantity of what we do. And the fact that we can do so in such an objective way, by measuring presence or absence of words and phrases and the back and forth volley of a conversation. And looking specifically at customers’ reactions to when we present insight to them and doing that in scale and using technology to do that. It’s just so exciting. And there’s just so many wonderful things to learn and to grow around right now.

So that’s my glass half full kind of closing point there, but there are some exciting opportunities out there.

CT: For sure. All right. Well, thank you to all of our panelists today. Thank you so much for your time. And for being able to answer all of these questions right now, we are going to open it up to Q and A.

So, for our audience, please feel free to type in any questions you have for our speakers in the chat below. And we will make sure to get those answered for you.