Flying Solo

By Erik Stromberg, Marcel Eisma

Develop and grow a flourishing one-person sales enablement function.

It's Monday morning and you are all set for your first day at your new company. Even though it's taken several months from start to finish, the interview process is still fresh in your memory. In just a few minutes, the interviewers will be your co-workers.

You step out of the elevator and in front of you is a long hallway that leads up to the front desk of a company you can now call "the company I work for." You say hello to the receptionist you have come to be friends with in the final stages of the interview loop. "Oh, hi Marcel! Welcome to Kony! Anthony should be here in just a few minutes. I have your new business cards right here." The box she hands you has one business card taped to the outside. It says, "Marcel Eisma, Director of Sales Enablement." So begins the journey of a one-person sales enablement function.

Beginning and growing our one-person sales enablement functions has been a continual work in progress. Now, as we look back, a little older and a lot wiser, we are able to determine what worked and what didn't.

Rapid takeoff

What did not work was taking the big-company approach we were used to. What do you do when you work at a company with more than 100,000 employees? You listen, learn, analyze, plan, reflect, discuss, socialize, and finally get ready to do something. Being new to a company and maybe even new to the industry, it is most important to learn all you can before attempting to teach others, right? Well, that was Marcel's approach when he started at Kony. However, he was not able to convince his boss of that.

Less than 10 minutes into Marcel's first one-on-one meeting, his brilliant plan was met with a broad smile from his new boss and this reply: "Nice try. We have 16 new sellers who need to be onboarded. The workshop starts four weeks from today. Can you send me a first draft of the approach and the agenda by end of day tomorrow?"

With previous experience at a large telecommunications company, Erik had similar plans that included immersing himself into the unique culture at SolarWinds before moving forward with developing an onboarding program that would encompass business objectives. But before Erik took over the company's new sales enablement program, a commitment already had been made to the executive sales team that a new onboarding program would be up and running within a month. That meant that in only a couple of weeks, Erik would need to learn the products, evaluate existing training, and develop new content.

Setting goals

In both situations, we quickly learned that we were in environments where decisive action was valued; where a rapid sequence of small steps was more effective than taking huge leaps with long intervals of nothing in between; and where results were celebrated, even if they would be disappointing. As circumstance would have it, the results of these undertakings were not always as successful as one would have hoped. The reaction: "Lesson learned. This did not work as well as we'd imagined. Let's rethink and move on."

This is when a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) comes into play. The term was first used by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. For both of us, our BHAGs would be True North, something to keep us on track in the fast-changing environment of every day.

Marcel was mostly focused on enabling outside sales teams, so these were his BHAGs:

  • Clients see Kony's sellers as strategic advisers to their business.
  • Kony's sellers are sought-after keynote speakers for strategic leadership events.
  • Kony's sellers consistently and predictably meet revenue growth goals that far exceed market growth.
  • Kony's sellers are continuously approached by recruiters from other industry-leading companies, but they invariably decline because of the unmatched personal fulfillment and income growth opportunities at Kony.

As Erik's focus is inside sales at SolarWinds, his BHAGs were:

  • Reps are seen as advisers who add value instead of sellers who extract money.
  • Reps meet or exceed quota consistently.
  • Inside sales reps become best-in-class and take pride in their work.

Not everything you do will directly support your BHAGs, and that is OK. As long as you know that those rogue activities will not cause you to lose focus on the big picture, you will be in good shape. To plot all the things needed to drive our BHAGs, we used a fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram. It was created in 1968 by Kaoru Ishikawa to help identify the causes of a specific event, and was mostly used in quality control analysis. But we repurposed it to identify the big rocks that we would need to move to achieve our BHAGs, along with the specific deliverables and activities that would help us move them (see figure below).

To move these rocks, we needed to set goals. However, goals are fleeting if they are not anchored. The anchor we used is SMART:

  • Specific—deliver a consistent and scalable global onboarding program.
  • Measurable—accelerate time to productivity and create a ready bench.
  • Attainable—rely on existing resources.
  • Relevant—onramp costs money; productivity makes money.
  • Time-bound—one year.

Many of your plans never will come to fruition because the situation changes rapidly. However, it is important to have a plan in place, along with the commitment to never become emotionally attached to that plan. If you allow yourself to become emotionally attached to your plans, you will not be able to move along with reality.

The result? You will become an inhibitor rather than an agent of change.

While you need to be willing to give up on your plans on an instant's notice, you also need to hold on tight to your core guiding principles at (almost) all costs:

  • Start with the customer and work backward. We often have seen this fail because teams get so excited about their internal successes that they forget the end goal: to better meet the needs of customers.
  • By sales, for sales. No guidance should be rolled out without strong endorsement from successful sellers and their managers. Oftentimes, the individuals training sales teams have little sales experience themselves. That's not an issue as long as they realize that and ensure that successful sellers endorse their work. When a nonseller tries to train a seller on the realities of sales, that's when we get in trouble.
  • Build a sales enablement foundation for future growth. Leverage each deliverable to create something that can be repurposed.

We have found that positive outcomes are largely dependent upon alignment within the team. Thus, figure out who everyone is, find a champion, get an early win, and work with those who want to work with you and build from that.

Toolkit

In our experience, tools have been at the heart of some of our most visible successes. We've learned that course authoring tools, lots of audio and video goodies, and eye-opening new delivery tools are the sizzle on the steak. Some of our favorites make it easy to:

  • Create short quizzes in an instant.
  • Create whiteboard animations.
  • Deliver short lessons to sellers' mobile devices.
  • Add interactivity to non-interactive videos.

Most of these tools are available at a relatively low cost (less than $50 month). The impact they have is enormous, though. Most sellers and sales managers have only experienced training delivered by subject matter experts who are not trained in modern instructional design techniques and tools, and slide-heavy classroom training or online courses are what they are used to.

Tools are only as good as the skills you have to use them. To make a difference, you need to build strong video/audio skills as well as script-writing skills to keep everyone on message and on track. You also will need to develop your facilitation skills for any instructor-led training. As a trainer, your role could never be to know everything. Instead, you need to bring out the best in everyone around you, whether that be students or subject matter experts.


Sticking the landing

Looking back, our top lessons learned are simple. But simple and easy are two different things.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Your first deliverable must be eye opening, revolutionary, and executed as perfectly as humanly possible. However small it is, it needs to be dazzling.

That first deliverable will help you earn the credibility you need to change the world. Especially in a results-driven culture like sales, sales enablement successes provide you with the leeway and support you need to change the rules of the game.

Be ready to change and adapt instantly. That does not mean "don't plan anything." It means "plan the work, work the plan." Don't be emotionally attached to your own thinking.

After you have established your credibility, you can only deliver on constant change when you realize that "good enough" sometimes is good enough. When the business requires speed over glamour, deliver with speed without compromising your core guiding principles.

Facilitate, don't preach. There are many people on the team who are much smarter and knowledgeable than you are. They are not a threat; they are your allies if you treat and leverage them as such. Bring out the best in those around you.

In hindsight, there are a few things we would have done differently. First and foremost, we would have built a much closer partnership with sales management. Although many of our programs and deliverables were greatly appreciated by the individual sellers, they were rarely endorsed by sales management. The sales managers did not participate in many of the training sessions themselves, signaling to their teams that training was not a priority for them. And rightfully so, because the conversations about their goals and how sales enablement could help them achieve them were rare.

We also would have worked harder to keep ourselves on the leading edge. Once we achieved a measure of success, changes were incremental and generally "safe." Now that others have taken over some of the responsibilities we used to carry, the new approach they are implementing is as fresh and contagious as what we did just a few years ago. Apparently, sales enablement needs fresh blood every few years.

And finally, we would have demanded stronger adherence to adult learning principles. Many of the subject matter experts are comfortable delivering slides, slides, and more slides. Only a handful were courageous enough to make the transition to trainer by putting the activities first, supplying just enough information for students to complete the task through guided exploration, and prioritizing dialogue over prepared slides. Death by PowerPoint ended up being the most widely used delivery method not just in regular short training sessions, but also during events such as the sales kickoff. But when a change in sales leadership made a true activity-based sales kickoff possible, magic happened, signaling to us that maybe we could have been a little more persistent from the start.