Sales Proficiency: The True Competitive Differentiator That Wins Business
Product, marketing, market fit and pricing are all key ingredients to commercial success. Yet, in enterprise sales, it is the sales rep who wins the trust and attention of customers and converts the sale.
In this webcast sales expert Nancy Nardin of Smart Selling Tools and Mike D’Angelo, Sales Director at Qstream, discuss the notion of sales proficiency as competitive differentiator and its impact on sales goals, from shortening sales cycles, lowering risks such as deal slippage or non-compliance, and to reducing the cost of sales rep turnover.
- How proficiency is the missing link between productivity and performance
- A model for “continuous onboarding”
- The case for sales proficiency as a competitive differentiator
Meredith: Welcome everybody to today’s webcast, Sales Proficiency: The True Competitive Differentiator That Wins Business. Thanks for everyone who has joined us today. I am Meredith Odgers from Qstream and I’ll be your host for this webcast. I’m also joined today by Nancy Nardin of Smart Selling Tools. Nancy is the founder of Smart Selling Tools and very much the voice of authority on sales tech, but all backed by her 30 years experience in sales herself. So welcome to Nancy.
Nancy: Thank you.
Meredith: We’re also joined by Mike D’Angelo of Qstream. Mike is a sales director at Qstream and he works with our enterprise accounts, helping them deliver to their learning and development needs that affect business outcomes. Welcome, Mike.
Mike: Hello, everyone. Thank you, Meredith. Nancy, I’m really looking forward to this insightful discussion.
Nancy: So am I. I hope that it be interactive as well, so people who want to jump in and post a comment or a question, feel free to do so.
Meredith: Absolutely. Thanks, Nancy. To join the conversation, you can do that in a number of different ways today. You can join the conversation through social media if you’d like to join that conversation publicly. Today we’ll be hashtagging against microlearning, sales proficiency, behavior change, and obviously one of our favorite topics, sales tech. You can tag Qstream and Selling Tools and we’ll certainly be – throughout, but please do join that conversation online.
If you’d like to join the conversation within this webcast today, there are a number of ways to do that. You can use the chat panel on your zoom console. There is also a Q&A console on your consults. Do send in those questions there as well. Today is a discussion. We don’t have lots of slides to present to you. It’s very much a discussion, and we really do want you to be part of that.
As you send in your questions, we’ll try and get to some of those through the webcast today, and we’ll certainly allow some time at the end. With that, we will get started on to our first discussion topic today. Before I do, just in terms of takeaways, we will be covering game-changing trends. We’ll actually dovetail that into emerging trends in sales tech and how that is addressing some of those trends. Then lastly, which really gets down to the core of our topic today, putting all of that together, ultimately, how does that achieve competitive differentiation in a very, very hot market? We all have pressures out there. There are changing customer trends, there’s changing buying trends, there’s a change in technology trends, and there’s just human behavior. We are going to cover all of those things today with Nancy and Mike, and we’ll get stuck into the presentation and webcast discussion now.
Just to set the scene a little bit here, there are probably a number of sales training and enablement trends that you’re all very familiar with and live and breathe every single day. In fact, I can see that many of you in the line are thought leaders in that space yourself. But we want to just to focus a little bit more today on what are the real game-changing trends that are happening that are affecting our sales enablement functions and how can we address some of those things. First I’ll hand that over to Nancy to start the discussion.
Nancy: Sure. Well, I think, one clear game-changing trend is that companies are starting to realize that sales enablement itself should be a role and a function within the company. Now, we’ve had sales enablement solutions for over 10 years, but it’s taken this long really to get to the point where more and more companies are hiring for sales enablement and launching that as a specific organization or department and they’re moving, learning and development at least for sales from the learning and development human resources side of the company over to a more specialized sales enablement organization and function.
I would say underlying that, though, is there’s still some confusion or things to be worked out in terms of who does what. You’ve got sales ops, you’ve got sales enablement, you’ve got sales leadership. You’ve got us product marketing as well that also ties into sales enablement. I just would say that sales enablement as a whole is a trend in and of itself.
Mike: Yeah. Nancy, we’re seeing the exact same thing. We’ll get into what we’re seeing as far as the customer environment, but the old way isn’t working. This notion of sales enablement and hiring specifically for the role, where does that role live? Does it live in HR? Is it part of L&D? Is it part of sales? Is a part of marketing? The answer is yes; it can live in all of those places. The role of sales enablement is really one that reaches across multiple departments. The overlying trend that we’re seeing is people are looking for new approaches to learning to on boarding, and on boarding not being a onetime event but rather this notion of continuous on boarding, ultimately to optimize learning, really to embed continuous improvement, continuous improvement through continuous learning, enablement, people development, and employee engagement.
What we’re seeing is that that notion of continuous learning, microlearning and the flow of work moving beyond just knowledge and skills and really focusing on behavior change, long term durable behavior change. In the SAS world, what we’re seeing too is that customer success and customer experience is really the new growth engine and helping people be successful. Sales, when we oftentimes look at it as sales, acquiring new customers, focusing on the buying process or the buying journey, but as we start to onboard our clients, moving them through a customer journey becomes more and more important. I think we’ll get into that later in the discussion. This notion of coaching and leadership development certainly seemed to be real hot.
Meredith: Customer success and customer experience start with the salesperson now. It used to be, hey, once the sales sold and then once the deal was closed, then customer service would take over. That’s how it worked, but now and now it’s harder to differentiate yourself, for instance, on just product or feature set. Customers either go to the prize or they go to how well the sales rep is responding to their own needs and have relevant they are. In other words, their own customer experience as being part of that sales process. That’s a key differentiator these days, and that requires… you said a behavior change. I think that’s kind of a great way to put it, but I think it’s just, also like you said, continuous improvement. How can we make sure that our reps are equipped to be able to differentiate in the way they sell so it’s not about what you sell but about how you sell and how the customer perceives the experience they’re having with you?
Mike: So true. It’s that that notion of, sell like you service, service like you sell. It’s that continuous process of we’re here to rate… sales is all about helping people succeed, solving problems for customers. Then when we move over to customer success, it’s about, did we realize that value? We had a problem, we bought a particular product or service, and did we maximize the value from it? If we do that well, right, we would get more advocates that help us get more buyers that become customers and this really awesome cycle of customer acquisition. When I look at some of the things that Meredith had put up here to prompt us about, time, relevance, need, I think the biggest challenge that we’re all faced with, right, regardless of industry, regardless of role is time.
We’re all pressed for time, and it’s our most precious asset. This time to learn, time to sell, time to value, if we can compress that, as professionals in this space, if we can help compress time to value for our clients, for our sellers, we’re going to be most successful. That’s where I think competitive agility comes into play, adapting to the speed of change. The world is rapidly changing. Conditions change, but the standards remain. We all have big quotas, and they seem to go up year after year. They don’t go down.
Nancy: Here’s the thing that’s interesting because this is from CSO insights or Miller Heiman is that while at the same time quotas are going up… and of course you’re right, they never go down. At the same time they go up, fewer and fewer sales reps are hitting quota. There’s a disconnect there. Obviously, it’s harder to hit quota because the number’s gone up, but what does that do to morale? I mean, the whole quota thing is probably another discussion, but I do want to say something.
What you said about being time poor, well customers are time poor as well. If you think about how long it might take you to cancel an Uber ride because they’re not there in four minutes, we don’t have the patience anymore that we used to have as buyers or as consumers. That is translating into the business world now as well. People want real-time or zero time responses and interaction with… they don’t have a lot of patients, right?
Mike: Nope. No, they don’t because they’re pressed for results on their side.
Meredith: Nancy and Mike, I am going to bring you back a little bit to this customer journey idea because it’s clearly something that everyone is tracking too and we measure awesome and responding to that customer journey. We have a first question in from the audience, which I think is partly getting towards that. The question is from Corey, and he says or asks, I should say, “Are you guys seeing sales enablement and revenue enablement? What are your thoughts on the differences?” I guess looking at across the customer journey, where are the opportunity to provide the customer value, and it’s that holistic relationship. Mike, going back to your point, it’s not about new customer acquisition. It’s what happens through the whole lifetime of their… what are your thoughts on the sales enablement versus revenue enablement point?
Nancy: That’s a really great question. I’ll just jump in and take that one first. Sale enablement versus revenue enablement; the big difference is marketing and sales alignment and the degree of alignment because you can do sales enablement by having sales just enablement people going and getting the research and the materials and the content that they need to train, or you can also have marketing play a very key role in that. That’s where I think the revenue piece comes in terms of definition. Revenue would be from marketing all the way to client services, in my opinion, so now you’re getting multiple departments to work together as an ecosystem rather than trying to just get what they need from each other.
Mike: Nancy, well said. Corey, great question because we were talking about this in the calls leading up to this. We’ve seen this shift and maybe addition. It’s sales enablement, enabling sales, and think of sales enablement as helping acquire net new logos, but revenue optimization about maximizing the lifetime value of the client and helping them be more successful up sell, cross-sell. But we have started to see this really big movement towards revenue empowerment, revenue optimization, roles with inside organizations. I think it plays nicely. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that later in the discussion, but at a high level, yes, super important. To Nancy’s point, I think it’s as customers on board, it’s really helping them realize value, which is going to help us maximize revenue opportunities for those clients.
Nancy: Speaking of training, I mean, marketing really has to start thinking about, well, if we’re putting this out in this positioning and messaging, obviously that’s always been a part of product marketing is to communicate that to sellers. It doesn’t work anymore to just talk about the product and what you should say about the product. Marketing has to help translate that for sales into more meaningful and part of the workflow where, if I’m working with a particular account that’s in a certain industry, marketing is going to help me right at that moment of need understand how I should be talking about that product due to the differences in the industry or due to the differences in the role. I mean, we’ve come a long way from, for instance, putting a big box of collateral in the back of your trunk and going around and using collateral to being very agile in the way that you can talk to customers and be much more relevant. Customers don’t have the patience anymore, and I’m sure everyone on this call is probably seeing that, to just be talked to about the product. They want to know, well what does that mean to me? Why should I care?
Meredith: That’s really interesting, Nancy, because I think, in general, I think we’ve all moved way beyond that now. It’s an easy and comfortable place to always go back to, isn’t it? I think the other thing that’s adding into that from the marketing perspective and speaking from a marketing perspective myself, I suppose, is actually looking at a lot of the digital triggers or signals that are actually provided now through a lot of the work that we can do across digital channels and how that can actually help not just the sales rep shape a customer conversation, but actually that then can provide more value to that customer conversation that’s relevant, timely, etcetera. There are a lot of other things to consider now in that front facing role for engaging those conversations appropriately.
Lots there to think about, probably a whole another discussion area, in fact. We might move on from there, if that’s okay with you both, because we will get through some of the next parts of the content, which is… so we’ve set the scene. There’s a lot going on there in terms of enabling the rep, looking at mapping the activities too and interactions across that customer journey, being relevant, learning in the daily flow of work to enable the reps, etcetera. There’s a lot there, but I’d like to take a step now into the technology space. Nancy, you have spent a lot of time and years looking into sales tech, and she was in sales tech yourselves. I’d like to dovetail into that area a little more. As the sales enablement function is emerging in itself and developing, and in some organizations, certainly maturing, I would say, there is a technology component to help enable that work.
Today, here, we want to look at what’s working but also what are the new areas of technology that are emerging as well. I will go to the slide, which is your technology landscape, which is always mind-blowing for me as to how many different technologies there are out there, support sales and to support those conversations with customers. Everything from productivity to training to… it just goes on really. How do we start to– probably start to work through some of this? For those in the audience, it also must be mind-blowing as to how many choices there are and what sales tech stack actually starts to look like to meet the objectives of my business, but also to help us engage with customers better. Can you give some thoughts on that now?
Nancy: Yeah, that’s a big challenge for every company to make sense of crazy landscape, and you can kind of gauge where we’re at in the industry by the size of the logos. Martech has 10 times as many solutions as this landscape, so those logos are a lot smaller. We’re at about 600 technologies right now, and that’s still a lot. There are 43 categories of sales tech. I’m always surprised when I ask companies about the technology they’re using for sales and they respond with CRM and marketing automation because it just shows that there’s still a long way to go for people to recognize the fact that CRM is only the foundation. For people to really get good at and efficient at what they’re doing, you’ve got to go beyond CRM. Then on the marketing automation side, that’s great, but that’s a marketing technology. It feeds into sales, and so that’s all good.
Some of the emerging trends are exciting things. Obviously AI is being talked about a lot, and there are some really exciting things that are happening in AI. For one, you can use an AI agent to respond to a high volume of incoming leads, and that frees up your sales reps to spend more time on value add conversations with real prospects. That’s a real game changer in my opinion. On the other side, more in the middle of the funnel with AI would be to serve up next actions. Just think about how many prospects and deals that a rep has, and at the different stages, and different tasks are required, different… well, you had a call with one yesterday and a call with another one two weeks ago, and you’re supposed to remember what you should do when. Right now, that’s done manually.
I sent an email, and then if they respond, great; now I know I can respond back. If they don’t respond, if I didn’t put a task in to follow up, I might never remember to respond. Calling up next actions is a really great use of AI and machine learning. Then I guess the other thing I would say on the flip side of all of that is that I always like to quickly get back to is that it shouldn’t always be about the exciting things; it should be about the basics because what I’m seeing in the market is a lot of companies don’t have the basics covered, partly because of this paradox of choice. There are so many options out there, and you can’t be an expert at all of this. It’s impossible. Then second, you have different functions in a company.
Sales ops, I might be interested in tools to some degree, but sales enablement has their own interest in tools and sales leadership has their own interest in tools. How do you get together on it and figure it out strategically while you’re trying to do your own job? I would say get to the basics, and then part of that is that if you… now, I’m losing my train of thought. All right, so you’ve got different people. Here’s the other thing. You’ve got all these solutions, 600, but you also have just as many problems that you want to solve. Everybody’s looking to sell more in less time at the right price while lowering costs.
Well, how do you do that? Do you do it by solving this problem or that problem or this problem or that problem? There are lots of different ways to look at it, so I say start with the problems, prioritize what will move the needle the most, and then figure out which technology can help you most. I’ll just leave it there for a second just to– if anyone has any question. Yeah. I mean, don’t start with the technology for God’s sake because you’ll go down a rabbit hole really quickly.
Meredith: Technology in itself does not solve the problem. The problem needs to be defined and then the technology to help that needs to then be found. It’s turning it upside down, I suppose, for many.
Mike: Nancy, I look at this and I say, goodness. I’ve seen that, and you’re right, 10 times the number of vendors. What would Marie Kondo say to us about all this clutter that we have out there in post landscapes? We see a lot of consolidation, Seismic acquiring SAVO, other recent acquisitions that have occurred. What’s, your prediction? What do you see? Are we seeing consolidation? Will we see expansion? Will it be new categories created? What are your takes on the future here?
Nancy: Well, good question. I love your Marie Kondo comment. I mean, it’s not like you can look at these and say, well, which technologies bring you joy? For those that don’t know, Marie Kondo is an organizational expert and she tells you that you should look at the things that you have in your house and those that bring you joy, you keep, and those that don’t, you get rid of. Well, yeah, it’s not so easy on the tech side.
We are seeing consolidation. Most of that is by private equity firms and the financial markets that are trying to get in early and figure out how to get a high return back to predict where the market is headed. You mentioned Seismic bought SAVO. Well, before that, SAVO bought Knowledge Tree, so sort of the big fish eating the middles, medium size fish.
I don’t see that we’re going to get fewer technologies. We’re just going to get more. What will happen is some of these that have natural… or natural complements of each other, say the content. For instance, on here, I have sales enablement, content management as something as a different category than skills development and reinforcement, all the things on the right-hand column, but yet many sales enablement roles do both. Where there are natural complements, those will kind of come together. But then there’ll be new technologies that will add to the landscape like the AI kinds of technologies that I was mentioning and others.
Mike: We’re starting to see AI in learning, recommending next courses, next actions, looking at AI related to proficiency and understanding core skills. Now you had kind of alluded to this: there’s a solution for every problem out there and the paradox of choice. What’s your recommendation to the audience on how to avoid being blinded by SOS, the Shiny Object Syndrome or the shiny new object syndrome? How do we avoid that?
Nancy: Yeah. Well, thank you for asking because that actually will give me a chance to just give a little plug on the vendor-neutral side, which is my other company. On the vendor-neutral side, we are certifying sales technologies and putting them on a much smaller – smaller meaning fewer companies – landscape called the certified landscape. Qstream has already been through the certified process, so they are part of that. I would just suggest going there because if you have all the time on the win the world, it’s great to go to all these tools and figure out which one is right for you.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing to instead start with the certified landscape because, as I say, they have been vetted, there are all kinds of detailed, really intense detailed information about these companies, and so it saves you a lot of time. We also have an assessment that will give you, will spit back to you all the technologies that match your priorities that you’ve just stated in that assessment, and that’s free to take.
That’s one great way. Absent of that, again, I would say just sit down with yourself and your team and other stakeholders and think through what’s keeping us from selling more in less time at the right price while lowering cost. Just put a big huge list together. Add, keep adding to that list, develop it overtime, and then get people to talk about, well, what would be the implication if we could solve that or get better at that. That can start to tell you where you should prioritize, and then that will start to tell you which technology to look towards. I think that’s a really good exercise.
All these technologies are looking to help reps do something, and that’s one thing, but it’s another thing to help them do it better. That’s what I think you can get a lot of impact in your growth is by helping them do it better, and that just gets back to the whole customer experience.
Mike: Yeah, it does.
Meredith: Indeed, but that’s a really good segue actually into our next discussion topic. The third piece of this is putting that all together. We have some of the challenges. We have many technologies that can be used for various purposes. Mike, I know, is going to talk through some of the areas that sales reps need to be enabled on, but there needs to be a way to differentiate the agile and as you say, Nancy, be very focused on reps doing things better and making them better at what they do. There are many ways to do that. With that, I’ll hand you over to Mike because I know that you’ve got a few thoughts on this topic here.
Mike: I appreciate that, Meredith. Nancy to your point, back to basics, we agree we’re aligned. In fact, we oftentimes are guiding our clients back to, let’s get back to sales basics and the fundamentals. How we opened were, the people, the sales teams that know their customers better, the markets or industries better, they have broad understanding, deep understanding of the competitors and that competitive intelligence as well as what their products and services are meant to solve. They are optimally in the strongest position to drive better results. What we’re seeing from our side is this increasing learning experience platforms, people are turning to artificial intelligence. They’re also looking at augmented reality coupled with experiential learning, adaptive learning, personalized learning, really all focused on increasing proficiency. What we’re seeing out there is there’s this missing link, and we talked a lot about it on the prior slide.
We spend a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of energy developing salespeople. We take them out on the field, we throw them in the training, we implement new processes, we buy new tools. We’re generating reams of content, data sheets, white papers, ebooks, case studies, customer stories. It’s exhausting like what we do, but the missing link is how proficient are they around the core selling skills. How much of what we enable them really sticks? Does it really lead to better performance?
Sales are all about numbers. We measure everything. We measure calls, emails, first meetings, second meetings, demos, number of opportunities, proposals, win rates. That missing link is how proficient are you in doing all of those core sales capabilities? I guess it’s probably worthwhile defining proficiency. It’s how well your seller can do what you hired them to do. There’s this saying out there that if you don’t know it, you’re probably not going to do it, and if you did do it and you didn’t know anything about it, it was a random act and less likely to occur.
Nancy: I just was going to jump in because you made me think about, I think the way we’ve done it in the past to measure proficiency is, did they hit their number? Because if they hit their number, then they must be good at what they’re doing. That’s a very myopic way of looking at it
Mike: It takes too long. It takes the better part of the year to figure out if they met their number. That’s why I think what we’re doing from sales leadership is, all right, well we know that that’s the most lagging indicators. Did they hit their number or not? So we started looking at productivity metrics and say, are they making enough calls? Are they having enough first meetings, second meetings? Are they doing enough demos and getting enough proposals out there? But proficiency is probably the most leading indicator toward revenue success. I think if we sales enablement down and measure proficiency around those, I think we’ll gain greater insight into what’s working. Ultimately, the goal was to solve problems earlier.
Meredith, why don’t we take a look or a deeper dive here into selling capabilities? Nancy, thank you for putting this framework together. By the way, the audit is terrific.I mean, this is a great framework to figure out where your gaps are and how to fill those gaps.
Nancy: Yes, that’s true. In a way, this is meant to look at how proficient you are in the sales process because it’s all about mastering the things that are important. I base this framework off of Maslow’s, and he had a hierarchy of human needs. This is a hierarchy of selling needs, and the most important fundamental… I usually have this blank so people can guess, but the most important fundamental need of a seller is to make sure that they know who to sell to and why they’re selling to them. That’s quite different from making sure you get a lot of leads in and that you’re just responding to them, the numbers game that you just mentioned that we’ve all played for so long. Once you have that mastered and you’re proficient at that, then the next thing is, well, how do we get them to actually engage with us?
You’re talking numbers. Well, let’s make more calls. Let’s send that more proposals and go on more appointments. But how well are we doing? What’s the outcome? How can we measure that? Are they saying the right things, and are we getting the prospect to engage, which is becoming harder and harder? The latest number I saw was 18 touches to get someone to respond to you, and that’s just those people that… that can even be people that reached out to you through a web form or something like that.
You want to be able to get people to engage. We’ve got a little bit more detail here. I’ll quickly go up the rest of the hierarchy. The next level up is why should they buy and from you. That’s where you’re really being relevant and providing value and helping them understand why they should do something and why that something should be with your company. Then you need the ability to close. Then after that, this is the self-actualization. The equivalent of Maslow’s is how do we sell more? Again to that same customer, how do we up sell, cross sell, and renew?
Some of the questions you can ask yourself to see how well you have this mastered is, for level one, do we know what our total available market is? Do each of our reps know what their specific total available market is and what the right priority is? Do they have a good understanding of their ideal customer profile? Are we actually helping them prioritize their selling effort based on who’s a better target and helping them understand why? On the how to engage and when, I think I kind of mentioned that, but there’s a lot of technology that can help with that. How will you know what works on a sales call and why? Why buy from you, that’s aligning the buyer’s needs with your solution. Then how to close, that’s things like generating accurate quotes, but it’s also having the skill set and knowing, having instinct and knowing what to say and when to each different type of prospect that they’re selling to.
Then here we have… so the last ones were more sales rep specific, but now this is more organizational, six and seven. It’s really how can we manage and forecast and then how do we motivate, onboard, develop, coach, all those things that, by the way, as depicted in this graph, really permeate the entire hierarchy. If you want to motivate and you want to onboard and you want to develop and you want a coach, how can we help them be better at that, as you see in the detail here, and help them learn within that workflow of that hierarchy?
That involves continuously assessing, being able to assess your skill set and being able to continually reinforce how to do all of those things proficiently, how to master that hierarchy.
Mike: Nancy, this is a fantastic framework. Meredith, if I could ask you to go back one slide because we were looking at two different selling capabilities here. This one is terrific from a rep’s perspective and kind of pulling this all together. I think enablement professionals ask for guidance, like where should I focus? All of this is important, but if I had to pick one or two areas, where should I focus? What we see is who to sell to. Understand your total adjustable market, your ideal customer profile, and then educating people. This is how you talk to that persona. These are the types of problems they have. This is how we can solve those problems. If you had that customer insight and understanding as well as the industry insight and understanding, that’s going to give any seller a leg up on the competition.
Then I think the third area, right, that “why buy from us” or “why buy from me” gets back to being unique, being valuable, being defensible, sustainable. That’s what sets you apart from your competition. Part in knowing your competition, but it’s why to buy from us because it is unique, valuable, defensible, and sustainable.
Meredith: We’ve got a question here, but might be a good spot for this. I’m just going to try and decipher it because there was a bit of context around it. Basically, this is a good framework to base sales training off, but the question is more around – and this is coming from a sales trainer – they said, they’re actually saying, “But within here, what are the topics I should train on to ultimately differentiate my product in these areas?” Some of this is quite obvious, but it sounds like they’re asking for, but what do I train on? Like what exact topics do I train on? Do you have any thoughts around that?
Nancy: I mean there’s all kinds of ways to answer that question. As an example, it’s how do we get them to engage or why should they buy from you? Let’s take that one, align the buyer needs with your solution. The way we used to do it and many still do is provide a battle card. That’s great, but it doesn’t immerse you. I would say the way to train for that would be to send micro learning curriculum, if you will, to a rep’s phone to say, give them scenarios. Here’s a scenario; what would your response be? That’s one good way to train to say, “How would you define or how can you be relevant for that but this particular situation?” and then offer backup for that.
The battle card by itself, it’s just so static. Also, you know what, I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t think it works well with the up and coming reps who are millennials because they want to… they don’t want to feel like a machine. They don’t respond as much to the numbers. They want to feel like they have a purpose, and so if they really feel like the truly understand how to talk to that particular buyer and how to appeal to them and be relevant, it’s more meaningful to them.
Meredith: Poke around hard skills training, which is very fact-based, knowledge-based, which we know is definitely foundational to any conversation that one would have to sell a product or service. But then there’s the soft skill side, so how I might actually go about that. That last part that you mentioned, Nancy, is different again. I mean, it’s a question mark, question mark. How do you train for situational awareness and actually looking again at those tools to then respond to the customer in a way that actually adds value to the conversation that is not just, “I’m going to go back to where I’m comfortable, which is my product features and benefits”?
I mean, obviously, with the audience that we have here in enterprise selling, it’s not transactional often in that way anyway, and everyone knows that. I think for a millennial workforce coming through, that part is really important. It’s more situational awareness to read those signals and then respond appropriately to interest the buyer and join those two things up together.
Nancy: If you want to help reps be better at the situational awareness and situational responses that you have to put them in a lot more situations. One of the ways to do that is through ongoing, repetitive, but interesting exercises and reinforcement. We don’t put… we’ve put pilots through simulated training, and that makes sense because you can’t have them learning in the air. I really think the same concept applies on the sales side. They’re going to get that muscle memory by being able to really repeat; repeat in their brain as well as repeat in actually trying it out.
Mike: Nancy, you’re bringing me back to my very early days in sales, and repetition is important with learning. In fact, the power of repetition is an incredible tool to accelerate learning. I can’t emphasize that enough. Very early in my career, I worked for Novell. I was under the leadership of a gentleman by the name of Larry Vaughn, and Larry Vaughn was a former IBM sales leader. He sat there and told us in his very first meeting with us, you have to repeat something at least seven times for the message to sink in. I’m sitting there going, no way. No, that just can’t be the case. Sure enough, consistently, he would reinforce his message in person through email and do the same thing with customers until it sunk in. You’re right; using scenarios for learning is really powerful because it puts people in a safe problem-solving frame of mind, and people love to solve puzzles and solve problems.
When you do that, you push out a scenario that says what would you do in this situation? By doing so, you’re assessing or testing what they know or don’t know. In essence, you’re gaining proficiency information. How proficient are they in this controlled scenario? Then when you couple that with the spacing effect. It’s not about one time; it’s about successful repetition because we are building that muscle. That repetition becomes super important. This notion of this confidence to competence, it’s something that’s out there in the psychology world. The better you are, the more confident you’re going to be, and the more competent you are, the more enjoyment, the more comfortable, the more fluid you’re going to be.
Nancy, you brought it up much earlier in the conversation. Buyers are less patient. They also are squeezed for time. If we are more fluid and we’re able to match and meet them where they are, and then be audible, go from A to Z, but we don’t have to start at A. We can hop in the middle of the alphabet.
It reminds me of my days studying martial arts and any new sport or a new technique. You’re oftentimes very primitive in nature. Like your movement is not fluid because you’re learning it for the first time, and it’s not until you get to the second, third, fourth that you’d become moving from that primitive movements to more mechanical. It still looks clunky, but it’s a heck of a lot better than that caveman approach. Then the ultimate goal is to become spontaneous, and I think what we’re trying to do with salespeople, whether you’re in pre-sales, post-sales customer success, support service, is be conversationally fluent, aware, and again, proficiency is that most leading indicator to optimize revenue.
Nancy: Wow. That was all really good. I’ve learned some things there. One thing that really stuck out to me among others is that there’s a lesson in there on the repetitive aspect. The repetitiveness is important when sales reps are learning, but it’s also important when your customer is learning. That’s why showing up and throwing up doesn’t work. We hit them with so much information, and it doesn’t work because they can’t remember it. In fact, once they hang up the call from your rep, if the colleague asks them what that was all about, they probably wouldn’t be able to articulate it very well. If they can’t articulate it very well, they can’t sell it either to themselves or internally. The repetitiveness is very important in sales, in general, is to say, maybe we’re saying way too much or maybe we need to make a point.
What is that one golden nugget that we want to make sure our customers can repeat back? That’s what we should be reinforcing with customers, like you said your old boss did in every email and every proposal and every call and every meeting, so that it becomes ingrained in their mind as well. Sometimes it even works to just, when you’re on the call with them, say, “Hey, if there was one golden nugget that you picked up on from our conversation today, what would that be?” It’s interesting to hear what they say, but while they’re doing that, they are solidifying it in their mind. Now when you’re off the call, that is going to have a lot more residual impact, the sales call itself.
Mike: Completely agree. We do it from a sales perspective, the spray and pray. We also do it from an enablement perspective. I guess my ask of all of the professionals on the phone here, whether you’re in sales selling or enabling people, let’s agree that we need to stop this spray and pray. The randomness, the ad-hoc, the one time, the drive by selling or enablement, it’s just a waste of time. It’s a lost investment because people can’t comprehend it all. Why does that interval reinforcement work? Successful repetition leads to competence. Competence leads to confidence. Confidence leads to success. What we know is a little every day is better than a lot randomly. It’s just not the first time but each and every time. It’s about consistently taking action. Nancy, this has been wonderful.
Meredith: I’ve got a few questions here. Corey, thank you for being very active on those questions. I’ll come to yours in a moment, but we had a few come in to me and by some of the Q&A chat or the Q&A console. I’ll work through these. They’re quite varied actually. The first one is, I think it’s going back to some of your first comments, Nancy, around the establishment of a specialized sales enablement function. There’s a lot of confusion as to who does what, I think, was the comment that you made. This question is probably related to that, so let’s give this ago: Who’s responsible for sales proficiency? Mike, you talked about sales. Someone’s asked, who is responsible for that? Yes, there’s sales enablement, but they’ve also asked product, marketing, operations, and these are all question marks. I think this is a bit of a hybrid question. I mean ultimately everybody is trying to enable sales to do their job better, but who is ultimately responsible for that proficiency side of things that the rep being the best at what they can do?
Nancy: Good question. It comes back, I think, to the comment about, well, what’s the difference between sales enablement and revenue enablement. Well, everyone should play a role. There should be someone whose job it is to oversee a team that is responsible for readying the salesperson, whether that’s because they just joined or because it’s a new day. I mean, as a coach, an athletic coach, you’re constantly readying your team, and there needs to be that mindset and someone who takes responsibility for that. I think that is going to end up in a sales enablement role, but it won’t turn into that powerful position unless there’s a cultural shift as well. It will stay in a more mechanical, hey, let’s make sure they’re up to date on products and they have the content that they need and every once in a while we’ll do some training. In order for it to really transform an organization, there has to be a commitment from the executive level.
Mike: Nailed it. Then that’s where I was going to start, Nancy. It’s an executive-sponsored initiative, and everyone’s responsible for it. The most successful organizations that we work with, they’re focused on executive initiatives and they hold people accountable for it. What they do is they say, “We’re going to create a sustainable framework and be very transparent with people.” The way that that translates down to the participants, right, to the sellers, the people who are accountable for the information, we as enablement professionals need to make sure that it’s fun, it’s actionable, it’s simple. What we’re teaching them, the proficiency, the skill, that’s highly transferable from this learning environment to field application.
No silly examples, no layups, it’s the Goldilocks approach. Can’t be too hard, can’t be too easy. It’s got to be just right. Just right challenge to develop a growth mindset. Upskill everybody. I mean, that’s really what it’s all about. The proficiencies are all going to get back to what are the core business drivers. Are you launching a new product? Are you entering a new market? Are you calling on new buyer? Are you acquiring a company? Mergers and acquisitions are hotspots. We’re just focused on general productivity. Those are going to drive the competencies, but then that executive level of leadership holds people accountable, the participants accountable. Frontline managers are accountable for reinforcing it. That’s my soapbox on that.
Meredith: On the kind of abilities side, how do you hold people accountable? How do you measure whether or not your initiative for helping everyone be more proficient is working?
Mike: Yeah, it’s a great question. Proficiency is this… then this correlation between proficiency and ultimately performance. It’s a correlation, not causation. I have one client that we work closely with, and they had a hypothesis. They thought people that went through the Qstream platform for reinforcement after an LMS training would have a higher close percentage, and I’ll cut to the chase. They found that there was no difference between the treated group and the untreated group. It sounds like a dud of a story, but here’s what they did find: those that went through the reinforcement, those scenario-based learnings, actually had more pipeline, greater size opportunity, and more opportunity. Their hypothesis was wrong, but I’ll take more, better, and bigger any day of the week.
Meredith: So you have to measure a lot of different things and not just say… like we say, “Well, they’re proficient. If they’re hitting quota, then that means we’re doing good. They’re proficient.” No, like you said, there’s a lot of things along the way. Pipeline is one measurement. I would imagine conversions would be other measurements if they’re able to convert from a meeting to an opportunity. Also, just in the learning platform itself, if they’re now able to respond more consistently with correct answers or something like that.
Mike: You’re right. Each level of the sales cycle process, we can inspect different metrics and correlate the proficiency back to it, again, because of the repeating nature. If I’ve got the question wrong initially, I’m going to see it again and we apply micro learning to it. We instruct, we teach everyone the correct way to think about this particular opportunity. The scenario is going to test for knowledge, what you know or don’t know, and then you get immediate feedback. You get to see whether you’re correct or not, and more importantly, you get to see how you’re thinking about this relative to your peers.
There’s some social learning that happens, and social learning is super powerful not only for millennials, we talked a lot about millennials, but also for our veteran sellers. They don’t want to go to classrooms. They don’t want to look at battle cards. Give them deep, rich scenarios. Give them immediate feedback, tell them how they’re thinking on the topic relative to their peers. Be transparent. Tell them that you’re going to see this topic again, you’re going to see this exact question again, and that’s an adaptive algorithm. If I got it right, I’m going to push the redelivery out a little later in time. If I got it incorrect, I’m going to see it sooner in time to align me to apply what I’ve learned in the microlearning, short two-minute clip, text, audio, video images or links. Super powerful.
Meredith: Excellent. All right, so I do have a couple more questions. I’m realizing it’s getting close to the hour and people would probably like to get onto the next meetings or activities. We’ve got two more questions here, so we’ll zoom through these. This one actually might just be exactly what you were talking about a little bit, Mike. This is an interesting one. Behavior change is big coal. Is it possible or do reps have habits they can’t change? We’re all creatures of habit I suppose, but I think that the challenge, any behavior changes, it feels intangible, doesn’t it? I mean, is it even possible?
Mike: It is possible. The short answer’s yes, it’s possible. I don’t want you to take my word on it though. I think one of the calls to actions here is we actually have an independent analyst insight on leveraging psychology and brain science to optimize retention and behavior change if you’re interested. We also have over 20… we’re up to 26 peer-reviewed published articles on the effectiveness of the Qstream methodology to increase knowledge and proficiency, help with self-assessment, and long term behavior change, and not only for sellers but for clinicians, for customers, for patients. The platform really works.
Meredith: Okay, great. The last question that I’ll put out to you both is from Corey. He asked one of the earlier questions, so Corey’s asked, “Do you think the automation and AI are hindering sales skills development, and how do you balance the two?”
Nancy: I don’t think that it’s hindering it at all. I think what’s happening is AI is augmenting and helping do some of the repetitive tasks that sales might have had to do before. No, I don’t see that it would be keeping them from being better at something. It just allows them to be better at higher value tasks.
Mike: I agree with that. Meredith, something that’s important that we’ve heard from our clients is be cautiously optimistic around AI. Garbage in, garbage out, so you have to be careful of the inputs, outputs as it relates to AI. Completely agree with Nancy, right? Automate low-level tasks. The challenge becomes now that I’ve converted them and I got that meeting faster, I need to make sure that the rep is now conversationally fluent so then they can add incremental value to the conversation because it’s going to happen sooner, so they need to be ready sooner.
Meredith: Yeah, and that’s interesting, Mike, because I think going back to your productivity type support, eight technologies, which is your activity, what do I do? Then there is the performance, what results I had, but what you’re talking about, it needs to be that something in between, which is the proficiency but the behavior side of things. It’s really interesting.
Well, I think with that, we can probably wrap it up. I did actually have one more question, but for that person who asked, I will make sure that we get back to you afterward. Thank you for that and thanks for everyone for joining today. If there is anything that you would like to discuss in today’s topics, Nancy and Mike, we can be available after this through email. Just message us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll direct those accordingly. If you would like to explore some of those behavior change elements, please do schedule a call with one of our micro learning experts at qstream.com. Obviously, Mike is also available and I will leave you here with some of their contact details, but thanks very much for joining today. Thank you for the questions and join the discussion, and we’ll see you on our next webcast. Most of all, thanks to Nancy and Mike.