What is Sales Enablement? with Howard Brown

In today’s episode, my friend Howard Brown (Founder and CEO of ringDNA) stops by to help answer the question, “What is sales enablement?”

Watch the Teaser

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Welcome to the Sales Enablement podcast. Hi, friends, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Let’s get into it. Joining me on this first episode on the newly renamed Accelerate, which is actually now newly named the Sales Enablement podcast is Howard Brown. Howard is the founder and CEO of ringDNA. And I’m pleased to announce that the Sales Enablement podcast is brought to you by ringDNA. And it’s only been with their generous support that we’ve been able to make this all happen. And so Howard, welcome to the show.

Howard Brown: Welcome to you, Andy. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Andy Paul: So we’re sort of launching this rebranded Accelerate the Sales Enablement podcast, in the teeth of the COVID-19 crisis. So how is how’s the team at ringDNA handling this.

Howard Brown: As well as can be expected. I think that RingDNA was really at its core an application that allowed remote teams to do their job and to do it as effectively as possible. Having said that, there’s a lot of energy at ringDNA when we’re within our walls and there’s a lot of excitement on a daily basis, a lot of collaboration, the those pieces while they’re not gone, certain components of them are sorely missed as you don’t have a whiteboard, you don’t have the opportunity to just walk over to somebody else’s desk and start riffing. So this has definitely changed the culture in some ways. We certainly have a collaborative culture. However, I think we’re in a much better situation than most and for that I’m incredibly grateful for the entire team.

Andy Paul: People have asked me about the statement that they thought this was the new normal or what did I think what happened when this was done and, and maybe riffing off what you just said is, is, I feel people are gonna be anxious to get back to the office and work with people when no one wants this to be the new normal.

Howard Brown  6:28  

Yeah, I tend to agree, I think that there will be a phased approach to it. Certainly people who have compromised immunities, maybe scared to go back into the office and collaborate with others face to face. But yeah, in businesses where people actually enjoy working with one another, where they enjoy meeting with our customers and prospects right where they can build on the energy of work. Working with others, I think people are clamoring to get back.

Andy Paul: I agree. And I think the point you made before about just feeding off the energy, especially in a sales situation, right, feeding off the energy of everybody that’s there on the sales floor, ringing the bell when orders come in, and so on. I think people want to get back though.

Howard Brown: Yeah. And don’t get me wrong. I do think that we have proven that sales. Remote sales is possible with the technologies that exist today. I think that in communities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, where people are commuting for hours at a time, the idea of working occasionally from your home, or home office makes a lot of sense. Well, there’s a lot more to be revealed.

Andy Paul: I agree. I don’t think we know exactly what’s gonna be the situation after this is done. It’s gonna take a while for people to sort of feel comfortable certainly in big group settings right. to reconvene, like sporting events and so on, it’s hard to serve even foresee I mean, just looking at the behavior of people on the streets in New York. We turn our backs on people when you’re in a very friendly place, actually on the sidewalks and it’s really weird to see people turning their backs as people walk by and so on. It’s interesting to think about how that’s going to change back.

Howard Brown: Yeah, I feel like as a society, we’re going through a shared PTSD experience and, and unfortunately, the outcome of that joint to PTSD may be something that looks a lot like a joint OCD condition where we all are so afraid of germs and touching and being near each other for quite some while that we’re going to have to work through it. The challenges that they face with a variety of techniques and therapies and that sort of thing. I think it’s going to resonate throughout our society for some time.

Andy Paul: Now, I was just reading something this morning about the various contributors talking about is the handshake gone? Well, so, last point on this before we don’t dwell on this too much as is. So what are you hearing from your customers?

Howard Brown: It very much depends on which customers we have. We’re fortunate enough to have a wide swath of customers that represent different verticals, different sizes of their organizations. We have companies that are absolutely thriving through this period, specifically, companies in health care, medical field companies, food industry, and we have other companies that are really struggling because their offerings are simply not relevant during this COVID crisis. So, companies, for example, that do events, live events. There’s certainly no live events. I think everybody on this podcast can probably relate to having to cancel a sales event or gathering or postponing it’s simply not happening. So there’s those sorts of organizations where we see companies that are in the restaurant business that absolutely are getting crushed, or we have several customers that are in real estate. Certainly real estate today is not thriving. And so we’re seeing customers that are struggling. However, across the entire customer base, we’re seeing greater utilization of ringDNA;s platform, a stronger base of supervisors and sales leaders who are utilizing the tool to do more coaching, more oversight, have better visibility into what their remote teams and team members are doing. So I think it’s certainly an inflection point for ringDNA and our go to market and growth in that we’re able to prove the value prop of ringDNA in a way because it’s forced to manage Field Sales Reps. More like an inside sales rep inside sales teams are not in the office. You have less visibility, less of that energy, less of that excitement, less opportunity to train and mentor them to provide guidance. And that’s where our tool simply simply helps teams win. So I think in general, this is a great moment in time for ringDNA. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s forced upon all of us and, and not something we celebrate, but certainly something we recognize as as one of those inflection moments. 

Andy Paul: Yeah, that all makes a ton of sense. Well, I mean, along those lines, because we’re talking about, you know, some transitions for people and about enabling some new capabilities for people. I mean, this show was now the Sales Enablement podcast. One of the topics we want to talk about is there seems to be many definitions of what sales enablement is. The first question is, you know, are we just putting a new name on an old problem? I mean, sellers have always had to be enabled, right? I mean, they’ve always had coaching and training and content, you know, sellers need content to sell ads, or something different afoot.

Howard Brown: Well, there’s always something new afoot. And I’ll tell you when we were discussing, and we’ve had a few really interesting conversations around the title of this podcast and it’s been fun and stimulating one of the things I thought about was the idea of sales enablement, as opposed to buyer enablement. Because I think in many ways a salesman job is to really enable buyers, right? How do we help customers buy as opposed to confusing them? How can we improve sales effectiveness and because so much of the buyers journey has changed. We really need to pay greater attention to what buyers are doing and what buyers needs are and aligning our sales methodology, our sales approach, our opportunities to really influence that decision maker has. And so putting the right metrics analytics in place to understand where we can actually influence that purchase decision across B2B purchases in particular, is more of the art and science now of sales enablement.

Andy Paul: I agree. You’re focusing it down to sort of these. I always look at sales as sort of a series of moments, right, any sort of interaction with the buyer or I’ll say buying experience from start to finish a series of moments and, someone to the talk about naval in the past, at least for me has always served at this macro level. Where I think falling apart, you’re saying, if I understood what you’re saying correctly is, it’s like we really have to enable people in those moments and be able to measure the effectiveness of those moments. And then one of the key measures of the effectiveness is, to those moments have any value to the buyer. And I think that gets lost, right? I think that we’re so concerned about processes and systems and so on. But at the heart of it, I think we really have to enable sellers to be able to say, Yeah, I need to have a solid. That’s our borrowed term from Gartner, they talk about knowledge base to sales interaction. That has value for the buyer. And if it doesn’t have value for the buyer, then we failed 100%.

Howard Brown: And I think that right how to create an engagement strategy that will improve the buyers confidence in their decision throughout that sales process. You know, making sure we get them the right information that’s specific to their buying activity. So if we model and understand the persona, and we understand the various questions that will come up and why they’re in need. I think it’s critical. And so how do we implement a content strategy, for example, that focuses on helping buyers evaluate the right information throughout their purchasing cycle? How do we align sellers with the knowledge? That information is applicable to the buyers sale stage requirements. How do we provide the right tools to make sellers present things that are contextual whether it’s in conversation or email or content, so that they can help their prospects or customers through this process, because ultimately, you have to build trust. Very few buyers today feel their vendors are trustworthy. And so I think there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Andy Paul: I tend to take it down to that individual level really quickly. And because to me those series of human interactions are going to drive everything you’re talking about. You know, the perception of trustworthiness, the perception of value that the buyers feel they’re receiving from the seller, as well as the company. And you’re talking about providing content but it seems like we have to find a way in this world to enable. Better, more deeper, let’s say business activity on the part of sellers so they understand the context or in the moment, because we can give them all the tools in the world but they’re gonna run into something different every time they sell to someone. How do we enable them to have that accurate understanding, that breadth of understanding, the context in order to respond appropriately in a way that has value for the buyer that moves the progress process forward?

Howard Brown: Yeah, and it’s something you and I have spent a great deal of time discussing. It’s it’s hard to teach somebody. Business acumen, sales acumen, the ability to interview and ask questions, technology acumen, all at the same time. And depending on where a sales rep is in their own career, it very much differs, right? So figuring out how to create continuous education. Training paths and micro learning moments to educate our reps. At the same time, we do have to educate our trainers, because teaching people how to coach is just as important as teaching people how to sell. We can’t expect our reps to just go out there and do a great job if they don’t have coaches or trainers who also don’t know how to provide those learning moments who also don’t know how to manage the process themselves. And I think that a lot of times we’ve taken sales reps and turned them into sales leaders, and quite frankly, they don’t know how to coach and they don’t know how to train. They haven’t been trained on those skills. So creating continuous education processes, training paths, micro learning just in time learning. Having opportunities for role play, quizzes, assessments, all these things that will allow both managers and reps the ability to hone their skills is critical.

Andy Paul: Yeah, one of the reasons that we changed the name of Accelerate to Sales Enablement podcast, because there are all these areas that you pointed out that we need to enable people to be able to perform at higher levels. And it seems like this is something that’s generally missing is because we assume to some degree that our sales leaders or managers; since we promote them, therefore, they must have this knowledge about how to coach performance, how to make people or help people get better. And then they haven’t been enabled with that. And that’s one of the things we’re trying to move along with the show. How do we enable achievement, how do we enable performance, and there’s lots of fields with highly trained professionals that are being coached in the US. And it’s something that we haven’t picked up enough in sales.

Howard Brown: I love the fact that you’re focused on sales enablement as a movement because I think it really encompasses several key aspects of the buyer journey in the sales and matching that buyer’s journey to the sales process. It’s customer facing sales, which is really sales content which is used to educate prospective or existing customers. To encourage purchases or assist buyer decision making process right there, the internal knowledge transfer, sales and marketing content thing can then be used to convey new product information or new sales skills there on seller onboarding. How do you initially train your new hires? There’s sales coaching, right? Live and practice pitches. You can record them; you could use conversation analytics, peer to peer manager to peer selling all of these methodologies to help really hone in train reps. There’s continuous education. There’s inside sales reps in their process, which is around engagement and first call pitches and business acumen and asking great questions and discovering pain. There are so many different aspects now of sales enablement that’s so rich and so relevant to the buying process today.

Andy Paul: So one question and a sort of play on your training as a clinical psychologist is, I was having this discussion with somebody last week as the interview for the show, is how much can we reasonably expect individual sellers to enable themselves, right? We talk about continuous learning, active learning, continuous development, personal development, how much can we reasonably expect the individual to really invest in as a matter of how we make these opportunities to enable themselves available? Or is it? Yeah, this person I was talking to was saying, look, once we get people trained, you know, we’re being unrealistic and expecting people to ever get much better. And you know, that didn’t strike me as something I want to accept. I’m just interested in your ideas on that.

Howard Brown: Well, looking at you, you were an incredible sales rep in your own right. And one of the things I find to be true with most amazing sales reps is they have a constant thirst for knowledge. They have an intellectual curiosity. They have a drive to always succeed and do better and so if you are looking across your teams, and you have those that are simply trained onboarded and ready to go, that’s the extent of it. Those are probably people you want to eventually give back to the community. I want a team of people who are constantly learning, who are interested in the craft and the science of selling and who want to constantly be helpful to others who have a thirst for connection. Those are the type of people that I want on my team.

Andy Paul: Well, and so here’s another question along the same lines, there are sales managers of various types and various personality types. They create the environment because what sellers want to be able to feel is that they’re doing their jobs well, that they’re good at what they do. Everyone doesn’t have to be a superstar, right? And they want to think that they can improve. And I wonder whether we have gotten into this mode where we’re just not encouraging that right. We’re so focused on perhaps activity metrics and other things that, you know, dividing people into A players, B players, C players, someone that doesn’t encourage people to either feel good about their doing or feel that they can improve.

Howard Brown: Yeah, I think the latter though, the worst thing you can do to a person is rob them of hope. We all have to strive to be our better selves to improve. I think that’s what keeps me going and you know, you want sales trainers, sales coaches, mentors, who enable us to be better, who give us tools to improve on a daily basis, who provide us feedback, constructive feedback that helps us grow. Opportunities to enrich our experience there by providing a better, richer experience to those customers that we’re talking to. So the job of a great coach, mentor, teacher is to really show someone their own potential, and to help them drive towards that. I think we’ve all had coaches or teachers that have made a massive impact in our lives. And typically it was because they had that moment in time where they heard us. They felt what we were going through, and they provided some direction. And they showed us what’s possible. And I think those are the type of coaches, trainers, teachers that we should all aspire to be. And in doing so will create great sales reps, great salespeople, great team players.

Andy Paul: And even if that happens to some extent that you’re not adhering to the process, right? Precisely because that seems like one of the things I’ve seen in multiple sales organizations over the last 10/15 years, there’s this growing reluctance to let people sort of you know, find the best path for themselves. We tend to be more rigid and allow people to comply with the process and I think that’s really down to the manager. We have to let people know that path where they can succeed to the best of their abilities.

Howard Brown: That’s balance, right. And I think we see that in professional sports sometimes when talking to a Dodger fan here, you pull out your reliever because that’s what the analytics tell you, you should be doing. And unfortunately, you pull someone in and the momentum is gone. And you end up losing the World Series. Now, that’s a very dramatic example. But I think in some ways, we take our analytics, we take our predictive models, and we assume that it’s the only way to get to our end state or preferred end state and unfortunately, it removes the human complexity. It removes the individuality. It removes the context of the moment. You know that any model is just that it’s a model. I think that’s one thing that we’ve learned through this COVID-19 is there’s a lot of models and models are inherently incorrect, meaning they don’t always work. You’re trying to actually prove the model is inaccurate and to what degree and that’s where humans are so incredible, right on a daily basis. If we study human beings, they constantly surpass our expectations. They’re constantly surprising us. And how do we set up an organization that allows for that creativity. Sure you want to eliminate mundane tasks, you want to provide predictive recommendations right to be helpful. You want to give people more information that will make them more effective, but you don’t want to remove the humaneness. That’s the cost. Constant discussion around artificial intelligence, how can we provide artificial intelligence that will make people more human and not take away the humaneness? The ability to sense and feel emotions and read the situation. How do we provide insight without taking away our humanity?

Andy Paul: I think that’s an exciting future personally. Because I think one of the things that we see is that there’ll be a certain portion of the sales cadre that will say, well, if I can have AI, do that bit forming then I’ll let it as opposed to saying yeah, I’m going to use it to make me better. So I think it would be interesting to see how that all unfolds. So one last thing I want to dive into is, a little bit of a topic on AI. But one of your passions is conversationalism. Let’s say, I hope I’m not creating a new word there. I talked before about sales as a series of moments, those moments are conversations. So how we have to make those more effective, we have to have better outcomes of those. What do you think is really the key for us to be able to, again, create sellers that are more proficient in those moments?

Howard Brown: It’s a really important question. And I think it strikes at the very answer you’re looking for, which is the questions we ask. Conversations really are about building rapport, asking great questions. Getting people to open up and understand the situation that people are in. Provide context. There is a level of emotional intelligence, which means you have to be situationally aware. There are basic techniques to conversations that make people, some people more productive than others. The fact of the matter is that you have run a very successful podcast because you have the ability to get your guests to open up and do that by asking great questions and providing insight where appropriate, and you do a lot of listening. That is the same technique that you would utilize if you’re a therapist, if you’re a sales rep, if you’re a father to your children, or if you’re a spouse to your loved one, the ability to actually listen, ask questions and provide your own experience, in my, in my experience is what leads to the best conversations and typically the best outcomes. 

Andy Paul: And I think that the big part of that which we are going to stress increasingly in my writing and so on is this idea about the value of understanding, we don’t want to make presumptions about. Just because we have a well defined persona of a buyer, we can’t take any of that for granted that this is the way they feel, this is the reason they feel that way, is that the customer knowing that we understand their situation is a huge source of value for them. We talked about, creating value and delivering value to buyers. But what’s not talked about enough is how much understanding is a source of value and a source of trust. And I think it just gets overlooked and something we want to continue to emphasize.

Howard Brown:  We all have this feeling that we need to be understood. And we spend too much of the time trying to make others understand us. If we flip that, too, we know that the one basic human need is to be understood. And we spend more time trying to understand others that will help them see the value in us.

Andy Paul: All right, Howard. Fantastic conversation. Brief, but unfortunately we ran out of time for today. But I want to thank you for joining us here on our debut episode of the Sales Enablement podcast.

Howard Brown: Well, I couldn’t be more excited. And I look forward to spending more time with you Andy and I and I wish you All this success with the new sales enablement podcast.

Andy Paul: So thank you for joining us. And I look forward to having you join us next time on Sales Enablement.