Share Post:
Return to Blog
alycia anderson psychology of sales enablement
March 21, 2024

The Adapter’s Advantage: Alycia Anderson on The Psychology of Sales Enablement

alycia anderson psychology of sales enablement


When you work in sales enablement, you need to be a bit of a psychologist.

Whether you’re creating a training program or trying to get buy-in for new sales enablement software, there’s a science to it. You have to consider how people’s minds work and adjust your programs and messaging so they are receptive to it.

For Alycia Anderson, who has a PhD in educational psychology and androgyny, she does this every day. In her role as Senior Director of Sales Enablement and People Development at Total Expert, she and her team design learning for how adults learn, particularly sales professionals.

“Everything that I create or that my team creates has a very theoretical basis,” she said during a recent episode of The Adapter’s Advantage podcast. “We start by asking, what is this going to look like from the perspective of the learner? What is their mental, emotional, and physical experience going to be like as they’re trying to intake and then apply this information? And a lot of the time we ask what we want that experience to be like, and then we reverse engineer from there.”

Anderson took the same theoretical approach when it came to determining the best sales enablement platform—ultimately, eliminating several unused tools and implementing one central platform that does the work of all of them: Allego. She considered the users’ pain points, experiences with the current tools, and if they even used the tools. It involved asking a lot of questions and gathering data. Her psychology skills came into play when it was time to get leadership to approve the platform.

“It’s about getting people to understand their pains,” Anderson said. “Once I understand that, I can say, ‘If I can resolve, say, 60% of this, is that something you’d be interested in?’ And everyone was like, ‘Absolutely, yes.’ So, it’s less about the change management of bringing you into another system … and more about asking, ‘What if we made this easier for you.’ Then all of a sudden, we’ve got their attention. They’re excited to get the pain relieved.”

Scroll down to learn more from Anderson. Listen to the interview or read the Q&A.

Episode 61: The Psychology of Sales Enablement | Alycia Anderson

Listen and Subscribe Now: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | TuneIn

From This Episode:

Mark Magnacca: Today, I’m excited to have with me: Alycia Anderson. Alycia is an expert in people development, sales enablement, organizational development, employee engagement, and team performance. She’s driven by a true passion for learning and employee development, and she takes pride in providing the best employee experience possible through a variety of education, engagement, and enablement initiatives. She has over 15 years of progressive success in delivering award-winning programs and building companies by creating opportunities for people to do the best work of their careers.

Alycia’s official role is Senior Director of Sales Enablement and People Development at Total Expert. So, Alycia, welcome to the podcast.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you so much, Mark. I’m so excited to be here.

Magnacca: I want to start off with one question. If you were to meet someone and you had Total Expert on your sweatshirt, for example, and someone said, “Oh, so you’re a senior director in sales enablement and people development. What does that mean and what do you actually do at Total Expert?” What would you say?

Anderson: I’d ask them how much time they had first because I feel like that conversation could go on for a while. In a nutshell, though, I think everything that I do and that my team does is all geared towards how we can help people learn more, do better, and be happier at work. And that’s kind of the umbrella under which everything else rolls up. So, if you need to learn how to do something, do something better, or feel more confident doing it, we’re your team.

Magnacca: Now, there’s something unique about you. I’ve done more than 70 podcasts, and I’ve interviewed a wide range of people with a wide range of educational backgrounds. And I’ve interviewed a number of learning professionals and enablement professionals who had a master’s degree, but you’re the first one who has a PhD in this realm. So my question for you is, what did you learn from some of the advanced education you received in this arena? And how does that apply to your role today?

Anderson: Well, without actually reading my dissertation, because I don’t know that any listener would like that unless they’re trying to cure their insomnia. I would say that all the studies that I did in my PhD were around educational psychology and androgyny, which is essentially how to design learning for the way adults actually learn, for the way that our brains intake information.

So, everything that I create or that my team creates has a very theoretical basis. We start by asking, what is this going to look like from the perspective of the learner? What is their mental, emotional, and physical experience going to be like as they’re trying to intake and then apply this information? And a lot of the time we ask what we want that experience to be like, and then we reverse engineer from there.

What it adds is all of the theory behind why we’re doing it a certain way. And that also makes it a lot easier to bring in champions and get stakeholders over to our side on different projects because we have the background and the basis to say, “This is why we recommend this” or “this is why we built a program this way or in this sequence.” So speaking of confidence, it just gives us more tools in the tool belt to be able to say, “We’re the experts in this and here’s our recommendation.”

As we’re building a program or an onboarding experience, [we ask ourselves] if it is something they need to know, something they need to be able to do, or a process they need to follow. Because you should never approach any of those the exact same way. — Alycia Anderson

Magnacca: Can you give us an example of one of the things you do at Total Expert that may be different in terms of how you either onboard new hires or how you help them become proficient to speak about the company and its products.

Anderson: When we’re talking about an academic approach to a sales environment, I feel like the lecture hall style is very, very old school academia. And what we’ve done is bring it a little more into the academia of today, which is a combination of learning in a lot of different settings, a lot of different platforms, and at a lot of different formal and informal levels.

So, we ask ourselves as we’re building a program or an onboarding experience if it is something they need to know, something they need to be able to do, or a process they need to follow? Because you should never approach any of those the exact same way. That lecture hall style could work and can be effective when it’s just information we need them to intake and then be able to spit back out to us. But a lot of times with sales, where that falls short is that sales is all about the doing.

It’s: How do I speak to this person? What do I need to know about them in order to speak to their pain points, to customize this demo to really reach them in a discovery call, and to make sure that we’re a mutually good fit? It’s a lot more about the doing of sales rather than what you know about sales or even what you know about your company or your products. Because you could know all sorts of things about the company and the product, but unless you’re able to communicate that effectively and we build up your emotional intelligence to be able to have those conversations, no one really cares how much you know about that particular topic. And even if we have incredible salespeople who are really, really good at demos and pitches and uncovering pains and speaking to those and matching up solutions, if they don’t follow the processes that the company needs them to follow, then they are going to be on the naughty list for all of our RevOps and all of our finance folks who are like, “My goodness! Why can’t you just fill out an order form correctly?”

There’s gotta be a balance between those three areas. And that’s something that we keep in mind for everything that we build at Total Expert, not just the onboarding experience for sales.

Magnacca: That leads me to asking you to share a little bit about Total Expert. Because when I think about this process of a journey, in a sense what you’re describing is creating an ideal journey for employees the same way you do for your customer. So, can you tell our listeners what Total Expert does?

Anderson: Total Expert is a customer engagement platform and marketing automation platform. But our entire goal is to help our customers in the financial services space take better care of their customers. So that way they reach them at the right time with the right message, they build that loyalty, and they have repeat customers and customers for life. Whether you are intentional about it or not, your customers are on a journey.

And what we do is we add a level of intentionality and [help you] work smarter instead of harder to keep track of your people so that you don’t lose them in the various cracks that can happen within a sales process. And every single one of our solutions and services at Total Expert is designed to do exactly that: to fill those gaps so the customer experience is better and long term.

When you have a true sales enablement professional, their entire goal should be to align with all of the business objectives and goals that the company has and figure out how to get the people from point A to point B. — Alycia Anderson

Magnacca: How do you help the entire leadership team understand that and what it means to them?

Anderson: I love this question. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to talk about. I’m a lot of fun at parties, obviously, because this is how we grow this vision. So, in order for enablement to be a true partner to an organization, they can’t just be the people who make PDFs, make pretty little trainings, or babysit people while they’re onboarding.

When you have a true sales enablement professional or sales enablement team, their entire goal should be to align with all of the business objectives and goals that the company has and figure out how to get the people from point A to point B, which is all the goals that the company is trying to reach. So, going back to that reverse engineering, we say, “OK, we want to hit this number in revenue.” Fantastic, love that for us. What does that actually mean? What does that look like? How many deals do we need to close and at what volume? If we need to close as many deals, then how many accounts need to be in the pipeline? How many calls do we need to make? How many emails do we need to send? And we can dig into it from a data perspective of, how do we take that to what can we do today to reach that eventual annual goal? And then we also align with, do we have the knowledge and the skillset on this team in order to get there? So, there’s a lot of analyzing of the gaps.

And when you’re in a very lean environment, like a lot of our customers are right now with the mortgage market and like a lot of tech is right now, it’s about how do we do our very best with what we have and how do we up-level the talent that we currently have. It’s about aligning what the business needs and getting our people on the path to get us there. And that’s the conversation that we have in building out the “how to” of getting to the ultimate vision.

Magnacca: Well, I may be the only other sales enablement nerd at the party wanting to continue this conversation with you because what you just said, Alycia, it’s so significant to the audience we’re talking to. Because what I hear over and over again is the very best sales enablement organizations have two things: They have a seat at the table, so to speak, and they understand what you just said. Because it’s a very different thing to be able to reverse engineer what needs to be done based on understanding the business objectives. And just waiting for orders to come down on how many trainings to run, what content to get in front of them, and what certification—that’s the equivalent of being an order taker seller.

And then there’s the trusted advisor seller, and they’re not the same thing. Likewise, I believe there are some enablement organizations that act like order takers. The sales organization says, “We need this.” And they say, “OK, we’re gonna give it to you.” But in many cases, a better response is, “Help me understand why you want that. And oh, by the way, is this the best way for us to give it to you? Or might there be a better way if we can have a dialogue about it versus it being a one-way conversation?” But it goes back to the thing you said at the beginning. In order to do that, you have to have the confidence to raise your hand and say, “Wait a minute. I need more information.”

The day we stop asking questions and digging deeper is the day we start failing ourselves and the teams we serve. — Alycia Anderson

Anderson: Exactly. And I think the day we stop asking questions and digging deeper is the day we start failing ourselves and the teams we serve. Because none of us are ever going to be perfect. You know, the environment is always changing. The market is always changing. Companies are always growing and evolving. And if you stop asking questions, you are signing yourself up for a complacency that doesn’t help anyone.

So, I appreciate what you said because you have to ask kind of those diagnostic questions. Anytime we get into the order taker mentality, where we need a one-pager on this thing, even something as simple as that, I’m gonna ask more questions. I’m gonna say, “OK, how long have you felt like you needed this? How many people need this? How many people have requested this?” And sometimes what I uncover is that they didn’t know that another resource already existed. Or they don’t feel confident in their ability to give that value proposition and they’re hoping the one-pager’s gonna do some heavy lifting for them. And we would just never know that if we said, “OK, great. I’ll get a one-pager over to you in five business days,” when really the source of that could be something completely different. So you have to be more of a diagnoser, if you will, than someone who just says, all right, a number three with fries and a Coke, you bet.

Magnacca: You had a number of other tools you were working with. What caused you to switch from using multiple tools to just one tool?

Anderson: In all the experience I’ve had working with sales reps and honestly, just humans in general, we do not wanna have to go on a treasure hunt every time we need something. And when you have information all over the place in all these different systems and sources, and you’re only gonna see it if this particular folder is shared with you or if you’re on this list or if you’re part of this department or you have this license in Okta, you start to get so frustrated that you stop looking for anything at all. Or sellers only use the things that have directly been sent to them or a link with Slack to them. Or they ask for it from one of their team members, and they say, “Oh, hey, I have this version that I saved on my desktop four years ago,” which is now out of date and not in brand or anything like that.

But the democratization of information is one of the things that I get really, really passionate about discussing with organizations because just because information was perhaps originally designed for sales, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t benefit other parts of the organization. At the end of the day, really we’re all in sales, especially in companies that are trying to grow. We all represent that company and can share that message and can connect different people who may be a good match for working with us.

So, not only was it ease of use and making things so much simpler—having everything on one system–but also our finance team is pretty thrilled with us because the cost savings in being able to sunset multiple systems and bring them into one central place was also a very, very big benefit.

Magnacca: Was there any particular tipping point that caused you to make the change? What caused you to say now’s the time to do this?

Anderson: We did have a couple of contracts that were coming up. When I came into Total Expert, there were a lot of legacy systems. And I say legacy only in the sense that they pre-dated my arrival—that I wasn’t part of the acquisition process. And people just weren’t using them. I mean, the first thing I do anytime I start somewhere is I dig into the data and I say, “OK, who is using what? Where are we getting the most value? What are people using? What are they finding?” And the most frustrating thing is that of all those systems, there were maybe only one or two that I felt like gave me the data to say, “OK, this is actually getting utilized.”

And with the rest of them, it was a shot in the dark. Maybe they’re using this and getting value. So, it was the combination of we couldn’t prove what they were using or what they found helpful, along with the fact that the contract was coming up. And if we weren’t having a great experience with it, why pay for it?

Magnacca: So you come to this conclusion that it’s time to think bigger. How do you get the sales leadership team to buy into that?

Anderson: Well, I approach that like any sales cycle, any sales conversation. Where’s the pain? And are we going to be able to alleviate it? Are we going to be able to solve that? Because as human beings, we are very, very motivated by reducing and avoiding pain. So for me, it was that curiosity around like, OK, so tell me how you’re using this. Help me understand how many times you log into this. Or if I were to ask you to locate a pitch deck for this very particular solution for a specific persona, where would you look for that? And watching them say, “Oh, I’d probably Slack this person. And if they didn’t know, I’d try SharePoint. And if they didn’t know, I’d try BrainShark. And then I’d probably go to Litmus. And then I would try Confluence.” And I was thinking, “Wow! That’s a lot of places!” And I’d ask, “Would you really do all of that for this one pitch deck?” And they’re like, “No. If so-and-so didn’t know, I’d probably give up.” And I was like, there it is.

So, it’s about getting people to understand their pains. Once I understand that and I can say, “OK, if I can resolve, say, 60% of this, is that something you’d be interested in?” And everyone was like, “absolutely, yes.” So it’s less about the change management of bringing you into another system … and more about asking, “What if we made this easier for you.” Then all of a sudden, we’ve got their attention. They’re excited to get the pain relieved. After that, people couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Magnacca: What kind of research and evaluation did you go through to make sure you weren’t “going from the frying pan into the fire”—that you wouldn’t end up in a worse place than where you started?

Anderson: My entire goal was centralization. So, I looked at all the features we were actually using or we wanted to be able to use with our existing tools and started really doing a compare and contrast between what was available. Is there any one tool that can do all or most of these things that people still wanna be able to have access to and utilize on a regular basis? I have, over my career, been the person to evaluate, acquire and implement a lot of different software, particularly CMS, LMS, sales enablement, file management, brand management, all of those things. So, I had some people who I knew we could start with. But after working in dozens of LMSs, you say, all right, this is what I really liked about this one, and this is what I didn’t like. And after looking at other file-sharing sites, you kind of just build on your experience. But really what I was looking for is whether there is anyone in the marketplace who can be a one-stop shop. And ultimately we’ve found that in Allego.

Magnacca: How important is it for a vendor to have a customer success team that you feel will stand by you during that process and even beyond the implementation?

Anderson: Customer success is make or break. You could have the most future-oriented, incredible software, but if you have a really poor customer success experience, you’re going to be a lot less likely to utilize all parts of that platform and to renew your agreement moving forward. So, I think a pivotal part of any software relationship is having a really good customer success person.

Magnacca: How did having a single point of contact, this one stop shop, help transform the day-to-day operation of your team?

Anderson: It has been a night-and-day difference. Number one, people know exactly where to go to find things. And because everything is so highly searchable within the system, even if they’re not sure which category or which channel it might live in, that search bar [within Allego] has been a complete game changer. I don’t know the last time you tried to search for something in SharePoint, but unless you have the exact title of the file, it’s like, “No, we don’t know. We’ve never heard of that before.” And I’m like, “Really? I just looked it up yesterday.” So, the search feature within Allego has been huge.

The other thing is … [Allego] has kind of become our intranet. It’s not just the sales team that uses it now. The entire company uses it for weekly updates, compliance training, onboarding, and all of the cross-functional partnership and communication that needs to happen between teams so they can share files and resources and findings. And it really continues to evolve into something we couldn’t live without.

Magnacca: What are some of the top insights or takeaways that you would share with other enablement leaders who might be on the fence or are looking to drive a similar change but haven’t begun yet?

Anderson: First of all, I would say I really, really hope you get Katie McNichols as your [Allego] customer success manager because she has been absolutely incredible. Honestly, Mark, and I could gush about her the rest of the time. She has been like the cornerstone in everything that we’ve been launching. And I probably owe her a case of champagne or a fruit basket or something because she’s been so responsive, answers our questions, troubleshoots things.

The second thing I would say is that the data we get from Allego is second to none. We can look at the time spent on a page, how many pages they looked at, the percentage of video that they watched, which pieces they’re interacting with, total view count, and more. Then we can slice and dice the data a hundred different ways, and that’s still within the system. And then we have the ability to export and manipulate the data via a pivot table or in a business intelligence tool. And that’s given us incredible clarity into what is getting used and what our reps and our teams are finding impactful and helpful.

Then we use that feedback to determine where we should spend more of our creation resources and our creation time and talent in order to give people more of what they find helpful and actually use. It keeps all of us really, really accountable.

I would also say breaking down silos is one of the most challenging things for organizations because especially in SaaS and in tech, everybody’s moving really fast. Everyone is trying to build and grow and just do and do and do. And there’s not always time to sit down and say, “You know, we should probably talk to so-and-so for marketing and so-and-so to product before we make that change. But we didn’t so whoops, here it is.

Having Allego be our hub means we can provide kind of those bridges between the silos, so people can see the latest update with the product, the new information for marketing, and how sales is using it. And everyone feels that connection, visibility, and transparency, which feeds into their confidence in being able to do their job well, which is where we started this whole conversation. Does everyone feel confident enough to make empowered decisions in their work and do really good work? I believe data is power. I believe knowledge is power. And I think having a system that allows you to serve both of those things simultaneously is a game changer.

Subscribe Today

Don’t miss an episode. Adapter’s Advantage is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and TuneIn.

See Allego in Action

Learn how to accelerate training and empower teams with modern learning that delivers real business results.

Demo Request
Allego Stands Alone

Allego is the only one of Forrester sales readiness leaders also leading in sales content.