This presentation was delivered by Scott King, Vice President of Sales Strategy and Global Enablement at Delphix at the Future of Sales Festival in June 2021.
My name is Scott King, and I’m currently VP of Sales Strategy and Global Enablement at Delphix. So to introduce myself, but also as a disclaimer, my background is in enterprise sales.
I came to enablement from enterprise sales, so the bulk of my experience has been in and around enterprise technology sales. As I walk through the way that I look at onboarding and yield and ramp times with sales reps, just keep in mind that the experience that I carry tends to be mainly with the enterprise technology sales motion.
The other piece is that even though I do have L&D people and I do have content people on my team, I tend to skew enablement, more from a sales perspective.
I went ahead and I used this quote simply because I work with the sales teams, and I've set up enablement teams in the past, and the key that I'm always trying to drive is the behaviour. Content is important. L&D is important. Having the right learning paths is obviously very important.
However, at the end of the day, if it doesn't drive the right behaviour, we're not doing our job in the right way, that’s how I look at it.
The key considerations
I've had the opportunity to set up enablement, from cradle to grave in about nine organizations now, and the key to success at any time is going to be: ‘Can I build a rugged and predictable onboarding programme for new sellers, not only for turnover, but also for growth?’. I’m gonna hit on those key considerations where I've seen that fail, where my counterparts that I interact with tend to have issues.
Align go-to-market strategy
A big piece of onboarding is always going to be your hiring programme, and how integrated it is to your onboarding. One of the key considerations that I think tends to get overlooked, from my perspective, is this: ‘How aligned are you to the go-to-market as you're onboarding your sales reps? Do we understand where marketing is pushing their leads? What skills and behaviours do we need to hire for the sales team to be effective in your selling organization?’.
If you've got an inside sales motion, and traditionally the leads are coming in at a demo or a trial stage, for example, it's going to be a very different look than if you're looking for enterprise reps. Naturally, who you need to hire and how you need to onboard is going to be very different as a result.
Obviously, when you're looking at your go-to-market, a big piece of that is how the comp plan is structured. As you're bringing new reps in, or turning reps over, how have you structured their territory to ensure they're going to be successful?
They have to bring the right skill set, you have to hire for the right competency set, and they have to be in a territory where they can be successful quickly. That’s not all, you also have to align the selling motion and their expectations of the selling motion based on what marketing is pushing through the funnel.
Identify key activities within your sales cycle
The next key consideration is this, and I tended to overlook this early in my career and maybe it's because I'm a sales guy. At the end of the day, make sure that you have your sales cycle documented with the customer verifiers documented.
As you're onboarding new sellers, we often want to say: ‘how quickly did they get to productivity?’ and you're using the deal close as that gate to know if you're being successful or not.
That doesn't give you information quickly enough to allow for adjusting the learning or programme to sellers as they're coming onboard. What we want to be able to do is, early in a sales cycle, be able to see success or identify issues. This is especially relevant if you're looking at a 9 or 18-month sales cycle. We don't want to wait that long to get to productivity.
Sales content should support the sales motion
The final piece consideration is this: ask yourself if the sales content you’re producing is intended to support the sales motion. If you’re in tech, we often want to repurpose marketing content. What I’ve found is that that's great for one-to-many situations, it's great for webinars, and it's great for interest-driving.
However, when you're trying to get your sales reps to have those one-on-one conversations, and be able to drive their deals forward, you have to take that marketing content and think about how it works in a one-to-one situation.
As I built these onboarding programmes, I want to say that over the last 18 months, I've got a 94% rate right now, with about 72 out of 76 sellers being on number in their first year.
The way that we've been able to get our time-to-productivity down at the organizations that I'm working with is by digging heavily into the hiring process. If we can get a consistent set of competencies and a consistent set of skills, and we know the seller before they onboard, or before they join the company, then we've gotten about 50% of the way through the onboarding programme.
That means we can take different opportunities to work with them and more productive or tangible opportunities to work with them.
The way that I recommend building that smart hire programme involves partnering with a sales partner, and sales leadership. To be honest, I lifted a lot of this from a great book called ‘How to interview’.
So, when you've got a new rep that you need to hire (either expansion in a new territory or turnover in a territory), really get sharp with the sales leadership on what the intended need is. What type of sales rep do we need? What type of skill sets do we need? What type of competencies? What territory are you going to put that person in? What are the key success factors for that person to live in that territory?
If I'm thinking about a geo rep in New York City, for example, I want to have an idea of where I think they're going to be successful, given the product that we're selling. If we're positioning heavily in financial services, then that's a competency that I want to hire for, I want to hire somebody with relationships. If you've got a named account model, the same thing still applies.
Really, you want to define that before the job role goes out to the market. You want to define the competencies that you're interviewing for, the competencies that you need for your sellers, and then you should be able to have that package put together to run through the programme from cradle to grave.
The job description is then obviously based on what's been identified in the need identified stage. Afterwards, you want to break out the interview guide.
This is where traditionally, I think we fall down as an enablement team, and definitely as a sales leadership team. If you're going to have four people interview a candidate, you want to be able to identify one or two competencies for each person to interview for. Otherwise, all four people will ask the same questions, and then you're not sure who you're getting on the other side of the interview.
What you want to do in that interview guide is this: if there's 13 competencies or skills that we care about, then I interview on the first two, and that's what I'm focused on. I want to see if they can demonstrate those specific skills that we're looking for. Then, my colleague Jack interviews them next. Jack's going to interview for a separate set of competencies so that afterwards we can come together and get a 360 degree view of that seller before they come on board.
So, you go through the interview process, you come together, and then you get to your candidate selection. The idea here is to be intentional as to what we're hiring on. What exactly do we need that seller to be? What do we need them to do? Where do we need them to have their relationships?
We’re making sure that we're professional as we go through the onboarding or the interview process, so that as they're coming on board, we know exactly where they are in their skill set as sellers. That means we're not having to guess or overtrain in their first couple of weeks as they join the company because we're not sure of their competencies.
Some people like to do demos or presentations inside of their interview process, and I think that's probably best practice. Sometimes I've been able to get that implemented and other times, not so much.
Sales competencies - where do you draw the line?
When you're aligning to your go-to-market and you're looking at your competencies (this is the way that I look at a sales organization), you want to take a look at the above, starting with the customer buying cycle, and that's your go-to-market.
The selling cycle should be documented. What are the tasks and the steps that we expect a seller to be able to walk through as they're looking to meet a customer's needs?
Then below that is what skills are required to do those steps in order to meet the customer needs.
The idea here is that the black line in the image represents a standard inside sales model, where you're getting your inbound leads, and maybe there’s requests for a demo, but on the whole we’re expecting the leads to be coming in at a certain stage of the sales cycle.
That tells me that everything to the right of this line on the sales competencies and skills section are the onesI want to interview for. If we hire somebody that doesn't have that skill or competency, that’s something we have to train for.
So, you might wonder what competencies I use? have this competency bank, and basically, it stems from documenting throughout the sales cycle. What are the competencies we need? What are those definitions, and then the finer details of those definitions?
That way, as you’re interviewing, or onboarding, or assessing your sellers, you have an idea of where they are when it comes to their skill set and their maturity level.
Sales proficiency and sales performance - the sales enablement perspective
Once we take a look at that entire process, then we get into how we onboard sellers.
I use what I call a sales performance model. I break it out into performance and proficiency. From my experience, most sales organisations are managed from the performance side, mainly in the actuals.
This refers to things like ‘What do you have in the pipeline? How accurate are your forecasts? What's your year-to-date production?’ and those types of those types of things which tend to be where we manage our sales teams.
Sometimes we’ll dig down into the activities. Are we having enough demos? Are we doing enough proof of concepts? But that's usually how you manage your sales team.
From a sales enablement perspective, I think we have to expand the conversation and work into the proficiency metric. That’s different because it refers to how good we are at doing those things, and it allows us to diagnose issues, and it also allows us to design our onboarding.
As I mentioned, if we've defined our competencies, we know what behaviors we're looking for, and we know what skill sets we're looking for.
As a result, I'm hiring people that meet the needs of the organisation where we're at. We can measure some of the sales skills as they're still going through the interview process, and we've got a degree of comfort that they're competent at those sales skills.
Then for onboarding, all I have to do is teach them the processes, and then I have to teach them the product knowledge in the context of their selling motion, and we can get them on the phone.
Anytime you onboarding new sellers, what you want to do is try to build as much confidence as possible. If you're able to work them right into being able to drive activities, they get line of sight to commission, they get some conversations under their belt, and you can start to do on-the-job training and coaching as a part of your onboarding process versus sitting them in a room for a month while they learn the product. I’ve found that that tends to increase confidence.
So how does that roll into a holistic onboarding program? Once again, the way that I've designed the onboarding means that I do an initial orientation, then we rotate into functional training, where they actually can kind of get their hands wet. Then we’ll clarify what the expectations of the organization are, and what we expect them to do.
This usually doesn’t happen and I think it leads to a level of discomfort for sellers. It's better for us to just let them know what the expectations are. That way the guesswork is out of it.
We then work on team assimilation in a big way, and that’s to make sure that they can learn, even if they aren't able to get deals on their own yet. They're able to sit in, watch, and learn from other people.
Following that, we want to work on a 360 degree assessment on those sellers based on their competencies. If they do have a gap, and that's keeping them from being successful early, we're able to remedy it quickly and get them to get them to a healthy pipeline.
In practical terms, this image below is how I break out my onboarding. It's interesting because during Covid, the success rate went up. As I mentioned, we're at about 94% on number in the first year, and that number is while it's all been virtual, which I didn't expect too.
So back to the image. In regards to onboarding, stage 1 when we bring people on board is to give them a self-paced segment. Usually what I'm doing there is role context, making sure that they have their territories assigned quickly, and ensuring they understand the performance indicators that they need to hit.
That last one is not because we're managing it, but because we should be able to look at the active deals that we have in the pipeline as well as what we've done historically, and we should be able to coach them as to what indicators are going to let them know that they have a good deal in their pipeline.
What we want to do is drive them into having conversations. For me, if I haven't had a couple of conversations with potential clients/prospects, I don't have the context to learn the product all that well.
So in the self-paced segment, we really focus on who the personas that we're targeting are, why they would want to listen to us, what problems we fix, and general market training. That’s where we spend our time.
The self-paced segment usually runs between 30 and 60 days, as you want to give them enough time to get a few calls under their belts, to shadow a bit, and we also target somewhere around five hours a week’s worth of training. This is also where we tend to put in the Salesforce training, and training for some of the tools that they're going to interact with. That’ll be in the self-paced segment.
For us, bootcamp is about applying the knowledge that you have. Yes, there's additional product knowledge. Yes, you're going to do a little bit more of a deep dive into those products.
But really, this is where we’re working through the corporate presentation, how to navigate an organization by doing those role plays, building out account plans for active deals that they have in their pipeline.
We really let them roll up their sleeves and apply their knowledge so that we can begin to measure them and see if they're picking it up, and if they're going to be able to apply it when they get out into the real world.
The final phase of onboarding is the demonstrate phase where we follow through with them. The same things that we were looking for and measuring in the bootcamp segment will be what we want to measure in the demonstrate phase as they roll out into the field.
For example, for a trailing quarter we want to go see if they’ve done their territory plan, if they are looking at their accounts in the right way, if they’re identifying white space and expansion opportunities in their accounts, and if they’re thinking about the product in a way that's going to let them be successful in their pipeline.
Then we want to be able to track if they’re effectively positioning who we are as a company. Are they able to present? Are they comfortable presenting to executives? All of those types of activities are what we're driving for.
Face-to-face and virtual onboarding
When I initially built this out, we would always do face-to-face onboarding. We’d bring everybody in for a week, and do the classroom-setting kind of thing, what you’d expect. So 8am to 5pm, and then everybody goes to dinner, and we would fill up that time to give them an opportunity to walk around corporate.
When COVID hit and we were forced to go into virtual, we went into a model where we're looking at the same 5 days, but we knocked the content down into 3 to 4 hour segments over those 5 days and really focused on the workshops.
The interesting thing was, we actually got substantially better engagement and results by doing it in a virtual classroom environment.
I think the reason that we were able to get better traction is that when you're on camera, in a small group and you're doing workshops, you're doing the negotiation role plays, you're doing open and close conversation role plays and things like that, it's more difficult to hide.
I also think that without having to travel internationally, and come to Boston or San Francisco, wherever. you're able to settle down and realise you've got four hours in your day to make phone calls. Then you've got four hours a day where you're going to be doing nothing but workshops and roleplay.
So the big turn for us in getting to really high levels of production out of our sales reps in the first year actually occurred when we made the move to virtual and got really, really sharp on applying the knowledge, doing the workshops. Doing it virtually, I think is what drove that.
Back to the segments, at the bottom of the demonstrate phase, once again, we want to do the 360 degree review. When you've got sales reps that are coming on board, they're not going to be as sensitive as some of your more traditional or longer standing sales reps.
So what you want to do is that 360 degree review. Do it with a couple of peers, a sales engineer, their manager, see where they've got their strengths and weaknesses so that you can address those early, because each one of them are going to impact the sales cycle in a different way.
They're going to want to be successful, and so they're going to want to learn, grow, or see another sales rep and work on very specific skills. So we always work in a 360 degree review at the end.
When it comes to content strategy, I think that at least in technology, we usually suffer from too much information. It seems overwhelming. It's tough to get context and ask yourself why something matters.
More content, at the end of the day, is counterproductive to what we need to be able to do. What I do is knock it down to five assets that you need to know for any sales motion that we're doing.
You've got your 101, orientation, standard training course, to get them familiar with the space, why your product is relevant in that space, who they should be talking to, and all the things that you would expect to see in that one-to-one orientation.
I then work into solution playbooks. For me, solution playbooks are built in the context of your selling motion. The customer verifiers are built into the playbook so that you can walk your way through a sale, and the sales content is always in that one-to-one context.
What title should I be targeting? If I have a strategic buyer, what's going to catch their attention? If that's the case, what are the reasons it would catch their attention?
A lot of times we have a tendency to stop with who the persona is, and what the pain points that we solve are for that persona, but in a one-to-one conversation, you need to know who you’re talking to, and what their pain points are.
Given the other sales cycles that we have, what are the reasons that we think they might have those pain points? That allows a new seller to learn how to have a conversation and be able to apply it much, much sooner in their tenure at your company, than learning it the hard way on their own by running into brick walls.
The final three content pieces are competitive positioning, pricing, and the pitch deck. It’s no secret that pricing and configuration is important.
Obviously, a pitch deck is going to be important. A seller needs to be able to do that pitch, and that's fine.
Competitive positioning however, I found to be a little bit hairy. So I actually break it out into two different segments. One is competitive in the marketplace. Where do we see competition? Where do we fit? Where do we have parity with the bulk of the marketplace? What makes us different?
At least initially I’d break it out into that general marketplace knowledge. Obviously, you've got you know, your competitor reports and competitor battle cards. But really, as a new seller, I want to be able to pull that down, and just get a general orientation of who I should run into.
At my current company, and also previously, what we found was: ‘Yeah, we had direct competitors’ but a lot of times where the new sales reps were running into issues were with those tangential competitors that had a product that was maybe similar, but did something else. It wasn't somebody that we would stack head-to-head and focus time and energy on how to have a competitive conversation about, until they could get on their feet.