The importance of connecting training and enablement to professional development

Feb 20, 2020
Author: Collin Stewart

Aside from actually executing on one’s in-the-trenches sales responsibilities – the most important thing a rep can do – a critical, yet often overlooked, element of a sales career is professional development.

Being good at the day-to-day is necessary, but what about a year down the road? Sales professionals need to grow and mature – or they’ll eventually leave.

There is plenty written about effectively managing and helping grow a sales team. But, according to David Somers, Director of Sales and Customer Enablement at GitLab, there is a missing element in most discussions surrounding professional development: connecting that future-focused discipline with training and enablement.

That combination will, says Somers, improve your team and engender a culture of support – a critical element to retaining your valuable team members.

“There is a common misconception about growing revenue that is all about hiring new team members. But, how do you take existing folks and make them more efficient? That can improve sales productivity as well. It isn’t always capacity – it’s also about making people 5%, 10%, 15% better,” says Somers, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

Now, combine that with the cost of key talent leaving. Remember, people leave their managers, not really companies. People want to grow, and position themselves for the next thing. So if that is true, make sure that the training and development you are giving aligns with professional development. It should help get them where they want to go. Your team will see that your company is there to help them get you where they want to go.

How to connect training and professional development

How does one actually connect training and enablement with professional development? What does that look like at an executional level?

It starts with defining what success looks like for the roles on your team, says Somers. And that definition, comes from outlining these four questions:

  • What does the person need to know to be successful in their role?
  • What does the person need to do to be successful in their role?
  • What does the person need to say to be successful in their role?
  • What does the person need to show to be successful in their role? 

By using these questions as a framework for success (and improvement), managers can pinpoint areas of focus for their team members and, if a team member is surpassing expectations, easily build on them to create more challenging goals.

For new team members,  connecting training and professional development begins with defining what does good look like at 30, 60, and 90 days.

Finally, once you have onboarding nailed down and you’ve answered what success looks like for the roles on your team, it’s time to create a regular meeting model that allows managers to have tailored 1-on-1 conversations with their reps. This dedicated facetime gives team members a chance to discuss their jobs, and bring up ways that they can improve their skill set.  

“It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to have these larger, more broad conversations. But, they are critical to giving your reps the space they need to think about how they can get better,” says Somers.

Make sure you take the time to do this.

(Editor’s note: we had Jeffrey Serlin, Head of Global Sales Operations at Intercom on the pod a while back to discuss how sales operations inspire process, success, and adoption in leading organizations. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here).

GitLab’s sales learning framework

In addition to designing a robust onboarding program and a meeting process that helps inspire growth on your team, it’s imperative that all managers (and company leaders) clearly define the foundational concepts and skills team members are expected to master.

If you’re going to define where a team member can go, it is helpful to define where they need to start. Think of this as a living supplement to the 30, 60, 90 plans mentioned above.

For example, GitLab has a public sales learning framework that outlines the basic expectations of its sales team members such as:

    • GitLab target audiences
      this section includes ideal customer profiles, customer environments where opps for GitLab are ripe, targeted buyer personas, and industry relevant insights etc.
    • Industry topics and trends: this section includes areas and topics Gitlab salespeople need to be conversant in, such as devops, CI/CD, Kubernetes, and SDLC etc.
    • Why GitLab?: this section includes a definition of a compelling, value-driven message GitLab salespeople are expected to articulate  to customers and prospects.
    • Competition: this section includes information on GitLab’s competition. Salespeople are expected to demonstrate the knowledge and ability to beat out competitors.  
    • GitLab portfolio: this section includes details on the GitLab portfolio (offering tiers, SDLC, phases, services, training etc.) that GitLab salespeople must be able to relay to customers.
    • Functional Skills and Processes: finally, this section includes the skills GitLab salespeople must be able to consistently demonstrate the sales skills and behaviours (including adherence to standard processes, use of tools like Salesforce, negotiation skills etc.) that lead to desired outcomes. 

When is the right time to build a framework that aligns professional development and training?

Full disclosure: building out these processes can feel overwhelming. And, as mentioned at the outset of this post, the day-to-day sales responsibilities will always be the priorities of a rep.

So, then, when should a manager begin instituting the ideas outlined here? When is the right time to align professional development and training?

Well, says Somers, the right time is when a team reaches the point that the ROI of one more salesperson has less effect than adding someone that understands adult learning, and can proliferate that to the whole organization.

“It’s really hard to say there is a perfect time perfect or company size to do this,” says Somers.

But, I would ask: would you rather have 51 salespeople, or 1 training and enablement person? Which has more effect? Which has more power? Maybe you get more of an effect from that 1 training and enablement person.

For more of Somers’ thoughts on training and professional development – including the impact of this alignment, incorporating tests and certifications, and balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the individual – check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.