Sales Enablement Soirée: Sales Engagement Insights That Drive Rep Performance, Fall 2020

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Cassandra Tenrio: Welcome to our panel on Sales Engagement Insights That Drive Rep Performance. Today, it is especially important to understand what sales engagements are really working for your sales reps, and what’s really resonating with your buyers. So I’m very excited to hear from our panelists today on those two things and how they’re using insights to really get a better understanding. So I’d love to get each of you to just introduce yourself and say a little bit about yourself. Barry, let’s start with you. 

Barry Shields: Hey there. I’m Barry Shields. I’m the director of training and enablement at Avalara, a Seattle-based company. And, so the team that I lead builds training for customer account managers for support, engineers for our professional services team and also for our partners. So all of the internal job based training is what we focus on. And so in terms of sales enablement, I did sales enablement for almost 11 years at Cisco, before leaving to join Avalara. And, I’m glad to be here. 

Julie Greenfield:  Thanks Cassandra. And hello everyone. My name is Julie Greenfield and I’m the sales enablement and readiness director at Brainshark. I work with our sales leaders, reps and many throughout Brainshark to identify areas of opportunity and to formulate a plan to enhance skills, improve processes, and the buying experience. Lucky for me, I’m able to leverage our Brainshark solution to accomplish that through our scorecards content creation, learning and coaching platforms. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. And Michael?

Michael Randazzo: Hi everyone. I’m Michael Randazzo with Challenger. If you don’t know Challenger, you may know our books: The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer. Challenger the company though, we help companies all across the globe, implement the strategies and ideas, and develop the capabilities that are outlined in those books. My role is senior director of product marketing and insight. And well, not explicitly in that title, a large portion of my job is sales enablement and much of that is focused on collateral content development, commercial messaging, product and sales training, all focused on helping our commercial teams improve the quality of the conversations they’re having with our customers.

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. So we’re going to jump right in, since we only have about 30 minutes today. I wanted to start by talking about how things have changed in the past year. So sales engagements and what’s working in buyer preferences really changed in 2020 as the environment of the world of work has changed and so as we pivoted to this virtual environment in the past year, what types of engagements have you seen really resonate with buyers and what types of engagements have not been as successful for reps in terms of their engagements and outreach? So, Julie, I’d love to hear from you.

Julie Greenfield: Thanks. And I’ll tell you that engagement really begins with our sellers before we even talk about our buyers, because for many, this has been a completely new way of selling. They weren’t used to doing this. So first we had to assess and then enhance their virtual selling skills so that they could really engage effectively with the buyers. So once we did that, it really came down to personalize messaging and outreach, thinking about thought leadership, best practice pieces of content, and then any other relevant aspects that we could share and that our prospects, our buyers could use immediately. Everyone’s experiencing a change at the same time.

So it’s a real unique situation in that we created very specific enablement content to help these teams. And then our sellers were able to leverage that and use that. They didn’t do a combination of social networks and believe it or not phone became very popular, maybe a little bit less now that we’re quite a few months in, but in the beginning, they were able to get people on the phone where before they weren’t. And we attributed that to that one-on-one connection that people were missing because they weren’t in the office. What’s really been impactful, and we use it as a follow-up technique, is to promote that positive buying experience is to create personalized and narrated content. That includes often a zoom recording. It could be a demo or discovery call along with some of this collateral that we built out specifically and then that way our buyers have everything all in one place and they can leverage it. They can send it around to their ecosystem as they’re building out their business case for a solution like ours.

So those were some of the things that really resonated. I cannot emphasize enough that personalization, really understanding who your buyer is and what they need, what they’re going through. I’ll tell you what didn’t work. And it shouldn’t be a surprise is the opposite, you know, taking that generic template email from marketing or some of the other departments and just sending that out, blasting it to everyone, not taking the time to really understand who that buyer is. So, anything that was too lengthy or was generic that wasn’t working at all. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. How do you think buyer preferences have really changed in the last year and how do they want to be engaged? Michael, I’d love to hear from you. 

Michael Randazzo: Yeah, absolutely. I think as a company we’ve been doing continuous research for about a decade now on both seller performance. So the skills and capabilities most likely to drive high performance, and then B2B buyer behavior and preference. So, mostly to understand really what it takes for sellers to win large complex opportunities. It’s really what underpins all of our work. But anyway, we know a few fundamental things about B2B buyers, and their preferences, and ultimately what drives loyalty dating back to when we kind of started this longitudinal study back in 2008, 2009.

So we start when we first started looking into and studying customer engagement and loyalty drivers, ultimately trying to figure out what is it that contributes to long-term loyalty for a given supplier and the thing we found. And if you’re familiar with the research in the book, the number one driver of customer loyalty and engagement for that matter is the sales experience itself, right? So the series of interactions and engagements that our sellers are having with buyers on a day-to-day basis, it actually matters much more than anything else. Your brand reputation and product service delivery and quality price. The sales experience is worth more than all of those things combined. Now that’s not necessarily a big surprise for folks on the line here, dialed into this, it’s kind of what we’re all about enabling the sales experience. 

But the problem is the sales experience is very widely across suppliers and across individual reps in a given organization. So customers have reported both before 2020, and during the course of 2020, that some experiences are a complete waste of time, whether that’s virtual or live, and others are actually worth paying for the conversations in and of themselves. And so as it turns out, what we needed to figure out I think this year more than any year in the past few, is what defines that kind of sales experience in this post COVID environment. And so if we go back through our research over the years, it’s always come back to this idea of commercial insight.

It’s always come back to this idea of does the seller actually as a customer, does the seller deliver a unique perspective to me? That teaches me something new about my business that exposes a business need or problem or challenge that I was either unaware of, or at least under appreciating or misdiagnosing that’s far and away. The most important thing, regardless of type of engagement, whether it’s live or virtual, whether we’re at arms length or whether we’re right in front of someone and what’s interesting as we looked at this year over year 2019 to 2020, it’s still the number one thing that sellers need to do on behalf of their suppliers is deliver unique insight to their customers, teach them something new. And then the second most important thing, which has remained constant throughout our entire analysis across the past decade is the ability to actually drive decisions, the ability to actually push customers to move forward and forge consensus within a large and ever expanding buying group. And the tricky part about 2020 is it’s really hard to do some of that in a virtual environment.

Now we’re not only, if you think of a buying group as nearly a dozen individuals cross-functional stakeholders at this point, we’ve always seen that these binders have trouble reaching consensus because they’re diverse and they’re sort of figuratively apart, they’re not literally apart. And so it’s hard to do that in a virtual environment, right? So we ran this analysis this year in 2020, and we basically found it’s a troubling stat buyers are reporting. Seller capability is way down year over year, across those most important skills to the tune of like 40%, right? So, sellers are really struggling this year in particular to deliver that unique insight to build strong business cases for change, to drive consensus around purchase decisions.

And it’s not all on sellers. They didn’t just become bad at selling overnight or year over year. It’s the environment that we’re in, where it’s a much more complex environment and buyers have really raised the bar. So doing what you were doing and even up to February, 2020, is not going to work anymore. That’s kind of what we’re observing.

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. Julie, did you have anything to add on this one?

Julie Greenfield: I do. And, you know, Michael covered everything. Some of the notes that I had, the one huge piece, is the human element. So I will tell you aside from everything, all of what Michael said absolutely important. Really knowing your customer, knowing your customer’s customer, what’s going on in their environments in particular, as things shift so rapidly, but empathy, I cannot stress enough to have to teach your sellers. Empathy and everyone talking to your customers because you have to understand what’s the work environment like. There’s interruptions going on, kids working from home, you know, dogs, people aren’t used to that.

Some are as you’re talking with people and then maybe you’re talking about, you spoke to them in February. And now all of a sudden, they’ve laid off half of the team, there’s furloughs, there’s things going on. So making sure that your sellers are truly empathetic to the situation and that they know how to handle this situation. So let’s take that case of where maybe they see that the person they’re talking to, they’re both on camera. There’s a distraction going on in the room. Making sure your sellers are confident to stop the conversation and say, you know what? This looks like you have something that you need to take care of.

However, you want to make sure that they show that empathy and say, “We can reschedule this. I see you need to take care of something at home and that’s more important.” So putting your buyer first will lead to those results in the end. They’re going to remember that. So empathy has really played a big role as you’re understanding your customer and everything that they need and what’s going on in their business. So that human element this year, more so than ever, has really been impactful. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely love that. Really one of the biggest things that is super important right now is understanding sales engagement success, and one of the ways to do that is to really lean into as many insights as you can into what’s working and what’s not. And so what metrics do you look at when gauging success? How do you gather those insights into what works for your reps? So, Barry, I’d love to hear from you. 

Barry Shields: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, the metrics that we start with are the ones that have always been there, right? Bookings, and revenue. But, what I’ve found is that sales teams tend to meet their quota, but no one’s looking under the hood, they’re working the midnight oil. And my question really becomes how long does it take for them to find answers to customers’ questions? How long does it take them to build a sales pitch or define or build customer facing content? So, they’re meeting their quota, but they are working super hard because the content that the team has built isn’t accessible. It’s in many different places on wikis or learning management systems or in a help system and how far behind are they in learning about new products that have launched? So what happens is, you have a Salesforce and we’re launching all these products, but the Salesforce is trying to sell.

And now they’re five, six, maybe 10 to 15 training sessions behind. And so it’s about how long does it take them to find content when they need it? How long does it take them to build customer facing content? How far are they behind in terms of learning about the new products and then when they’re selling those new products, are they meeting a quota for the new products? Are they just meeting their generic quota by selling core products? So you really have to dig much deeper into what’s going on because sales teams are gonna, they’re gonna either overreact go postal, if you will, or burn out. And the sales enablement team, your focus has to be on making the sales team’s life easier.

Saving them time ensuring they have the materials to have the right sales conversations, designing experiences that ensure they can speak to how the customer’s business problem can be solved. So in terms of gathering data, to be frank, I just ask, it’s not a survey per se. We use Slack, which is great for instant messaging. And if you ask the right questions, and I do it in those Slack channels. You’ll get everything you need to know about how much time it takes them or where they’re struggling, you know, to find the content, how much time they’re spending building customer facing materials. So the point is let’s go beyond meeting quota cause they’re meeting quota and they are making a great living.

And then because of that, everyone thinks, well, we don’t have to do anything good for them, they’re meeting quota. And they don’t have any right to complain about the amount of time it’s taking, but they really do. And if you’re not careful, you’re going to lose your great Salesforce because they’re exhausted. So those are the kinds of things that I think about when I’m deciding what metrics to report on. It’s not just about quota. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely love that. Julia also love to hear from you on this one. 

Julie Greenfield: Sure. Piggybacking off of what Barry said is it’s getting granular. We get pretty granular with our team. We have the luxury to be able to do that. And we do look at the overall activity, what are they doing? Emails, InMails calls, things like that. And then we’re taking those numbers and pairing it with an open rate on a piece of content, specifically the number of views of that content call connected. So those are the ways that we’re measuring it. And we’re fortunate to have a scorecard that gathers it all together so that both reps, managers, as well as us and the enablement team can look at that and leverage and see what’s going on. 

We do some of what Barry talked about as well, using Slack, celebrating the successes. So if someone used a specific pitch or this was the messaging they use, then this piece of content and they had a really good return rate. We’re utilizing that too. You can’t just look at the tools and that hard data that we find. We have to look at some of the other pieces and really from that rep’s perspective and see what’s coming back. So definitely, been useful there. 

Cassandra Tenorio: I love that. What are some of the most effective ways to really implement lasting change based on these insights and how do you really ensure that sales reps are really aware and here to any changes in process or best practices? Barry, let’s start with you.

Barry Shields: Sure. Well, my view and sort of starts off with setting up the sales enablement function, using a services approach. It’s not about the end deliverable, like always creating training or already creating marketing collateral. So I think of terms of setting up your team really well, like pipeline enablement, message enablement, talent enablement, those four components of the org. And in terms of updating the sales process, that can be usually as documented, but what we need and what we want to inspect is that the sales managers be a part of the system. I mean, we need the sales managers to align to the processes and hold their team accountable to that process because to be frank it’s a procedure or a policy, and it’s not that difficult. 

We just need sales managers to hold folks accountable. But in terms of best practices, I learned something really cool and great. While I was at Cisco, what we did is we called it a best team study. So Julie was talking about best practices. What we did is we exposed research. And we conducted that research to the sales teams and leaders. And what’s interesting about that is that sales teams, to be frank, you don’t like formal learning. They also don’t like at all, oftentimes e-learning and it was the research and the rigor behind that research and the results of those research that kind of provided an action plan for the sales teams. And so when you show up as a researcher, instead of building training in some way, you’re exposing the research results as if you’re on CNN or Fox business or whatever, exposing research results. Sales teams love that way more than they love the standard formal training. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. Michael, I see you nodding. Anything to add on this one?

Michael Randazzo: Yeah. Actually Barry touched on a couple of things that we’re in violent agreement, every couple of months, but, yeah, I guess I would point out a few things, but as we’re all aware, there’s a lot that goes into long-term change, right? Like, or I guess I should say, change management that actually leads to long-term behavior change. So it takes a village. One thing we sort of subscribe to here as a model for sustainable behavior change that we teach and train, in client organizations. But we also use it internally and effectively. It’s three parts. 

The first part is really a really solid communications plan. And, I’ll invoke Simon Sinek here for a second, if you’re familiar with Simon Sinek. His golden circle, the idea of starting with why. Really like the why is everything in that communication plan? The real reason why you need to change something, whether it’s a part of the process or whether it’s a strategy, sort of at a very high level is a common pitfall that many organizations I’ve worked with begin change communications by starting out with the what. So it’s the what then the how, and then finally the why, but perhaps only when asked or when you meet resistance from Salesforce. So that’s a really important part, right? Starting with why and your communication plan, that’s leadership alignment at the top, making sure that everybody understands why we’re doing what we’re doing.

The second piece is, and Barry touched on this, is training or any kind of sort of development or learning program that you’re trying to implement. The key from our perspective is experiential learning. Which means it’s much more than simply sort of training to behaviors in a static point in time manner. It’s ongoing development. It’s on the job learning, it’s mixed modalities to engage different learning styles and activate multiple senses. The latter of which we know improves the encoding of information, deepens learning and makes it easier to recall later. So, that’s critically important from a learning design perspective. And then finally, Barry also touched on this. Managers, Manager’s managers, managerial coaching, enabling frontline managers to consistently coach and provide their teams with the opportunity to practice and apply newly learned skills and behaviors in everyday activities is critically important.

That last piece I think is that determines whether you’re enacting true long-term behavior change or you’re implementing a fleeting sugar high of a training engagement that lasts a little while, but ultimately fades as people revert back to the behaviors they’re comfortable with. And, you know, I’d say one more thing about sort of engaging managers from an enablement perspective. Frontline managers, I think right now, frontline sales managers right now are perhaps some of the busiest people in all of our businesses. They’re tasked with wearing many, many hats, and there’s actually a lot of really good new research out from companies like Gartner and others, whereas selling gets more complex, especially in an uncertain environment like this one, they’re asked to take on even more, right? So frontline managers who perhaps used to be star sellers, but now they’re managing a team of seven or eight reps. They have to get involved in a lot of calls, right? They’re supporting deals at the tactical level that perhaps otherwise they would not have been involved in. They’re joining more calls, especially late stage closing calls that require a lot of prep and forethought and strategic thinking.

And they’re doing a lot more deal inspection. Hopefully, deal inspection, deal reviews to really pressure test the pipeline that they’re ultimately on the hook for closing out across their team so that the forecast that they provide to senior leadership is reliable. It’s that last one that seems to be the big opportunity right now from my vantage point, like how can we enable managers to run more effective deal reviews, pipeline inspection sessions with their teams or with individuals? That’s kind of where the focus is right now for us as an organization and for a lot of companies that we’re working with. It’s not just enabling the frontline, but enabling managers to go ahead and reinforce all the important new behaviors and changes on the front line.

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. We really can’t talk about metrics and insights without really talking about bringing those to your leadership teams to really make an impact. So how do you communicate your impact on sales engagements back to your executive leaders? Julie, I’d love to hear from you.

Julie Greenfield: Sure. We’re lucky our execs already have access to the scorecards and the other systems to get that data real time. So, you know, they have that, but, I’m going to piggyback off of Michael and understanding the why. Near and dear to my heart is that we get, and they talk to together in those leadership team meetings. Really understanding what’s the why, what’s going on behind the scenes of that data. I shared a little bit, you know, we’re using that Slack, channels as what’s working as well. And back to that frontline manager piece that Michael talked about. Absolutely critical. Everyone has a different perspective of what’s going on. I might look at the data, you know, we could all be looking at the same data, but we’re seeing it through different eyes because we all have different experiences. 

So what’s really worked for us and make sure that we’re aligned to our sales managers is that our sales enablement team, myself, we have one-on-ones with those managers, so that we talk about what here, this is what I’ve seen, this is what you’re seeing. Are we aligned? If we’re not aligned, why not what’s going on from each other’s perspective. And it really does make a difference so that we all come together at the table. And then when we come together to the executives, we’re having that same story in communication because all of it is so that our reps can succeed. And then our businesses can succeed, right? What are we doing to help drive growth within the organization and across the organization? So we all have a vested interest, so that’s how we’re doing it here at Brainshark. 

Cassandra Tenorio: One of the biggest topics that I think everyone really is talking about is the upcoming year, so 2021 and beyond. So what do effective sales engagements really look like in the future? So the upcoming year and how do you think things are really going to change? So how do you think they’re going to evolve next year? And what are your key considerations for the year ahead? Barry, let’s start with you. 

Barry Shields: Sure. Well, I don’t think that it’s specific to this year, per se. I just think it’s something that it’s always been the elephant in the room. And I just hope that sales conversations shift to be about working backwards from the customer, what’s their business problem. How can we solve it together? And I think that the folks that I work best with when I’m the buyer are the folks that are helping me build a business case, and are coaching and enabling me to be successful when I’m making the pitch internally. So that’s what I want the salesperson to help me do when I’m the buyer.

But what’s been happening in what seems like forever is that sales teams just push products and they have productitis, as I like to call it. And, what I am working to do is to enable sales teams to have great sales conversations. I mean, it’s that simple, a simple framework in terms of how to have a conversation and approach, depending on the persona and a deep understanding of the product so that they don’t pitch the product. But they weave it into the conversation based on the business problem they’re helping the person solve. And if the business problem is how to plant a tree in their front yard, that they let go of the products that are trying to sell, and they just drive over to the person’s house and help them plant a tree in the front yard. It’s becoming the trusted advisor, helping that person be better in terms of what they’re doing, even if it makes no sense at all. And it’s just planting a tree in the front yard. 

Cassandra Tenorio: I love that. Michael, I’d also love to hear from you on this. 

Michael Randazzo: So, yeah, I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2020 it’s to expect the unexpected, so it was really tough to kind of look ahead to 2020 on and make some sort of predictions or prognostications. But I think definitely a few thoughts based on how we’ve navigated the disruption this year. And also some recent surveys that we’ve been running throughout the course of the last six months to keep our finger on the pulse of how buyer behavior is evolving and ultimately how sales leaders are changing tack to meet buyers needs, and then forward-looking, you know, what they’re planning for in 2021.

So first and foremost, the most recent survey we ran or, two surveys ago, we ran one in September. We looked at one of the top commercial priorities from about 120 sales leaders moving into 2021 tested about nine or 10 things. Top three were in order. If I’ve got this off the top of my head correct. Number one was rebuilding pipeline. So net new business to rebuild pipeline. Number two is actually growing existing business. And then number three was upskilling and developing our reps across the board, to enable both one and two. So one, I would say we’ve got senior commercial leaders that are focused on, I think, a really fundamental sort of revenue engine, tuning that’s going to need to happen in 2021.

Those are the growth sort of plays that they’re putting into action right now. But the second thing we actually saw, that I think helps answer this question and maybe gives us a hint or a clue in terms of what’s coming in 2021. A lot of them really feel that virtual is here to stay. Now, regardless of what happens with the global health crisis with the pandemic itself, virtual is here to stay. And I think one thing that we’ve observed is that we hear a lot of sellers and sales leaders just sort of itching to get back on the road, right. Itching to get back in front of customers. The reality is, unfortunately, it’s not up to sellers, it’s up to buyers themselves. It’s up to customers. And I think what customers have realized is that they can actually do the bulk of what they need to do when considering purchase decisions. 

Virtually I think from a sales perspective, virtual is here to stay. Now that said, I’ll go back to a point I made earlier, which is, it is really, really hard for sellers to build consensus across a large diverse group of stakeholders and maintain momentum and drive urgency. It is really hard for customers to do the same internally when they’re trying to influence an advocate, for a particular supplier to other functional stakeholders and leaders that are also involved in that decision. So I think what you’re going to see is all parties are comfortable with the technology itself.

But the real work begins when people start thinking about how do I enable the interpersonal dynamics that I used to have as a professional. So that was live and in front of people, virtually. And so you’re going to, I think, see all kinds of different angles to try to find ways to help sellers become more effective as they try to build the right level of urgency or build stronger business cases and deliver those business cases with emotion, and with empathy. So I think that’s going to be the big sort of heavy lifting that needs to get done across 2021, once everybody’s comfortable at the end of this year using Zoom across the board. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. All right. Well, that is all that we have from a question standpoint. However, we do love to end all of our panels with one quick take away from our audience from each of you. So I love to hear each of your takeaways. Julie, let’s start with you. 

Julie Greenfield: Thanks. Change management and executive buy-in is always important. You heard Michael talk about it a little bit and no matter what you’re trying to accomplish in your organization, you have to take the time to put your plan together with objectives, outcomes, metrics for success, much like we were talking about earlier, you have to meet your teams where they’re at, help them understand the why behind the change in the implementation and communicate often. Tools will only take us so far and you have to remember that human connection. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Barry?

Barry Shields: I agree with what Julie just said and to build off it, what I would say is sales enablement takes focus on change and change is hard. And, when we’re working with executive teams to achieve funding, to grow the sales enablement team, instead of steamrolling what you believe good looks like, turn it into a business conversation and keep the messaging super, simple because sales enablement is hard to, for folks to understand. Is it sales training? Is it something else? And so always be calculating the impact and be clear to about the sales team,  what you can do given current resourcing and what you could do if executives invest more in your vision because oftentimes sales teams want you to do what truly needs to be done, but then when you explain it to executives, executives don’t give you the head count or the resources to actually do what you sort of promise to the sales teams you are going to go do.

So you’ve got to really set good expectations with the sales teams that you’re enabling. Otherwise you’re going to really hurt your reputation and they won’t. Believe that you could ever help them. And so that you just sort of lost their buy-in so to speak. So it’s a really delicate balance between the money, the executives internally give you to invest in what you’re actually able to do for the sales team.

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. And Michael? 

Michael Randazzo: Yeah, I guess I’d leave everyone with this. Just a reminder that the sales experience that we’re all enabling the series of conversations that our sellers are having with our customers, is the number one driver of customer engagement. And loyalty, we’ve got to get it right, and there’s wild variation from supplier to supplier, as it relates to the sales experience they deliver. So it’s a risk. It’s also a huge opportunity. And the thing I’d leave everyone with is buyers have really raised the bar in terms of the type and quality of sales experience, or even just a sales conversation that they’re looking for, from suppliers at this point, whether they’re just in front of your content, on your website independently at arms length, or, in front of one of your reps, via Zoom call, the sales experience is the single most important driver of engagement and loyalty right now. And that is doubly so in a complex and uncertain selling environment. So, that’d be it.

Cassandra Tenorio:  Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you all so much for joining our panel today. We are going to open it up to audience Q and A. So if you have any questions, feel free to type those into the questions box and we’ll get some of those answered by our speakers today.

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