5 Sales Enablement Insights from Jim Ninivaggi, Brainshark’s New SVP of Strategic Partnerships

5 Sales Enablement Insights from Jim Ninivaggi, Brainshark’s New SVP of Strategic Partnerships
July 29, 2016


Jim Ninivaggi was at an antique store in the Berkshires a few weeks back when he discovered a treasure only a sales expert could truly appreciate.

It was a training manual for Coca Cola sales managers, dating back to 1940. Inside the 76-year-old thick binder were outlines for how a manager, in a series of 18 meetings, should train his sales team – and how he should conduct meetings. Alongside the manual were vinyl albums on best practices and films for the field team to learn how to use the product.

“When a Coca Cola salesperson showed up at a grocery store, he was ready, and he represented the company in a way it should be represented. That is sales enablement, 76 years ago – and they were even incorporating multimedia!” Jim said. “That’s not what they called it, but that’s what it was. In fact, Coca Cola was doing it better 76 years ago than most companies do today."

It was with this anecdote – and the Coca Cola training gear in tow – that Jim used to introduced himself as Brainshark’s new SVP of strategic partnerships.

“Jim’s name is synonymous with sales productivity, and he’s passionate about the issues that matter to our customers,” said Brainshark CEO Greg Flynn. “Having worked with him for years in his previous analyst role, we are excited to welcome Jim to the company – and are confident that his extensive experience and acumen will further extend Brainshark’s leadership position, while creating new opportunities and synergies to benefit our customers.”

We sat down to learn a little more about Jim’s experiences in the sales enablement landscape – and his thoughts on the evolution of the term. Here’s a look at our conversation:

What are the main challenges B2B sales teams face today, and how do they differ to those of 10, or 20, years ago?

JN: It's always been about making sure the salesperson is ready to have a conversation – with the knowledge, skills and assets [to be successful]. What’s changed today is the level of complexity.

If I was a Coca Cola rep 76 years ago, I didn’t have as much competition and I was selling one product. Today, they’re constantly introducing new brands, new flavors, buying companies. The pace of change has accelerated, as has the complexity of what salespeople need to know today.

When you couple that with buyers who can go online and be much more informed, it just means sales enablement has become that much more important. The preparation is even greater.

Tell me a little about your time in the sales enablement world (I know it’s extensive!) and how you found your way to Brainshark.

JN: I started the sales enablement practice at SiriusDecisions a little over 5 years ago. Frankly, back then I wasn’t really sure what it was. Since then, I’ve had a front row seat at seeing how the word has evolved to a function.

Sales enablement is responsible for three key areas.

  • Sales talent optimization (hiring, onboarding, ongoing development)
  • Sales asset management (a portal for 1,000s of pieces of content, tools, ROI calculators)
  • Sales communications management (streamlining from corporate to field so salespeople aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of communications coming at them)

In terms of coming to Brainshark, I’ve always admired the leadership and the culture itself. Brainshark has positioned itself clearly from a sales enablement technology perspective, focused on sales talent optimization. It’s the area I’m most passionate about because I believe to have a better conversation, content is important, but they need to have the knowledge, skills and the right behaviors to have that conversation. I wanted to be with a company that was focused on that part of sales enablement.

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Going back to your time at SiriusDecisions, what’s the role and the responsibility of a sales enablement analyst?

JN: Part of the job is to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there in corporate America, while also getting companies to think about what problems they’re not addressing and what questions they should be asking.

A perfect example was onboarding. About 2 ½ years ago, I started getting a lot of inquiries from clients about onboarding like, “What are best practices? How are others doing it? What can we do better?”

Companies had more confidence in the economy, they were hiring at a pace that they hadn’t hired to anyway and venture capital money was going into more technology companies. From there, it’s the analyst’s job to help make sense of a confusing vendor landscape. There are a lot of sales enablement platforms. Some focus on asset management. Some focused on talent optimization. An analyst has to categorize and understand what the vendors can and can’t do, so if a client has a problem and needs to do X better, an analyst can say “this solution can help.”

If there’s one myth about sales enablement you’d like to clear up, what would it be?

JN: There’s no silver bullet. It took 18 weeks to take the Coca Cola rep to get ready – and that was in 1940. Today, technology can accelerate, but there are no shortcuts. And it’s just not easy. The organizations that are good at it work really hard at it.

For all of the sales-related tools, software and services out there, what do you think is missing?

JN: CRM systems tell me what a salesperson is producing, how much they have in the pipe, their forecast, what deals have closed. What’s been missing is a system that actually tracks how competent the salesperson is, how ready he or she is to have the conversations they want to have.

If we were to ask sales leaders or managers: Do you know at any given time which of your reps are on target in terms of where they should be in terms of a competency level? Are you assessing them for the way they want to act in front of a buyer?

To date, that’s been missing. Most of the focus is on consumption, but not truly assessing them for competency. That’s something we address here at Brainshark.

Speaking of Brainshark, tell me about your new role as Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. What are you most excited for?

JN: A lot of tools say, “We’re a sales enablement platform” – but they’re not addressing the three key areas mentioned previously. My charter is to build out partnerships with other technology providers to be able to offer a true ecosystem of sales enablement solutions. This includes consulting firms that offer implementation or strategy services to complement our sales talent optimization solutions, like our current partnership with CloudCoaching International.

 Looking to drive sales productivity at your organization? Learn more about how Brainshark can help.