Sales Enablement Soirée: The Revenue Engine Reimagined, Fall 2020
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Shawnna Sumaoang: Welcome to the Sales Enablement Soirée session on The Revenue Engine Reimagined. Organizations are facing a new business landscape and as leaders plan for the year ahead, they need a deeper understanding of what businesses look like and how they’ll operate the next year. Patrick Manzo is the chief revenue officer at Skillsoft. Not only is Patrick an experienced revenue leader that has built and led geographically distributed teams across diverse disciplines, but he also happens to have been a licensed attorney and former US Surface Warfare Officer. Given these turbulent times, I’m honored to have Patrick here to discuss with us how business has changed in the last year, what the revenue engine will look like in the future, and how to tackle planning for this change. With that, Patrick, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience to get us started.
Patrick Manzon: Thanks Shawnna. I appreciate you having me here and pleased to speak with you today. So as you mentioned earlier I’m the chief revenue officer for Skillsoft. It’s been an interesting time to be in that role. I think it’s probably been interesting for most folks who are leading large organizations. You stole some of my thunder sort of going through my background. But yes, I’ve been fortunate to lead large and pretty diverse teams, both from a geographic perspective, as well as from the day-to-day activities, everything from revenue teams and sales teams to sales operations, to customer success, to data privacy, to product compliance.
I do have some legal experience in my background as well as the military experience. And all of those things have been very useful to me in this particular role. And I think because ultimately, you know, as we move forward in terms of managing business, it’s ultimately about how you’re leading the team and how you set it to team up for success. And all of those things form a little piece of the story.
SS: I love that. Now, how are you planning ahead for the year in the midst of so much uncertainty?
PM: Yeah, I think that it’s probably pretty certain that there will be lots of uncertainty. You know, you’ve heard that in lots of different ways, the only constant is change. Ultimately I think that you have to have a couple key bedrocks of any plan and that I have a plan that’s based on what is reasonable for me to expect to go forward, but you also need to build in a certain degree of resilience. Right? In other words, what’s my contingency, right? What am I going to do if things change? I think it’s also important to recognize that, what makes the plan happen? What makes the plan go is the team and the people behind them.
So it’s important to be able to make sure that you’re doing things to drive resiliency in the team and that you’re putting the team in a position so that they can react to changes that are on the ground. There’s a lot of things I think that contributed to that. But the basic principle is that oftentimes, small changes on the ground as they sort of ripple through an organization become larger. And one of the ways that you can plan for that is by making sure that those frontline folks understand what the organization is trying to accomplish the mission, if you will. They understand why you’re trying to accomplish that mission, what the elements are such that they can behave in a way that enables them to adapt, and to make changes as necessary.
SS: I’m sure a lot of our audience could agree. How, from your perspective, does sales enablement play a key role in your plans for the upcoming year?
PM: Yeah. I would probably put more of an emphasis on it and say it’s more than a key role. It’s critical, right? As I look at the things that are going to make a successful revenue organization, I think of it as a pyramid, right? The base, the foundation of that pyramid are things that I have already put into the bucket of sales enablement. How do we make sure that we are systemically able to perform well out in the field? When I sit systemically, I’m talking about things like how do we make sure that people have the right tools, right? Some of those tools are technology tools. Some of those tools are value articulation tools. Some of those tools are training materials.
I think that that’s critical by the way. I will also tie that back to your previous question. How do you make sure that your plan accounts for uncertainty and change? How do you make sure that your team is able to adjust the change by having these systems in place such that you can quickly react, diagnose, understand, and make changes, on the appropriate basis going forward. So, I’ll tell you that at Skillsoft we’re doing a lot to try to make that field more effective going forward next year. And our sales enablement organization for our sales effectiveness organization is frankly one of the linchpins of that exercise.
SS: Now, we’ve started to see sales enablement span across the revenue engine, in recent years, beyond just kind of frontline sellers. So, where do you see sales enablement evolving into, over the next few years?
PM: So I’m going to give you a kind of a long answer to that question. Hopefully you’re not sorry you asked it. I’m going to exaggerate for the sake of making a point, but historically, in many organizations that have what I would call a hero based sales approach, right? It says that we’re going to go out, we’re going to hire killer sales people, great negotiating skills, great articulation skills, great relationship building skills, and then we’ll give them a spear and send them off into the woods and say go bring us back some vamps. Right? I don’t think that that is a particularly effective model going forward.
That’s not to say that you can’t and shouldn’t hire those alpha saleswomen and salesmen who can go out and make those things happen. But the reality is that the world is very different. It’s a very digital world. It is more and more going to be a virtual world and it is going to be a world where as opposed to a hero culture, we’re going to be more successful if we have a high performing and winning team culture. So what that says is that as I look at revenue operations in the field, there’s an important element of that salesperson.
Number one, there’s an important element of making sure that I have a strong and great tightly integrated marketing approach. And there’s an important element that says when I talk about effectiveness and I like that term better than enablement, because it really is focused on the ultimate goal as opposed to the intermediate tasks. But ultimately it says, what are the things I need to do, whether that be trading, whether that be tools, whether that’d be something else to make that combined go-to-market team effective out in this field. So, as I look at sales effectiveness, which encompasses sales enablement, at least in my organization, I’m thinking about all of those things and thinking very much how am I aligning not only field sales, but also marketing, but also operations, but also product marketing as well.
SS: Now, you mentioned collaboration and I would love to understand what role does cross-collaboration play among revenue teams in the upcoming year. How do you see it becoming even more important in this new working environment?
PM: Yeah. So, when you say, I’m going to, at the risk of being a little bit repetitive, ultimately I think that a team is going to be far more than a collection of individuals, right. If we’re working together as a team, we don’t all need to do the same things repetitively, right. I can move and you can cover me, right. So, for example, and I think that’s a very relevant cover to give you a specific example. So, one of the things that we’re very focused on isn’t going to happen next year, is how do we increase our acquisition of new customer logos?
From a business perspective, we’ve been very focused on improving retention, driving down debt. Sure. We’ve been very, very successful in doing that this year, which is great, particularly in the face of the pandemic. We’re saying, we think we’ve made great progress. How do we now pivot and really focus on bringing in much more on the way in the way of new business and also when we recognize that that is a team sport that requires that our marketing partners be right there with us and say, these are the four or five things that we’re going to do in order to make sure that prospective buyers are aware of how we can help them solve their problems, right.
That we’re putting you in touch with key influencers and key decision makers at your prospective buyers, and we’re providing you with really tight, slick deals that help you to articulate that value proposition and how you’re going to solve customer problems. I need to make sure that my sales operations team is very tightly engaged so that they understand how we think about segmenting our base of business so that our sellers are spending time on the tasks that are most important, most of the lines understanding and delivering customer value. How do I make sure that my customer success team is tightly organized into that planning, such that we have a really clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, but respect to managing ongoing customer tasks. Who’s going to do what at any given day, so that we don’t have either of the Cardinal sins of nobody doing it, or two people doing it. And, being at odds with each other.
So, you know, when you talk about collaboration, I like to think of it in terms of alignment, And I’ll go back to, have we clearly articulated to the organization that this is what we’re trying to get done. And think of the context you want, if you’re a football fan, “Hey, we’re trying to win super bowl this year,” right? If you’re a military unit, this is our objective. If you’re a community group, we’re trying to solve this problem in our community, how do you make sure that we’ve clearly articulated what the objective is? So everybody understands, right. Again, that understanding helps to drive resilience and adaptability across the organization. And then how do we make sure that we’ve clearly defined roles and responsibilities such that everybody understands what’s there.
How do they start to deliver into that argument also by the way, and you didn’t really ask this question, but I think it’s important. That also gets you out of what I’ll call the mindset that says that certain roles are more important than others. Right. It’s like saying in the context of the human body, that, you know, the lungs are more important to the heart than the heart. And, you know, in that context, it doesn’t make any sense. And in the context of the revenue team, I don’t think it makes sense either, all of those things need to work together and they also need to be aligned to make sure that the heart is beating in sync with what the lungs are taking in there.
SS: Absolutely. As you mentioned just a minute ago, people really have started to think about their sales team culture, especially with all the changes that have happened this year. So from your perspective, what are the elements to building a strong team culture?
PM: So it’s critically important there was a kind of the dean of management consultants, a guy by the name of Peter Drucker. You’re probably familiar with them. And one of the quotes attributed to them was, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And I absolutely ascribed to that maxim because at the end of the day, culture is going to drive how people behave, how they do whatever you ask them to do. So it’s something that’s pretty important. It’s something that we spent quite a bit of time on it at Skillsoft. And we have a pretty defined set of corporate success qualities that we focus on.
And we talk about quite a lot from the sales perspective. One of the things that we’ve been talking about quite a lot is the principles of extreme ownership. And that’s a book that was written by a guy by the name of Jocko Willink, who’s a former Navy seal, and what I really like about it is it says that we’re a team that we’re going to succeed or fail as a team, and we’re going to work together as a team in order to achieve our objectives. And that’s something that’s been very resonant with my team, in terms of how we work together to achieve the goals that we all agree we want to achieve.
SS: Absolutely. And how are you fostering a strong team culture at your organization, especially with so many teams that are currently remote?
PM: So we haven’t found it to be terribly difficult if I’m honest. I think that, obviously, folks get sick and tired of speaking on Zoom for 12 hours a day. I’ve had members of the team say, you need to get those blue blocker glasses so their eyes don’t burn out, but at the end of the day, it’s really, it’s about communication and it’s about being open and honest and transparent. And despite the fact that I literally have not seen any of my team members for eight months at this point in person. I saw one of them this summer. We had a socially distant cocktail out on the deck, but at any rate, you know, I don’t think that the relationships have suffered at all.
In fact, I think that there is an additional element of authenticity that you get by getting to see a window into people’s morals and what their life is like. You know, I mean, people get a sense and they see what’s important to me by looking at what’s behind me and my bookcase. And we’ve had those conversations with folks. And I think that it allows folks to interact on a personal and a human level and be a little bit more authentic. That’s helpful too. I can tell that you love your staircases. I think that obviously there’s pros and cons. Do I look forward to the day when we are back in person? For sure. And we alluded tech not to want to, but, it has not been a huge issue for us. And for those that are struggling, I think it’s, it’s really about how do you be transparent with folks? How do you try to make allowances for the fact that different people have different home situations and are reacting to the pandemic in different ways? And, how did you try to express a little bit of care for those folks as well as from the very helpful.
SS: Absolutely. Now, one thing that I do hear from sales enablement practitioners, which obviously we have in our audience today is how do I get my CRO bought into my initiative? So I would love to hear straight from a CRO, how can sales enablement practitioners go to a CRO to get support for key sales enablement initiatives for the year?
PM: I would say that they need to be able to answer one critical question that needs to be answered really well and really singly. And that question is, how does this initiative help the team? However you define that team, right? In this case, it’s the field sales organization, the revenue team, achievable, right. So, and then the reality is that if you’re able to come to me and say, “Hey, we have this proposal, but, we think is going to help you to hit your number because it’s going to help you to improve your close rate by X percentage.” You have my attention, right? You have my attention now that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s going to be something that I’m going to say.
Okay, great. I’m going to prioritize this and make this one of our top two referrals, because then there’s a secondary question I have to ask that says, as I stack this up against other proposals that will help to move that conversion rate in the right direction, how does this one compare, right? Or how does this compare versus something else that may have a similar or less cost that helps me to improve the number of opportunities I’m pursuing right. Life and businesses are made up of trade-offs. But ultimately I think that having a great idea is important, but you need to put that idea in the context of what the team is trying to accomplish. I don’t think I’ve made a football analogy yet, so I’ll do one of those. I live in Boston, so it’s all about the Patriots, and you say, “Hey, look, I have a great idea to help us win a football game. Help us to improve conversion on their own.” He’s going to want to hear that. If you come to him and say, “I have a great idea to help to make your car operate more fuel efficiently,” right? It may be a phenomenal idea, but it doesn’t help that team accomplish its mission.
SS: Fantastic. And the last question on this front is the other thing that I will often hear from sales enablement is how critical their partnership is with their CRO to ensure that they’re able to land adoption and accountability for the initiatives that they’re trying to roll out in the field. So, what would you as a CRO say that you would like your enablement practitioner to come to you to make sure that you’re adequately equipped and armed to do so to go out there and get them that adoption in that account?
PM: Yeah. I would actually approach the problem the other way around. So, you know, I would, and, at the risk of repeating myself. So if you assume we’ve done all the other things we talked about previously. And we have a defined tight set of priorities. But then cascade down to the revenue organization. Then the question becomes from a sales enablement perspective. What do we need to get done this year? This quarter, whatever the time period is, right. What are the top three to five things? Three to five key initiatives that we need to get done that are aligned with priorities, that makes it a very easy sell. To that chief revenue officer to say, “Hey look, we said that our key, whatever, keep corporate priorities is, we want to improve our acquisition of new customers.”Okay. Got it. Okay. “What’s the sales organization going to do about that?” Okay.
We’re going to put some additional sellers out in the field who are focused on new customer acquisition. What do we need them to know in order to be effective? What do we need to train them on tools, products, whatever. My enablement plan. Right? One of my key pillars of my enablement plan is how do we make sure that people know these things? So then when you talk about compliance with the program, whether that be testing up, right, that’s a really easy sell you come and you say, “Hey, look, we need your support to make sure that these new folks we’re in are using this tool, taking this training so on and so forth.” That it’s pretty easy. So it’s about alignment. And then that starts to flow both ways.
SS: Now you hit on something, Patrick, you mentioned prioritization. And I think that that is absolutely critical to making sure that sales enablement initiatives are seen as strategic advancements for the organization. So how can sales enablement one ensure that their initiatives are aligned to the corporate initiatives for the year and what’s being prioritized as a business? And then secondarily, how can the business be sure that those prioritizations, those initiatives are really being landed well in the field by sales enablement?
PM: Yeah. So that’s a great question. So, first I will say that it’s been my observation that many organizations typically have too many priorities. And it’s because it’s difficult, but people shy away from making tough decisions. The reality is that, and I mean, you probably see this in your personal life as well, right? I’ve got 50 different things that I could spend my money on, do I need to fix a leaky roof? Do I need to, whatever, right. There’s lots of different things that are wrestling for time, for attention, for cycles and businesses or businesses are no different. So I think it’s important, whether you’re talking about the top line corporate perspective, whether you’re talking about the division or from a sales enablement team, to make sure that you have a limited set of priorities that you can execute and execute well.
So I’ll start there and that’s kind of a baseline. I don’t know what that number is in my mind, there’s a magic range. It’s somewhere in the three to five range. If it’s one or it’s two, they ought to be enormous. So you’re probably not being ambitious enough. If it’s 26, it’s too many. So, I think that that’s important, but then ultimately the way we’ve tried to drive that at Skillsoft is we’ve said, “okay, so we’re going to have a set of corporate priorities.” And these are tightly aligned and we can demonstrably articulate how these help to support our strategy, which is how we’re going to be successful in the marketplace.
Are we going to deliver more value to customers then everything that you do from the organizational perspective underneath that you have to be able to articulate across the executive team as well as down to the various operating teams. How, this initiative or our department of priority supports one of those corporate priorities, right? And if you come up with something that doesn’t align, you have two options, right? Say we’re not going to do it, or we need to convince the change, the corporate priorities, cause this is better aligned with strategy, right? Having all of those things lined up. What that does is that it helps to make it easier at sort of secondary and tertiary levels to narrow down a list of what are frankly, worthy topics in most businesses, because it has to align with one of these key corporate priorities and so on and so forth.
The second thing, and this, I think gets to the heart of your question, it makes it easier to articulate to the organization. If you’re going out, shopping at the grocery store, and we have three things to get, right. It’s pretty easy for me to bring you on board and help recruit you in that activity. You get the peanut butter, I’ll get the jelly. I will grab the bread and we’re good to go. Right? That’s relatively simple. That’s an easy conversation, right? If we’re gone and we need to get, you know, 38 things for a camping trip with 45 people, right. It gets pretty complicated and there’s lists that it takes a long time. There’s much more coordination involved. And when you’re talking about things that relate to strategy and major corporate initiatives, these are the sort of things that you want to be able to articulate clearly, simply and very tight.
That by the way, ties back to the very first question you asked me, which is how do you put your organization in a good position to deal with uncertainty and change? Everyone understands our mission. What are we trying to accomplish? What are the key priorities we have lined up? They’re going to help us get there. What that does is that puts people on the frontline, whether they be customer success, sales, sales effectiveness, sales enablement, and allows them to make good decisions that are supportive and aligned with organizational priorities.
SS: Absolutely. Now, the sales enablement tech stack, I want to pivot just a little bit, because you did mention that at the beginning, and that is becoming increasingly important, especially this year as everything’s kind of pivoted to virtual. So how have you seen sales enablement help drive digital transformation and what has been the impact of that transformation?
PM: So, we’ve got quite a lot that’s happening in that regard to this year. And as we look to next year, we’re really looking at this pandemic and the fact that we’ve had an organization that was very field focused, then forced to become also a hundred percent virtual. So we’re looking at that as an opportunity to try to be more digital in our approach to things. I think that tech stack gets more important for some time. I think that importance is only going to increase going forward. One of the things that I will tell you is that one of the decisions we made is that we said that overall our entire tech stack with the exception of the base underlying CRM system that we use, is going to be something that is managed by our sales effectiveness group.
We said, because ultimately at the end of the day, that group is charged with making sure that people are performing optimally out of the seal. And we recognize the technology and tools that are available to them are key parks. So obviously that’s a role that they’re collaborating very closely with sales operations and with our business applications group. But ultimately, the key driver there is our sales effectiveness organization. You didn’t ask this, but I do think it’s important for folks to consider that there are tons of tools that are available, right. And the tools and the vendors are changing on a regular basis. And there’s some really some pretty exciting things that are out there.
The things that we’ve found are really important in looking at those tools, it’s less about making sure you’ve chosen the absolute best tool. It’s more about making sure that you’ve chosen a tool. That number one fits your use case, right? You know, if I need the hammer and nail, having the best song in the world is not particularly helpful. The second piece is the second, third, and fourth points are integration, integration, integration. If I have sellers that are in this tool to do one thing and then go to another tool to do another thing, and then switching to their third monitor to do something else, that is not a particularly effective way. So it’s what do I think about all of these tools providing a seamless, single pane of glass experience for sellers. So they’re maximally effective and they’re spending their time thinking about how do I help my customer solve problems as opposed to how do I solve the problems that my organization is putting on me?
SS: Absolutely. Now I have to ask this question because as a revenue leader, how do you measure the success of your initiatives? What are the key insights that you look for with measuring success?
PM: Yeah. So, back to the team approach at the end. The day revenue teams are frankly quite easily measured, right. They’re measured ultimately on one number. What did you achieve from a revenue performance perspective in this period versus that period versus the other periods? I can break that down and I can look at that from essentially a value equation of sales loss, right. I say, how many opportunities is my revenue organization pursuing, right? What’s the close rate, right? What’s the average value? And how long does it take me to make that happen? And I can look at all of those things. And then I can design specific initiatives that many of them fall under the sales effectiveness or sales enablement group.
Some of them fall under sales operations, but then I look at each of those and I want to say how is this going to contribute? How is this going to help me to improve my deal close rate? For example, how is this going to help me remove our shoes, and reduce my sales cycle? How does it help me to improve the volume of operations? As I look broadly at sales effectiveness, typically the things that they’re focused on are number one. How do I improve conversion rate? Number two, how do I reduce the length of the sales cycle? In some cases they’re going to be involved in things that are particularly focused on increasing average contract value less frequently will they be involved in things that increase the number of opportunities we’re pursuing. Those things tend to be more of an operations slash marketing led initiative.