article | December 18, 2016
Sales Improvement: Driving Adoption Inside a Matrix Organization
Today’s article is about how to get sales improvement programs adopted in a matrix organization. To help illustrate today’s topic we will think through sales enablement within a matrix organization using Frontier Communications as a use case. It’s difficult to grow revenue faster than your industry’s growth rate and faster than your competitors. Leverage the How to Make Your Number in 2018 to access a revenue growth methodology to hit your number quarter after quarter, and year after year.
I recently interviewed Ian Petersen, the Senior Vice President of Sales Operations and Enablement at Frontier Communications. Frontier offers broadband, video, voice bundles for small businesses, and advanced business communications for medium and large businesses in 29 states with approximately 28,000 employees. Having experience in matrix organizations at Sun Microsystems, Oracle and now Frontier, Ian is uniquely qualified to demonstrate how to get sales improvement programs adopted in matrix organizations.
Why this topic? Large enterprises are investing heavily in sales enablement, yet many are not realizing the full value of these investments. One of the causes of this unfortunate outcome is the matrix organization. The matrix is required in these large enterprises to simply deal with their massive scale but this creates an added level of difficulty for sales enablement leaders.
Enjoy my discussion with Ian as we seek to demonstrate how to drive adoption of sales improvement programs inside an enterprise sales force matrix organization.
As I understand it, Ian, you report to the EVP of operations inside of an $11-billion company. Most sales operations and sales enablement leaders report to a head of sales. Please describe the nature of the matrix you operate in to give the audience context.
If you think about Frontier the company in the way we’re structured, there are really three pieces to where our revenue comes from. One is the carrier wholesale business, the other is the commercial business, and obviously, the residential business that most people Frontier probably know us for. I report to the EVP of Field Operations who oversees seven regions that in of themselves, contain those heads of sales for commercial sales. It’s the commercial sales aspect of this that I’m particularly interested in in driving results for making sure commercial revenue growth is realized.
These regional presidents don’t report to you, you don’t have any authority over them. How do you get them to adopt to your programs?
I think it’s fair to say that everybody inside Frontier is looking for Frontier to be successful, so at some level, this is never about making people do something they may not want to do, but really finding out what it is that are the priorities and the initiatives and the programs that people are passionate around in driving to make themselves successful, be it at a particular region, be it a particular segment to that region, commercial or wholesale or what have you. Then making sure that what it is that you have by way of powder to their keg that you can turn around and help drive greater success for them.
I think people intuitively recognize that good salespeople differentiate themselves from average salespeople by the level to which they invest in their own skills and understanding in the marketing and understanding the product, and if you’re running a training or enablement program around new product or new products that’s available in their market, then most people are going to want to avail themselves of that just by the nature of the beast.
If you can provide an alignment between the things you’re providing and the things that people want, they will take them. They don’t have to be made to take them, they will sort of fly off the shelf, and that is obviously where we try to make sure that we can paint a value behind everything that we do, be it why we would use a CRM system, why we would be changing the way a process works, why a training or enablement technique is going to make them incrementally successful. Make them want to adopt it by showing them an alignment to the things that they care about in their driving to their own incomes.
My response: You know it’s a great example. It’s one of the reasons I was excited to hear that you’re going to be on the show today because sometimes I deal with sales enablement leaders who work in a matrix inside of a mega company like you have, and they feel that they can’t be successful because they don’t have direct authority over resources. It’s not true. If there is value, you can get people to adopt to your programs, and the way that you do that is you get things done through others. That’s a skill that we all must develop.
Why did your company decide to pull sales enablement out of the business units and centralize it under your leadership?
I think that’s very much due your question about scale. Frontier doubled in size from what was a much smaller company through M&A, and then doubled again through increased recent M&A this calendar year. You do get to a point of some stage where you should start realizing, you can’t always do what you always did in a different environment. There are things just as intuitively obvious that you don’t want to do, and that is have seven different CRM systems, have seven different training functions, on board different new resources, seven different ways over. It cripples any ability to do analytics, it makes it very hard to understand where things like AB testing are successful, because there’s so much difference, but you can’t really conclude anything.
Frontier needs to grow, and understanding where growth comes from, what things can be tried and be successful and then can be replicated requires for there to be some level of consistency behind this. If everybody takes different approaches to territory definition, to CRM deployment, sales enablement training, and understanding in a product portfolio, then by default they’re going to be lots of small companies. I think Frontier recognized that. Some of the programs working with SBI and the leadership team here made them realize that there was a point at which big means doing some things differently and some of that centralization resulted in my hiring and putting together this centralized function, and it’s for me to prove that that was the right decision from here going forward.
How do you work effectively with senior executives inside a matrix who may not fully understand sales?
One of the things I think is that at some level everybody understands sales on a personal level, and it’s about really building that understanding that they intuitively have as an individual by relaying some of those things back into how business to business sales operates.
One of the things I’ve heard in my time at Frontier is how enterprises operate, how commercial entities operate on a business to business basis is different and is complex, but deep down, it starts with the realization that everybody is a decision maker first as an individual. Yes, there are pressures on doing things within an enterprise and you need different approaches to things like marketing.
Somebody just today gave me a great example. Enterprise customers don’t care whether they get a gift card because of doing something. They care about their bottom line; they’re driven by driven things. It really is sometimes just a matter of educating people about simple examples that they can easily relate to and challenging them to think differently about business to business and enterprise scale transactions.
But your question about not understanding sales I think is an interesting one because to not understand sales is perhaps not to understanding the mechanics behind it, things like a territory management and establishing quota and understanding the product portfolio. Early on in my career, I remember working for a boss who said it’s very simple. You’ve just got to know who is selling what to whom. When you break it back down at some of those simple levels, then you can start really going behind people who may not understand and feel it’s a threatening environment into some simple things. Who are we selling to? Who is a decision maker? What are the personas that we really need to go and understand and what their motives are as an individual? Somebody tasked as a CFO, different motive to somebody who’s operating as a CMO or a head of HR.
Then obviously understanding what it is that we’re bringing, not just as a product but in terms of a value as a service. How to help with whatever it is that their objective might be. Lowering cost, increasing value, improving their customer’s experiences, and so on, and then being able to put it together in a way that has a high degree of valued experience on a customer life cycle basis. It’s not just about the sale, it’s about extending the sale into the installation and delivery, for use, for maintenance, for service, and ending up with a net promoter score that will help with recommendations, but then drive the reputation of Frontier within the community about its services within the customer base, about its services within prospects, about, you know, hear, and understand good things, customers that will expand their share of all it with us.
Putting it into simple terms really does help our executives get through that web. Their focus may be elsewhere, but understanding what it is that drives the income, where the revenue and top line results come from in a sales perspective, and how it all ties back to the component pieces of the operation they care about, really does help them get their head around sometimes why it’s important that we’re going after certain things, why we require some of the infrastructure we require or the focus, how are the prioritization of efforts and initiatives.
My response; The reason why I asked that question and the next two questions I’m going to ask is because when you’re inside of a large corporation that has business units, these business units are head up by general managers, and these general managers may have come up through finance or operations or product or legal or what have you, and they’re general managers there, mini-CEOs, and they may not have had their career begin and advance through the sales function. If you’re a sales enablement leader working in that environment, part of your job is continuing the education of that senior executive as to what it means to be investing class in B-to-B sales.
How do you work effectively with senior executives inside of a matrix who are focused on quarterly financial objectives on strategic sales improvement programs that take longer than a quarter to implement and see results?
That is of course a perpetual challenge and the horizons, be it monthly or quarterly or annual, have the potential for being conflict with one another. I think the key things are making sure that when you have sales improvement initiatives or projects or programs, things that we need to go after, make changes to, or set as a priority, that you have small wins and that you can see milestone events that you can look to be able to get an early platform that shows signs of success. Early ‘blue birds’ help.
I’ll give you sort of a real example. Sometimes within a business revenue may take a little while to realize on the top line, and the positive margins that flow from that can be months out from when you’ve done work to that. But booking growth that you see that drives that eventual conversion into revenue can be tracked and monitored much sooner. You can look at things where you’ve determined what positive behaviors might look like, what positive activities might look like even ahead of that. To understand pipeline growth that you need to meet future booking objectives, for example, based on conversion and adequacy of a pipeline come about as a result of sales activity, and you can look at that development pipeline because of activities, and you can tweak where you’re investing resources and the task management of those resources, very short-term to drive to that outcome.
As long as you can draw that line from this investment to these resources with these oversight … and I call it a management as opposed to more tactical than the leadership, but the management of those resources to get that result, then you can start turning around a drawing a line as to why that’s going to generate you the sales pipeline, why that pipeline over the course of time will convert, where you’ll see those bookings, and where those bookings in turn become revenue. Obviously different things within that, in different products and services, have different time horizons, but it’s boiling it back and not promising, hey in this period six months from now, we’ll have this terrific thing. You just got to do it.
You do have to recognize that oftentimes if you delay, you will just delay the benefit that comes from it. Most of our general managers I think understand that. Their job is to balance those with enough cost investment upfront with the expectation of a result, and tying a line to those incremental steps along that journey, helps them through the knothole very often of being overly concerned about an objective here and now and not being especially focused on the future. But it’s tying the two together, Greg.
My Response: Asking a general manager of a business unit inside of a big matrix to be patient is a mistake. Several things that Ian just mentioned, so milestone advances, small wins, bookings growth, pipeline growth, connecting those to investments, those are the ways that you increase kind of organizational patience for your sales improvement programs.
Ian, how do you work effectively with these senior executives again inside of this matrix who own the P&L when you need them to fund your programs?
I’m going to have to draw on some past here, because obviously at Frontier, 75 days in, we’re still doing asking and it would be unfair to turn around and sort of say huge gains in that regard, but most of the time, I think what you’re asking for is … again, it goes back to how to benefit those general managers, those senior executives on the things it is that they care about. Very oftentimes, they straight investment in something, just dropping some money on something is a cost, and the investment should show an ability to get a return from it. When I want somebody to help something that requires funding, it should be in the context of a business case. There is no appetite for a “Trust me, give me X and good things will happen” without being something of a more robust business case to that.
You also I think should appreciate as well the context of your partner in this, that the senior executive who does own the P&L but is the source for funding for something. Understanding their preference and being able to turn around and partner with them I think is incredibly important, and that comes from building credibility, building a relationship with them so that you can partner to get a lot of these things done.
I think that partnership is often underplayed. I worked for a boss once who said your objective in operations and enablement, as in many functions inside enterprises is to have people work for you even though they don’t work for you, and a lot of that comes from relationship, from trust and partnership. That’s how I think you get things funded, by establishing that collaboration and that partnership and then being able to move those initiatives through, small or bigger, but by working through how to meet their objectives and your objectives collaboratively.
Ian, how do you navigate the politics inherent inside of a matrix from the seat of the sales enablement leader?
I have a fundamental belief that people are inherently good and that they are working to a positive agenda and a positive outcome, even if it’s different from yours, if it’s different from other people within the matrix of the organization. Most of the times, it’s really understanding what it is that somebody else has as an objective and how you can further that agenda on a broader view. By that, I don’t just mean, “Hey, I’ve got to get this deliverable out by next week. Come lend me a hand,” although I have actually done that in the past where it really is apparent that somebody just needs an extra pair of hands and sometimes that can be valuable to them. But I think one of the most important things is seeing as broader picture as possible and not being just overly focused on the sales component piece of this.
There are a lot of components even in that to the enablement functions, overlay sales teams, sales engineering teams, sales support teams, and being able to understand if somebody within this large matrix has cost constraint or has head count pressure, whatever it is that is the driver of the politics behind things. Empathy and understanding their perspective is critically important and I come back to some of that relationship building is key, but for me, I stop probably … we’re all driving to the same endgame here, so agnostic of the politics, how we get there or why we don’t want to do something, I think looking to the positive is always the best way to go, and trying to make sure that you are supportive and empathetic and understanding where are the people’s pressure points are, what their objectives are, and then partnering and collaborating to get things done together.
I think no good deed goes unpunished is the popular wisdom kind of thing, but I don’t subscribe to that. I think that if you have a great partnership, you build an understanding of where an organization is from the maturity perspective, what different stakeholders’ objectives look like and are empathetic to those partnerships are the way to go in every sense.
Let’s discuss head count. Ian, how do you get done what you need to get done inside of this large matrix when the Business Unit GMs control the head count?
Yes, they do, and I think one of the things which is critical in terms of understanding that is they have objectives they should meet with those head count as well. Starting by understanding how to make their heads more productive, how to make their heads more effective and more efficient is critical within that. This is not about … I have something but I think it’s good, I want everybody to adopt it, I want everybody to participate in it or undergo training on it, whatever the programmatic element might be around this, and therefore needing some point of control to make that happen.
Demonstrating value and making sure that people understand that if we’re going to achieve this collaboratively, in partnership, but there should be an investment in that. I wouldn’t suggest that you can run sales operations and enablement with zero heads. There should be some heads to enable you to have a capacity to deliver still. But at the end of the day, if you have a sales methodology that is necessary to be aligned to get an increased efficiency aimed to a sales team that is reporting into a different part of the organization, showing how and why what we have isn’t working is sub-optimized, how something different can benefit you and your both head counts, appealing to their need to meet their own objectives then becomes critical.
If you can operate in a sense where it isn’t about the control of the heads but it’s important, it’s about understanding how to make those heads efficient and effective agnostic of who is leading them. It’s reflected glory on that leadership, but they were the people that turned around and recognized how to meet their objectives, how to develop their people, how to have a hope of forming team that they are the leader of by making available the services to them.
The greatest racing car drivers in the world get nowhere if there’s no fuel in the tank. Just being able to demonstrate this is higher quality fuel, this is going to enable you to go faster, go further, means that they begin to understand the value of the fuel that you can bring to their engine. You don’t have to be the driver of the car, to just simply be the one that makes it all come together.
I think playing a role, understanding within a matrix where you can add to the sum of the parts, that incremental value and other leaders can see that and take that on board, draw to their results, that’s how together you achieve success.
Realizing the full value of sales enablement investments inside an enterprise company requires a unique approach. The level of complexity and added level of difficulty for sales enablement leaders inside a matrix organization requires new skills.
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