Today’s Sales Superstar is Tamara Schenk! She’s been in the world of sales for more than 20 years, building up a reputation as an innovator and sales enablement evangelist.
These days she’s the Research Director at MHI Research Institute, specialising in strategic sales enablement and sales force transformation. She’s also an influential blogger and speaker, and a regular contributor to Top Sales Magazine.
We spoke with Tamara to find out a bit more about her.
Tamara’s first experiences of business could easily have put her off getting involved herself.
“Sales was always a bit suspicious for me! My father was an engineer and had his own engineering office, but I never heard him use the word ‘customer’.
“He thought they needed something from him, and that therefore he was the most important person in that process. This is how I grew up.”
But while studying Economics at university, Tamara inevitably got introduced into the world of sales and marketing. Before long, she found herself running a company with a partner, providing software solutions to automotive suppliers.
“I had to do everything. I had to sell the solutions, implement them, work through the whole process with the customers, really everything! There were a lot of hard lessons, but I’m really happy that I had this time.
“I’d had no training at all at this time. Honestly, if I look back it was more about leveraging competence. I could make sense of things and put them in context for people. I think that was the element that worked and made it successful. But I didn’t know this at the time!”
After building up this business for five years, Tamara moved on to pastures new.
“I worked as a freelancer on a project in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the next two years. Then I got back into a number of consulting roles.
“Consulting is different because it’s actually selling yourself and your team. When I was working with a client it was very easy for me to get other projects with that account. So it grew this way.”
Following a number of consulting roles she joined one of her clients, T-Systems, where she was to spend the next eight years.
Discovering sales enablement
“It was an excellent lesson in understanding big organisations, because I had to work with production, sales and marketing. My last project in this role was leading a re-organisation of the sales force, bringing me back into sales again!
“I started to educate myself on sales enablement to better understand how we enabled our sales force. What I found was that we actually didn’t do a lot, and if we did, it wasn’t structured at all. This is where my passion for sales enablement was born.
“I did that for a year in parallel with a business development role in the utilities industry, and I had to make a decision about whether I could do sales enablement full-time. Utilities was re-organised and it was a good opportunity to step out.
“I started the programme with a very small team. We had 35 different platforms so we worked on reducing it down to one. In the first phase, we were very focused on content and leveraging enablement technology.
“But actually we were far away from the pipeline, we didn’t really know what was going on or whether we were having impact. I argued that I had to work much more strategically with sales, rather than working from portfolio management, so I was allowed to do that.
“The senior vice-president of sales operations really loved our holistic approach, because we connected content and training, worked backwards from the customer’s journey, and connected that to sales methodologies and processes.”
Tamara really invested her energy and emotion into sales enablement, and started spending her own time working on it.
“I met a very interesting and inspiring people through the enablement communities I worked with, and developed my passion for writing. I started my own blog in 2011 when I was still at T-Systems.
“The last initiative I led at T-Systems was developing a frontline sales manager programme. The business impact this programme created sharpened my passion for a strategic and holistic enablement approach that should include frontline sales managers as well.
“But you always reach a point where you cannot grow anymore in your current role. Working with analysts for a long time, I already had a great passion for research. So, combining my passions for enablement and for research was a perfect match for me.
“So, I joined the MHI Research Institute in January 2014.”
Evolving sales enablement
As one of the foremost experts of sales enablement, it’s no surprise that Tamara has noticed it changing.
“It’s much more mature than it was many years ago. The big trend that customers are looking for is having content, training and coaching services integrated. You need everything within your CRM system, you have to provide people with what they need, when they need it, at their fingertips.
“The enablement space has a big focus on bringing these things together to ensure consistent messages for salespeople. It’s no longer about content or training, it’s about integrating and aligning them in a better way.
“The biggest changes in sales in general are with the buyers of course. You always hear about the more informed buyer. In some cases this is true, in others more information leads to more confusion. This is where salespeople come in to put all the pieces of information in context, and to provide valuable perspectives.
“What does that mean for our approaches? There’s a lot of change and transformation involved, especially for people who have spent 20 years selling around features and functions, that’s just no longer working.”
Key take away
“I have one slogan in mind – ‘From push to pull, with passion and compassion.’
“You can no longer push what you want to sell, you have to do it the customer’s way, along their journey. Really being passionate about the sales role, and serving clients to help them make their best decision, that would really help the profession!
“The other thing would be really understanding that sales enablement is no longer about point solutions and how to fix the next quarter. It has to be a dynamic, strategic approach.”
To find out more about Tamara, check out her Sales Enablement Perspectives blog and the MHI Research Institute blog. Also, take a look at her LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter, where she’s sure to be sharing interesting sales and marketing content.