How Avalara transformed its enablement and onboarding program to scale
His five-level process for onboarding and certifying new sales hires, and
How Avalara has structured its five unique sales teams while maintaining the same corporate look and feel
to hear how Marcouiller manages the challenges of scaling and enabling five leading sales teams at once.
To download or subscribe to the Sales Excellence podcast login to Soundcloud or find it here.
“Sales enablement is the foundation pillar, saw sharpener and keeper of the flame.”
That’s how Chuck Marcouiller views his role as Director of Sales Learning at Avalara. With a sales force of 325 people scattered across 5 countries and numerous cities, Avalara has managed to achieve scale and maintain enviable growth rates of between 40 – 60% year on year.
“My role is to ensure that each member of the sales team has the foundational skills when they come on board, and then and as they progress they continue to sharpen their skills weekly and make sure that they stay grounded in our strong corporate culture,” explains Marcouiller. “Managing five different sales forces, each unique with their different skill sets and different needs, yet trying to get them to look and feel as if they’re one Avalara, gets to be a bit of a challenge.”
“For us sales excellence really is having a marketplace leading highly capable sales force, creating customers at a rate that meets or exceeds our growth plan. And sales enablement is providing the training and tools that meet the salesforce’ needs to meet the needs of our customers and adapt to the ever-changing marketplace dynamic.”
How Nutanix prepares their channel partners for success
What is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful channel program, and
How to set benchmarks and measure the performance of a channel program
to hear how Morales and Nutanix have successfully enabled their channel partners and find out how you can apply these best practices to rapidly grow revenue from your channel partners as well.
To download or subscribe to the Sales Excellence podcast login to Soundcloud or find it here.
“A good channel program is one of the fastest and most effective ways of scaling the sales motion of any company.”
Joan Morales would know, he’s responsible for partner and channel marketing at Nutanix, a company that grew its revenue by 85% to $190.5 million in the first half of its fiscal 2016. Morales is an expert in identifying channel partner needs, quantifying the business opportunity and then bringing them to life through effective channel marketing and enablement strategies.
“I see channel re-sellers as basically an extension of our sales efforts. They are part of our sales network and a very trustworthy and effective and efficient way for us to reach all the clients we need to reach as we grow as a company,” ” explained Morales. “We treat them with the same care, respect, and passion that we have for our own sales organization.”
Why it’s important to share tribal sales knowledge
What sales excellence means
Who will benefit from these insights, and
Why it’s time for the sales culture to change
to hear Mohit Garg explain what you can expect from the Sales Excellence podcast.
In today’s world, marketing has become a highly scientific and data-driven discipline, but many sales organizations continue to rely primarily on tribal knowledge and informal processes. There’s a huge opportunity to harness this tribal knowledge and leverage the experience of those who have been successful in building a culture of sales excellence.
We’ve been fortunate enough to work with and learn from some of the best in the business, and now we want to share this knowledge with the wider sales and enablement community. The Sales Excellence podcast will bring together this tribal knowledge on people, processes, and technology and codify it for the broader sales ecosystem to leverage.
In our first episode, our co-founder and CRO Mohit Garg talks about what Sales Excellence means to him, “It’s about consistently delivering a positive customer experience externally whilst also building a strong sales culture internally. It’s about not just achieving success by closing more deals, but also consistently demonstrating excellence in how you conduct customer conversations, in your sales processes and your enablement function.”
Every month we’ll talk to guests who have been successful in building a culture of sales excellence and find out how their business has used sales enablement as a driver of revenue and value. Their insights, best practices, and learnings will uncover new ways you can create a culture of sales excellence and provide you with ideas on how to equip your sales organization with processes that are scalable and sustainable.
On-the-job training and continuous professional development is a critical aspect of any sales development rep’s role within an organization. Ongoing training provides many benefits, including updated best practices and strategy, improved messaging, new prospecting methods, and ensured adoption of the latest tools and technologies to assist in the sales process.
Regardless of how savvy your sales development reps appear on the job, even your sales vets can benefit from revisiting skill training and building on their foundation of learning and understanding. We asked our own internal team of sales development reps at QuotaFactory where they felt they could benefit from additional training and found there were 5 key areas for sales development managers to focus their ongoing training efforts on:
1. The role of role play
It is natural for SDRs to experience call reluctance, especially when every phone call can be slightly different than the last. The sales development rep that frequently projects anxiety over picking up the phone and tends to rely heavily on email needs a confidence boost and perhaps, more phone training.
Solution: Improvising on a phone call is a skill that will come with time and practice. The best solution is to use role play. SDRs should role play with their manager as well as their peers. Assign each participant a different “persona” to challenge the SDR to adapt to new calling scenarios so they become more comfortable with the process.
Tip: Mindtickle has a role-play feature in which you can create real-life scenarios for your SDRs to train and also allows you to give them specific constructive feedback.
2. Keep employee morale up
Using the phone to prospect inevitably means dealing with a variety of personalities on a daily basis. Therefore, SDRs must hone their ability to control their emotional response in any given situation. Every day, SDRs must control their aggravation with rude or condescending prospects and must be able to rise above negativity to remain positive for the next dial and conversation. Mastering positivity goes hand in hand with learning how to manage patience when it comes to reaching the metrics required of every SDR. It can be tough to maintain enthusiasm when effort doesn’t match results.
Solution: As a sales development manager, you must be the outlet for your SDRs. Maintain a healthy relationship with them and let them know your door is always open. Talking through negative conversations can be just as beneficial as learning from the good ones. Also, it’s important that your SDRs take small incremental breaks from the phone whether it be to take a lap around the office, play a game of ping pong, or walk outside for a breather. This helps retain their patience and resets their positivity for future calls.
3. Skills that can be mastered off the phone
SDRs have a lot less live conversations than they do dials on their report. This means that there is added pressure to make every live conversation count. Pressure equals nerves.
Solution: Practice and rework messaging strategies. Review objection handling, one-sentence “what we do” statements and key questions to ask to uncover pain points and maintain conversations. Continue with this practice until the rep’s tone of voice is even, the pace of conversation is moderate, and they can easily direct the conversation.
4. A well-documented and accessible playbook
We’ve all heard the statistic; salespeople spend way too much time on administrative tasks. Maintaining an effective and efficient daily schedule while also keeping track of accounts, call plans, and data can be overwhelming without a clearly defined process in place.
Solution: Daily structure is something your SDRs will need constant help with. Create and provide easy access to a sales playbook to define best practices. Try to automate and streamline this process for your entire team and keep all of the materials in a local place like within the Mindtickle platform.
5.Keep reminders handy
Handling an objection plus the added complication of nerves can result in some pretty quick talking. SDRs must master the skill of controlling the speed of their speech, no matter how badly the prospect on the other end of the line throws them off their game.
Solution: This is an important skill that can be acquired over time. Try posting a sticky note with the reminder to “SPEAK SLOWLY” on the SDRs computer screen. One-way call recording is also an effective training method, some reps may be surprised as to what they hear. The first step to fixing a problem is understanding and acknowledging the issue.
For growing companies that have pursued a targeted or global channel strategy, there comes a point in time when they have to look at how to align their internal sales enablement and their channel partner enablement strategies. Speaking to many customers who are facing this challenge, there’s no silver bullet that magically brings the two together, and surprisingly some didn’t actually think it was necessary to align the two closely at all.
After all the two functions are run as separate initiatives. Separate teams, separate accountabilities and their own unique problems. However, as we work closely with many sales enablement and partner enablement teams, I’ve found that there are some good opportunities for businesses to leverage synergies between the two departments.
As both sales and channel partner teams are trying to get sales reps ready to sell, there are natural areas where their needs overlap. But the level of control and relationship between an internal sales team and a channel partner team are markedly different. Channel partner reps’ motivations for selling your product differ and their go-to-market models are certainly not the same. This means the approach to enablement also needs to differ.
But there are similarities in terms of the type of customer conversations each needs to have in order to sell your product, and of course, they need to understand what they’re selling. These similarities make onboarding a good place to start looking for opportunities for synergies between your two enablement programs.
Leverage similarities in onboarding programs
By leveraging existing onboarding programs created for your internal sales teams many of our customers have been able to exploit the similarities across the two channels; saving time and significant cost in the process. The key is knowing how to differentiate between the programs so that they are suitable for their audience.
For example, a recommended framework for channel partner onboarding could follow the same base plan. While your internal sales reps have a
30, 60 and 90-day plan
, you could structure it as a tiered program for your channel partner reps. Not all your channel partners want to go through a full-blown onboarding program, and that’s why you have tiered program. A premium partner would go through all three tiers. Each rep could graduate to a new level of responsibility after completing each certification (or tier).
Just like your internal onboarding program is aligned in your CRM, you could use your partner relationship management platform (PRM) to structure your tiers.
While the first two points address the issue of time and cost, the third one highlights a particular difference between internal sales onboarding and channel partner onboarding. While you measure engagement metrics for internal sales reps, they may not apply to your channel partner reps. After all, their motivations to learn and sell your product may be entirely different and influencing them largely out of your control.
Customize where appropriate
A few of the customers I spoke to have found that a standardized approach to onboarding isn’t always the best way to motivate channel partner reps, but this is really dependent on the type and mix of channel partners that they had. For example, one business has a channel partner who, in their own right, has a significant presence and personality in the market. They felt that this warranted them creating an exclusive partner enablement environment for their reps. They injected it with their channel partner’s brand personality and aligned it with other training that they implemented. This, in turn, engages their channel partner reps and helped get them ramped up quickly.
Differentiation is sometimes necessary
While enablement initiatives can be leveraged for channel partners, there are certain initiatives that many felt required differentiation. One such area is when it comes to providing talking points for your channel partner reps. Particularly for your Type 1 and 2 reps, this is a key way to engage and keep them motivated to sell your product. Talking points may be in the form of success stories that give them ideas on new ways to sell your product or new product feature launches that provide an interesting value addition to your product.
For Type 3 channel partner reps it is essential to their continued success that they are enabled in the same way your internal sales reps are. Each product update or change in the competitive landscape can make the difference between closing the sale or not, so they need to be enablement needs are more involved for ongoing readiness.
Coaching is another area where enablement initiatives are more difficult to leverage for Type 1 and 2 channel partners. This is because it isn’t always practical for these channel partner reps to get to the level of detail required to invest in video certifications for example. Some either omitted this completely, while those with Type 1 channel partners who have more sophisticated tiered programs added this into their program.
Enablement must benefit the users
While it is possible to align your sales and channel partner enablement efforts, the key takeaway I had from my discussions was that it was always necessary to remember who your audience is and what they need when designing enablement initiatives. With this in mind it is possible to leverage existing material, but inevitably there will be differences that need to be accommodated. After all, your endgame is to sell more, and the better equipped your channel partner reps are to do this the higher your chance of success.
We’ve been growing our sales team rapidly to generate exponential revenue growth.
My colleague and I are responsible for Sales Enablement at Mindtickle and we’ve been charged with the challenge of onboarding of our new sales reps over the coming months. As we’re both relatively new to this role, it’s a rather daunting task.
The key items we’re focused on are
Ensuring the sales readiness of our new reps as a matter of urgency
Ensuring our onboarding and enablement programs are robust enough to facilitate ongoing growth
Developing and executing a strategy that ensures our new hires are productive at the earliest possible time… or sooner.
One of the advantages of working at Mindtickle is that we have the opportunity to learn from the best sales enablement professionals in the business, as many are our clients. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity we spoke to sales enablement pros like Cherise Chin, Tom Levey, Tracy Meersman, Pete Childers and learned how they went about designing their world-class programs.
They each had some interesting suggestions about how to put together and implement an onboarding plan, the high-level takeaways that we had were:
Each of them reinforced that their single biggestobjective was to prepare their reps for the moment of truth. In a rapidly changing environment reps can’t afford to miss an interaction or opportunity to sell. So the moment of truth can be any time they have an opportunity to accelerate their sales. What became obvious from our discussions was that the moment of truth was different depending on the team. For some, it was when an SDR made a cold call. For others, it was when their account executive uncovered a deep pain point of a customer. In other situations, could be when a solution architect presents an innovative solution for improving the business process of a prospect. Identifying when the moments of truth were for our sales team was the first step.
Once we understood our moments of truth it was necessary to solve for them. So when we spoke to our leadership team, our discussions were now elevated to a new level. Rather than talking about content and process, we were brainstorming how our onboarding program should look in order to create a culture of sales excellence. Irrespective of the outcome, we want every prospect who speaks to a Mindtickle sales rep to have an experience that leaves them thinking our reps are awesome. It’s our job to prepare them for this.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a need to look at onboarding from a very functional level. Our reps need to understand and appreciate the typical customer pain points, how to solve for them, our product, sales process and case studies for example. But by focusing on the bigger picture, we could approach our onboarding from a different perspective.
So with this in mind, here’s how we approached our onboarding program.
Week 1: Vision Readiness
The objective this week was to bring our new reps into our overall vision for the business and where sales fit in.
This was about addressing the Why and What of Mindtickle to our customers.
Why does Mindtickle exist?
Why do our customers love us?
Why do our customers face sales readiness’ challenges?
Why do our customers need our product to address these challenges?
What problem do we solve for our customers?
What value do we add to our customers?
What specific Mindtickle features add the most value?
The first thing we did was speak to key stakeholders from within our business, such as Product, Customer Success and of course Sales and Marketing. We then allocated topics to each and asked them to create relevant sales missions on Mindtickle. For example, our CEO Krishna Depura created sales missions on our Corporate Values and Company Background. Customer Success created some product use cases and our marketing team completed the missions on buyer personas.
Co-ordinating people is no easy task, so we used the messaging functionality on Mindtickle to appoint each individual to record their pitches on the sales mission. This helped keep our project on track. And by crowdsourcing the content we were able to create about 20 sales missions in under 90 minutes. Thanks to the reminder functionality it took just a couple of days for all the videos to be created for week one of the onboarding program. In just another 30 minutes of my time, the sales missions were organized and ready for a new hire. This covered a large range of content that new hires would need to know about our business, customers, and product.
Once the new hires started to join they each were invited to complete the onboarding program. Using the Mindtickle analytics dashboard we were able to go in and see who had completed the program, how they had performed, what badges they’d earned and whether they struggled with any of the content.
Week 2: Product readiness
This week we honed in on the specific aspects of our product that work and how they are used by our customers. Following a similar process to week one, we got in touch with our Product and Customer Success teams to create sales missions covering The How.
How does our product work?
How do sales enablement professionals use Mindtickle?
How do sales reps use Mindtickle?
How do sales managers use Mindtickle?
Within a couple of days, we had a treasure trove of content to ensure our new reps were product-ready. We anticipate iterating this process regularly as this module will continuously evolve as our Customer Success team keeps discovering new ways that our customers use Mindtickle to solve for their specific moments of truth.
Week 3: Sales Readiness
Being sales ready for our product is ensuring that our reps can handle any conversation. So it isn’t about developing a standard pitch that they use verbatim, but rather learning how to pitch for different scenarios.
How do you make an elevator pitch?
How do you pitch for existing and new use cases?
When creating content for this week, the focus was on practice rather than listening to missions and completing quizzes. For example, for our new SDRs we created seven different scenarios for them to practice and become certified in.
At the end of the three weeks, our reps were then certified and ready to start putting what they’d learned into practice. But this didn’t mean they were onboarded yet, there’s still a way to go before they’re productive. We’ll share more detail about our onboarding plan in our next post.
We know how important it is to measure the readiness our sales reps and the impact enablement initiatives have had on their ability to perform at the moment of truth, but how does it differ when you’re managing channel partners? In my customer conversations recently I’ve been speaking to channel partner managers to find out how they ensure their partners are ready to sell and how they track their own partner enablement initiatives.
[Tweet “How do the best in the business ensure their channel partners are ready to sell?”]
When you consider partner enablement there are some important questions that need to be asked and answered. I found a very useful summary of the relevant questions here, and have replicated it below.
While there were some differences, depending on whether their business had an exclusive, targeted or global channel partner strategy, overall I identified three levels of how they measured their channel partners.
[Tweet “There are three levels to measuring the effectiveness of your channel partners”]
1. Partner onboarding completion rate
The first metric that each customer looked at closely was how many of their channel partner’s reps actually finished their onboarding program. This was considered by all to be a good indicator of engagement levels, but most looked at it in terms of the type of partners that they had.
For those channel partner reps who are at Level 3 or have even committed some reps to sell solely their product, they found that their completion rates were often higher. This is because they had the most skin in the game and a lot more to lose if they weren’t doing well. Getting their reps’ onboarding right was step one in this process. For those who didn’t have exclusive reps but had many reps who were at Level 2, they’ve shown commitment and want to move up the ladder. So if their engagement levels aren’t doing well then many found it effective to let their channel manager know so that they could try to rectify the situation. While those who had many channel partner reps who were only at Level 1, many saw any sales of their product as just opportunistic, so when they found that their reps had low engagement levels it was unlikely that this would improve.
2. Partner certification rate
Once the onboarding is completed it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reps were ready to sell. To check that they were on message and understood the sales process many also had a certification. This meant that their channel partner reps’ completed a certification program.
Completing the certification successfully gave the channel partner managers demonstrates that the channel partner reps were ready to get out there and sell. Some even used it as a tool to reward their channel partners, allocating more responsibility or marketing funds to help them sell their product. It also allowed them to identify areas where there may be knowledge gaps or where the onboarding program could be improved in the future, thereby contributing to future enablement initiatives.
3. Correlation of channel partner’s KPIs with performance
Each channel partner manager set certain KPIs for their channel partners. These were aligned to their business objectives, whether it be the level of penetration into a new market or a quota for the number of qualified leads generated.
In order to ensure these KPIs were being achieved, each customer found it helpful to measure them against their enablement initiatives.
For example, one business, that had a global channel partner strategy, would look closely at the number of certified channel partner reps in each target region or industry to determine if their overall channel partner strategy was working. If there was a low level of penetration amongst those channel partners then they would look at finding new partners in that region to expand their potential reach.
While this may work when your organization has hundreds or even thousands of channel partners, it’s not possible to just find another partner if you have an exclusive or even targeted channel partner strategy. For those businesses, they would still correlate their KPIs with performance, but would then look at ways to improve the performance of their existing channel partners first rather than seeking out new ways. This meant that data on knowledge gaps and where engagement levels waned became more important.
Continuously improve your process
Regardless of their channel partner strategy, each customer believed that looking internally was important. Each set-aside time regularly, quarterly or bi-annually, to continuously question, analyze and improve their process.
In this process, each channel partner manager looked at a range of data points including onboarding and certification. For example, one looked at how many of their channel partner’s reps were accessing their monthly updates. Others analyzed what content was being referred to the most. This helped them identify what content was most useful so that they could improve their enablement initiatives.
Ask for what they want
Another method that some of the channel partner managers found very useful was to simply ask their partner reps. For example a couple of times a year you could survey or poll your channel partner reps to obtain feedback and encourage them to share ideas on how the process could be improved. This communication not only proved quite helpful but also increased the level of engagement of channel partner reps had with their product, as they could see they were willing to listen.
[Tweet “Measure the performance of your channel partners by aligning them with your business objectives”]
Regardless of the type of channel partner strategy, you have in place, measuring the performance of your channel partners is about aligning them with your business objectives.
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