Zahra Jivá: Why Is Sales Team Training So Important?

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Interview with Zahra

Zahra Jivá, Director of Global Strategy at Pipedrive, talks to Gradual`s CMO Dmitry about her path in sales and the importance of training salespeople. 

Being in sales wasn't my long-term goal.

I don’t think I was that one who woke up and said, “now let’s make sales.” Just to give a little more context on how sales chose me, I started doing sales roles when I was 16. It was primarily summer jobs. Sales selected me. 

During summer in Portugal, students must decide if they want to enjoy the summer and take all three months off or work summer jobs. I needed the money, to be honest, and I decided, “Okay, let's do anything that fits what I'm good at.” So I started in a call center, and that's how sales entered my life. 

Back then, my first sales job was selling credit cards so that I could buy a car and save up some money. I was ambitious, money-driven, and goal-driven. I thought, “Okay, doing sales long-term probably won't be my goal.” 

I did a master's in communication and worked as a journalist for about three to four years. The experience had its ups and downs, but I'm super happy that sales chose me. I kind of had more fun making sales. I didn't have the feeling journalism was going to be it.

I have so many crazy stories of making calls and ensuring that I also achieved my targets because a specific goal drove me. Sales taught me how to handle problems, especially in a recession, which is applicable now that we are facing economic restraints again. 

Sales is not an easy job.

Furthermore, sales gave me an understanding of what account executives face, so it's not just me helping them with problems. I gained knowledge on how to ensure the team stays happy and how we can ensure that we end up selling. 

First things first – hear the team before training.

In my opinion, first of all, you need to gain trust. No matter the sessions you book or how you try to observe and coach your sales reps, I think that if you don't have your team’s trust–that what you're saying is based on your experience and knowledge–they will not feel comfortable with you. 

They won't listen to you because they are not trusting what you are sharing. So I think the first step is listening to the team. If you're building that relationship, you get comfortable sharing, giving feedback, and making sure that they evolve, especially when discussing more senior roles. 

Onboarding new sales reps is one of the critical factors.

For newcomers, you must have a good sales onboarding program and follow-up sales training sessions. Imagine you are training the person to be the best they can be and ensuring you follow up. How can you listen to calls more often than you will listen to senior account executives? 

As a manager, I understand the critical points we should discuss on a call or avoid. Still, by listening to your colleagues, you'll learn a little bit more and make sure that you balance it out through coaching sessions and knowing what the team is doing. We have been facing hybrid work for the last two years. It kind of brought a distance between teams, so ensure that you get them together and that everyone understands the critical sales processes and points. 

The sales onboarding material needs to have positive wording and move so that the new sales rep understands their goals and objectives as they evolve and learn. I think we always need to grow, no matter if our programs are good or not. We have two weeks in Pipedrive after the new sales rep joins when we have no involvement. In the department, we try to leave the new sales rep to learn and have time to follow up on the program and understand the business, the company, the values, and the product. 

We assign a buddy to each new sales rep.

Our newcomers go through onboarding on a three-month ramp-up period. In the first week, we do part of sales onboarding in which they are together with a group of many other departments. Our company's specialists explain company values, how each department works, and how communication flows and also product knowledge. 

Then after the first week, they come to each department. On the sales side, we have a specific plan during that week that consists mainly of showing the day-to-day sales, the tools we are using, coaching on the devices, best practices, and job-shadowing specific buddies. 

We start testing demonstrations, and we do a lot of test demos with managers to ensure that once the sales rep meets with the customer, they feel more comfortable and understand better what questions they might hear. We assign a buddy to each new rep so that that person also has a reference to speak with when they have questions. After that week, we give a three-month ramp-up period. 

We have had one-on-one meetings throughout these three months with the new reps. This way, we understand the pain points, procedure-wise, product-wise, and demo-wise, to ensure they are ready to follow up with customers. We see crucial metrics of monthly revenue they bring to customer engagement. 

Throughout sales onboarding, we look at the whole pipeline. 

  • How are they engaging with customers? 
  • What are the methods that they are using to engage with customers? 

We have approved cadences, but in sales, there's some understanding that phone calls aren’t always well perceived. Or maybe we are at a point where email is more effective than calls, so we also look at that metric. 

Calls vs. demos vs. emails.

Then we follow up to understand the conversion rate, engagement rate, and monthly revenue each new sales rep brings. We continue coaching what can still be trained so that they are comfortable and ready in six months. They usually already achieve 100% of target attainment, which is fantastic. Mostly, though, we see it within three months.

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Let the senior become a coach.

One of the things that we do is coaching so that person feels responsible for it. We're getting a specific session on this topic. Let's put it as an example so that the remaining team considers it, and because it's a reliable person, it's a senior who sees the performance and wants to learn. Other topics can make them experts because the product is evolving, and you can ensure that this person can be responsible or help the team understand more. 

One of our add-ons, or features, motivates them to keep their performance high consistently, and that's one of the things that we have been doing for those that are more senior. I don't have an example of a senior who doesn't have a good performance at the moment, thankfully. 

Not everyone has the soft skills to be a leader.

I think the biggest mistake I have seen is thinking that if you're an account executive, then management is the only logical next step. 

I honestly disagree, and this is something that I have been explaining to my team. Not everyone has the soft skills to be a leader or a manager, which you might not agree with right now. Still, you'll see that management takes a lot from you in the long term because you manage different personalities. You're managing different relationships between your department and others. Most of all, you still need to find a balance between everything you're doing and making sure your team is happy. 

Not everyone has that understanding, and that's why most of us say, 

Management, sure, this is what I want to do. 

Because they're going to earn more, they're going to have a team, lead, and gain a particular reputation. That's where many people fail because you're managing a lot of personalities, and working a lot of characters, probably in some cases, will cause burnout because you're not balancing it out. 

What are you good at vs. how can you push your team? Maybe you're taking on too much, and that's what I've seen managers failing at because then they get tired. When that happens, you end up lashing out at your team and yourself, which is one of the things we want to avoid. 

The other part is when you become a leader, you kind of forget the position your team is in because it was a long time ago, or you're not open to receiving feedback. You think, “No, your experience is saying this, and it's going to be this way because I'm saying it's going to be this way,” and you forget to listen. 

You forget that markets, products, and industries evolve, and you are not listening. You are not hearing feedback. 

It's one of the things that I also see leaders kind of fail at.

Don't be scared to raise your hand.

Give feedback. Tell me exactly what you are feeling. Are you struggling? Because when you are a new team member, you're afraid of speaking out and saying, “maybe you haven't explained that well; you weren't that clear.” Perhaps the materials are not that up to date. I think everyone wants to ensure that you're doing a good job and performing well because we hired you. 

That's why we are increasing and growing our team. Don't be afraid to say you are struggling. Don't be scared to raise your hand. We are facilitators for you, so count on your management.

The feedback and so on, it's also not just listening. It's the fact that you need to balance what the company wants vs. what your team is asking. Sometimes that's why you're not listening closely to feedback because you know where the company wants us to go and where to grow, and you forget to balance that part. 

Let them tell me what is happening. 

So far, I have done job shadow since I joined companies, where I didn't have any conversation about what I wanted to do as a leader. I've job shadowed all team members individually. I booked a specific day; I would just quietly see what they were doing. They were sharing pain points day to day and so on. 

I did separate sessions with them and then with the whole team. After having conversations with management, I understood what actions I wanted to take individually. I joined Pipedrive on March 9th, 2020. We all switched to work-from-home on March 13th, and I was still doing product sales onboarding, so I was only in the office for four days. The team was there, but I never met them. I knew that they were there, they knew that I was there, but everyone said, “let's give it time.” 

So by Friday, I'll never forget, by Friday the 13th, which was the date that I was going to meet the team, the company said, “no, let's go home.” It's just impossible now, but this is how I did with this team. I did all the job shadowing and all the individual sessions via Zoom. I think giving time and having those individual sessions does not explain my background or what I have done before for each company. Let them learn. Let them tell me what is happening. Let me see with my own eyes and then see what I can do for them.

Be happy doing your job.

I think the biggest motivation for people is to understand that sales are not what it was in the past, that the industry and the understanding of sales within companies have changed, that people are valued, and that you can achieve great things. If you have a brilliant team and good managers, you can have a successful career in sales. 

Be happy doing your job. I think it's how sales have changed along the way, which I'm so glad to see. I'm now the person who touts sales as a fantastic industry to join in which you'll find excellent people, brilliant people with so many things to learn. So if there's anyone in doubt about joining sales or not, don't think twice.

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