Lessons HR could learn from Marketing: A Report from #DreamForce15

Training should be like inflight refueling, always ready to keep the employee going.
Training should be like inflight refueling, always ready to keep the employee going.

Last week I attended the #DreamForce15 conference in San Francisco. For those of you that are not aware of Dreamforce, it is the largest software conference, with 170,000 registered attendees. Yes, it does get hard to move around, especially early in the week. It however is a pretty amazing event. Off the campus however, a group called InsideView hosted two days of a variety of marketing oriented sessions. For a variety of reasons I attended many of these. As the sessions progressed I was consistently reminded of the many parallels between HR and marketing.

The onboarding experience

One panel, moderated by Robin Saitz, CMO of Brainshark, consisted of Joe Gustafson, CEO, of Brainshark, Walter Rogers, CEO of CCI Global Holdings, Trish Bertuzzi, President & Chief Strategist at The Bridge Group, and Sharon Little, Research Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. They were discussing “Are your sales reps ready?” The big topic of discussion was the onboarding process and there was nary a mention of HR in the hour long session.
The discussion about onboarding was driven by two needs. First is the ever decreasing age of sales candidates and the rapid turnover many companies have in their sales force. One panelist mentioned that typically it takes 4.3 months to get a sales rep up to speed and the average tenure in the Bay area is 2 years. I am sure those figures are not dissimilar to those of other major metropolitan areas. That is hurting many organizations. Taking too long to “onboard” employees and then retaining them for a short time is a drain on resources.
Trish Bertuzzi and Sharon Little both suggested that a better job of onboarding these candidates needs to be created. One of them said that sales reps need to be taught about their customers first and then taught how to sell to them. In many companies the training is left to individual managers who produce an inconsistent method and language from rep to rep.

What is needed?

The panelists produced a list of things companies need to do or have. These included:

  • A culture of continuous learning in sales readiness
  • There needs to be a culture of curiosity
  • There needs to be a program to teach coaches to be coaches
  • Because of the criticality of data the CRM needs to be taught from the get-go
  • Lastly, learning is a senior management commitment they need to make and not break

This list can in reality be applied, with few changes, to almost any organization and to any area in the company.

More highlights

There were a couple of other interesting ideas or statements I wanted to highlight. Just as in HR today data in sales is critical. Having a good CRM is very important. Obviously at Dreamforce that CRM is Salesforce. It is capable of producing pipeline metrics. Take not recruiters. The same principles apply in recruiting.
Other comments were:

  • WTF now stands for “Wasted technology funds”
  • Sales content is now the new spam
  • No one reads a marketing email anymore
  • Hire a “fill-in” specialist to take the spot vacated by leaving reps. They must be seasoned, agile and versatile employees.

One good way to view the sales effort, and to my way of thinking the recruiting effort, is to picture a plane refueling in flight, as suggested by one of the panelists. It reduces downtime and increases productivity.
I hope you see the parallels that I saw between marketing, sales and HR. We in HR could learn some lessons.

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