Episode 25: The Power of Good Sales Training
According to research from Salesforce, 80% of high-performing sales teams say they would rate their training as very good or outstanding. But what does good training actually look like?
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 Tanuja Paruchuri, the director of sales enablement at H1. Thanks for joining, Tanuja! I’d love for you to tell us about yourself, your background, and your role.
Tanuja Paruchuri: Hi Shawnna. Thanks for having me. I actually started my career in sales and then I got the opportunity to work in sales operations, and I fell into sales enablement, I think, by complete accident. It was kind of a happy accident because I love working with salespeople, but I just wasn’t really cut out for the stress that a quota brings every single quarter. I’m much more of a nurturer, so that’s kind of the background piece of it.
As far as my role today at H1, I am, as you said, the director of sales enablement. I report to the sales operations team, but I am a team of one as it relates to enablement and so it’s been kind of a whirlwind here. I’m not at all familiar with healthcare or health tech, even though growing up I always wanted to be a doctor, so I watched a lot of ER and stuff like that, but I didn’t actually ever work in healthcare, so it’s been a steep learning curve for me, frankly.
I think of that personally as a very good thing because once I start to get bored in a role or at a job, that’s when I start to look around, and I haven’t been bored in any of the 10 months that I’ve been here so far. I’m really happy to be here and happy to be working with the team.
SS: I love that and I think a lot of people that are in the enablement profession probably came through a very similar path. Now, as I mentioned in the intro, I’d love to hear what good sales training looks like for you at H1.
TP: Good sales training for me at H1, and really anywhere that I’ve worked, has been all about interactive learning. I am not a person who really enjoys putting something out there and having someone just watch a lecture or watch a video, although those can be useful tools as well, what I really like to see is people being very engaged, asking a lot of questions, and if they’re brave enough to go on camera and give me their best pitch or something like that where we can give them feedback right at the moment. I’m not looking for perfection, I’m definitely looking just for progress or anything, just participation really, and that is what good training looks like to me.
I’ll also say that as a part of that, I also love to follow up so that if you learn something in training, then you’re going and using it in real life or when you learn something, you’re following up with a quiz or some kind of measure to actually see if it’s going to ultimately have an impact or not? Or did you actually learn that or not, if you’re not measuring something, you have no idea if it’s having an impact.
SS: I couldn’t agree more. Now, tell us a little bit, what did training look like at your organization before you started leveraging Highspot’s Training and Coaching platform and what does it look like now?
TP: I actually was really lucky coming into H1. During the interview process itself, my manager reached out to me and was like, what do you think about Highspot I was like, obviously it’s great. I’ve used it at several previous companies. I highly recommend it. Then when I came into H1, we had not implemented Highspot just yet. That was gonna be my job as soon as I came in, but we had just bought it, so we were still on the previous platform, and that platform was okay. It served its purpose in the sense that we were able to host training on it, and it served us as a very light LMS, I would say.
On the learner end, what I noticed, is that I did use it when I went through that platform for my onboarding. What I noticed most was that it was hard for the learner to know what they had completed, what sections they had completed, and which ones they were to move on to next, which is, I think, a pretty basic function of an LMS. The other part, on the admin side, was also really hard to grade things. Everything was manual. There are no reporting features, so that was extremely difficult and time-consuming and almost made it not even worth it to have an LMS at that point.
Now, how it’s changed having implemented Highspot, we’re now able to build all of our courses right within Highspot, and what I love about it is that once the reps have finished their training in Highspot, all the content is already there. They know exactly where to go to find it, they can always go back to the training if they want to in the way that we’ve set it up. I think from their perspective, it’s a lot easier to go through. From our perspective, as an admin, it’s also a lot easier to go through. We’re able to easily pull reports. I’m able to see at a glance who has submitted what and pretty quickly report that to the managers as well. It’s become a lot quicker to process everything.
SS: Absolutely. Speed to market is really critical right now. Now, just to shift gears a little bit, on LinkedIn, you shared that one of your areas of expertise is optimizing products and processes to improve productivity, and I think that’s another area that organizations are hyper-focused on, particularly right now that notion of driving as much productivity out of the existing workforce as possible. What are some ways that you’ve leveraged Highspot to optimize training and really use that to improve rep productivity?
TP: That’s a really good question. I think one of the ways that I’ve used Highspot to drive productivity is definitely just having everything in one place. That’s, I think, the biggest one. I think also getting feedback at the moment has been very impactful. When I see that someone has submitted something into a learning path or a course, I’m able to go in and watch the video, most of the videos that we require of them are like five minutes or less, so I can go in and watch it, give them kind of at the moment feedback or coaching and we can do the same with the managers as well. They’re also given permission to go in there and do the exact same thing, so they’re getting very timely feedback. They’re not having to wait on things, and I think when you think back to the content management side, the learning is so important, but I think it all starts with content and how you’re delivering that content.
One thing that I’ve noticed is we also have confluence, and Confluence is great, but it’s also the place where everything goes to die and things are not updated all the time. When you’re going to another platform, another system that’s not always being kept up to date. What you’re having to do as a rep is you’re also having to Slack people and you’re having to wait for a response and say, is this up to date? Is this not up to date? Where’s the new one? Where can I find it? When was it last updated? They are asking all of those tangential questions that go along with a piece of content, whereas in Highspot, you’re able to see right away, whether you’re on a learning path or just in the content system, you’re able to see right away, hey, this is an updated tool. It was updated yesterday. I know the content is current because I know who updated it as well. I think just having all of that information just in one place has made folks extremely productive.
I can’t give you a number in terms of how much their productivity has improved because we have not made those calculations yet, but I can tell people are extremely happy. Just another add-on here, when I hear from reps and they’re like slacking me and they’re like, can you just confirm for me the only place we have to go is Highspot, right? I say yes and they’re so relieved when they hear that. They’re like, thank god, thank you for changing this. I hated going to multiple systems. I really appreciate hearing that from them and their feelings. The most important thing is not necessarily what we’re seeing in the reports and all that, but really what they’re telling us and how they’re feeling about it.
SS: On that point of feedback, because I know that that often plays a critical role in how you approach optimizing your programs, can you tell our audience about an example of how you’ve leveraged feedback to maybe even improve the training programs that you’re building?
TP: Feedback is an interesting thing. As I was looking over these questions ahead of time, I was really thinking about this one. Feedback from who? Feedback from the reps, feedback from the managers, and in my head, it’s feedback from multiple people and in multiple ways. The way I think of it is as I’m going through trainings, if I’m watching something back, that’s one point of feedback is my own feedback of myself. Not just me, but what I’m seeing of others. Typically in the beginning when I was delivering trainings, I was doing these long-form trainings without a lot of back and forth or interactivity, just because I was still in learning mode, too.
What I found as I was watching those videos back and chopping them up to put them into Highspot and making them more consumable, was that I noticed people were not paying attention. These were Zoom sessions, so, I’m noticing people are not on camera and when they’re on camera it’s clear that they’re multitasking. All this annoying stuff going on in the background that you do not wanna see your learners doing, and so I realized that the feedback that I got from that was I needed to be a little bit more creative in my approach and make the training more interactive. That was one way I used feedback.
Another way was, of course, from the managers as we’re going through this current course that we just finished in Highspot right now for one of our product trainings. I made the mistake of building the rubric outside of Highspot, so I will not be doing that next time. I will be building it right within Highspot next time, but this time I built the feedback loop outside and we met with the managers independently to make sure that they understood the logistics of going into Highspot, accessing the submissions, and being able to rate their direct reports, videos and pitches and all that kind of stuff. What we realized from that was that each manager is approaching their scoring system a little bit differently.
That helped me kind of realize, okay, this is what the managers are looking for. This is what they want to see in their direct reports. This is what they’re expecting to happen in training and this is the outcome that they wanna see. At the end of the day, they want their rep to be able to pitch this particular product in this particular way. That has really helped me just meet with them one-on-one to alter the way I train and also the content that I’m putting out there post-training.
Another way that I’ve also been really big on feedback is from the reps themselves. I know this is not necessarily a scalable way to do things, however, I find it one of the most effective ways, and I’ve done this at every organization I’ve been at in an enablement capacity, and that is talking to reps one-on-one. I tend to use the survey method and the one-on-one method in tandem to get feedback from reps, but the survey method obviously covers everybody, so that’s a good way to scale. I think it’s really important to have that one-on-one conversation with folks as well, so I tried my best to take like a cross-section of reps.
I was looking for people who are new to the organization, people who have been here for a medium amount of time, and then people who have been here a long time. I also wanted to try to take a range of abilities, so people who are maybe underperforming, outperforming, and then kind of on target. Then of course looking for regional, so what part of the world are you in and how do you process content differently based on your culture?
Another thing is maybe a difference in age ranges even, and genders because you’re looking across all different demographics, I guess you could say, just to see how people are processing the content that you put out there. I want to have these one-on-one conversations to make sure that I’m not missing the mark, and if I am, please tell me. I’ve tried really hard to cultivate relationships with folks, especially at my current organization, but really anywhere I’ve been to have open relationships with them, like have very honest relationships where they can tell me anything.
I call myself the sales therapist, so you can come in, you can tell me anything that you want. My feelings are not gonna be hurt, even if the feedback is critical. It’s better to just get all your feelings out there so we can make things better because that’s really what we’re looking for. We want to make things better.
SS: If we dive in a little bit more on that, what are some of your best practices for soliciting some of that meaningful feedback from across the organization, maybe not just sales reps to inform your training programs?
TP: That’s a great question. I think typically I’m interacting mostly with reps and their managers, but you’re right, there’s definitely feedback needed from marketing in particular. At H1, I’m a very close partner with the marketing team as well, especially as the SDR team sits on the marketing team. That’s really important to get the feedback from them as well.
I treat our SDR team just like sales reps, but the extended marketing team is ABM marketing and brand marketing, product marketing, and other folks I also try to cultivate very close relationships with them. I’ve done lots and lots of one-on-ones, especially with our product marketing director, who has been so gracious with her time and she’s really taught me a lot. The way I learned from her was that she’s very deep in her product knowledge, so what I can do with that is I can take the deep product knowledge and I can simplify it, and then I ask her back like, you know, this is my simplified version, does this still make sense? That’s a good way of getting feedback from her to say that, oh yeah, you know, you got the message right, and I think that’s exactly what the salespeople need to know.
As far as actual training on the salespeople and what they’re learning and all that kind of stuff. We do work with our product directors pretty closely because it’s very important that we’re getting the messaging right there and that we’re selling in the right way on the right value props and the right use cases. I try to cultivate those relationships as well as with our SE team also and the SE team solutions engineers, they’re also super helpful in giving feedback and also generally just giving their opinions on what’s going on because they sit on almost every sales call that happens in the organization.
They’ll give me information. They’ll tell me, okay, this person doesn’t really seem to have a strong handle on this, and they might give me some very specific feedback, like, okay, they might need more help in discovery, or they might need a little bit of help in prospecting because they didn’t get the right person this time, and so then I can take that and I can build courses around it or I can do sessions around it specifically. That has definitely been very helpful.
SS: I love that. Now, I know that you had mentioned that you are just getting started, but how do you plan on ensuring that training is having essentially the desired impact on rep behavior and what are maybe some of the key things that you want to be able to measure to track your success?
TP: That’s a great question. This is new to us. We really haven’t dived deeply into the metrics just yet, but what I’m looking for as far as impact goes is being able to reduce ramp time, in particular, especially as we’re onboarding several new reps on certain teams and then faster time to first deal, of course, is what we’re looking for. Then, of course, compressing the deal cycle. Deal velocity is another thing that we’re looking to measure.
Now, these are all things that our sales operations team already tracks, but as we’ve been using Highspot and as people are going through the trainings and we’re matching it up the training metrics with, hey, these people have completed X, Y, and Z in Highspot, and they’re pitching at like a level 10 versus a level one, which is presumably worse, and their deal velocity has gotten a lot faster, or they’ve increased their deal velocity or they’ve compressed their ramp time. That’s kind of what we’re eventually going to be looking for, but for now, we’re trying to take all the right actions so that way we can measure this stuff two months down the road, three months down the road, six months down the road.
SS: Fantastic. Now I love that future vision. How today are you maybe leveraging Highspot to gather insights on the impact of your training programs?
TP: Right now what we’re doing is we’re really in the information-gathering stage. As I mentioned in a previous response, one thing that we’re doing is meeting with all of the managers individually, and we’re making sure that they’re watching the rep pitch videos and making sure that really, we have this rubric set up in a way that gives us specific responses. As the managers are going through these rubrics and really watching the performance of their reps, then we’re able to see does rep performance really correlate to where they stand with respect to their quota. It’s a little surprising. Sometimes it doesn’t exactly match up and so that part has been interesting for me to see. I don’t know what that means in terms of broader impact, but it’s just some interesting information that we’ve gathered so far.
SS: Now, from your perspective, what is the value of having a unified platform for enablement to equip, train and coach your reps? How has that helped you drive rep productivity?
TP: I think we already kind of covered this actually, but having everything in one place is such a huge plus I think for everyone in the organization. Like I said, when I have sales reps Slack me and they’re like, are you sure the only place we have to go is Highspot? I’m like, yes and they’re so relieved. As we talked about earlier, you see people when they do go to another platform to find the information they need because the rest of our company is still on Confluence. When they go to a Confluence or another platform to find information, sometimes that information is out of date or a person who has left is still in charge of it or something like that.
In that case, they have to Slack people, they have to track people down. They have to ask, has this been updated? When was it last updated? Who updated it? What are the new slides that go along with this? All of that kind of stuff and a lot of that has been eliminated now. They don’t have to do that at all. If anything, they’re slacking me and even that doesn’t come too frequently. It comes when there’s something that doesn’t even exist yet. They’re like, we need a new deck for this particular product that we haven’t ever sold before. Well, in that case, that’s fine. That’s something that doesn’t exist. We can go ahead and build that, or we could ask marketing to help build that, whatever it is. The fact is that everything that does exist today is in one singular place, and they’re able to go and find it very easily.
SS: I love that. Now, I am curious, just because you have such a diverse background, do you think that there is value in talking about why it’s essential for organizations, especially those in sort of the life sciences field to improve sales productivity? Or do you see so much similarity between your current organization and your past more tech-centric organizations?
TP: That’s a really good question. I definitely think optimizing systems and processes is super important no matter where you work, just from a purely economic perspective. I think that makes a lot of sense, but in this case, at H1, we are still a tech company, even though we’re not selling to tech personas, so it is really important for us to have everything updated. Things are moving at the speed of light in our company right now. It’s startup style, so everything is just moving lightning-fast at any given time.
I mean, the training that I just put up is already pretty outdated, if that gives you an idea, and I didn’t put it up too long ago. We’re having to build new trainings every day and so I definitely think it’s important to have the capacity and the platform to be able to update things on the fly as quickly as possible and not have to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to do that.
Then I think from a life sciences perspective in general, I’ve never worked at a proper life sciences company before, like a pharma company or anything like that, but I think generally when I think of doctors or medicine, yes, there’s like huge advances in terms of the science and all of that, but I think the way things are done is typically it takes a lot of time for those kinds of things to change. It’s like the behavior change is very slow, so I think in that case, yeah, it definitely helps to be able to have systems in place to be able to ramp people up quickly and be able to change things on the fly, change behaviors on the fly.
That’s what we really need. We need more agile organizations in general across the board. It doesn’t matter what industry the way things are changing with AI these days, and of course with the macroeconomic conditions. That is my opinion on that very complicated question, but that was a really good question. Thank you for asking that.
SS: I love that response. Thank you. I think that that was fantastic. The life sciences space has also been undergoing a lot of change over the last couple of years, so for you guys to be in kind of the tech sector in that world is just, I imagine things are changing quite rapidly for you guys, but very cool. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Win Win podcast. Be sure to tune in next time for our insights on how you can maximize enablement success with Highspot.