We spoke with Sean Murray, Xactly's Senior Director NA General Business, about the role of technology in sales and how onboarding and training are changing. As technology continues to impact organizations of all sizes, the first to adapt often set the example for their peers.
Sales technology is one of the fastest growing segments in the market. New solutions offer ways to organize entire teams, train naturally, and monitor growth.
CT: How has technology changed sales?
Sean Murray: Technology has made selling easier and harder, and I think it’s really because customers are smarter.
On the outbound side, technology has changed. The days of going to see every prospect in person are gone. Most things are done virtually because the capabilities have changed. It’s probably cliché to say that executives, prospects, or customers are busier than ever, but they seem busier. They don’t want to go to dinner, they don’t want to play golf.
Buyers are more educated than ever, thanks to expanding ways to connect. This impacts how sales teams react to leads and engage prospects, and how customers actually close - reps have to be more prepared than ever.
CT: There’s a common quote in sales - “buyers are 60% of the way through the process before they even talk to a rep.” Do you find that these buyers actually know what they’re looking for?
SM: They have a sense, but it’s usually high level. That’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen in the past 15 years. It makes messaging more important, segmentation models more and more important.
CT: How are reps and managers adjusting to the idea that a prospect is going to come to them with a perspective already developed?
SM: A lot of it is in messaging and getting to the point faster. There’s a word that we use (that we didn’t invent) – unteaching. That changes the entire dynamic, since it’s more proactive rather than reactive. It’s more imperative now to be able to break that apart, and sometimes tell them where they’re wrong and teach them what we really do. We’ve got to be – reps and managers together – smarter today. The days of feature dumping are gone.
Something that’s really important is how to create need and how to show them the problem that they think they have to get at the problem they really have. It’s a complex diagnostic. The overall theme: it’s hard.
CT: Do you segment reps by their ability to close inbound leads, or do reps receive all of the tools necessary to handle any level of buyer awareness?
SM: Everyone gets the same coaching. It’s very uncommon that executives that, when they come to us, are 60% through the process and all we have to do is the final 40% - it just doesn’t happen.
Teams are crossing oceans to meet the demand for global selling. With that shift comes radical new questions on alignment and training, and newer solutions to solve the challenges.
CT: Xaxtly now has a global team. What are some of the classic challenges with a global sales team, and how do you get them aligned, on point, and selling the same?
SM: I don’t manage our European team now, but it’s something in my comfort zone. I’ve done it for a few years in different offices. It’s just difficult, but today’s technology makes it easier, whether it’s video conferencing or different tools that we’re able to use where we can stay in sync with one another. But it’s difficult because people are people and it’s hard when you’re far away – you don’t get that personal connection.
Onboarding is a classic focus for Sales Leadership, Sales Enablement, and even Marketing. It offers one great chance to steer a rep's learning and progress before they go out to sell, concentrating best practices, messaging, and tribal knowledge into one span. Yet, the exact timing, strategy, and playbook often varies from company to company and even between managers.
CT: When you’re onboarding new reps, do you find more success with a robust, continual onboarding, or with a solid base and continual coaching?
SM: We need to get better there – onboarding and collapsing productivity time is always hard. We have a team member, Brian Groth, who has built out a playbook and plan that’s really very good (read Brian Groth's series on planning sales training here). We use it as we’re constantly hiring and growing, and it feels like hiring is something that we never stop doing. Having said that, onboarding can always be a lot tighter. I don’t know if constant certification is necessary, but the message changes constantly as we add new products, for example, and have to share what’s new and how to differentiate it from the competition. Ongoing certification is something that we can always do more of, just making sure that we’re getting the right message in the market.
The tenured rep question is always hard. You don’t want to push them out of selling, but their insights are always interesting. It’s that interesting balance of, “hey, we trust you, you’ve been here 2 years and you can probably figure it out” and training.
CT: You mentioned the idea of onboarding being continual, with the message evolving constantly. Do you think that they model of the once-a-year Sales Kickoff is going to shift or have to adapt?
SM: It should change. Real time example – we’re not having a Kickoff this year. What we want to do is have a series of quarterly events.
I think that once-a-year is cool. Getting everyone together to have recognition and high-fives is important, but the problem with doing it four times a year is that it’s expensive – it’s not realistic. A Kickoff with 100 reps can cost a quarter-million dollars, easily. What we want to start doing is smaller bites and being a bit more virtual. Things are changing quickly, and having this once a year feels normal because that’s what we’ve done for a million years, but that model should change.