A leading force in sales training and education since the 1970’s, Dr. Neil Rackham wrote the forward to Jason Jordan’s book “Cracking the Sales Management Code – The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance” (2012).
Dr. Rackham told a story about being asked at a conference if the “Three S’s” of good selling still apply. His initial response was “yes.”
After pondering the question for some time, Dr. Rackham said:“But it’s increasingly clear that they are no longer enough” since he has worked with sales forces with a “…above-average level of skill…” who were being outsold more often than they should have been. Today, if Dr.Rackham had to pick three components to success in sales today, he wrote that he would go with the “Three M’s.”.
The fact that sales has become more complex and as much a science as an art is the dilemma executives find themselves in today.
On the one hand they are trying to prepare their salesforce for this change with sales-training. On the other hand, they are dissatisfied with the return they receive on their investment. Additionally, Salespeople see these trainings as a waste of time, as they could spend it more effectively with customers and nothing can be learned at these seminars anyway. Of course management is almost never or just rarely seen at training events. Add in a lack of connection to the company’s strategic goals and you have a recipe for disaster.
There are four options that companies can take:
1. Lower your standards
2. Continue sales training he same as you have been doing
3. Hire sales educated graduates
4. Stop Sales Training until the return on investment can be sustainable
Lower your standards
This should not be a choice for anyone reading this magazine. Unfortunately the lack of ready-to-go sales talent in the worker pool means this is too often an unspoken reality. Make sure your hiring decision ends with the question “Is this person the sales professional we want in our organization?” Not “Who is the best to fill the position?”
Continue sales training the same as you have been doing
Simply sending sales professionals to training seminars has little to no impact on sales performance. Even when the training is led by the best sales trainers or from the best sales training companies.
International research conducted by ES Research Group shows the positive impact from attending sales training is 120 days. After 120 days, the performance of those attending training and the control group, those who did not attend training, was the same (Sales Training: The 120-Day Curse, 2011).
7 reasons sales training failed to produce long-term sustainable results:
- Misundestanding Your Customers’ Underlying Needs
- Letting Selling Gaps Go Unnoticed
- Selecting the Wrong Training Company
- Inadequate (or Absent) Underlying Sales Methodology
- Inadequate Supporting Systems.
- Ineffective Coaching/Lack of Reinforcement.
- No Measurement System.
Hire Sales Educated Graduates
The Sales Education Foundation’s “Sales Education Annual 2014” listed 105 colleges and universities that offer at minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in sales. The FH Wien and FH Wiener Neustadt represented Austria on this list.
While this list is not 100% complete, the fact that there is just 105 listed when there are over 4,300 colleges and universities in the USA and over 3,300 in the European Union means that the value of a sales educations bachelor or master student should be high for companies.
The report also cited two statistics supporting the reason hiring managers should be looking specifically for sales educated professionals:
1. An average 50% faster ramp-up versus non-sales educated students.
2. Employers reported a 30% lower turnover rate when hiring sales educated students.
Sales education at the university level continues to improve; both academically and through opportunities for practical experience. Companies should strengthen their cooperation with these institutions and find the best and brightest.
For example, four European schools held the first pan-European Sales Competition in June 2014. The winner was Rudolf Frierss, a student from the FH Wiener Neustadt, Austria.
Additionally, students have participated in the Northern Illinois University’s World Collegiate Sales Open the past two years. Each year, four spots were reserved for students from outside the USA. Students from the FH Wiener Neustadt earned 3 of those spots over the last two years..
Stop Sales training until the Return on Investment can be Sustainable
Sales training is the last investment a sales organization should make. Don’t get me wrong, sales training is a valuable investment and every sales person should attend sales training every year.
Only after your organization is ready for sales training. If you want to check the box, then do it tomorrow with the least expensive option you can find.
However, to ensure you have the best-in-class sales organizations with the sustainability that leads to desired return on investment from sales training, there are a number of steps to take first..
Step 1: C-Level Commitment is the first step to setting an organization onto the path of sales professionalism. The executive team must also lead by example in actions as well as words.
Step 2: Leadership, Coaching and Development Culture. Commitment isn’t enough. Leadership, Coaching and Development of employees happens by bridging organizational levels both vertically and horizontally in a formal hierarchical way as well as in-formal, peer-to-peer interactions. Executives lead the way and must ensure that the entire organization is on-board through consistent follow-up.
Step 3: Company Strategies Bridged to Sales Execution. Every company strategy has an impact on the sales organization. Yet, few front-line sales managers or sales professionals know and understand their company’s key strategies. Given the cost of sales organizations, ensuring that company strategy is bridged to daily operations
is an obvious way to create success.. In a survey of eighteen-hundred executives. 56% of the executives said “…their biggest challenges are ensuring that day-to-day decisions are in line with strategy and allocating resources in a way that supports the strategy.” (Dr. Frank V. Cespedes, Harvard University, “Aligning Strategy and Sales, The Choices, Systems and Behaviors that Drive Effective Selling”, 2014)
Steps 1-3 are the foundation to ensure sales training your organization invests in is going to be supported throughout your organization and in-line with your top priorities.
Step 4: Buying Process Bridged to Sales Process is where the science of sales starts. Companies who only focus on their sales process are dancing solo. Sales and marketing need to work together to position your products to the right customer at the right stage of their buying process. Understanding this connection and following your sales process greatly increases the probability of getting a sale. This is supported in the above presented data which shows outcomes in each category significantly improved with a formal or dynamic sales process which is strictly adhered to and increased understanding of the buying process. Interestingly, employee turnover also decreased. (Remember there are three reasons sales professionals leave a company: money, appreciation, and development)
Step 5: Bridging Marketing and Sales. Formalizing your sales process that is connected to the company’s strategy and the buying process creates the foundation for sustainable and significant return on investment. Something that Marketing and Sales need to do together!
Building this bridge strengthens allows you to take full advantage of the latest technologies - significantly increasing the effectiveness of both Marketing and Sales. Leads turned over to sales will be ready for personal selling, increasing conversion rates and putting your customers on the Continuous Revenue Generation path. Now that you have bridged strategy to daily operations; policies, processes and procedures between departments; and have a proactive Leadership, Coaching and Development Culture, it is time to focus on the sales organization and people.
Step 6: “Success Behaviors & Characteristics.” Every employee wants to know what it takes to be successful. Every company has its own culture and way of doing business. Providing sales professionals and their managers guidelines so they understand what it takes to be successful within your organization and the sales process you have adopted is vital to everyone’s success.
Detailed Success Behaviors & Characteristics for each position, provide you the basis to create development paths for the sales organization.
Step 7: “Sales Development Roadmap” for training and promotion gives people a path to follow, to know what is expected and have guidelines to exceed expectations. You also take a step at solving one of the top three reasons sales professionals change companies: not seeing or receiving meaningful development opportunities.
Step 8: Consistent Performance Improvement - daily coaching and feedback bridged to yearly performance reviews helps sales professionals know how they are performing in their manager’s eyes at all times. Thus reducing the third reason sales professionals switch jobs. Manager are able to do this when the organization allows the managers, especially front-line sales managers, to be coaches first, managers when they have to be. Remember, managers are here to watch over things and coaches are there to help people become better!
Step 9: “Truly Customized Sales Training” This is a tricky one! After all, these are hopefully some of the best sales people trying to sell you their services. There are at least three different levels of sales training companies
- The lowest level with the least likelihood of a return on your investment is the vast number of sales trainers who through some material together or simply buy a training script off the internet for about 150 Euros. Sad but true and perfect if you are just checking the box on sales training.
- The next level focuses on sales training only and they are good at the basics. For example, to learn how to ask open questions without a connection to the reason they are doing the needs analysis (think back to Step 4), this is a good type of training company for you. Expect to receive the same training manual as every other company, regardless if you are selling products or services – from retail to high-end technology or specialty products.
- However, if you have agreed with the steps laid out in this article and if you look to hire the best and brightest, then look for a Level 3 sales training organization. These are hybrid companies that has the knowledge and experience to do more than present sales training material from a script. They are the new breed of sales improvement companies that brings consulting, implementation, leadership, coaching and development cultures, technology and finally training together to maximize your investment and provide a sustainable return.
Regardless of how you decide to do your sales training, Step 10 is where the sustainability starts.
Step 10: “Post-training Game Plan” Make sure it is in place, linked to steps 1-9 above and ready to execute before training starts. Include sales management in the training so they can lead and coach from the front! After all, who is going to listen to a coach that has not gone through the same training as they have? Put in place the requirement for sales managers at all level to coach their people. Front-line sales managers should spend a majority of their time simply observing and coaching (not taking over sales conversations!).
Finally, go back to Step 1 and ensure everyone in the sales organization is active in the post-training sustainability efforts.