Kyle Abel, Director, Sales Enablement, Guidewire Software, gave this presentation at the Sales Enablement Festival in October 2020.
In sales enablement, we would all prefer our practice to be thought of as a calm flowing stream, but in reality, it can often feel like an uncontrolled flood. What can we do about that? In this article, I’ll share the three steps we took at Guidewire to transform our sales enablement practice to me more of the former and less of the latter.
My name is Kyle Abel and I want to start by asking you a question. When you think about your sales enablement practice, would you describe it more as a calm flowing stream, or an uncontrolled flood?
I serve as the Director of Sales Enablement at Guidewire Software. I actually began my career at a Fortune 100 technology company, I started in professional services implementing the software, I moved over to the sales team, and performed the demos and the workshops and the POCs in the solution engineering role.
I moved to the product side spent a little time as a product manager and spent just a little bit of time in product marketing. In 2012, I had not yet heard of the term sales enablement as a role or a discipline.
As I was investigating a role at Guidewire for sales enablement, I found it was a great melding of all of the different attributes of these roles that I really enjoyed. So in 2012, I joined the sales enablement team at Guidewire.
Guidewire is a software as a service platform for P&C insurers to run their business. I joined in 2012. At that time, we served 100 sellers selling three products. We were a team of five sales enablement professionals.
Now, if you fast forward to today, we serve 220 sellers in 13 countries selling 11 products and solutions. We are now a team of eight sales enablement professionals and I am privileged to lead that team.
Stream or flood
Going back to my question.
I think we would all agree that we would prefer to have our sales enablement practice thought of by us and more importantly our sellers, the end-users, as a calm flowing stream.
And when we're in this stream state, some of the attributes you might think of is consistent, consistent flow of enablement in a predictable volume and cadence, and highly consumable by the sellers.
What we've found in the eight years I've been at Guidewire, is while we intended to be in the stream state, often we found ourselves in more of a flood state, and I am sure many of you can relate to that.
When we're in a flood state the impact it has on our sellers is that the volume of content is unpredictable. And it's ultimately inconsumable, there's just too much at one time. From an enablement perspective, it's unmanageable to create that much content in such a small amount of time.
At Guidewire, we have spent a lot of time thinking about this problem. And we still struggle with it, certainly but we have definitely made some improvements in the process that we thought we would share with you and hopefully, it helps.
Three steps to control the flood
I'm going to present to you three steps you can take to control the flood. These are the same three steps we've used, that have really helped us to reduce this problem.
1. Audit your current volume of content
The first step is to audit your current volume of content. In the context of this article, when I say content, I'm talking about training, whether that's live events or more self-service video recordings.
It could also be actual assets that are used by the sellers in the process of a deal whether those internal assets like maybe battle cards or they could be external assets, in the form of datasheets and presentation slide decks and things like that.
2. Determine your ideal target volume
After you've audited the current volume of content you're currently putting out, you want to determine what your ideal target volume is for your company.
3. Create and communicate your 12/3/1 plan
Once you have that, you can then create and communicate what I call the 12/3/1 plan and I'm going to dive into each of these.
Now, an important word here is your - there is no the ideal target volume, there's no the 12/3/1 plan, it's all going to be specific to you and your sellers and their needs, as well as your organization and the industry you serve.
Audit your current volume of content
So let's go to step one, which is to audit the current volume of the content you're putting out. It's very important that you have a handle, you have a reasonably accurate estimate on how much you're actually putting out today.
Before you move to step two, you want to know your starting point. So when you suggest what the ideal target is, it's not going to be something wildly different, that would be hard to hit. So you need to know where you're starting from.
First of all, you have to look at it from the seller's point of view, not your own, that's very important. I'm going to give you four different lenses to look at it so you can get a full, holistic view of all the content the sellers are being asked to come out of the field, stop selling and consume.
Lens #1: Type
The first lens is by training type.
Certainly, there's going to be some enablement training and content that's going to be in the form of live events.
These could be the sales kickoff events, the business reviews, internal webinars - at Guidewire, we have an every other Friday, internal webinar for training. They could also be workshops, like your onboarding workshops. That's one training type.
The next training type is going to be asynchronous training, these are going to be self-service trainings, or recordings or videos that are consumed on demand. They could be internal newsletters, we have a monthly newsletter, an 'in case you missed it' newsletter to our sellers at Guidewire.
They could be those sales assets and collateral that maybe are produced by product marketing, for example, that as sales enablement, we are pushing out to the field and making sure they know how to use those.
It's very important you look beyond just what sales enablement is producing. There are other groups in your organization, or in the industry, that are also producing training.
If you're asking your sellers to consume that training, if they have to consume that training, in some cases, then you want to make sure you get a full accounting, a full assessment of how much training is coming at them.
Examples of this could be human resources training or if you're in a technology company like Guidewire, we do quarterly infosec training to maintain certain certifications. Maybe there are industry events and trainings you want your sellers to go to.
Again, just get a very broad view from the learners/sellers perspective.
Lens #2: Role
The second lens you want to look at is by role. This is really to recognize that different roles may have different requests on their time. Your business development, your inside sales is what we call them, at Guidewire, that number of hours that's being pushed at them may be different than your solution engineers or solution consultants, for example.
You want to look at it through the role lens as well.
Lens #3: Schedule
The third lens is by schedule. You want to actually map this out in quarters or months and see if there's any natural seasonality to your enablement calendar.
Lens #4: Competency
The fourth lens is competency. Here is a very simple four-quadrant competency. But certainly use the one you're already using.
But the idea here is let's look at the content that's being pushed out in a given year and categorize it by competency to see if there's any opportunity to even that out a little bit.
When we went through this process at Guidewire, our audit in a number of hours per year of training came to about 110 hours to 140 hours per year, depending on the role of the sellers that we were asking the sellers to come out of the field and consume this training.
Now at this point, we're not judging whether this is too high or too low, we're just getting the actual number, which is the most important thing.
But in addition, or maybe even more important than the actual number, we realized a couple of insights about the way we were enabling our sellers.
Floods & droughts
The first one is we were creating what I call a flood and drought enablement cycle. It was because we had these big floods of events and training that were happening within a month or two.
And then conversely, we would have other months that really, we didn't have much training at all. That's because we had things like the sales kickoffs, and we do twice-a-year launches.
So we would have launch training and we have a user conference that would all get bundled within a four to six-week period and that created this flood event.
The end result we were observing was the adoption of our launch training, both in the number of people that were attending live and then the people that were going back and watching the recordings really suffered because sellers were self-selecting what enablement content they were going to consume because there were not enough hours in the working day to consume all of it.
That was a big aha moment when we looked at it from a timing perspective.
The other big insight was around the core competencies, and we were inadvertently creating blind spots for our sellers.
If we look at that core competency quadrant, in that product quadrant, if we were to map out how much of our training in a given year was dedicated to the different quadrants, it looked like this.
Very, very heavy by almost a three to four to one margin, compared to the other quadrants.
The end result there is we ended up with sellers that were very, very knowledgeable in the products and demonstrating and talking about the capabilities of the products. They were not quite as well-rounded in the other quadrants, the other selling competency, so we had to get a little more deliberate about that.
Training value audit spreadsheet
By going through this process, you can not only get to your number, but you can get to some key insights. I'm going to help you out and I'm going to give you a spreadsheet that's going to help you through this process.
I'll warn you, it's not a super easy or fast process to get a reasonably accurate count and you don't have to necessarily try to get it to where it's 100% to the half-hour accurate. You just want it to be a good, high confidence number that you can have conversations with about with your sales leaders.
Determine your ideal target volume
Once you have your number, you can move to step two, and you can determine what your ideal target volume is, compared to your actuals.
I'm going to give you a very simplistic formula, it's not meant to necessarily give you the number itself, it's more to highlight some key variables that will influence what that number is.
Size of portfolio
The first variable that has a high impact on the number of hours that's going to be relevant for your sellers, is the size of the portfolio of products or services or solutions that you're selling.
If you have a portfolio that's relatively small, maybe it's a single product even, the volume of training, the amount of training that's needed in a given year may be less than if you had 10, or 15, or 20 different products.
Pace of change
If you multiply the pace of change, that will also have a high degree of impact on the volume of training in a given year. If you're in an industry where the pace of change is actually relatively low, maybe less training is needed.
But if you're in an industry like technology, which moves very rapidly, we do releases every six months, that pace of changes is actually very quick. That's going to require more training hours to keep up.
A couple of examples of other industries just for a frame of reference.
If we look at lawyers, lawyers depending on the state require about 15 hours of continuing education a year to maintain their licenses. That's because the size of the portfolio is usually small, lawyers typically will specialize in certain parts of the law and the pace of change is really slow.
The laws may iterate and change a little bit from one year to another, but it's typically not a big huge change they have to spend a whole whole lot of time looking at.
Another industry, if we look at doctors, the medical field, again, depending on the state about 50 hours per year is what's required by the different states. That's because the size of a portfolio is going to be a little larger, it's the whole human body and all the different systems typically.
But the pace of change especially when you think of the standard of care is actually quite slow, slower than we would obviously want especially right now during a pandemic. But the larger portfolio means a larger number of hours.
Review suggestions with sales leadership
Once you have a possible target that you want to start discussing, you should absolutely review this with the sales leadership and the question you need to have them answer is how much time out of the field, so when how much time where sellers are not selling is reasonable for the demands of your industry, your organization, your sellers?
We went through this process, we looked at our portfolio as being relatively large, 11 products, pace of change as I already mentioned is very fast so we came to a target of about 80 to 100 hours per year.
But we did not go to the sales leadership and say "We think it's 80-100 hours. What do you think?" Because there's not a whole lot of context around that, it's hard to grasp what 100 hours mean in the context of a year.
Instead, we converted and I recommend you convert that to days or partial days per month, or per week, or per quarter or something smaller. For example, 96 hours per year is equal to about a day per month that we're asking the sellers to come out of the field and learn.
Is that reasonable? For Guidewire, yes, that's a reasonable request. For you, that number is going to be different. Maybe it's a half-day per month, or maybe it's a full day per quarter, whatever the number is.
I highly recommend you break it down into something a little more tangible.
Create and communicate your 12/3/1 plan
Once you have your target number agreed to now you can create and communicate your 12/3/1 plan. So what is a 12/3/1 plan?
It starts with your annual 12-month plan, then every quarter, you're going to refine that plan into your quarterly review. Then each month, you're going to do a monthly sprint to further refine the quarterly review. They all influence each other.
At Guidewire we've gone through this a couple of different ways, we found for us 80% of the value was in the planning and the forward-looking planning process.
We have gone through periods where we try to track actuals and look back and track actuals to our estimate. For us, we didn't quite have the systems in place to make that a very valuable exercise.
But we find a tremendous amount of value in creating the plans and communicating the plans.
It starts with the annual plan. So we look at the 12-month plan and we can with a reasonable degree of accuracy, put a pin in some of our big rocks, the big events that we know.
We know we're going to do a sales kickoff roughly in this time, we've got our two releases roughly in these time periods, we have our mid-year business review, we have our big rocks.
Next, once we have those rocks in place, we can create buffers around those because we know those are going to spike in the enablement volume. So we want to create some space so we don't double up during those times.
Slot in enablement activities
Once we have that buffer in place, now we can slot in other enablement activities, or at least spots to put in other enablement activities.
Again, the whole point is to just smooth out the peaks and the valleys, to smooth out the flood and drought cycle.
Review with stakeholders
It's very important once you have this laid out, you review it with your stakeholders. I'll talk about why that's really important. But in terms of this activity, when we say stakeholders, we're talking about not only the end consumers and the sales leadership but also the producers, the content creators.
This is product marketing, product management, corporate marketing, you want everyone that's involved with creating the enablement and consuming the enablement to all be aligned with what the plan is.
Once you have your annual plan, you're going to move into your quarterly review. Once you get to your quarterly review, you've already marked out what the big rocks are so you can put that on the calendar and adjust a little bit if needed.
But now you can start filling out your other enablement activities around and respecting the buffer time around your big rock event.
Review with stakeholders
Then very important you review that with your stakeholders so they can be very well
informed about what's coming in the next quarter.
Then take that a step further and look at it from a monthly perspective. Here you can further refine, you can adjust the number of days or move things around or add things that are needed.
Review with stakeholders
Again, you want to review with the stakeholders on a monthly process as well.
Why is it so important to review these three plans with your stakeholders?
It's so you can avoid a scenario which we experienced at Guidewire which I call backfilling. When I say backfilling what I mean is other groups, it could be the sales team themselves, it could be product marketing, product management, that if they're not very familiar with the plan, they may start creating their own enablement activities and enablement events.
Those events end up contributing to an inadvertent flood of enablement.
The way around it, this will eliminate 90% of everything is communicate with your stakeholders often.
If they know what's coming, and especially when you get to the monthly plan, the topics that are coming then you can head off at the pass some of the backfilling activities that may be brewing.
It gets them a chance to have input into the calendar as well.
Three steps to controlling the flood
Those are the three steps to controlling the flood.
- You want to audit your current volume of training,
- You want to determine your ideal target volume of training in a given year, and
- You want to create and communicate your 12/3/1 plan.