Mind The Gap, with Kristina Libby

Jonathan Tavella

How do you turn your sales team into a content engine? In this episode, Nick sits down with Jonathan Tavella, Sales Operations Lead at Minna Technologiesbreaks down how to make approval workflows easy and approachable for a growing sales team


While it may feel like a pipe dream to some, half of all sales and marketing content is produced by sales reps themselves in healthy revenue organizations.

In the first episode of our four part miniseries on content enablement workflows, Jonathan Tavella, head of sales ops at Minna Technologies, helps me understand:

  • Why the sales team is “accidentally” creating so much valuable content
  • Easy ways to turn your sales team into a bona fide content engine
  • How to pull insights out of a busy sales team

This episode is for any content marketers who want to scale output by using the entire revenue team.


Turning The Sales Team Into a Content Engine

Pulling Insights from The Sales Team


Nick:  Hello, everybody and welcome to Mind the Gap, Enablix’s only podcast talking sales and marketing alignment. I’m your host Nick Ziech-Lopez and today I’m joined by a friend of the show Jonathan Tavela. Jonathan, how’s it going?

Jonathan: So good.

Nick: So, as we kick off our content miniseries here, want to talk a little bit about sales content and marketing and how they work together but first, could you tell us what’s your background? Where do you work and what part of the revenue cycle do you play in?

Jonathan: Well, great question. It’s not that easy to answer. My title is sales operation but it’s actually a very broad title, because I’m the only one that’s looking after the operational part of sales as well as the enablement part of sales. I’m doing ops and enablement pretty much and ability from scratch and minor. So, that means that I’m looking at everything from CRM, customization and implementation, tools implementation, reporting, but also training making sure that we have the right content, the right templates, and making sure that we keep feeding back into the organization and doing things better.

So that’s kind of what I’m doing in a nutshell. I come from sales background. I was in sales for 6 years, in a bigger company before and before that I was actually in science. 

Nick: Yeah. From science to sales. We’ll focus on that, that’s going to be the name of your biography. But no, that’s thank you very much for meeting with us. I wanted to kick it off with this stat that I read that kind of blew my mind that I didn’t quite understand for a little while. But I I’ve read that in well-functioning organizations, only 40% of the content that the company uses in revenue-facing journeys comes from marketing. Which means that over half of well-performing content comes from sales. So, coming from sales, it can mean a lot of different things as we talk about approving it and getting that going and can you think of examples in your mind like, okay, how does content come from sales? Like, I don’t think that that’s a concept that a lot of people think of when they think about content marketing.

Jonathan: Well, I think that’s a really important question to us, because I think sales and we’re talking specifically from our perspective, right. Startup scale ups. Sales drives specific needs, right. So, if you are in a startup and scale up, you might find yourself as a salesperson in front of a client and that client needs to validate something and you need content to help that person validate that something and you don’t have that content. So, you can easily go back to the organization and say, do we need to make, but the reality is everybody is busy doing their own thing. So, as a sales person you end up kind of making your own, figuring your own content so the ideal model would be that you identify specific needs. So, for example recently we were selling to a large retail bank and they asked the question, how about we build this ourselves. So, we needed a clear build versus buy narrative and we need a piece of content full of data, nice increase messaging that we communicate that.

The sales person is extremely competent and kind of build a one pager, using a template that marketing had provided. But then called it marketing to really make it nice, making sure that the stats were on point, making sure the messaging was on point. So, from that he solved that specific problem in his sales process, but then we took it, made it even nicer standardizes and now we have a brand template.

Nick: Yeah and it’s those kinds of things right, like a reference proposal or something like that. You have to put a proposal together. How you may it reusable or even sometimes in my experience things as small as, hey I have this really well written email. Like I had to respond to a question, is there’s something we can do with this, right. Like what it really comes down to is taking all of these one off requests in sales and CS and these revenue facing teams and making them repeatable and making them usable again. That’s where I want to talk about a few of the things even in the example that you mentioned, what we consider an approval workflow.

So first off, we consider workflow to be any kind of a process by which one-off documents or workflows can become useful again and marketing collateral in the future. You touched on a few things that I’d like to zero in on here. First, you said that to get an improved workflow. You would said that this person used a template. Could you go into that? Does marketing provide sales templates? How is that effective?

Nick: Yeah. So, what is really important is that marketing provides templates that visually on brand, right. That is kind of the very first thing that sales should have from marketing. Even if I don’t have specific content but I do have a template with all the visual elements that are needed for me to tell my story in a way that is on brand then I have enough to do my job, right. Because I don’t need to come up with all the visuals myself. So that is a big for example master deck with all the visuals that I need and I just copy paste and move them around and that really saves me of time. I need document templates if I want to develop written documents that are nice looking and on brand. But if I have those couple of things as a sales person I can do my job already, right, I can tell my story. 

Nick: So, upfront having kind of the brand not just the brand guidelines but, hey this is what it should look like when you create a thing. I think that a lot of teams skip that step because they don’t expect sales to be this contention, right. They expect this one way communication from marketing to sales to the prospect or the customer. And I think if you go in with that mind frame, you miss a lot of what the team can contribute by even just starting with hey, if you want to make stuff you don’t have to, but this is what it should look like. I think you begin to open that door a little bit.

Jonathan: Absolutely, yeah.

Nick: So, another thing you would mention that I think is important is okay, so the sales rep make something like you had said they made this one pager. They were then able to circle back with your marketing team or your sales offs team and say, hey, can we use this again or this good to say? What whatever that is? In your experience, what are effective ways to allow reps to then say, hey, I made this, I think it’s valuable.

Jonathan: It is not an easy question to answer because it often times comes down to culture in my opinion, right. If sales really feels the marketing, sales up sales enablement, they are on their side. They will involve them, right. We are involved in your sales process helping you in the trenches. Therefore, salespeople involve us back when it’s time to give us value back to your organization. If you develop an environment where sales people feel on by themselves, right. That they live and diver their quota and they are the only ones that actually make any effort towards bringing in that money. They will not make the effort to come back to the organization and drive value back for the organization, right.

So, I think that’s a very important distinction to be made, you need to have that culture where everybody’s down hands on deck. We are there to close deals with you. What do you need us to do? Do you need us to provide data? Do you need us to provide visuals? Do you need us to contact a personal, a stakeholder that they be maybe in touch with? But we are there with you and if stuff comes back if you do that that’s really really important.

Nick: It goes beyond that culture of we’re all creating things here. You’re not on an island. That was actually something I hadn’t considered. I think that’s really, really cool. So you get right, this culture of sales you’re pitching in which I do think a lot of organizations miss out on. And you’re not doing it to help us. We’re all doing it to help you right? Like it’s not like you’re marketing a favor, we’re all helping drive deals. Are there ways and maybe this is a culture answer as well. For organizations that are kind of stuck in the one unit directional from marketing to sales. Sales is still creating a lot of things, right. Whether they’re putting it into brand templates or not, they’re still creating emails, answering questions, helping people walk through. Can you think of ways that whether it be sales enablement or marketing can kind of reverse that flow and kind of create that culture of Is it in a sales kickoff? Is it finding things they’re doing? What are ways that that you can almost shift that flow to be a two-way street?

Jonathan: Well, I mean, maybe in bigger organizations, what sales enablement and operations can do is to develop a relationship with the manager of the sales team. And as part of that partnership, there’s a contract, there’s an SLA. One of the SLAs is once a week or once a month, you’re going to send me the most important pieces of content that your team makes. I’m going to have you drop them in this folder and I commit to looking at them every soft, every once a month right. And together we will decide what’s most important and we’ll start to standardize it. We’ll bring in marketing. We’ll make it nicer if it needs be. We’ll make sure that it’s on messaging on brand and then we’ll make it available in a place that everybody knows what it is. And then I will take it up on myself a sales enabler to go around the company and say hey, X and Y salesperson has solved this Problem with this piece of content. You can find it here. This is how you use it. Come to us for questions, right. So that’s a sort of education section that comes with it as well.

Nick: I think that that’s really important and getting to that. There are few things we suggest too. We want to make it it’s kind of like you said you want to make it easy for sales to send that. Whether it be the manager doing it whether it be interrupt doing it. There are ideas we get forward to a common inbox a common slack channel or like you said an intake person. Like, hey get it to this person right make it in their best interest. Beyond that some things that that we see that I personally think are like give feedback, right. Like I think where this falls apart a lot of times the sales feels like they’re not heard. Like marketing doesn’t use any of this stuff and so it let’s say that a sales person brings up something and it’s not a piece of content you want to publicize. Maybe let them know why and have that a discussion around what could be. Like make this, don’t be, no but yes. And even if it’s not content getting created, because you and I have we’ve probably seen our fair share of like really ugly off-brand decks that might not even be in the brand position or on the story that whoever created it. Listen I’m probably irresponsible for my fair share but when you create something you’re like oh this is awesome, this is the best deck I’ve ever seen.

I think shooting those people down or making them feel unheard is sometimes the first place that that can absolutely go wrong. But then it’s kind of like you said of like publicize the process Whatever that process is, if it’s, hey, your manager is going to be sending stuff to me, right. Make everybody feel, I think that culture building you discussed, whatever that is that, whether it’s scale up, whether its enterprise, whether it’s 10 people is the most important thing. How do you forge these relationships to create that two-way street? Beyond that, I think it’s like, you had said like setting SLAs. I love that. Be timely, right. Like, like, don’t let these go.

If I send something to, like, let’s say I set up a comment inbox and I forge something and I don’t back for 2 weeks, I’m going to assume that no one’s doing anything. From where you sit in sales operations, can you speak to making and this is kind of a broad question. But making sales feel heard or feel like have you seen things that make them feel a part of that process other than just turning it around? What does that look like?

Jonathan: Yeah, so I have seen a couple of things. I think the first thing is where I’m placed within the organization puts me in a very privileged position because I was initially hired at formally as part of the sales team. Now, I am my own team, but I still join every team meetings with sales

Nick: No man is an island.

Jonathan: Exactly and it’s really fun because what happens is that sometimes sales will come up with problems that we haven’t seen before and will come up with their own ways to solve that problem that I think is brilliant. And for example, last week one of my sales people encountered a new customer which had to make a slightly different business case which we haven’t seen before. It came up with a with a way to actually solve for that and he told me and I realized this is awesome. In the next team meeting, I throw my hand up and I said, this is great. This is great because this was the problem and the reason why I think it’s brilliant is X,Y and Z. And you can find the template in here. I recommend you to use it for this specific type of situation, right.

So, at that point the sales person feels hurt. I’m sharing tribal knowledge more broadly and people will go back and look at it and maybe even use it. And that’s how you can start the will of sales people talking to each other and to you is by being placed right there in front of you understanding the importance of what they’re doing more broadly. Because you have a broader vision, right. You’re not working on specific deals, you’re broadly working on the company and once you understand that you just breathe in very simple plain words to everybody else in the company. And that brings the salesperson that shed a good light on the salesperson as well. So, that really really helps, that one thing that has worked.

Another thing, that’s a completely different approach is to make it so easy, so easy to share feedback or content or whatever it is that it’s dumped not to do it. And here I just give a big shout out to one of our departments which is design and research. So just to give you an example that could be translated in getting sale speakers to share content internally. They created what they call customer feedback group. So what they sales people to they wanted to encourage sales people to share more and more feedback and questions coming from customers meeting. And what they did is well they thought about the systems that we’re using that sales people are using which is Slack. They go back to Slack and they write the notes from a meeting in specific channels. But what they did is they developed an emoji, CFL customer feedback group that they can just tag their own messages with. That would have the same message pop up in a separate channel which somebody from design and research is monitoring, and then they will unpack the insight, categorize them, run reports, feed them back to me, right. And I see the most frequent questions that I can give content and standard answers to them. And that’s a pretty awesome. You could do the same for content, right.

Nick: Yeah.

Jonathan: Awesome content. You do AC, you develop an emoji for that you have somebody monitoring that channel and you keep going with that. And I think that’s so easy.

Nick: Listen, I think we’ve long understood the power of emojis to be transcendental but you really even in sales enablement. No, we’ll talk about what actual emoji they use for that later. No, but I think you touch on a really important part there which is listen, I’m in sales enablement in your in sales ops, right. It is awesome and really cool and I wish the more of the world would do is buy new software to solve problems. But the most important and effective way is to start solving the problem with what you have and when that’s not enough then you expand and you and you purchase or you get into the buying cycle. But if you can start to address that and I think that’s a brilliant way of just taking what we are, we have Slack today, right.

We have slack, we’re going to use Slack. How do we make it both as easy as possible and as powerful as possible? And sometimes it’s just the power of an emoji. That’s really clever. That goes in the highlight real, I like that. So, I think that about wraps up the approval process, right. Ways to get the sales team activated right, activate your sales team with an approval process, you could say a bunch of different stuff. I want to, as we wrap up here, I do want to ask you, any best practices off the top of your head and it’s fine if not. What outside of getting the sales team involved and active. Are there any best practices you’re seeing especially when it comes to the enterprise cycle? I know that you guys sell fairly enterprise.

You had said before calling people out and getting them excited in meetings, that’s really important in a lot of these enterprise cycles because the wins are fewer and far between. They’re big. But is there anything off the top of your head that you’d like to kind of wrap up or contribute at the end when it comes to effective content and specifically with the approval workflow?

Jonathan: Keep it extremely simple. Start from what is needed, right. That typically comes from sales people or from you being involved in deals or being very close to deals. And then keep the process so simple that content just comes out of it almost naturally and let me just add a few colors to that. I think to make content well and to then bring it to the organization you need fundamentally three things, three skill sets if we want. You need somebody that can tell a good story from a sales perspective but also knows what they’re talking about, whatever they are talking about. Whether it’s a product or a solution or whatever. You need a good storyteller. You need somebody who’s good visually and with multimedia.

Nick: Yeah.

Jonathan: And you need this what I would call the standard somebody who’s got a broader vision of what is the messaging, what is our narrative, what are we going for fundamentally, right. And if you if there is three people those three skills in one person you are one lucky guy. But it’s really hard, so typically you would have three at least three different people playing this role. But the sales person is typically the first person, right. The one that can tell the story and then knows what the customer problem is. So, if you’re talking about something technical, there would be maybe a presales or maybe an implementation manager joining and creating that content. And the creative side of things comes upstream by creating the template or downstream by making whatever the salesperson has made nicer.

Then you take that and you bring it to people either like myself or like our head of marketing, we look at it, we criticalize and say, great, this is for a retail bank that is really really large in the US. How can we make this content effective for a smaller bank in the UK or a medium-sized bank in the Netherlands, for example, right? How can we standardize so that is utilizable in different stepping’s? What data can we bring to make the story more solid? So again, it comes down to having maybe a broader vision and just having that two people approval just making sure that you don’t get pinch and hold in what you think is right. But fundamentally these are kind of the three stepping stones. And we have found it out after so long of trying with setting up convoluted processes that nobody could escape from. It was just that simple.

You have fundamental three stakeholders, three skills, three things to get done, you got them done.

Nick: Listen, maybe that’s the next podcast episode. Three parts of effective constant creation. No, I love that idea. Hey, thank you so much for stopping by the podcast and talk with us today. I feel like we go, we covered a lot here but I really appreciate it. This this was awesome.

Jonathan: It was really good fun. Thanks.

Nick: This has been Mind the Gap, a podcast about sales and marketing alignment put on by Enablix. My name is Nick Ziech-Lopez. Thanks for listening.