For Litmus’ Head of Sales Enablement, Bill Peterson, sales training has shifted to weekly, just-in-time learning paths that everyone can plan ahead for - and that's led to improved completion rates.
Learn more about this and Bill’s take on all things enablement (including his DJ sets at a Litmus SKO event).
Q. Can you share a little bit about your sales enablement journey, and career background, and what's led up to your current role?
A. I was very lucky to start, and have 11 years, at Oracle. I think the size and the process that was already in place at a very large company gave me a really good foundation about how things should happen: communicating to a large audience, and coordinating larger events - a new hire class was a minimum of 36 folks, and some years we'd run around 30 sessions.
It also had a large program called The Class Of... that would happen twice a year as well, with around 500 college graduates.
So it was kind of nice to have that background in a large company, and then work my way to small - I went to Intuit after that. I was very interested in adding SaaS, as the cloud was becoming such an important part of how we do business in technology.
That gave me a really good insight into that side of the business, with a sales cycle that was a little bit shorter. It’s funny, because I remember landing there, and one night my wife asked me what was wrong, and I said, “Oh, my God, I think I went to the world's smallest company”, yet it was a 10,000 person company!
From there, I went to a small company called NetBrain. Oracle had exposed me to layer three through seven in the tech stack, and a little bit of layer one, and going to netbrain really gave me exposure to layer two and layer three, where the switches and routers in the network sit, so it kind of helped me piece together and get a bigger view of how the whole tech stack fits together.
From there I went to Globoforce, which is now called Workhuman, which was amazing because we're so tied into the HR community. That really helped me strengthen and understand the importance of working with HR, and the things that they bring as people leaders to the team, and having a very integrated approach there.
So that was a very interesting, important part of the journey with the focus on ‘thank yous' and creating a very positive work environment.
That helped me understand why we do things like engagement surveys, and seeing where people are at. It’s really given me good insight into understanding check-ins with new hires and career pathing.
Then I hit a point where I wanted to get back into some serious tech and went to Everbridge, where it was critical event management, which was interesting because it gave me a view into one of the few industries that was just starting to pivot to digital; to really see that kind of groundbreaking start to an industry and watch a company really grow and thrive with it, and then go public.
Now, here I am at Litmus, where enablement works very closely with marketing and product marketing. I really have that deep dive into where MQLs come from, and all the hard work that's behind it that feeds our team. So it's been a really fun journey that really has augmented and helped me in my sales enablement journey and career.
Q. If someone asked you “what is sales enablement?”, what would your definition be?
A. Whatever helps sales be successful, plain and simple.
Q. Where does sales enablement sit as a function? Is it part of the marketing team, the sales ops team, or HR?
A. I've sat in different places: I've been under the marketing umbrella, been under the ops umbrella, and been under sales itself as an umbrella. I find that ops seems to be the middle ground place for enablement to sit. I don't think there's any one real right or wrong.
But I do like the idea of operations, because of the fact that part of the job is helping operationalize the right way and understand the sales process. Making sense of the numbers and seeing what’s working.
Shout out to my sales ops team, who are amazing, and our data team as well - that data helps us shape and understand what’s happening, how prospects and customers are responding to what we're doing, and having that success. We also work very closely with marketing, and that's a very important part of it.
But I think it’s an operational job that ties to the numbers and making everyone successful.
Q. The success of the sales people is the ultimate measure of whether you're being successful as an enablement function.
Do you have a system for measuring specific sales enablement tasks, like number of training delivered, content that's been consumed, ramp time, and things that aren't directly tied to sales figures necessarily, but give an indication of whether your activities are having the desired impact?
A. Yeah, and we've been very lucky to have a company that supports us with getting the proper tools to do the job. So we do use a recording mechanism that allows us to coach, and talk with reps through calls. It's great, it gives us great scale to hit as many calls as possible. But also it gives us that ability to share snippets.
When someone's working on, for example, questioning techniques or setting really good upfront contracts, they can send that snippet to you. And you can get that listen, whether you're sales enablement or, or their team manager.
We also use a really good content management tool, which allows us to see who is touching what, and be able to leverage and push to the top things that are used the most.
It has a nice interface where we were able to work with our Customer Success Manager to set it up for the team to be able to use [content] based on the data, and see what’s being used the most. We also get that feedback from the team of what they’d like to hear and be able to leverage the tools that they want, and then also see the everyday metrics of MQL to SQL conversions.
Q. What has been the steepest learning curve or unexpected challenge since you’ve been at Litmus?
A. I think it's just consistency. Obviously, the year threw us for a curve, but it was all about finding out what works for us as a company. What are the best patterns? When should learning happen? How, and what method? Do we continue live? Do we leverage our learning management system more?
It's more a learning curve, not really a challenge, but just understanding what the way the team wants to function. We have a great BDR/LDR team, and then we have mid-market and enterprise teams, so [we needed to] accommodate the specific needs in each of those groups - and that's not always the easiest thing.
People are very comfortable with things that happened in the past. But with the change last March, it was about how do we accelerate, that yet keep everyone comfortable at the same time?
Q. How different does your day look now from how it might have looked before the pandemic?
A. No commute, I'm happy to say! But honestly, the structure really hasn't changed. In the first two months before, when we were going home for good for the time being we started really moving our learning to online, leveraging our learning management system, to have consistency in the content. And also to make sure we're creating reusable learning content, where to leverage it with new hires, and fill a gap where maybe something changed.
For example, for a new product release, we have that ability now to keep our learning evergreen, and reuse it across the board and keep our new hire learning paths very much up to date.
The biggest change, which was already in motion was shifting to weekly learning paths that are just-in-time learning, where we work with product marketing on what things are new. Or where there’s a competitive situation, or a new look at how people are leveraging our product better, or whatnot, as well as the soft skills.
All those particular things, we were able to push out in a weekly learning path. That gives everyone the time to fit it in their day, but also to go back and reuse it. We were heading that way already, and this just pushed it a little quicker.
And it's been met with good success. We have very high completion rates, and people make suggestions all the time. It's a two-way street where the sales reps and leaders are giving us ideas and things that they want in there.
But also, we're getting things from the other side, like product marketing. If we run out of space, we push things to the following week, but it's become the expected here of how training is going to happen.
Q. How have sales kick-offs (SKOs) been impacted? How do you recreate that feeling of excitement, when you can't all meet in the same room?
A. Sales kickoffs are a different animal altogether. We did our best to keep them, with chunks each day, spread out over two weeks. What we did is what I call “follow the bouncing ball”, following the sales cycle. So day one, we really focused on Litmus as a company, looking towards the coming year. We also looked at the martech industry that we're in, the trends and even how Covid is related to that, and then we spent the day on product.
The idea is, here's our roadmap, here's what's coming for the year. We had some really nice fireside chats with our product management team, which sort of changed the tempo; with everyone remote, it’s interactive, with multiple people talking, there wasn't one voice. It made it feel much more personal, even though it was over Zoom.
From there, we pivoted; we went to marketing about marketing it and building demand for the brand, and we have marketing give their updates and insights for the coming year. Then we went from there through the sales cycle. We had our BDR team give their update, we talked about the things that we need to do to get MQLs to be sales qualified and ready for the reps. And then we followed the sales cycle through to the end.
We did have some real fun things woven in: a friend of my daughter actually did a live Zoom concert from Las Vegas. Wow, really fun.
I DJ on the side, and every day, going in and out of breaks, we had a theme for a type of music, and I made mixes. So everyone was looking forward to that and making requests and things like that.
We had a wonderful keynote speaker - we had the first woman, Blackhawk helicopter pilot speak to the team, and an amazing wrap up and award ceremony with our CEO, Head of Sales and Head of Marketing, where we were all together as a unified go-to-market team. It was a fun two weeks, it was a lot of work and a lot of time invested by the reps. And it was a powerful program.
We started with the JFK moon speech, and really focused our theme around that idea of elevating your skills, elevating your career, elevating your knowledge of the product, elevating how you feel about the company and where we're going.
And just starting with that theme and then wrapping up with the first woman Blackhawk helicopter pilot, just made it feel almost like we were there, just without being in the uncomfortable chairs and the really cool lighting and staging; the idea was to keep it spread it out enough to be able to make it feel just the same.
Q. How do you see a sales enablement, in general terms, transforming over the next few years within businesses? Do you think that the pandemic will have an impact on this trajectory?
A. I think Covid was just an accelerant for a lot of the things that were already happening. Video, learning management systems and tools like that are important, I think it became even more so. I've been lucky in that the different places [I have worked in] were really large, and the only way to scale and to have consistent messaging was to record them and have them be shared.
It's not only just time zones and things like that, but I don't want to stand in the way of them doing their job - I don't want to put the brakes on them. I’d rather them have the ability to listen to it when they really want to. When they can pay attention, when they feel like it, this is the time I want to do this.
After [sellers have used video learning], you can set up what I call an ‘open office hour ‘or a Q&A session, where you can spend the valuable time we have face-to-face, talking through stuff and getting a better and deeper understanding.
I feel like those live meetings start with a foot forward because they've had their, in sales terms ‘up-phone contract’, from the video. Now we get to the office hour or the Q&A with the subject matter expert, the questions, and the value of that session is taken much further.
Q. What piece of one piece of advice would you give to someone who may be looking to transition their career into sales enablement? What would be the advice that you wish someone had given to you at the beginning of your career?
A. I would say really focus; it's about the other person - much like in sales, right? I really want my sales folks and BDRs to understand sales is about the customer.
Being in sales enablement is not about being the great rep or manager anymore. It's about meeting someone on their level, and really understanding, “how can I enable you to be better?” and everyone's version of better is different.
Some people are great at questioning and maybe struggle somewhere else. Maybe someone's a great presenter. I really think: look for everyone's strength, and take advantage of that.
It's not about you how you did things. It's really understanding and helping that other person bring out the best in them. And I think that's really, really powerful to understand.