Episode 26: Cultivating a Culture of Learning to Increase Productivity
Research from G2 found that if your sales reps don’t feel they are learning and growing in your organization, you’re at risk to lose upwards of 60% of your entire workforce within four years. So, what makes impactful training that leaves your learners feeling empowered?
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 Debra Bonomi, global sales enablement manager at Rakuten Advertising. Thanks for joining, Debra! I’d love for you to tell us about yourself, your background, and your role.
Debra Bonomi: Hi Shawnna. Thank you so much for having me here today. I really am looking forward to this conversation. I definitely have a very diverse background in training and development. I started out in retail, then I joined a training and consulting firm, and then went into real estate, and now I’m currently in affiliate marketing.
Although I have very diverse industries, all of my positions in those past jobs consisted of training and development. Since building our Highspot training, I have moved into a new role even within Rakuten Advertising from the sales enablement manager for global sales and client service teams, to now the learning and development manager for all global teams.
SS: Debra, we’re excited to have you here, especially given your expertise and your background. Now, you call yourself a professional learner and you focus a lot on professional development, including taking some of our courses that my team recently built out inside of Highspot University. Thank you for taking those, we would love any feedback, by the way, after this podcast. How do you think ongoing training benefits you personally?
DB: I do love those training courses. One of my top five strengths in StrengthFinder assessments is learner, and that truly does describe me. I have always had a quench for knowledge, and this has helped me in so many aspects of my life personally, and professionally, being a mom, friend, and peer, really with everyone that I interact with.
I think by approaching every interaction I have from a standpoint of being open and open to listening, I learn. I’m grateful for all my interactions with people since I learned different perspectives or from their experiences that I would never have learned on my own. This has been one of the major reasons why I can jump industries and excel so quickly and it’s also enabled me to be a resource for teams that I support.
SS: Now you touched on this a little bit in your introduction, but you also have a unique background where you have some experience in business development and project management. How do you think that this impacts your approach to sales enablement and training?
DB: I think because of my experiences in both, I understand that if you build a solid foundation, there’s no limit to what can be achieved, and this ironically makes it more agile. I put a lot of time and effort into building the foundation of any of the enablement programs I’ve been involved with and the trainings. Some people can do this as taking a step backward before we move forward, but I don’t. I know it is vital for successful outcomes. My prep and discovery phase takes the most time in all of the projects that I’m involved with.
I eagerly seek out skill gaps, process needs, communication needs, and desired results, and I’m constantly asking why and so what to myself. I talk with the stakeholder from every stage of the funnel or process involved in what I’m building, so that the training is comprehensive. It makes sense, and it also can include those nuggets or tips that fill in the gap.
SS: I love that. Highspot right now is really trying to help our other customers understand what good looks like, so I would love to get your perspective and your opinion on what good looks like when it comes to sales training.
DB: I struggle with this as well. I tend to want to keep going until the training covers 110% or gives results that are 110%. I’m definitely working on this myself, but at its core, I feel like good training is when the sales teams know their goals, they have the tools to achieve these goals, they know how to use those tools, and then give them a platform to share real-time feedback. A sales rep’s role changes with each client or prospect interaction, so enablement and L&D have to be as agile to support them and whether it is content needs or company information, industry insights, or any data needed to support building that client rep relationship.
I think a key change we have made here at Rakuten to our training since rolling out Highspot, which we learned from your platform is breaking down trainings into modules. Instead of having hour-long sessions, we’re now starting to create short targeted trainings that are task or skill specific. This way we keep the learner’s attention as well as when the reps go back if they are trained on something, and then they don’t need to have that information for say, four months, whether it’s like filling out a part of a contract. This way when the rep goes back, they don’t have to scroll through hour-long videos like they used to try to find that section. They can just go right to the targeted video, which has been fantastic.
SS: I love that, and that’s always fantastic to hear. Now, I know that you are passionate and love learning, but how do you share your love for learning with your sales reps to really motivate them to improve their knowledge and skills?
DB: I love this question. No pun intended. First I establish relationships with them to truly understand them and their needs, and then to get their buy-in. I think sometimes I do this as individuals and sometimes I do it at the team level, but I do the same things regardless of either of those. I find out what their background is, what their pain points are, what would make their job easier and more enjoyable, and what they need to achieve their success, and then I deliver. I think that’s the most important thing.
Every time I deliver on anything that I’ve interacted with them or inquired with them, I can see their shoulders relaxing. I see them smiling more, and then I start to see them joining more and more of my future training sessions because I’ve built that trust with them. I love my job and I’m not just saying that. I truly love not only learning about this new industry and learning about what I can do to help people, so it’s easy for me to be authentic in my enthusiasm and my support.
SS: Well, I love that, and no pun intended to that as well. Now you have 98% active participation in your training and coaching courses in Highspot, so clearly you’re doing something right and your reps love it. Can you share best practices for how you drive rep engagement in your learning programs in Highspot?
DB: Sure, I’d love to. First and foremost, one of the key learnings from your Spark Conference in 2022, which was my first ever attending, one of the key learnings that we walked away with was to get senior leadership buy-in, and that message was driven home repeatedly at your conference, and we got it. One of our major training releases recently was with our CRM, SalesForce, and the need was identified by our CFO.
It was a perfect opportunity to get our CFO and our CEO to support these training modules being built within Highspot on Salesforce. That in turn got other senior leaders to join in to support and also in terms of holding people accountable. I think this was a major factor in our participation rate. We still needed to make the training stick, not just to have people take it because they were told to because senior leadership was holding them accountable. This is where the discovery foundation work kicked in. Having a full 360-degree understanding of how this training will impact end-to-end makes it more valuable, more relatable, and drives engagement. When a rep knows that they are asked what they need guidance on, and then they get that guidance, that builds trust with the enablement and training teams.
Another key best practice was utilizing the Highspot platform to change the delivery to those short targeted videos with assessments. They love the challenge of the assessments that Highspot gives us to do, as well as the in-time demonstration of their learning and then also providing support documentation, I think is key too at the bottom of all trainings so that they could save it as a resource. I think this was very different from our previous learning and development platform abilities that we’ve had in the past.
Another key integration for us was that Highspot actually syncs these targeted training modules right into Salesforce, and that has been tremendous. Gone are the days of a rep taking a training, not using it for six months or longer, and then trying to remember where they can find it within several platforms. Now, while they’re on the screen in Salesforce, and they’re doing a task, if they don’t remember how to do it, right on the right-hand side Highspot has the ability to have us have the training right there so they could click on it, it stays in the same screen and gives them guidance, which has been outstanding. Thank you for that.
SS: Fantastic. I love the best practices that you just shared there. What results have you started to see from your reps who have engaged in the training?
DB: Sheer joy and I mean that wholeheartedly. There’s a joy in being more efficient, alleviating their frustration, and knowing how to do their job. Now they have more time to be creative or just to have conversations with their clients. We’ve definitely seen an increase in our CRM errors, but also we’ve gotten more complete profiles, which would not have necessarily come up as an error in the past. The reps didn’t know how to fill in all the fields, so they left them blank, and again, that didn’t come up as an error, but we were missing, as a company, valuable data from our clients to help us make more informed decisions on forecasting and business needs.
We have also identified the next level of training needs based on all of this. So much of our tasks are interconnected and once we launch training in one topic, some other topics that are woven into it are now highlighted. Now we have reps in those departments coming to us asking for training to be included and sometimes included in previous modules. A great example of that is the CRM training I talked about. We initially just included steps within the CRM, but now we have our legal department reaching out saying, hey, can I add a lesson within that to give them a better understanding of what a contract is or how to fill out the contract, not just how to upload it into the CRM?
SS: Wonderful. Now, as we think about maybe some of the KPIs or the key performance indicators, what metrics do you track today to understand the impact of your training programs and especially the impact on productivity, and how does Highspot help you track some of these?
DB: Highspot has given us analytics to a level that we truly have never had before. Instead of offering a training session and waiting for feedback from team members if they needed additional training, which sometimes feedback never came, now we have the ability to proactively view the training course stats. When appropriate we build smart pages associated with a training topic, some small targeted smart pages, and some more extensive ones. We can also use the scorecards from these smart pages to see if there’s an increase in content engagement, usage, the pitching on those topics, all of them from the training that had been released.
We build initial analytics reports within Highspot by the team so that managers can pull these reports themselves and gain insights needed for their one-on-ones with reps. Those one-on-one conversations are more targeted at both reps that are succeeding and those that are struggling. If I had a rep reach out to me with a question, I would actually pull up that report for their information before I responded to them so that I knew what to expect, or what their actions have been or lack of before I actually started speaking with them, which I’ve never had that ability before. Plus we also utilized the Highspot support teams, and they review with us on a monthly basis our report card and give us insights on our engagement, our usage, our adoption, and more. They definitely give us a lot of guidance.
Then, lastly, a key call out about Highspot is the changes and improvements it’s making to our organization that can’t be tracked or analyzed within Highspot. I’m the biggest advocate of this. When we started to build our Highspot platform for our teams, we quickly realized that all of the systems and the processes and content, guidance, and communications that were not in place needed to be, and that’s not necessarily something that I could pull a report in Highspot, but if you build this platform correctly and you truly are thorough, you’ll get information that’s vital to an organization in terms of correcting its course. I highly recommend it. It’s a non-confrontational way of identifying what needs to be built out to support our business structure and our teams and it’s an added bonus that Highspot provided us that we were not expecting. Thank you.
SS: I love to hear that. I imagine Debra, just because again, you take this learn it all mentality, how do you use those metrics then to optimize your programs and improve the impact that you’re already driving with your training programs?
DB: We used them to identify if the training was comprehensive enough. Do we need to change it since errors are still occurring? Do we need to add more topics like level 2.0 to the next step of this? What key learnings can we take away to include in the next training course creation? Even the smart page builders, like the Highspot rep and I sometimes laugh like, do you remember that first smart page we built, we thought it was so great, and now look at what they look like. We can see what reps like by what they respond to and use, and then we can do more of that and keep building on that.
We can also use Highspot to determine what training is needed based on analyzing the rep’s behaviors. Training within Highspot and within their daily roles. For example, within Highspot, if too many sales reps are downloading the pitch deck, instead of making a copy, editing, and pitching, then we know that we have to train them on that. If it’s a small amount, the manager might be able to correct this, and within their daily roles, if the reps are not personalizing decks at all, or not using the insights available to them, we can correct that as well. By seeing what is and what is not happening, we can use this knowledge to provide insights as to why initiatives are successful or not, and then make decisions on the next step.
SS: Absolutely love that. Two last questions for you, Debra. I’d love to hear about maybe a recent win that you’ve been able to achieve as a result of your training programs and how did you leverage Highspot to help you achieve that?
DB: Definitely our CRM training. Highspot gave us training program capabilities that we never had before. It also gave us some guidance in terms of I don’t necessarily know if we would’ve thought to start breaking up our training into those quick, short, targeted videos versus continuing to do the hour-long sessions.
We can measure learning at the moment either by questions, recorded responses of a sales pitch, client call, or computer task, and we love that they can learn and then demonstrate right at the moment. We can ensure they took the course, not only to get credit for watching the entire course, etcetera, and we did not have the capability to do any of these things prior to Highspot, as I said before. The training platform is incredibly easy to navigate, build and track.
SS: Love that. Last question for you, Debra. How do you plan to continue using Highspot training and coaching to help drive sales productivity in the next year, and hopefully beyond?
DB: As much as possible. We use Highspot currently for our sales and client service teams. It’s an amazing tool to use for onboarding new hires, rolling out new initiatives, compliance, or mandatory trainings. Really anything that we need to measure and give reps. The ability to learn and then demonstrate key learnings and anything that we need to measure ourselves.
We will especially use this for any training that can be used within our CRM to support our reps. As I mentioned earlier, not just the CRM-specific task, but now we’re starting to layer in legal components to that training. I’m sure once that happens, there’s going to be another department to reach out and say, hey, can you add this to that training as well, which is wonderful. They love not only having the training on the exact page that they need in that CRM, but also they don’t have to leave the platform and start the hunt. One thing we’ve learned, and I’ve learned definitely, is that the more we use it, the more we see why and how we need to use it.
I’m sure there are things that I could be saying more. Just like when we built a training course and then immediately saw the next course needed to be built. I am clear that there’ll be uses for Highspot that are not in our orbit yet, and I truly can’t wait to learn them.
SS: Well, thank you so much for sharing what you have learned thus far, Debra. I really appreciate it.
DB: Thank you very much.
SS: 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 maximize enablement success with Highspot.