Hi listeners. My guest was Alea Homison from AlphaSense. She runs sales strategy and enablement and the topic we initially started on was that losers have goals and winners have systems. We discussed how sales enablement can be a big-time lever for any organization. Hope you enjoy it.
Kyle: Well Alea thank you for being on the podcast today. The topic today is losers have goals and winners have systems. This is one of the best mantras that I've heard. Tell us about your background and how that concept even came to you.
Alea: Thanks for having me. I have a bit of a non-typical sales background. I did start in sales out of undergrad but then but did a couple of pivots where I went to Business School, spend some time in investment banking and corporate strategy and then found myself back to sales strategy over the past decade, which is also my current role. Turns out sales is what I love to do. I've been here at AlphaSense for the past 2 years with the mandate of how do we optimize talent across the entire sales and service organization. So whether you're an account executive, an account manager, product specialist or a sales development rep with us, how do we help you get to first deals faster? If you're a new hire, how do we optimize productivity? If you're an existing hire, our motto is how do we help you do whatever with any means possible to help you be better today than you were yesterday?
Alea: When I joined AlphaSense there was no sales enablement in place so we started with foundational elements which are 3 different sales enablement programs. For new hires, we have 2 programs, the on-boarding program focused on the markets we sell into and the personas within those markets that buy from us and deep expertise around our products, our messaging and also ____ in discovery. Then we have a 12-week new hire performance ramp which gives them more information and is essential for their success in the market.
The third program for us is ongoing sales effectiveness which is by far the biggest umbrella and whether you've been here for 10 years or for 1 day, it's for how we are helping you. And that takes a variety of different formats like costume training, dual workshops, account calls, and strategy planning, client call and client meeting, coaching, and repping. So we lean very commercial in our sales enablement function but essentially how are we helping them, for their specific territory, their specific clients, their specific deals their working on, how do we help move the needle in whatever way works as needed by that rep.
Kyle: And I can imagine being a CRO at a company knowing that there is a team dedicated to supporting your team members individually has got to be just a huge wind at your back as a sales team? Have you seen a big move in the needle or how do you measure the effectiveness of this.
Alea: Obviously I'm a little biased but I think it is a huge benefit especially with that commercial leaning. Like I'm an extension of the other VPs of sales for this organization and they are an extension of me and so a lot of things we're doing around that client coaching and those deal workshops are certainly things that the other VPS are also doing. But the organization, from a travel expectation, is going to pull them in different directions. And with the ongoing sales effectiveness program, it allows the organization, (regardless of the business needs for any given leader at any time doesn't have to be a distraction from) a continuous and consistent investment and professional development of individuals across the team.
And how we measure that is for new hires we are laser-focused on leading indicators that would allow us to give confidence that they're going to ramp effectively. We look at how many meetings they've sourced, the pipeline associated with those meetings. We have a trial process as part of our product, so how many trials they have activated at any given time and then, of course, close one deals associated in any given month and so we're paying attention to those leading indicators to understand success. And where the rubber meets the road is how quickly can they close deals and how fast can they ramp to a fully productive account executive or account manager on the team.
Kyle: Interesting. So you have to be very qualitative. Like we are going to coach you through how to do these things and be very qualitative to know if it's working or not and then make adjustments if need be, yeah?
Alea: Exactly right.
Kyle: It feels like you're sprinting. The fact that you have a sales enablement team geared towards supporting sales reps and you're quantitatively measuring the performance, it seems too good to be true. It's very rare for companies to do this thing very well.
Alea: Like so many things, it starts at the top. I'm very fortunate to have a CEO and CRO that believe deeply in the importance of sales enablement and investing in the sales and service team in the organization by giving them all the tools, coaching and process they need to be effective as possible.
Step one, the organization has to think of sales enablement in a broader sense. Sometimes sales enablement can be pigeonholed in collateral or even in operations. Here we have an amazing product marketing team and an amazing ___ operations team who I partner extensively on but I'm not spending my time owning those things. It really allows our sales enablement to function be commercial leaning and add impact in different ways.
The second piece is the culture that you have within your organization. If you have people that are not open to change and if there is not a learning base culture it won't work. The success has to do with the attitude and culture within the organization. Here we have a sales and service organization that to its core and within its DNA is a learning culture. The senior and most successful people are those individuals that are most engaged in the ongoing sales enablement program.
And then it's like anything, starting with the basics and those 3 programs I mentioned earlier and get a foundation built that is going to allow you to iterate and scale and be open to feedback and listening to clients and reps in order to adjust and be nimble enough to address the needs of the organization at any given point in time.
Alea: As an executive, when people ask me what keeps me up at night, it is this piece of the culture around continuous learning which I am so protective towards because it is so special and hard to find and hard to keep. On the maintaining side is never do training or sessions for the sake of doing training. Everything we do has to have an enablement function and help individuals be better at their role or think better about their professional development.
From a hiring perspective, I have the pleasure of interviewing everybody that joins our sales and services organization at some point in the process and one thing that I am looking for is the coach-ability of the interviewee. And the way we get to that is and what is most telling in our interview process is, right before they meet the CEO as a last and final step, we have individuals come in and pitch us on AlphaSense.
Of course, there is only a certain amount you can expect from individuals that are new to a company, and you're looking at a lot of things like sales best practices and things like that. But one of the things we do which is the most telling is we have individuals go through, do the role play with the deck and the demo and give them a sense of the culture here at AlphaSense is we walk them through some very structured feedback.
We structure feedback on build-upons and think-abouts. Build-upons being things we thought they did particularly well, so we can reinforce some really good things early for folks and think-abouts are those things they can think about doing differently. Hopefully, that is helpful for them whether they join AlphaSense or not. But how individuals react to that feedback and engage with that feedback is so incredibly telling from a coach-ability and a learning perspective, so that is something we focus a lot on. This does two things. We get to see how they react to it and also they know what they're getting into. Life-long learners are drawn to this type of feedback and some people not so much.
Kyle: How you prioritize your time, I've kind of had this mentality if I do a meeting it's either a hell yes or it's no. I should definitely be doing this or not. Nothing in-between. You could be pulled in a lot of different directions as an enablement person. Collateral, training, on-boarding.
Alea: It's interesting. My mantra is maybe is a no. For me, because we tie sales enablement so closely to revenue and metrics and results it allows me the freedom to say no to anything that doesn't have a clear line of sight to those metrics and those goals i.e. we're here to get a new hire, to close deals faster, increase productivity. And if we can't say and if we do that then this is how we measure success then it's a no. If we feel we are having a meaningful impact on the top or bottom line, those are the hell yesses.
Kyle: How do you decide to be proactive instead of reactive?
Alea: I don't think you can ever be 100% proactive. But as I mentioned before, we have a great rev ops team. The leader of that team and I are talking every week. Sometimes more. And what we're doing is, using the sources we have, we will formulate our own perspectives and then get together to talk through them. Once we have an aligned view, I will look at what is the enablement plan around that using training, coaching, or workshopping.
Alea: They are 100% aligned and I think that is so important. And something we do differently here at AlphaSense, which is a testament to our Chief Revenue Officer Kiva Kolstein who I think thinks about enablement more strategically, more broad and certainly more commercial than other CROs. And because of that, my mandate starts to fall into this broader like sales strategy like a bucket. But that means you have to be comfortable that you're going to be measured in the same way that a sales organization is, with respect to effectiveness and have your compensation tied to that. Many sales organizations are not yet tying that compensation to results but this is going to change.
Kyle: And it seems like, along with incentives, a challenge is that you can't control the sales team. You're obviously doing training and enablement, you can lead a horse to the water but you can't necessarily make them drink, that could be a potential frustration. You guys have your incentives aligned with total revenue or do you look at some more things? Do they consider what is the completion rate of this course or this training? They're very different. With one you have much more control of, the second one is much more impactful.
Alea: We don't tie performance in any way to like a percent completion of a course. In some ways we do with respect to certification, right? But not on the sales enablement side because we want sales enablement to be able to be objective. We tie performance to the overall revenue of the organization and we tie it to ramp of new hires.
Kyle: What does your refresh, recycle, change process look like?
Alea: For our on-boarding process specifically, everybody goes through that. Because whether you're an engineer, design, product, or marketing, we believe in an understanding of the industries we sell into, the personas within those industries and buy from us and deep knowledge of our product are central to the success in any role. We get a lot of feedback there and in some ways from individuals that are brand new, you really have to make them comfortable giving you those think-abouts, right? Those areas of improvement. I try to really proactively seek out and get people comfortable sharing feedback as we go through. There is a continuous feedback loop through them to give me via the on-boarding and new hire programs. Because we are a feedback-rich organization, a lot of individuals will shoot me an email or just come up to me and share feedback with me. We don't have formalized feedback mechanisms in place, although we do it for big milestones and events like that.
Kyle: It sounds like the culture is the cornerstone of this. If people have not bought into the culture, you won't be able to succeed with this.
Alea: I don't like to think that anything is impossible. I do think it would be exceptionally difficult to go into an organization that does not have that culture and both be successful in enablement, while also changing the culture. I think that is exceptionally hard to do because if people don't want to do it they're not gonna do it.
Alea: When I was going through the process with AlphaSense, roughly 2 years ago, they allowed me to meet with everyone I felt I needed to meet with. I had time with the CEO, Head of Sales, Head of Product, Sales Leaders, and Sales Reps, etc.
I would suggest that you get time with leadership because it starts from the top down. And it's important for you to know how bought in they are of this life long and continues learning process. Firstly have conversations with the right people and secondly take advantage of those conversations. I asked every individual how open did they think the broader organization was to change and that is how you get a sense of whether people will come to the table or not.
Alea: I did have individuals that did say: listen, some individuals are better than others regarding continues learning and that allowed me to ask what do you mean by that and that allows you very organically to dig in. The reality is that no organization is perfect and in some ways, you want to hear that because that allows you to dig in. And people have a different sense of what change means and it's important to find out why they're saying what they're saying and what they really mean.
Alea: I have to give credit for that saying to a dear friend, Matt E, who's an amazing marketing leader who did a session around systems. It was a beautiful system of how to be successful in his personal life and his business life. One of his slides had this quote and it really stuck with me.
Alea: I don't look at systems from a ___ perspective. One thing we brought in was a sales methodology. We use Sandler methodology. More important than the methodology you choose is that you have to have a sales methodology in your organization. This will allow for the organization to speak the same language and to be more efficient in your coaching and conversation. A sales methodology was one of the first systems we put in place.
Another system is the sales engagement platform. Your outreaches and your sales offs. The system is multi-touch, multi-channel, intentional outreach at scale and customise outreach at scale. And so I think this is another way to enable individuals to be successful right across the board.
Time management is a big part of our systems here. And we have, particularly for the sales development team, a daily learning habit, for 30 min every day for best practice sharing that is kind of a professional development system and they take the time blocking idea to more of an extreme to enable them to be successful.
Alea: For our account executives the quarterly reviews are used to see what worked and what did not work for them. The sales development team does high impact ___ training. And they operate in 90 minute time-blocks The idea is if we are laser focused in that time-block to customize emails and picking up that phone and calling individuals and we know they're running hard for 90 minutes, then we take a breather for 30 and then we're back on. This alleviates that feeling of today is just one long marathon. This allows them to think of productivity in a different way. Then they start setting goals for the first hunting block. And the entire team does it at the same time, which allows for a lot of efficiency within the eb and flow of a team. Meetings are also scheduled around the time-blocking. And then we have an organization that is bought into supporting that team because there is a core system in place that has allowed them to be successful.
Kyle: I love that. If everybody's bought into it, you will see a lot of success, right?
Alea: Yeah, and I think important too, kind of back to your question of how do you measure success, you should be able to demonstrate that a system gets success. I think you can get into trouble if you are trying to enforce a system that clearly doesn't move the needle on success. Once you prove the success, then it becomes a no brainer for people. Also, you don't want the team to waste creative energy and brain space on how do I manage my day? Take that off them so they can use that creative energy to think: how do I connect to this person? And once there is success with the system, there comes this pride in what they are doing as a team.
And I think it's important to note that I am a big believer that systems are not at odds with creativity. The system should allow the team to spend time on high impact activities like creating scripts that feels and sounds authentic. The organization owes them a system to be successful and then you give them a ton of creative freedom within that system.
Kyle: I love it. That's a great spot to end it. This has been super enlightening and changed my perspective on this idea of systems don't just mean technology, they mean processes and ways of executing things. Thank you so much for doing this podcast, it's been great.