If you miss Sales Pipeline Radio when it airs live on Thursdays (11:30am pst) below (and every Monday) you can read and/or listen in to recent episodes. This time I talk with Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer at Brainshark. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals. We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
We’ve featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests yet to come!
Join us for this episode: Sales Enablement’s Evolution from a Front Row Seat with Jim Ninivaggi,Chief Readiness Officer at Brainshark, Inc.
Hear Jim as he talks about:
- His front row seat to the evolution of sales enablement. How does it differ from what he saw 6 years ago?
- The “bifurcation” that is happening and how it is primarily around two key areas of sales enablement: sales readiness and sales content management. We will discuss what this means.
- We will discuss how this bifurcation is shaping the sales enablement tech landscape.
- How sales enablement is a critical component of marketing alignment in some key areas:
- Helping in the management of content.
- Ensuring reps can use assets effectively in their buyer interactions.
- Helping ensure lead conversion through better initial buyer conversations.
- Working hand-in glove with product marketing to ensure reps are ready to position enhancements and new products.
- We will wrap up by talking about the group that seems always lost in the alignment discussion – first-line managers, and how we need to think about providing assets for managers to use in coaching reps.
More about our guest: Jim is an established thought leader and business analyst from his former role as the head of SiriusDecisions’ sales enablement practice. He has researched and presented to business leaders around the world on advanced concepts in optimizing sales talent, maximizing rep productivity, world-class sales leadership and sales enablement technology. Jim has published more than 200 research briefs and engaged audiences at hundreds of conferences, forums and executive presentations.
Matt: Thank you everyone for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. We are here every Thursday live at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. If you’re joining us live, which I know many people do, we’re very excited to have you. If you’re joining us from the podcast, thank you very much for subscribing. If you’re interested in subscribing, you like what you hear today, you can join us every week at your convenience on demand at Google Play and the iTunes Store. Speaking of on demand, Paul, we’re available past, present, future, every episode is available a salespipelineradio.com.
We are featuring every week some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is no different. Very excited to have with us Jim Ninivaggi. He is the Chief Readiness Officer at BrainShark. Talking a little bit more in a minute about what BrainShark does, but he has been involved in sales enablement, sales readiness for many, many years. He was the Service Director for Sales Enablement Strategies for almost six years at SiriusDecisions. We’re super excited to have him. So, Jim, thanks very much for joining us today.
Jim Ninivaggi: Hey, Matt. It’s always a pleasure, and thanks for having me on today.
Matt: Absolutely. One of the smartest guys in sales enablement, one of the sharpest dressers in B2B, and, Jim, you literally have had a front row seat to the evolution and growth in sales enablement over the past several years. I mean, I was joking with someone the other day that it wasn’t that long ago when you really couldn’t use the term sales enablement in marketing material because no one knew what that was. Now all of a sudden it is a major category that is becoming dare I say close to table stakes for modern B2B companies. What have you seen over the past several years as you’ve really sort of been at the forefront from the infancy of this category?
Jim Ninivaggi: Yeah. Thank you of that compliment of being the sharp dresser. I am in sunny Florida, and I am in flip flops and a polo shirt.
Jim Ninivaggi: But so when I was asked by John Neeson, this goes back about seven or eight years ago, the founders of SiriusDecisions to start up a sales enablement practice, I said, “Absolutely. Excited to do it. What’s sales enablement?” I literally didn’t know what they were asking me to do because I had not really heard the term. Back then sales enablement in its infancy really was more of a marketing function than it was a sales function. If I look at the evolution of how my practice changed at SiriusDecisions, I would say back eight years ago we had primarily marketing folks were our what we called subscribers or seat holders. But if you look at when I left SiriusDecisions about a year and a half ago, it was almost 90% sales or reporting into sales. So back then the function was really focused more on content and content management, and over time the function involved to cover a broader range of sales readiness and sales enablement needs.
Matt: Who should be owning sales enablement at this point? I mean, I’ve seen, to your point, I’ve seen people on both the marketing side and sales side. Does it matter or is one group versus the other tend to be better at being successful with sales management?
Jim Ninivaggi: I’ve seen it successful with either group owning it. I know some people feel absolutely it’s a sales function. It should report in to sales. I kind of get that because it might have a little bit more credibility, right or wrong, with the sales folks if you’re reporting it as sales, but I’ve seen plenty of organizations where sales enablement falls under marketing and they’re doing a great job with the sales team. So I think it’s less around where it reports into and more around what does it do and what is it focused on and is clear in terms of its objectives, is it clear in terms of the metrics we’re going to use and KBIs we’re going to use to measure ourselves and measure how well we’re doing in terms of moving the needle with our sales people.
I think today predominantly it is falling more and more under sales because of that whole focus on onboarding and sales training, but I used to tell my seat holders all the time, it doesn’t matter where it reports into. What really matters is having it well defined and knowing what your mission is.
Matt: I would agree with that. I think it’s focus in its outcome is way more important than where it sits in chart. I would also agree that we’re seeing it more often sitting in sales than marketing. I actually think that’s a missed opportunity for marketing organizations who want to sort of demonstrate braver revenue responsibility, who want to have an impact further into the funnel, who cared about not just marketing source but marketing influenced revenue. I want to talk a little bit about kind of where sales enablement has maybe sort of where it originated to help companies sort of figure out where and who should be managing it.
But talking today with Jim Ninivaggi. He’s the Chief Readiness Officer at BrainShark. Before we go too much further, give us a definition of what you consider sales enablement to be? What are the key components? Whether or not someone calls it sales enablement, whether or not they describe it that way internally, what are the components that go into it that people need to be focused on? What is the desired outcome from those efforts?
Jim Ninivaggi: There are a gazillion definitions of sales enablement out there.
Jim Ninivaggi: I’m a pretty simple guy so I keep mine pretty simple, which is it’s ensuring that a sales person or it could be a business development rep, it could be a customer success manager, but ensuring that that sale person is showing up for every customer interaction. Whether that interaction is happening via email, on social, over the phone, via web conference or face to face, that rep shows up with the knowledge, the skills, and the assets that will make that interaction impactful to the buyer and hopefully move an opportunity forward. That’s my definition of enablement.
If you kind of work backwards from there, I talked about that sales person showing up with knowledge and skills. That typically means that hey, we’ve got to make sure that the sales people are well trained and that we have a continuous learning strategy to ensure that they show up with the latest knowledge about our competitors and about our products and about the marketplace. I also talked about assets, and that’s all about having the right content and presenting that content in a way that is relevant and impactful for that particular interaction.
I run enablement here at BrainShark. I feel my job is to ensure that when a buyer leaves an interaction with a sales person from BrainShark, even if they don’t buy from us, although I hope they always do. They say, “You know what, that was time well spent, and that was a sales person that I’d hire my own organization.” That, to me, is ultimately my job at BrainShark is to … All the other stuff, as well, in terms of shortening sales cycles and improving win rates and all that good stuff, but ultimately, the thing that I really have most control over is ensuring that our reps are showing up ready to rock and roll for that particular interaction.
Matt: Again, we haven’t been talking about sales enablement as a category that long. I remember it was maybe four, maybe five years ago working with one of the early, kind of early doctor vendors in the marketplace, and they were saying that their primary target for sales enablement software was actually the product marketing organization. I think a lot of companies when they think of sales enablement and they start to hear you talk about, “Oh, it’s content. Oh no, our product marketing team does that.” I was talking to an enterprise company earlier this week and we were desperately trying to figure out how we would create better top of funnel content for their named content teams to engage their prospects. They kept saying, “Well, our product team does the accounts. They’ll tell you what product we just to talk about.” So I think it’s nice to know sometimes where that came from, but there’s a danger in that still sitting with and being grounded in product marketing maybe for that reason. Can you talk about sort of pros and cons of that approach or that origin?
Jim Ninivaggi: Yeah. I think it was this concept that we could content and message our way to enablement. That as a product marketer if I just gave the reps the right messaging and gave them the best content that that’s all we needed to do and here, here’s your messaging. Here’s your content. Share that content and share it at the right time. It just doesn’t work that way. Sales is not about messaging. It’s about conversations, right? So what enablement needs … When I look at what, for example, what we do at BrainShark is we’ve got a terrific product marketing team that create great content for our reps, great messaging. Our job in enablement is to take that and then turn it into a conversation and to make sure that our sales people are able to use that messaging in a real conversation that never goes the way that you plan. Right? That’s the downside of messaging.
I had a client once say, “Jim, we tried messaging, but our customers kept forgetting the lines.” It never works out exactly the way that you expect it to. So I say I want to get my reps ready for improvisation and I want them to be so in tune to what our product features can do and they’re ability to translate to the value of whoever they’re sitting across from. That’s ultimately the job of enablement. I can’t do that without my product marketing folks, right? I can’t create the content that they can create, and that content is terrific and it’s super valuable. But we got to make sure that our reps are using that content in a conversation.
I was a sales person in an earlier life. I never won a deal because my brain told me I had better content than my competitors, right? Contents important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s content together with impactful conversations and the ability to demonstrate value. That’s really kind of wrapping up what enablement is all about.
Matt: Love it. I think we’re going to take a little bit of an early break to pay some bills. Got a lot of great content. Got to write more questions for our guest today, Jim Ninivaggi. He’s the Chief Readiness Sales Readiness Officer for BrainShark. We’re going to be talking a little bit out what is sales readiness mean? How is that different than the topic of sales enablement. Getting a little deeper into sort of what’s working and what not working as companies increase their sales enablement as a function. We’ll be right back. Sales Pipeline Radio.
Matt: Well, if you like what you’re hearing on Sales Pipeline Radio so far today, you’re going to love what you’re going to hear from future episodes as well as past episodes. Make sure you don’t miss any of those by going to salespipelineradio.com. All of our episodes are available on demand.
Coming up next couple weeks. Next week we have Jenn Martin. She runs sales for a startup called BitTitan here in Seattle. We’re going to be talking about how to adjust your market strategy when you have a new product. Just because you’ve sold a certain way in a certain market with a previous products doesn’t mean that same go to market sales or marketing strategy will apply to your new market. So we’re going to talk about differences and how to know when to make those changes with Jenn Martin next week.
Week after that we got Raviv Turner. Very excited to talk about the idea of data intelligence and what that can do. Smarter way of thinking about data within your organization.
Coming up at the beginning of May, very excited to have Elissa Fink. She is the CMO of Tableau Software. She has been CMO of Tableau Software since I think they were maybe nine people at the company and they are now probably traded large organization. Talk about how different sales and marketing efforts mature as companies go through different phases of growth.
But today, got a little more time with Jim Ninivaggi. He’s the Chief Readiness Officer for BrainShark, and, Jim, what exactly does sales readiness mean? We’re just finally getting our arms around what sales enablement might mean. How is sales readiness different?
Jim Ninivaggi: I think I am the only person in the world with the title Chief Readiness Officer because I looked it up on LinkedIn and right now if you search Chief Readiness Officer, it’s just me.
Jim Ninivaggi: So BrainShark, we call ourselves a sales readiness platform. The reason we did that and if you kind of look at the sales enablement technology space, for a while there everybody was kind of lumped in together and we as vendors were partly to blame. Because if you looked at our websites, all of us were touting ourselves as the leading sales enablement platform, right?
Jim Ninivaggi: It could be that we were. The reality was we were, in many cases, trying to solve different problems. So for example, companies like Savvo, Seismic, Highspot, they really focused on sales content management. Whereas BrainShark, we’re focused on what we would call sales readiness, which is that ability to train your sales people but also to assess for to ensure that they are ready for those conversations. To a certain extent, we’ve seen that fight for cation, it’s happened both on the technology side where we now we’re not lumped in with the sales content management players and they’re not lumped in with us. As a matter of fact, we’ve got partnerships with some of those companies. Readiness is now recognized as a distinct category of sales technology. Forester and SiriusDecisions and other research firms are covering companies like us different than the sales content management players.
Matt: So double click on that topic of sales readiness. I think a lot of times with companies that I think are putting an increased focus on the sales enablement, sales readiness, sales operations, they’re thinking about active selling time. I think I may have first heard about that from you and Trip and others both at SiriusDecisions talking about the percent of time people spend actively selling. For organizations that are focused on metrics and want to make this quantifiable, do a benchmark of how much time your reps are spending actively selling and figure out how to minimize the amount of the rest of the time they have to spend to be ready, not just ready to sell, but to actively sell. You’re never going to get all that 75% back. I mean, I’d say 75%. I’ve seen data as low as 25% of a field sales rep time actively selling. But from your seat, what are some of the primary culprits of taking time away from reps from selling? What are the things that they spend the most time doing not selling that can potentially be reeled back and made more efficient?
Jim Ninivaggi: Yeah. Well certainly reporting.
Jim Ninivaggi: The amount of reporting that sales people are expected to do today compared to 15 or 20 years ago is ridiculous. So a lot of time reps are spending just reporting, entering content or data into their CRMs and that takes up a lot of time. Content creation or finding content that’s a huge time suck. Just having to because they can’t find what they need, sales people end up figure out a way so they’ll build their own stuff. That’s really if you look at those sales content management players, that’s their focus.
Email, email is a huge, huge time sucker. I did a time emotion study for a large software company when I was at SiriusDecisions and we found that on average their sales people were losing six to eight hours a week sifting through corporate email. I’m not talking about email that was coming from prospects and customers, just stuff that was coming from corporate. So one of the things that I did, first things I did at BrainShark and taking over the readiness side was implementing a policy that nobody could directly email our sales people unless you’re the CSO or CEO or there was a urgency to the information getting to the field. Instead, we have a weekly newsletter. It goes out every Friday afternoon. Our reps know when it comes. It’s set up and structured consistently, and they know where to go now to get information about upcoming events, sales enablement happenings, product announcement, marketing assets.
That’s a very simple fix if anybody out there who is running enablement, take a look at how much time your reps spend on email, and guaranteed you can get them back at least two to three hours a week to active selling time.
Matt: I love that feedback. That’s such a great suggestion. One of the other places we see a lot of companies, a lot of sales reps say they spend a ton of time is you mentioned reporting and reps talk about CRM. Like how much time they spend in systems adding information that someone’s asked, filling out details about an activity they just had, and this gets into sort of the issue. I guess the difference between sales enablement and sales operations, right? I think traditionally sales ops has been very maybe more administrative, maybe more tactical, more react. I think the idea of sales enablement, sales readiness means we can be more strategic, more proactive. What does that mean relative to CRM? How do we start to make CRM either more efficient for reps or start to sort of help them use other tools or other means to sort of get back more of that time for actively selling?
Jim Ninivaggi: Yeah. I think if I had the answer to this, I’d be a billionaire, right?
Jim Ninivaggi: I’d be a Marc Benioff. But I think because I have this theory that if you were to go, I’m old enough to have sold before there was CRM. We used advocatus to calculate commissions. I saw CRM being introduced into corporate America and I had this theory that CRM is actually hurt sales productivity as opposed to help sales productivity. For all the things that you talked about. Reps spend a lot of time just sitting there and feeling out data, required data, updating their forecast, their pipelines. I think the way that we fix that is rather than the rep going into this CRM, the CRM is capturing from the rep what they’re doing based on the activities that the rep is doing. So getting the rep out of the CRM and getting them back into tools that make them more productive, like readiness platform, like a productivity platform. Those things that can guide a sales person through their next best activity, and behind the scenes you can have CRM capturing that data and updating records so that the sales person doesn’t have to do it. I believe we’ll get there eventually, but not in the short term horizon. As much talk as there has been around this idea of kind of capturing through artificial intelligence, information from reps, I haven’t seen an application that’s really field ready yet.
Matt: Well, the worlds ready for another Marc Benioff, Jim. I think that could be you if we can figure this out. We do see plenty of sales organizations where the reps spend little to know time actually in CRM. There’s plenty of tools that they can use that I think are better interfaces for the sales reps. I think companies that are using tools like BrainShark, looking at tools like Outreach and Sales Loft, and using that as the sales interface to make them more productive.
We’re quickly running out of time with Jim Ninivaggi today. He’s the Chief Readiness Officer, Sales Readiness Officer at BrainShark. Last question for you, Jim, I mean, you’ve been in the sales world for a long time. We always ask people a version of this question. Who were some of the people that have been most influential for you along your career path? They can be dead or alive. They can be authors. They can be managers, mentors, but one or two people that maybe other listeners of this show should go out, seek out as sources of insight and inspiration as well.
Jim Ninivaggi: On the sales side, actually was my first sales manager, this guy Jerry Mason. He taught me the ability to be strategic. He taught me the power of the written word. He was absolutely phenomenal. I love the Daniel Pink book To Sell Is Human. I think part of the struggle as a sales enablement leader is that everybody comes to the table with preconceived notions of what sales is, and sales people, you hear that term sales people are coin operated and all the kind of stuff. Part of my job or part of that job of any sales enablement leader is to educate the entire company on what sales really is all about and what drives sales people and what is selling. It’s not selling ice to an Eskimo because if you do that, you’re going to lose a customer for life. I think the book To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink is a great way to educate your entire company about what selling is truly about.
Matt: Yeah. I would agree. It’s the one book that I often recommend to people, especially those that aren’t in sales. For people that want to understand how good sales works, but they’re not in sales. They’re not going to read a more methodology driven book I think To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. Recommendation. Well, we unfortunately are out of time. We got a lot more we could keep going for days. We could talk about a lot of different topics, but really appreciate our time with Jim Ninivaggi. He’s the Sales Readiness Officer at BrainShark.
If you like this conversation and want to make sure others in your organization listen to it, you will have access to this on demand up on not only the podcast feed and iTunes store and Google Play, but up on demand at salespipelineradio.com just in a couple days. We will also do a highlight blog post featuring some of the best and brightest of what Jim shared with us today on HeinzMarketing.com in about 10 days.
Make sure you join us next week. We’ve got a lot of great guests as we get further into Q2, further into April, further into spring. Paul, the sun’s coming. I apologize for the overcast today, but our great guest in flip flops and polo shirts maybe give inspiration it will be around the corner.
Thanks everyone for joining us today for my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next week. Sales Pipeline Radio.