Episode 23: Enhancing Efficiency Through the Enablement Tech Stack


Shawnna Sumaoang
Shawnna Sumaoang
Vice President, Marketing -Community, Highspot
John Anderson
John Anderson
Director of Technology for Development in Enablement, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
Podcast Transcript

Finding operational efficiencies is essential in times of economic uncertainty – and optimising the enablement tech stack is one way that companies can drive this efficiency. In fact, research from Sales Enablement PRO found that practitioners who leverage a sales enablement platform for their sales teams report win rates that are 7 percentage points higher than those who do not. 

Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi and welcome to the Win Win Podcast. I’m your host, Shawnna Sumaoang. Join us as we dive into changing trends in the workplace and how to navigate them successfully. Here to discuss this topic is John Anderson, the director of technology for development in enablement at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, HMH. Thanks for joining, John! I’d love for you to tell us about yourself, your background, and your role. 

John Anderson: Thanks, Shawnna. When I graduated from college I went back to the high school I graduated from and became a math and science teacher. I was in that role for 18 years. There was a certain curriculum that I was very successful with, and so I followed that curriculum into the educational publishing world and became a national consultant for that curriculum. As time went on with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has that curriculum, I began being pulled into other areas outside of that curriculum and I just re-looked at where I was going and what I was doing and had an opportunity to join our enablement team.

Currently, I am in a role where my team manages both the Highspot platform and also our learning management system. I spend a lot of time dealing with technology, both for Highspot, doing a lot of media editing for our team, and really preparing our salespeople to be successful in selling and supporting our digital curriculum.

SS: I love the way that you think about that, John, and I love your background. Now, you’ve mentioned that you’re responsible for essentially enabling the success of your customer-facing teams by showcasing digital solutions. How do you drive efficiency for your customer-facing teams through solutions like Highspot?

JA: On the Highspot end of things, really what we do is we provide a lot of demo support so that when our salespeople are either in front of the customer or delivering virtual solutions, they’re able to open our digital platforms, walk through them successfully, and really provide a solution to the customer needs, so really a value selling type of promotion. The reason that we’re able to do that successfully is the organisation of our content on Highspot. 

We make sure that they’re able to look at the play for that particular program, find the demo support, and find the presentations that are updated and current, and these digital platforms are constantly changing. That’s one thing that’s really changed since I began with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Rather than updating these platforms year to year, they happen week to week, and so we have to make sure that we stay on top of all of that. Our curated plays and allowing access to Highspot in an uncluttered and straightforward way are really saving our salespeople time when they have such a big book.

SS: Completely, and to that point of having a big book bag, why is efficiency in the tech stack so important, especially in times of economic uncertainty? 

JA: The competition is greater than it’s been in the past, so every win is really pivotal. What we’re trying to do through Highspot is to help our salespeople really tell the stories about our products so that they can showcase the differentiators in a really succinct way, so that we can promote that win more quickly and move on to the next opportunity.

When you have so many different pieces to these digital solutions, we want to make sure that when a salesperson is confronted with a question about these platforms, they can find those answers really quickly. Now, what we’ve done is we’ve reorganised some of our documents that have a lot of these resources in them into plays, some of them really nicely written in such a way that it’s visually pleasing and lays that out very easily, but sometimes people need to get down in the weeds and into the nitty gritty, and we’ve also put those into plays, which are almost just straight links. What it allows us to do is see when we have a lot of different things available for a program, which items are really being used, and where the areas in marketing are most influential for our internal customers.

SS: I love that you guys are giving your reps such amazing guidance through the entire process. If we could back up a little bit, John, before Highspot, what were some challenges you were experiencing with driving efficiency? 

JA: One of the things that I noticed at the Spark Conference is that HMH has been with Highspot for a longer period of time than a lot of the Highspot customers. I was not initially part of this platform, but I was part of a different team within enablement. When I moved into this role, the person that was in the role before me actually was hired by Highspot, so I took over from there, so I don’t have the full history of what was going on beforehand, but here’s what I know. 

The platform we had before Highspot did not have the digital data to track what was happening when that content was used with our customers. The other thing that was happening before we went to this platform and had better governance of the content was that people were sharing presentation decks and demos and those kinds of things on their own. There was no really good way to know what was the most up-to-date presentation and what we were really trying to say to our customers regarding the solution. 

When we were looking at what people were doing in the field, a lot of times they were not giving the best information or up-to-date information that they could. With Highspot and its governance and what we’ve put into place here in the structure, now they’re able to confidently go to a source, find what they need, learn those presentations, practice those demos, and really showcase the solutions effectively.

SS: I love that, and you touched on some of that already, but how did you leverage Highspot to help overcome some of those challenges?

JA: I think the biggest thing that we’ve done in the last year and a half is we’ve introduced plays. Not only is the data important there, but what we found is that a lot of times previous to creating certain types of plays, we had our account executives looking for things and not being as successful in finding what they were looking for until we curated and organised that content, and put it into a play. Now, they can take a look at it and we’ve organised sections a little bit in a customised way. 

Our plays have things like who to defeat for our competitive information, what to know, what to say, what to share, and where to dig deeper. We really looked at all of the kinds of questions that our AEs were asking, and we made sure that those pages are not overloaded, so that if somebody’s new to a product, like it’s a new account executive, or because our book bag is big, maybe you haven’t touched that program on over 6 months, we want them to be able to jump back in quickly and get back up to date on the key features and updates for those programs and be successful in the sales. 

The plays are a big part of that. We are now in the process of enforcing some governance on the different spots that we have and insisting that everything has a description, feedback owner, and expiration date to make sure that things are updated. Those things are starting to cycle through now and we’re finding that the success of searches and the success of getting the content and just the vibe I get when I talk to our salespeople, they are much more satisfied now with the platform than they were before we started the governance and really started incorporating these plays.

SS: I love to hear that. I think another thing that is really impressive, John, is you guys have an 89% recurring usage rate of Highspot, which is incredible. What are some of your best practices for driving adoption among your reps?

JA: Some of it is what we do with our training. Just developing the video training that we have that we’re continuing to grow about how to best incorporate a pitch, how to find what you’re looking for on the sales hub, and how to use those list groups and lists as filters as you’re looking for what you find. That’s been one thing. 

Another area is that we do have a weekly communication that comes from our enablement team that highlights the new initiatives that are happening within the company. Updates to programs, and that is just full of links to resources on Highspot that allow them to really find what they need in a quick way. They don’t have a lot of time, obviously, in this kind of culture, but to be able to have one place for communication and be up to date on the changes really helps. 

The other thing that I mentioned, we have special plays where when you have to go in deep and find something, it lists pretty much everything in the kitchen sink in a pretty well-organised way, but we have both kinds of plays. Those where they can find what they’re looking for to share with customers, we have a special play for that where what’s really a play for them, specifically, to be ready to, and then the in-depth kind of plays where they’re looking for really program specific nuts and bolts of things that are a little bit more in the details.

SS: That’s fantastic. With so much uncertainty in the market, can you share an example of what good looks like as it relates to seller efficiency and leveraging digital solutions, like Highspot?

JA: One of the things that I really appreciate is that there’s a dashboard that our friend on the Highspot side, Omar, has shared with us that really gives us either a red, a yellow, or a green in different areas of the activity that happens on our platform. Him sharing that with us has allowed us to really reflect on what’s happening. There is another thing that I’ve done recently when we took a look at all of our top salespeople and I made a chart of that in Excel and looked at the behaviours of all of those salespeople compared to their peers in their rep scorecard, and then looked at how they compared across the board. 

It was really interesting to see how pretty much everything is in the upper 30 to 40% of behaviours of salespeople for our top sellers. It shows that it’s not just a random result that the sales are higher, it really does correlate. We are going to be sharing that with our sales manager so they can see the importance of them emphasising the best practices of these top sellers.

The other thing that we’ve done for some of our key initiatives is that we are building spots in a very rapid fashion. We have a program called Insights, and what we’re doing now is we’re going to our customers, like school districts and individual schools, and we’re taking a look at their student test data. We’re looking across the board at the curriculum that they use, both ours and our competitors, and what we’re doing is we’re showing gaps in where they could really improve educational results and offering them some solutions. What we’ve done is we’ve built a spot for that and we create a play that we can track how people are engaging with that so everything becomes a very strategic build in mind, including another spot just for sales managers that we’ve developed.

SS: You talked a little bit about the dashboards, so I know that you’re tracking success. How are you going about also reinforcing what good looks like to scale those best practices across your customer-facing teams?

JA: A lot of that is happening through the sales managers, and it’s my big goal this year to have repetitive meetings with sales managers and sales leaders to get them to understand how the metrics on Highspot can be used to spur better profitability for the company. One of the things that I do is in my monthly report to my manager, and she shares this because we’re within the finance division, it shows month to month how the changes are with our internal views within the company, external views for our customers and the external view rate. 

We also take a look at how many items there are added month to month, and how many have been archived because, again, it can be kind of messy if we get too cluttered. We look at the top searches and compare those to what really the initiatives and the goals of the company happen to be at the time. We look at our win rate for our externally viewed content to make sure that that’s continuing to grow, and again, we look at the revenue that’s tied to those opportunities on Salesforce.

SS: What results have you seen from your reps since implementing Highspot and has it helped improve seller productivity? 

JA: It really has, and some of this just becomes anecdotal, but there are times when I have salespeople reach out to me out of the blue and they tell me that they have a play open during a conversation with a customer for a program that they’re fully understanding at the moment, and they’re able to use that on the fly to support the solution that they’re offering the customer and win that sale. Those things are very gratifying and it’s not just a one-time thing. It happens fairly frequently. 

We do have the ability to look at those rep scorecards and look at what our best sellers are doing, emphasise that with them, have meetings with some of those folks and say, tell me what you’re doing that’s special and then we promote that to the others. 

SS: I think that’s a fantastic way to share best practices and increase sales productivity. Now, you analyse and really focus on proving the return on investment of your digital solutions. How do you go about doing that and what has been the business impact of your investment in Highspot?

JA: There are just so many different factors, and I always get on different pieces of training that have this topic of how you show your ROI based on the platform and what you do. Sometimes it is just looking at the big trends, looking at how our sales are doing overall, and seeing how that relates to activity on Highspot.

One of the things that I think we look at in using this platform, we are looking at a really high volume of pitches and external views, and those keep on continuing to increase over time. We’re in a really highly competitive market, so to see the increase in those things corresponding with a continued increase in revenue is a good correlation to show, but most of the time we have to go to individual salespeople and listen to their stories to see what they did to get the win in a very competitive opportunity to see how what they pitched, what they used to prepare for their sales campaign really helped them to be successful.

SS: John, last question for you, and thank you so much for your time today. What is your vision for the next year and beyond for enablement at your organisation and how do you plan to continue to drive efficiencies? 

JA: I’d say my number one goal for the year related to Highspot is to spend more time with our sales managers getting them to look at their team, and the data on Highspot to see what their best sellers are doing to encourage the rest to get on board with that. If they see a practice that’s really making the win, they’ve got to emphasise that with their team. We can say it from the enablement side, but they don’t have any accountability to us. What we’re really trying to emphasise is for sales managers to set some expectations, set some goals, and have conversations on a weekly basis to take a look, not only at Salesforce but to look at Highspot to see what their folks are doing and the engagement that they’re having with customers. Those conversations are key. 

The other type of thing that we need to look at more consistently here is best practices for pitching. We have a number of people that are sending out a lot of pitches, but not getting many views, so we have to talk about what’s the right strategy for pitching, using pitch styles when you have a lot of content to share. Those kinds of things are areas where we could honestly improve. 

We did incorporate teams on Highspot, and what we’re able to do then is we can compare the data for our field salespeople that go out in the field compared to our inside sales, and we can really look at trends and behaviours in those different areas and target more of the message we need to get out to how to improve results to more individualised practices, and that can change from region to region, from state adoption states where our customers and schools that are going through a process where every six or seven years they buy a new math program, for instance. That’s a different strategy than open territory where these schools are buying whenever they choose. Really looking at it in a district-by-district way and role-by-role, more specifically, I think is going to help us have greater results as well.

SS: John, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate the time. 

JA: You’re welcome. Take care.

SS: To our audience, thank you for listening to this episode of the Win Win podcast. Be sure to tune in next time for more insights on how you can maximise enablement success with Highspot.

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