Episode #16: "How to Get Your Sales Reps to Remember Their Sales Training," with Mark Magnacca

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Sara Varni

Bringing the entire sales team together for a sales kickoff is a well established sales practice, but research is showing it may not be the best use of time and money. Listen in as Mark Magnacca, President and Co-Founder at Allego, shares how mobile video is revolutionizing how sales organizations train the next generation of reps and ensuring that the knowledge of their best reps is utilized by the entire organization.

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “How to Get Your Sales Reps to Remember Their Sales Training”, with Mark Magnacca.


Episode Transcript

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Today we’re speaking with Mark Magnacca, President and Co-Founder at Allego and author of So What? How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience. So welcome, Mark.


Mark Magnacca: Thank you, Tim.


Clarke: Before we get started, why don’t you give us a bit of background on yourself and a little bit more information?


Magnacca: Sure, Tim. So my background is as a financial adviser going back many years, and I transitioned from being a financial adviser to moving into the training side of the business — teaching financial advisers sales-and-marketing strategies to help grow their business.

And along the way I worked with a number of companies, helping them with their sales process, and I realized how powerful video was. And so I used a lot of video in my classes, and what I realized was that it can be very difficult — and it was very difficult — to move large video files around when you’re capturing them in a training or sales environment. So to make a long story short, I decided that I wanted to solve this problem.

And I was fortunate enough [that] a good friend of mine, who has become the co-founder of Allego, a guy by the name of Yuchun Lee … So Yuchun and I put our heads together. It was a problem that he thought was interesting based on his past experience in the software business and having built a successful software company that he sold to IBM. The whole thing just evolved into Allego, which is a sales-learning platform.

So basically what we did is figure out a way to be able to move large video files around an organization and, more importantly, be able to organize and help our customers curate that content in a way that makes it easy for sales teams to get what they want when they want it.


Clarke: Perfect. Well, thanks very much, Mark. I’m Tim Clarke, Product Marketing Director at Salesforce. And I’m also joined today by our guest host, Sara Varni, SVP of Marketing with Salesforce. So welcome, Sara.

Sara Varni: Yeah, thanks for having me. Excited to be here. Thanks, Mark, for joining us.


Clarke: So look, let’s dive straight in. We’re going to be discussing your Quotable piece today: “How to Get Your Sales Reps to Remember Their Sales Training.” Reading through your piece, you open up the article focused on the gaps being created as more senior sales reps are starting to approach retirement age, including [that] there’s so many millennials and newer generations entering into the sales workforce. So from your research, from your findings, what are you really seeing happen out there?


Magnacca: Well, I think there’s a number of things that are happening around this trend.

The first one is, there’s a lot of collective wisdom that is in the minds of great salespeople and, as they retire, very often there’s no great way to capture this. So that’s on one end of the curve. On the other end, you’ve got millennials who are coming up and beginning in their sales career, as an example, and looking for a way to be able to learn — and learn in a way that they’re comfortable learning, not necessarily the multiday class with a three-ring binder that the veteran salespeople went to 10 or 20 years ago.

So the combination of these two things has really, I believe, created this opportunity where companies are looking for ways to capture this wisdom and be able to make sure it’s disseminated to the rest of the team because it turns out there’s some information that is ever-changing and there’s other information — oftentimes sales process-related — that has a more evergreen quality. So to give you an example, we have a customer in the financial-services businesses who has actually documented each step of their sales process.

And it’s actually documented by one of their veteran salespeople. And so what happens is there’s an immediate credibility factor. When you’re a millennial, you’ve joined the company, you know all about the history of this person. And that’s the person walking you through the seven steps of the sales process and narrating it with their own examples versus something that comes from marketing, which might be well laid out but, if the marketing person doesn’t have that street credibility with the sales organization, it’s often not viewed in the same light.


Varni: Got it. Yeah, super-interesting to think about those dynamics as one generation graduates and another comes in, and how you keep that consistency in your salesforce. Another way I know that sales teams generally try to drive consistency in training is through a big, massive undertaking which we call “sales kickoff,” and you have some unique thoughts and opinions on that. In some of your research, you’ve actually found that the average sales kickoff is not as effective as most leaders think it is.

Can you expand on that and share with the audience how we should be rethinking the sales-kickoff process?


Magnacca: First and foremost, I think that there’s a need for human beings to get together. So I want to be very clear: We’re not at all opposed to the idea of a kickoff to be able to get people together. What I think we’ve discovered is there are a number of [customers] of ours who have had multiple live meetings in the course of the year.

And when they’ve looked at the cost of flying people in and T&E and time out of the field, what they’ve realized is that in many cases they were using the second or third national sales meeting or kickoff . . . Kickoff is typically the January meeting, but some companies use the names interchangeably. If you think about it, you have a kickoff meeting in January. And then there’s another meeting, say, in June. What we’re finding is that very often the ROI on that other meeting isn’t there in terms of efficacy.

What I mean by that is our customers are telling us the mission at this meeting in June is to roll out this new product. And so the question then becomes: Is there a better way to roll out the new product versus bringing everybody together? I think what happened in the past is people realized that there was this what I’ll call standing-at-the-bar chatter. It was valuable being able to connect with your peers: “How are you using this?” and, “What are you doing in this kind of situation?”  

And so I think to give you an example, we’ve got a company that has a national kickoff meeting in Vegas, and then they have another sales meeting in May. And what they figured out was in this particular case they didn’t cancel that meeting. What they did is they were able to use a mobile video sales-learning platform — in this case, Allego — to capture content from subject-matter experts on the new product in the form of short videos. That was number one. Number two, what they did is they actually turned it into a contest.

So imagine this: There’s a hundred sales reps. They each get a five-minute video. At the beginning of the video there’s some instructions that say: “Watch this video. You can watch it as many times as you want, but by Friday at 5:00 you need to hit the submit button.” Friday at 5:00, people have submitted and those videos automatically get routed to the respective sales manager. The manager watches just their eight people, 10 people, whatever the case might be, and picks a winner. And by doing so, it gets added to the semi-finalist channel.

And then what happens — this is three weeks before that big national meeting and two weeks before the managers watched it, one week before two executives and two product experts watched the semi-finals, the eight videos, and they pick a winner. And so in this particular case, what they did is, at the national sales meeting, they normally had devoted four to five hours of breaking up the entire group into breakout rooms and doing what I’ll call this “bracket challenge.” But in this case, what they were able to do is simply play the video of the winner.

They brought him up on stage. He got a check for being the winner. They told the whole audience: “We’ve just shared this video with the entire group,” and everybody got a ding on their phone right at that point. And they said: “And now what we’re going to do is we’re going to use the next four hours for — ” in effect, what I’ll call the “flipped classroom,” a chance for the team to interact with each other on the new product in a way that’s very different than just practicing the delivery of the message. So what we’re finding is there’s a lot of evolution happening.

The other big piece is a conscious effort to capture video what we call “ad hoc” where, literally in breakout sessions, people are recording different content. And then at the end of the meeting, somebody is curating that content and saying: “You know what? This would be a great piece for our new-hire class that’s starting in two weeks,” or, “Here’s a great piece that needs to be searchable relative to the new product that we’ve talked about.”

So the big idea is rethinking the entire national sales meeting from before the meeting starts to what happens during the meeting and what happens after the meeting.


Clarke: And Mark, what are your thoughts on … I get this particularly from a product-enablement point of view or a new route to market. But what are your thoughts particularly when you’re trying to instill a culture and talk about the vision for your organization and company? Do you think things like video-based learning should be limited to certain aspects, or can it cover the whole spectrum?


Magnacca: Tell me more, Tim. Do you mean does the leader need to physically stand in front of people kind of eyeball-to-eyeball instead of being able to communicate that message by video?


Clarke: Yeah. So particularly if I was the CEO of a company and I want to try and inspire everyone and talk about my vision for the year ahead, do you find that that is as effective on video, or do you think actually it’s really good to focus on “This is our new sales strategy. This is how we’re going to be bringing our new products to market. These are the key messages you need to know”?

Do you see video-learning having a place in all of these different buckets, so to speak?


Magnacca: You know, I do. I think the reality is, in most cases, there is nothing like a live event to be able to connect with human beings. But in this culture, I think we’ve seen … I remember as a kid when the space shuttle Challenger blew up, being in high school and literally pulled us out of the class. And the president of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan, came on television.

And he literally talked to all of us — I can remember it like it was yesterday — about what had just happened and what it meant. And so I think what I’ve realized is that, in a perfect world, you’d be able to meet face to face. But the reality of it is, in a case like the president, he can’t be everywhere at once, anyway. And so video became a medium to do that. I was with an executive yesterday who has about a 7,000-person sales organization.

And he’s actually doing short videos now on a regular basis. He used to do them at the corporate headquarters in a studio with lights, camera and all of that. And what he’s found is, now that he’s moved it, he’s actually capturing short video in the different branch offices as he travels around the globe. And it’s kind of cool because it’s more of a YouTube-style video. He’s capturing the background of where he is, kind of giving a little bit of narrative, and then giving his one big idea.

So what I would say to you, Tim, is that I believe that the budget and financial pressure more than anything is what’s going to push people to realize that it may not be as good as in-person. But if you have a choice between spending a million dollars to bring 200 people together for three days or send them a video and have a methodology to be able to follow up that costs you a fraction of that, I think over time video is going to become more and more highly used, as you’re seeing the explosion of it now on social media.


Varni: So if I’m hearing you correctly, I think what you’re saying is sometimes in the move from an in-person event to something online or something recorded is that you tend to lose some of the context. You tend to lose some of that energy or color around the conversation or the sidebar conversations. And what you’re recommending is that, in this new world, you can think about creating video that still captures that context and that still really puts training in real-world scenarios. Is that how you are looking at the world?


Magnacca: You know, it is, I have to tell you. And I think that’s well said, Sara, because the reality is even if you’re at a national sales meeting, the fact is it’s all pretty well scripted and staged, anyway. And so whether you’re on video or you’re live and in-person, if you’re sitting at the back of a thousand-person auditorium, even though there’s big jumbotrons and stuff, there’s a sense of it being impersonal. And so my experience about this is that for most people, the ability to experience the content and particularly have it be an authentic video …

So in the case I just shared with you, there’s something actually cooler about it being authentic and real and not perfect versus being in the studio, where everything is chromakey and makeup and lights.


Varni: Yeah.


Clarke: Let’s talk a little bit about retention of knowledge. I remember as I was starting my sales career, I would go into so many different workshops. There were a whole variety of different techniques that were used to ensure the attendees of those meetings really retained that knowledge.

I remember in the article that there’s a great quote from analyst firm SiriusDecisions saying 60 to 70 percent of content in B2B organizations goes unused. So clearly for organizations and enablement, for example, that are listening to this, they need to think about how they can create this great content to be accessible all around. So what are your thoughts on this, kind of expanding beyond the sales conference or sales kickoff?


Magnacca: Well, I can tell you as an example, I remember being at Dreamforce and being in a breakout session and asking the presenter if I could record what he was going to be doing.

And he told me I could. And it was interesting because I was able to use that content when I came back with my sales team and be able to just show them a three-minute snippet of the big idea and then facilitate a discussion around it. So I think that there’s a couple of different elements that relate to the SiriusDecisions comment around why does it remain unused, and the big idea is it’s irrelevant.

And so the traditional model was: There was this time gap, that marketing surfaces, that there’s an issue, they work on creating a marketing piece to address it, it goes through the motions, and then by the time it gets out the other end of the pipe and the sales organization is ready to consume it or have somebody explain how to use it, very often the very thing that they were trying to address has become irrelevant or the market has changed and it’s no longer what they need. And so a big part of our model of the world is the value of peer-based learning.

And the key I want to clarify here is, that doesn’t mean that it is peers just making stuff up and sharing it like they might on social media. It’s peer-based content, but it’s still being curated so that there is a relevance to it and a way to make it easy to search. Does that make sense?


Clarke: Yeah.


Varni: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. I have a follow-on question to that, though. We’re dealing with salespeople, and they tend to be competitive in nature and maybe not the first to be open about their tricks of the trade or what helps them hit their numbers.

How do you get the average salesperson to participate and to help other people on their team out?


Magnacca: Yeah, I’ll tell you that is a really key point because a big part of what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is a shift in the entire vision and values around the sales organization which was founded on what I’ll call mostly a lone-wolf philosophy. And so for a long time the 80/20 rule existed in every sales organization, and you had these top performers who pretty much often kept their cards close to the vest about what they’ve done.

And now Forrester and a lot of other leading research firms are all talking about how important collaboration is in selling, and the fact that there’s multiple different meetings — on average five — before a sale is consummated, and the fact that there’s usually five or more people involved in the sales process. So what I would tell you, Sara, is that the new definition is that sales is really going from an individual sport to a team sport.

And when you have a team sport, the nature of the way you think about things is different. I think of it like when you go to a convenience store and they have the little jar with the penny. You put a penny in when you need it, and you take a penny out. We have a number of firms who have actually begun to tweak the compensation model both for sales managers and for salespeople as it relates to the discretionary part of their bonus to encourage collaboration.

So instead of it just being you’re getting props or bragging rights because you’ve been tapped on the shoulder to deliver that presentation that you do, it’s helping to engender that thinking in the culture by saying: “No, we value what you’re doing. We appreciate that you’re willing to share it, and you’re actually saving everybody time by recording this three-minute video.”


Varni: Yeah. I think having that rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality is really the future. You hit it on the head right there.


Clarke: I think it’s also a trait, as well. I know there will be certain personalities in sales who don’t necessarily want to remain an individual contributor. They want to move up into management. And that’s a key trait that should be taken into account in all sorts of assessments for looking at what behaviors you need for your future leaders, as well, Mark.


Magnacca: You’re absolutely right, and I think that’s the whole point.

It’s that when your mindset shifts to, “Am I going to hoard this knowledge so that I can win, or am I going to share this knowledge?” knowing full well, Tim, that there may come a point in three months or in six months where one of my buddies, he’s the subject-matter expert on the product that is right now the hot product, and I would be able to benefit from his knowledge or her knowledge. I can tell you that we’ve got one customer where — this was in the second year of Allego — we had a situation very similar to what we’re talking about.

The sales manager asks the sales rep to record a video. This is someone that was in the mutual-fund business. So this guy, everybody knows the sales rep — whose name is John — he is the number one sales rep. So that’s self-evident. And his manager calls him up and says, “Will you do a quick video on what you’re doing when you travel to these different financial offices?” And so at first he’s like: “Well, I don’t know if I have time to do it.” And then the manager explains: “You know these guys are going to call you, anyway, because they want to know. They’ve all heard that you’re doing something different.”    

If you do the video, this is going to save you time and be able to simply point [to] them, “Hey, watch the video.” So to make a long story short, he literally records this video. And with a system like Allego, you can actually pull some content in. So in this case, he had one slide. But the slide wasn’t a regular PowerPoint slide. It was a hand-drawn slide that a subject-matter expert — in his case, a portfolio manager — used when he was traveling with this salesperson. So the salesperson opens his video with the following phrase.

He says, “Hey, everybody. I want to take a few minutes here to tell you how I’ve raised over $110 million in the last 90 days using this idea. I was traveling with our portfolio manager named Mike, and on the document that you can see on the screen here, I’m going to walk you through.” So think of this almost like a how-to video in YouTube, where he not only gives the narration, but then he’s holding up the document, which is accessible to the viewer.

They can double-tap it and see the whole document on their screen. Or when they’re looking at him [delivering] the video, within the upper left-hand corner at certain points he’s actually holding the document up and showing them. Remember that when you’re sitting down with a financial adviser, you want to turn it like this. And be sure to circle this part with your marker to bring it to life. So what ends up happening is this video gets shared. It’s a relatively small team: about 100 salespeople. And I’m going to have a call with the managers a few days later.

In anticipation of that call, I look on the reporting to see how many times has that video been viewed, and it’s been viewed over 400 times. I’m thinking: “Wait a minute. How can it be viewed over 400 times? They only have just over 100 salespeople.” So before I get on the call, I dig in a little bit deeper and I realize there’s a number of people who’ve watched the video five, six, and seven times. And all of a sudden it hits me: that when you have the right content that’s relevant, just like with a YouTube video, you go from having no interest in something to all of a sudden wanting to immediately understand how it works.

So what it taught me was there’s a way, if the content is right, to get salespeople to pay attention. And we even had people who were pulling their car over, once the word got out that that video was out, to watch the video and see what he said.


Clarke: And so kind of building on that, then, for anyone that’s listening to this who buys into the concept — I think it’s very logical and makes absolute sense — how important is the mobile side of things?

Not just having these great learning videos or best-practices videos available on your laptop, on the VPN, in your office. Clearly, a lot of people I know from my own experience: “I’d like to download it. I’d like to watch it on the plane or on the train,” where maybe coverage isn’t that great. I personally think it’s a critical component but would love to see what you’ve seen with some of your customers.


Magnacca: Well, I can tell you that we started off as a mobile-first platform, and we built our entire app based on that premise.

And subsequently, of course, we do have the ability to access it via the web. But what we’ve found is that in so many sales organizations, the idea that there is ubiquitous wireless access everywhere you go is just not the case. I can tell you: At the meeting that I just was at yesterday that I mentioned earlier, I was in a skyscraper and I just didn’t have any Wi-Fi that I could access. From the office building that I was in, they couldn’t get the guest network to work.

And what was great is on my mobile device I was able to “favorite” the videos, which is what we call it with Allego, where it actually downloads those videos from the cloud right into your mobile device. And because of the compression technology that we have, I have a number of videos on my iPhone or on my iPad that are on the local device. And they will play regardless of whether I have Internet connectivity.

So what I can tell you, Tim, to your point, is there’s a lot of sales managers who will go to the airport. They may have five or six videos from their team. They’ll download them by tapping Favorite, and they’ll get on the plane. They can watch those videos and, in our case, not just watch the videos but actually annotate the videos, where they’re able to hit “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and be able to place a comment right at a specific point in the video. And so now what you’ve got is this asynchronous coaching: Managers on an airplane are watching the video, giving some feedback.  

Maybe you want to try this the next time. Or the next time we get together, I want you to send me a video of what you’re going to say when we go back to see this person to make sure that I’m not in the room cringing when you’re talking about it. And what happens is, over time everybody is getting more comfortable with this whole phenomenon. But to be able to do this asynchronously when you’re on an airplane or a place where there is no Internet, both to watch and to record on your mobile device, and then when you connect to Wi-Fi everything gets synced up — or to a cellular network — it’s a huge advantage, in our opinion.


Varni: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like a really interesting technology for everyone to check out who’s listening. We’re just coming up, though, on time. It’s been really great to chat with you, Mark. We just have just one last question: What is your parting piece of advice around sales training and how people should be thinking about it in this new era for salespeople?


Magnacca: Well, I think my parting piece of advice would be to go back to the early days of television. In the early days of television, one of the first shows on ever was “I Love Lucy.”

And one of the strokes of genius that Lucille Ball had — and it was her idea to do this — and that was to actually record those early episodes on what they called “Kinetoscope” before there was even any kind of videotape. And what was interesting is that people said to her at the time, “Why would you record this? Everybody already saw the broadcasts.” Of course, now we look back and realize those videos have been played perhaps more than just about any other television show over a very long period of time.

And so what I would tell you is think about that model as it relates to your national sales meeting. Think about that model as it relates to sales-training sessions that you have. Because the cost of creating video now is effectively zero for those of us who have these mobile devices, why not capture content knowing that inevitably over some period of time you’re going to capture lightning in a bottle that will be content that can be reused time and again?

So I think if you keep that in mind, you begin to realize in short order you can have a library of really cool stuff that’s relevant, that’s accessible from your mobile device, and that people want to watch.


Clarke: Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Mark, for all of your input here. Thanks, Sara, for hosting. And thank you to everyone for listening in. And if you like what you hear, please take a minute to give us a five-star rating and any feedback on the Quotable Podcast. Thanks again, Mark.


Magnacca: Thank you, Tim and Sara. I appreciate it.


Clarke: Thank you.


Varni: Thanks.

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