At Progress Software as Head of Global Enablement and Commercial Strategy, I’ve overseen our implementation of a new Sales Performance model and 5-tier sales model alignment which has driven more efficient sales in the organization. Here I’ll talk you through how we achieved this and you can drive more efficient sales through smarter sales enablement.
My name is Scott King, I run enablement for Progress Software, I'm responsible for our internal sales enablement as well as enablement through our channel, we'll take a look at what that looks like.
I look at enablement maybe a little bit different because I come from a sales and sales leadership stance and the way that Progress is structured, we've done enablement in a very sales-specific, sales-centric way to drive adoption.
How do I look at enablement?
I use the old Forrester research definition of enablement. Progress grows by acquisition, so we've had to set enablement up, cradle to grave, about five or six times. When we acquire a company generally they don't have a formal enablement program, we have to set it up and then we do the merging of the different sales forces, different product, and product marketing functions together.
I look at enablement as a holistic service to the company. Anything that touches the sales cycle, anything that touches our sellers, and then out to our customers are things that we should either own or we influence in the organization.
For me, that can be anything from human capital, I'll show you how that looks, internal processes that hit the sales motion, how we interact with legal, how we interact with comms, what does rev rec do as well as how do we deliver content out to the seller so they can have more relevant conversations?
I've found that enablement groups, and the ones that I've inherited, and the folks on my team tend to come from one to two places generally, so very strong L&D backgrounds, in many cases, in which case, it tends to be a training focused group or people that are coming from the marketing side of the house where we want to solve the problems by content.
What we try to do is merge those together and so what I thought I'd do is share with you a sales performance model that we use that I've developed over the last couple of years and really, how do I audit my sales teams? How do I know where I should be working with my sales teams? How do I know that it's going to have an impact on the pipeline?
We've got eight different products that we're taking to market that hit completely different personas, we've got sales reps that range from BDRs all the way through to customer success. I've got inside sales motions, I've got outside sales motions, and how do you begin to deconflict those channels and make sure that you're putting as much rubber to the road as it relates to your go-to-market?
I'll give some examples of what I've seen at Progress, and then how that has impacted content and training for me.
Sales performance model
Pretty simply, actually, this is how I look at a sales team. If we acquire somebody this is how I look at them today. Basically, it's made up of four components.
- What are the behaviors that I expect from my sales reps?
- Or my BDRs?
- What do we expect them to be able to do?
- Do they exhibit those behaviors?
- How do we begin to measure that?
The next bucket really comes down to skills and that gives you your proficiency measurement. Now I found that most people really aren't measuring the sales proficiency measurement and that's really where you can start to address pipeline issues, address learning path and growth path opportunities for your BDRs, inside sales reps as they want to progress in the company.
When you get over to the performance metrics, I care about the activities. What are your frontline managers actually measuring so that we know that we're getting adoption? As they're going to market with medic or for us, we've got a slightly different version of solution selling that we use, if it's not being measured and driven at that frontline management, then chances are sales doesn't feel like it impacts pipeline, in which case we shouldn't be spending our time on it and really wasting our time on it.
And finally, you have the actuals.
I own the proficiency measurement in the organization:
- How do we demonstrate behaviors?
- What types of experience do they have as individual sellers?
- And then the roll-up at the team level?
- What are the sales skills that we expect them to be able to do?
It might be presentation skills, it might be executive presence, it might be, for us, sponsor letters or power sponsor letters, things like that, presentation skills.
Knowledge in context
The next bucket that I care about is knowledge in context, this becomes important. Product, at least in technology, Progress is very proud of its technology and so there's kind of an attitude organizationally that the product sells itself.
So the more product training that we feed the sellers, the better they're going to do and that's nine times out of 10 not really how it works out in the field when you're managing your sales teams.
Being very specific about what your role is, what we expect you to be able to do in your role, and then what is the content in the context of your role that's actually going to move the ball?
Then we move over to the activities, which is weekly, monthly, quarterly cadence that's happening with your sales management.
Of course, you've got your actuals, I roughly put in 3X growth pipeline, it depends on the product, even at Progress I've got different measurements as that relates, forecast accuracy, and year to date performance.
Most sales organizations are managing from the top box and they don't usually have a consistent set of sales activities that you can align to, even though they feel like maybe they should, in many cases, you don't have that. It's something that you want to drive to fairly quickly.
I usually get a lot of questions about the competency so I'll show you an example of what I mean by the competencies.
The idea is we've got a certain set of competencies that we care about for our sellers’ behaviors.
The green identifies where the sales rep ranks themselves, the black, which hopefully you can see is, where the manager sees them in their progression for those particular skills.
Then we do others, so for us, that’s sales engineers and two peers.
In this example, as you look at the team, they average out. But the way that I communicate, the way that I want to grow these sellers is going to be very, very different.
Nicoletta, on the left here, you can see that others in her manager on certain competencies ‘state of the industry and financial consequences’, which is really a competency built around, do I understand the marketplace? Do I understand what our commercial value is? What the capabilities mean to the customer financially? She's not as competent as she could be.
But everybody sees her executing in the field as a much stronger player, which means there's a good opportunity there for Nicoletta to grow some confidence, it'll probably increase her performance, generally, formal training will begin to help them get more confident.
The other rep is Vladi, who feels like he's a top performer, feels like he's knocking it out of the park on his skill set. His manager feels maybe not so much, and others kind of see him the middle.
What's interesting is when you start saying things like my sales reps won't consume my content, or they come in and they look bored, and they're not getting much out of training. If I'm looking at him, in this case, he doesn't think he has a problem. He's not even looking to solve that problem. But that problem's potentially costing him money.
- How do I solve this problem?
- How do we begin to figure out who our reps are at an individual level?
- What does that look like at a team level? And,
- How can I get them to open their ears and do what's going to make the best sense for the business and obviously for their commission?
In this case, we develop these, we give those reports out, we drive the frontline managers to have these conversations. They're not an easy conversation to have. It forces my frontline managers to become stronger and own their business, own their players that are on the field. Then we can start to deconstruct how we want to train them.
Something like financial consequences, you might go build an ROI tool, you might create talk tracks, you might try to fill that with content. At the end of the day, if they don't have the sales skills to know what to do with that content, is that really the best use of your time? Maybe you do straight sales skills training first and then start to deliver content. It allows us to figure out how we want to do it. Hopefully, that's not too complicated.
Coming back, what this allows me to do at a team roll up level is start to deconstruct problems that we might have in the organization. For us, we have a CMS product Sitefinity. Somebody might come to me and say "Pipeline for Sitefinity is down", maybe it's down globally, maybe it's down in a region.
The way the conversation generally goes is "Pipeline is down. Marketing says it's because sales don’t know how to sell their way out of a wet paper bag. Sales say they're throwing so much wood I'm not even going to go through their leads they're worthless" conversation generally stops.
Understand the components
By capturing the data and understanding the different components of what makes up your selling motion and successful selling motion, instead, what we do is we say "Pipeline is down. Do we have the amount of activities that we would expect to see in order to drive that pipeline?"
If the answer is no, we drive more activities. That's a frontline sales management thing. It's not a sales enablement thing, we're managing, we're consulting to the organization, but that's going to be driven by frontline management.
If the activities are good then we go up and we say, well, maybe we do those activities poorly.
- Is it because we don't present well?
- Is it because we don't run our proof of concepts well?
- Is it a sales skill?
If it is, then we're training on competencies, if it's not, then:
- Is the right message going to the wrong ears?
- Do they understand the personas?
- Do they understand our messaging?
- And is it compelling?
If it turns out that that's the problem, now I'm fixing it with content, I'm fixing it with playbooks and fixing it with those types of assets. If it turns out that we're fairly confident their sales skills are good, we're fairly confident that they understand who they should be talking to and we've got enough activities but it's not converting, chances are now I'm dealing with a PMK issue where we're targeting the wrong individuals or we've got the wrong message.
It allows us to kind of do that and this is also how we build our onboarding.
It plugs into the overall organization this way.
5-tier sales model alignment
Customer buying cycle
Your customer buying cycle for me is the go-to-market. Everything is geared off of the go-to-market from my perspective, and the question is, are we built correctly as a sales organization to execute that go-to-market effectively?
The customers at any one of these stages have certain expectations that we need to fill. Sometimes it's filled by marketing, sometimes it's filled by sales.
Underneath that, I have my selling cycle:
- What is my selling process?
- What is my selling methodology?
- What are the steps that we expect our sellers to be able to execute at any one stage to meet the needs of that customer or the expectations of that prospect in their cycle?
Then you get down to the skills requirements, which is do we have the skills in our sales teams to execute effectively?
Underneath that, we can start to discern where we have content gaps, where we have training gaps, and things like that in order to execute. What you'll see is, for me, I've got an inside sales team.
For us, it's data connectivity, where the leads are generally coming in at a trial download. We're servicing that through an inside sales motion, which means that's where my lead's coming in. When I look at my inside sellers, and I look at my enablement team, the only skills I care about are to the right of that line.
I don't spend my time unless I'm trying to grow those inside sellers on the things prior to that. I only care about content requirements based on that motion. That's a one to one messaging.
One to one messaging
Marketing tends to deliver one to many conversations and then they hand it to the salespeople and the salespeople don't know what to do with it because it hasn't been delivered in a one to one format that they know how to use.
If I've got an inside sales motion this is what I'm looking at.
What tends to happen to us, I don't know if that happens to you is we'll have the inside sales motions, leads will be down, and the CRO or the sales manager or the sales VP will come and say, "Well, why aren't we prospecting? We should be prospecting, we should be doing Greenfield".
The problem is, now you've moved the bar, which means that there is a tonne of competencies and skills that those sellers need to be able to have and the conversations changed. It's changed from a product conversation to a market conversation. Do we have enough content to support that motion? Do they have the skills? Are we measuring it?
You have to be careful a little bit because an inside seller out here under the build phase, what are they on target earnings of 120k?. If I move that line too far to the left now I'm talking enterprise guys, and now I'm out to $300-350,000 on-target earnings.
When you're building and you're looking at your sales team, you're looking at your go-to-market, there's a different mix of BDRs versus sales engineers and you really need to understand where you're hitting and where you're doing that handoff to sales and then we get laser-focused on making sure that those transactions happen appropriately.
When I talk about one to one messaging, once again, the disclaimer is I'm a sales guy, so I act like a 12-year-old. I've got the attention span of an eight-year-old, I learned that when my daughter turned 10, and she exceeded me substantially.
Three factors of one to one messaging
Any content that we deliver to the salespeople in a one to one manner has these three factors.
- It's in the context of your sales methodology. If you have not put it in the context of your sales methodology, they don't know what to do with it. So taking the time to feed them an E-book that will tell them all about the marketplace without understanding where they should see that, why they would use it, and put it in bullet points that are consumable, chances are they won't adopt it. If you're trying to measure your success by consumption, it won't happen. Everything has to be in the context of the sales methodology.
- The next thing I look at is measurement of verifiers, you have customer verifiers and we have spot checks in the field where your frontline managers are doing deal reviews, opportunity assessments, numbers of meetings, numbers of proof of concepts, numbers of demos, things like that. If there's not a verifier that's going to be checked on a daily basis or a weekly basis or a monthly basis, chances are, the sales reps aren't looking to adopt it, they don't think they have a problem, so they're not going to use it. So we make sure that if we're developing content, we keep it really simple and we put it in the context of how they're being measured at that frontline management role.
- Then we deliver the sales content, which is always one to one because they're having normal conversations with individuals so it can't be one to many like a website. Then it has actionable items that are a part of it. How am I driving my deals forward? For me, I just care about five key assets and that's how we do it.
5 key assets
Solution orientation training - I care about solution orientation training because I'm onboarding people all the time, or I'm flipping sales reps from one product to another so I always need that orientation.
Solution playbooks - we deliver solution playbooks. everything for us is digital. Competitive positioning - which I think is kind of a part of marketing. Pricing and pitch deck.
Salespeople generally don't need much more information than what's on that list. The more you provide, the more they feel like you should provide and the more they come to you to provide. In reality, what we're trying to do is give them the skills to be able to suss out what they need to do in an individual conversation with those.
For me, once again, because I'm supporting so many products and we support it back through the channel, knowing that they have the five key assets to set their expectations, they will participate with us in the development and maintenance of those assets.
Once you get beyond five or six assets, it's more than they can think about and it's generally more than they'll actually use.
I showed you the individual competencies when I showed the spider diagram, you can also do a team a team roll-up. This is how I begin to take a look and decide what we're going to do by team.
When it comes to teams, I would like them to be proficient, I don't expect them to be at advanced in many cases.
It’s the way that we've written our competencies. I have this for BDRs, we have it for sales engineers, it's going to look different, but what this allows me to do is start to see where are we actually slowing down?
How to handle weaknesses
If you're wondering why we're not qualifying leads coming out of a trade show, you're wondering why we're getting a lot of activity on the website for an E book, that the sales reps can't convert into anything, I can tell you specifically where they're feeling strong and weak as it relates to it and they're not as efficient converting those opportunities.
Think mid qualified to end qualify is when you'll start to see opportunity creation in Salesforce. You can see where we have gaps and weaknesses where we're not going to convert as smoothly as we'd like.
This actually lines up to the way that we do our forecasting. Prove generally falls between 60 and 80% in our pipeline. In some teams we're not strong in the technical proof case stage. What do we expect the salesperson to do there? I've got sales engineers, so for me, it's "Am I managing the deal to close? Do I have the skills? Am I bringing the right people to bear and am I managing my sales cycle correctly?"
In this example, that's a sales skill that we needed to work on with the sales team. State of the industry and financial consequences could be weak, it means the team doesn't really understand the value.
They know the product really well, but they don't understand what it does for a customer, what the customer should be defining success based on and that's something we need to work on if we see that our lead conversions are dipping, and maybe that's where I begin.
I do a couple of things and this is the way I look at the world.
Coming from a sales leadership perspective, working with my sales leaders in my organisation, we have a methodology or at least a philosophy at the end of the day where what we want to do is take it to the logical extreme and say that we want our sellers in front of customers or on the phone with customers 50 selling hours a week, that's what we're driving towards.
Anything that takes away from that is something we're doing to disrupt their pipeline. When we look at our pipeline, we look at our actuals, and we think about how we're going to enable the team, the question is, how can I do it without disrupting the number of calls?
At the end of the day, sales is always just going to be a game of numbers, it's just how effective you are, but if you can't actually make a call then we haven't done anything.
The first thing that we look to do is fix any sort of process issues that we might have. If I can make them more efficient sellers by addressing a process, through legal, through AC, and I can make them more efficient sellers, that's the first lever that I pull.
On the job training
The next one is on the job training, they're still making their calls, they're still being active and we can start to feed them training in very specific ways.
Mentoring and coaching tends to be the next lever.
You’ll see at the bottom, it's not that we don't leverage knowledge and it's not that we don't ever leverage formal training, but it's literally the last levers I pull, because now I'm actually pulling them off the line. They're not making calls, which means they're not productive.
Before I do that, it usually has to be something big. Because we have an overlay and understanding very specifically in a sales cycle, where an individual sales rep or a sales team is struggling, I'm not pulling them out for four days to do whiteboard training, or I'm not pulling them out of the field to do, for us, solution sales training.
We're going at specific things that we want to see worked on. If it's negotiation, then we're pulling the team, and we're going to train on negotiation in a way that we expect it to be measured on the other side.
A content example
This is a good one. Salespeople all the time, hit by PMKs and say, I need comp intel, and I need a battle card for said customer, or for an opportunity that I'm working on.
What they don't know is that we don't have comp intel writers, I'm not going to pull a PMK to do it, each one of my battle cards cost $5,000 as we outsource it, and when you talk to the seller, nine times out of 10 they're having the wrong frickin' conversation.
If you're having a feature to feature comparison, late in the sales cycle, that's not how you're going to win your deal. Chances are you haven't set it up correctly. We may not be winning that deal anyway. What you find is they're not having a comp Intel issue as it relates to content.
They're having an issue about understanding how they should be having competitive conversations. The best one that I've seen, the one that I use is this one, which basically says the buyer has a need, we have a product, so does our competitor.
The way to drive a competitive conversation is nobody's going to believe you're different unless they believe you're the same, so the conversation should drive the parody.
Yes, we all do that.
Once somebody believes that we all do something similar, and they trust me, then they will believe that I am different. Handing them a battle card to your customer saying why you're different and why you're better based on a feature really goes against human nature and your credibility as a salesperson.
It's a sales skill, it's not a content issue. Nine times out of 10 you're not competing with your product, you're competing with your terms, you're competing with your services, your customer success. There are other avenues that a customer is looking at that success means and it's usually not the feature.
I drive my product guys crazy when I tell them I sold crappy products so much better than I ever sold good product, because I really had to know what problem I was fixing and I really had to know that my product was what they needed. Otherwise, I was going to lose when we did a comparison stack.
The sales performance model
I gave you some examples of a little bit of how we diagnose our issues. I also use it for onboarding, a rapid onboarding process. Ours begins and I believe onboarding begins in the interview process. We're able to shrink our time to productivity for our sales reps by being really, really engaged, and precise about the way we're hiring. We hire for certain competencies, we interview for certain competencies, the sales reps that we're looking to bring in will demonstrate certain sets of skills in the interview process.
If I'm comfortable that they have the behaviors that I expect them to see, and I'm comfortable that they can deliver those in the sales skills that we expect to see, then all I have to do from an onboarding perspective is feed them the context and then get them on the phones. That's how we do that.
The sales performance model in action
The example I'll use, last year, we had a 100% turnover of our sales team. I think it was in January. Not all bad, I mean, they didn't all leave the company or anything like that, some got promoted, they got moved out to different teams, but it was 100% turnover.
What was interesting was, we went through, we interviewed hard on the competencies, we made sure that the skills were there and all we did was just feed them the context that they needed and drove them to the phones.
What we actually saw by mid-year was that they had actually exceeded the previous team's yearly production for the last two years, they ended up at 200 and something percent growth for that particular team.
Turnover is not scary, as long as you know what you're putting into those places and they're just making their phone calls. That's how we drive it, that's how we built our onboarding.
What it's done, really for us is it's reduced the drag on product marketing of salespeople calling in for specific content, specific decks, comp Intel across my PMK organization, we've cut the demand of the field by about 80-85% because we're just feeding digital content, it's always in the context of a playbook.
Once the sales reps get comfortable with that, they understand what they need is there and you've got the bullet points that they're looking for, versus an ebook that they're going to take four hours to read.
We've been able to align with the organization using this model as well to take the burden off the sales team and the sales personality off of the organization but then align the go-to-market specifically to the types of sellers that we have out in the field.