Jim Moliski is the SVP Product Marketing and Sales Enablement at Corporate Visions, where he spearheads efforts to enable a diverse, global sales team to apply the right messages, content, and skills to be effective in the marketplace. The experience Jim brings to Corporate Visions helps to inform its own solutions that help salespeople communicate value across the three conversations that are required for a business-to-business selling engagement. Jim previously worked at Launch International, later acquired by Corporate Visions, and served as VP of Sales Enablement Consulting at The SAVO Group. We spoke with Jim about his experience in Sales Enablement, and the tools, strategies, and philosophies needed to help reps break the status quo and tell a differentiated story across the entire customer buying cycle.
You’ve transitioned from SAVO, a company pioneering a new approach to sales enablement, to a role as an enablement leader yourself. How has this perspective on the approach to enablement changed over this time period?
There’s always a struggle to manage the amount of communication that salespeople get. Trying to separate the signal from the noise, making sure that they get the right information without being overwhelmed with too much stuff is critical. It’s continuing to be a challenge, because now, salespeople have many, many more tools than they had even 5 years ago, and they have a lot more ways to sell. When I was at SAVO (I left in 2010), social media was just starting to come into prominence, and was really in the realm of someone in your marketing department. Now, especially with the great work that LinkedIn has done, most salespeople have been seeing social selling as a critical tool. A lot more salespeople have social in their toolkit, and that’s because it’s getting harder and harder to get people on the phone or email.
It’s a trend of increasing complexity that’s continuing. It makes it even more critical for someone with an enablement role to really try and narrow the focus and try to do an 80/20 on what’s really important for salespeople. When I talk to my CEO about the enablement work we’re doing, a question he often asks is: 'you’re adding stuff – what are you taking out? How are you making sure that you’re communicating the most critical stuff?'
Overall, I would characterize the last few years less about a change; it’s more of a trajectory that we saw four years ago that has continued.”
CT: When you then look at tools and processes within enablement, how do you look at ROI? Is it a number to you, a result, or just the idea that reps are doing something?
JM: “For us, it all comes down to closed business. Sometimes enablement can take some credit for it, and sometimes not.
At Corporate Visions, we recognize that it’s so important that we have an outside firm BeyondROI, that helps our customers quantify the value they get from working with us.
Within enablement at Corporate Visions, there are some activities that are table stakes – you have to do them regardless of any ROI that you can measure. For example, our salespeople have to be certified on a set of conversations that are designed to tell customers a story about why they should change from the status quo and why they should consider our solutions. We’ve conducted several rounds of research that has shown consistently that those two conversations – a “why change” story about moving away from the status quo and “why you” story about how your offerings address customer challenges – are critical to selling success. We teach our clients how to tell those stories and we expect our own salespeople to master the Corporate Visions stories themselves.
That’s where CommercialTribe comes in. Our in-person meeting and training time is at a premium. So we need to get reps to do as much practice and training as possible in virtual environments. Reps can practice their stories using CommercialTribe, and managers can offer feedback at a time that works for both. That gives us the ability to do more advanced training activities when we meet in person. For example, at our last kickoff, we had everyone practice and record their stories in CommercialTribe ahead of time. When we met in person, we were able to do more advanced role-play scenarios because everyone already had the basic story down."
CT: You mentioned that salespeople have a lot of noise heading into their department. What do you see as noise, and what is critical?
JM: “I would say that, across our organization and with some visibility into what our clients are doing, one of the key parts of noise is too much product or solution information that gets directed at the salesperson. This is especially the case when there is a complex, diverse portfolio. What a lot of companies do is assume that the salesperson has to be a PhD in product knowledge, when in reality what they need to do is have a more general understanding of each product or solution and then the ability to bring in a specialist when necessary. I think of it as of general practitioners and specialists in the medical field: you have a general practice doctor that will see you and diagnose something, then send you to a specialist. Unfortunately, a lot of enablement is designed to give the generalist the sum total of all product and solution information. It would be similar to expecting a family practice doctor to know everything about every specialty, form neurology to oncology."
CT: When you look at the “sales tool stack,” which is the set of tools and investments that organizations have, what do find is most often missing from the average approach? What aren’t average companies investing in?
JM: "There are so many sales tools on the market, that I can’t even hope to keep up. We tend to focus more on overall spending priorities, especially when it comes to training. We actually just published a study that covers this. Companies are continuing to invest in the sales process piece, but where they find the biggest missing link is actually in the message piece - in other words, what happens when the salesperson actually has to say something.
What we found was that more than 61% of companies believe that a sales rep’s ability to deliver a distinct point of view is the most important factor in driving deals to close. And it outscored the next fact by a factor of over 3 to 1.
Companies realize they need great conversations, but when you look at what they’re investing in, it’s still sales processes. There’s a dissonance there – companies say that messaging is the most important thing, but it’s ranked number three in terms of spending priority.”
CT: Do you find it to be more important for companies to develop that message, or to develop the alignment behind any message? Is it more of a combination of tools needed?
JM: "You have to have alignment and a great message. You can’t have one without the other. What happens in a lot of companies is that they spend a lot of time creating the message, and the marketing team might create content from it, but companies rarely do a good enough job of getting their salespeople to use that message. You then end up with a something we call a conversion gap. Companies spend a lot time cultivating leads, and those people read your content and download your infographics, executive briefs, and white papers, and at some point, they raise their hand and want to talk to a salesperson. The salesperson comes in and tells a completely different story, and boom – all of that effort has gone to waste because the salesperson cannot continue the conversation. We call that a conversion gap, because leads are not getting converted.
So some companies are investing, into that 'why change' message, but there is often not a lot of alignment on the sales organization side, so overall story is not coming across.”
CT: If you look at enablement as a function, where do you see the best investment of time? Is it in the product marketing side, developing that messaging and matching it to the marketplace, or actually on the sales side, making sure that the message is being executed correctly?
JM: “Enablement is a challenge, because there is still not a completely clear definition of what it is. The way I think enablement is most effective is when it’s the organization that can be an advocate for sales, and use a salesperson as a design point for all skills and knowledge development activities. In other words, in larger companies, you have all of these groups that are creating information and throwing it over the fence to salespeople. That’s what I saw with most companies when I started at SAVO in 2004 – companies said that their sales portals were becoming dumping grounds of all of the information from all over the place, and salespeople basically accessed the portal a few times, downloaded a few things, and ultimately hit the off switch. They then started to create their own stories and go out into the market effectively as a solo marketing team. It’s clearly not an optimal way to run a sales organization.
In the past, there was a sales training person, but the training person was really only coordinating an onboarding events and a few skills and knowledge development sessions. Onboarding was little more than what I call product manager parade. The salesperson sits down, and hour after hour, a different product manager would present his or her product. It’s a lot of information pushed on salespeople. A couple months later, they might go through a methodology training, where they review sales process – how to qualify opportunities or create a proposal – and that was it. That methodology training is often completely disconnected from the other training.
At some point, people said that what we really need is to use the salesperson as the design point for all of these activities, and have someone create a function that says, “how do we make sure that we’re prioritizing what salespeople really need to know and get them the information in context of what they need to do?” It makes it more of an activity-based approach.”
CT: How have you used video in crafting or deploying your enablement content? What are the use cases you see for it as you look across the landscape?
JM: “The biggest thing is the work we’re doing with CommercialTribe, which is critical. There’s something that happens when a salesperson knows that they’re going to be on video. It’s almost as if they go to a different level of attention. They spend a lot more time practicing, and it becomes a lot more like a live customer event. It’s asynchronous so that they can do it anytime, and fits into the chaotic schedules that salespeople and managers have. Being able to use video fits into people’s schedules and gives salespeople the opportunity to practice, rerecord, practice again, and rerecord.
On top of that, we’re making a lot more very short instructional videos. As an example, we just created a package on helping our salespeople create organizational maps. We just created a bunch of 1-2 minute videos showing them how to do some key things. The key is to make it short, very direct, and work into a model that people want to watch.
We also have an international team, so it’s even harder to get them on the phone at the same time. That can be a big problem. If you have an international organization, you have the “haves” and the “have nots,” and it’s very frustrating for someone in Singapore to either get up at 3am to get on a call or not get the information. Video is a great way to counteract that, and make that person feel like part of the team and have them not miss out.”