Sales training – let’s look to the future and try something different

 

Sales Training

Sales Training

The Status-Quo … Each year U.S. companies spend millions of dollars on sales training for their salespeople.  And, by sales training we are talking about sales skills training not product training.  An equal amount is spent on product training as well.

Sales skills programs come in all shapes and sizes.  Internal training departments develop some programs.  Others are purchased from one of the ever-increasing number of sales training companies.  Some are delivered in the classroom – others by online training.  Some are short half-day courses taught as part of a national sales meeting and others are highly-crafted sales training engagements incorporating sophisticated instructional designs and reinforcement protocols.

While the shapes and sizes are different if one looks more closely, the content of the programs are strikingly similar.  Most sales skills programs are developed around classic sales topics that have been around for a very long time.  Three topics constitute a lion’s share of what is delivered.

  • Holding the number one position are classic sales call execution programs.  The program labels vary from consultative selling to customer-centric selling to some branded name, the models have different numbers of stages – for example four types of questions or five types of questions; however, the content is more similar than different.  The programs are about subject areas like: selling value, asking questions, active listening, handling objections, call planning, building relationships, and closing.  Sometimes these topics are augmented by modules on emerging topics like: team selling, using social media or storytelling.
  • Although some might argue, we suggest the other two dominant programs are sales strategy and negotiation.  Again the programs look different and do teach different models; however the actual skills and best practices being taught are more common than different.

To complete this part of the story, we should note there are clearly some exceptions to the “they all look a lot alike” position.  However, we do think the basic theme of the story holds pretty well.

We should also note this is not a story about sales training being ineffective and that it is dying a much-deserved death.  Nor are we saying that companies should discontinue doing sales training in these foundational topics.  Regarding the first point, when you add everything up sales training has been a good investment for most companies and has earned its keep.  And, it is certainly not dying.

Sales Training Challenge.  So what’s the message – the message is times are changing.  Today what customers expect from salespeople is changing dramatically.  Today customers want sales reps to be trusted advisors not product facilitators.  They expect sales reps to be knowledgeable about their industry, company, and issues at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.  Customers need fresh ideas and creative insights for addressing a set of needs and opportunities that are both new and challenging.

If one believes the “times are changing dramatically” message, then the question for those of us concerned about the field of sales training becomes: What are we going to do about that?  What do we think companies ought to do in addition to their present work in the foundational skills to help sales reps adjust and adapt to the changes in the buying environment?

What’s our answer?  Is it about coming up with higher impact instructional designs for delivering the same content?  Is it coming up with more advanced models for framing the existing content?  Or perhaps we should wait for a revolutionary technology to emerge from our colleagues in educational technology?

The answer is not so easy and there may be more then one alternative.  However one answer that is probably not a good bet is to suggest that simply doing what we are doing is enough.  And, of, course re-labeling what we are doing and calling it new is even worse.

To get the discussion going we suggest the focus should be on content.  What are the guideposts that could be used to direct what that new content should be?  Two make the short list.

  • First, focus on how customers are buying in today’s market and their changing expectations about how they want to interact with salespeople.  If we believe the story about customers wanting trusted advisors and not product facilitators, then lets address the skill sets that will help them do that.
  • Second, turn to the changes that are occurring in how people function in today’s world of work.

Future Snapshot.  So what might be some of the subject areas that could be incorporated into future sales training programs that would help sale reps adjust and adapt to the changing market demands?  Recently we came across an interesting article in HR Review that explored the top 10 most important work skills in 2020.   We borrowed from the list some we thought would be particularly important for salespeople and then added a few of our own.  Let’s take a look:

  • Business Acumen.  Being able to integrate a business and economic perspective into customer interactions.
  • Adaptive Thinking.  Coming up with creative and innovative solutions that are not rule-based.
  • Computational Thinking.  Being able to translate vast amounts of data into useful information.
  • Virtual Collaboration.  Working effectively and efficiently as a member of a virtual group.
  • Transdisciplinary Competency.  Knowing how to integrate knowledge and concepts across disciplines and areas of expertise.
  • New Media Literacy.  Being able to leverage new media technologies for creating and delivering persuasive conversations.

Summary. We suggest these six skill sets are candidates for subject areas to incorporate into sales training programs that would help sales reps adjust and adapt to changing customer expectations and work demands.  Clearly there are others and we would be interested in hearing from our readers as to what they think the other areas might be.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Internal champions – why champion you?

Developing Internal Champions

Developing Internal Champions

In complex sales a lot of the decision-making is going on when you not there.  Changes occur all the time – what was true yesterday may not be true today.  In these environments, salespeople absolutely need someone who has a seat at the table who can sell for them when they are not there … because in the complex sale you not there most of the time.  Enter the internal champion.

As Paul Weinstein shared in a recent HBR blog, internal champions have four things that make them irreplaceable in developing and closing a sale: credibility, connections, company intelligence, and motivation.

According to Paul, credibility, connections, and company intelligence are attributes all internal champions need to possess – they are the “ticket to the dance.”  If they have these attributes you will avoid the trap of developing internal champions that are willing but not able.

But are they willing?   How can salespeople develop an internal champion who helps them win the business vs. someone else?  That’s where motivation plays a role.

Weinstein goes on to share internal champions are usually motivated by a mix of factors.  We thought four were particularly important:

  • Innovation – they want to explore and break new ground and see what you sell as a way to get that.
  • Advantage – they see your offerings as a way to improve their company’s competitive advantage.
  • Advancement – they view working with you as a way to solidify their position inside the organization.
  • Respect – internal champions are motivated by gaining status within their organization because while perceived as being very knowledgeable, they often are taken for granted and feel they are undervalued.

In addition to keeping in mind these motivational factors, we’d like to add three more ideas to consider for  getting the right internal champions:

Managers need to establish internal champions as a coaching priority. Because internal champions are a must-have, how one goes about developing one should be a part of the account strategy in every major account.  In order to make that happen, managers need to establish developing and managing internal champions as a coaching priority.

It’s not about finding one. This is not an Easter egg hunt – internal champions are not something you find.  It takes time and effort to develop an internal champion.  So:

  • Pretenders must be spotted early on.
  • It is a two-way street, there has to be something in it for the internal champion.
  • Remember, your competitors also have internal champions.
  • A determination must be made as to what is a reasonable request for help.

Rehearsing is a big deal. It is almost always true that internal champions do not have selling skills and it is always true that they do not know as much your solutions and company as you do.  So, if they are to sell for you effectively, then rehearsing becomes a big deal.  Rehearsing is probably the most poorly executed of all the requirements of developing and managing internal champions.  Many, otherwise skilled sales reps, don’t even do it.

Learn more about internal champions and other sales skills – sign up here.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

 

 

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Sales reps – to win a sale, you first have to be considered!

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Geting Your Product or Service into the Customer’s Considersation Set

Customers generally seriously only consider a handful of products before deciding which one to buy. This group of products is called the Consideration Set.

Niraj Dawar in strategy+business provides some questions for managing your position in the Consideration Set.  We took some of Dawar’s ideas and added a few of our own.

1. How do you make sure your product is among those considered?

Customers simplify the large set of available alternatives to the much smaller Consideration Set by applying rules of thumb that use certain decision criteria for helping them determine whether someone joins the Consideration Set.  Salespeople can influence what characteristics are among the selected criteria.

2. How do you ensure there are as few competing products as possible in the Consideration Set?

Work with customers to ensure that the number of companies that meet the cutoffs is as small as possible. One technique to do this is to raise the bar on the decision criteria that are high priority for the customer and play to your competitive advantages – leaving some competitors behind.

3. How do you make sure your product is the one chosen for purchase from among those?

Once the customer is considering your product, the buying process changes. Customers use their decision criteria not as cutoffs, but as benchmarks for making trade-offs. At this stage, they no longer are trying to eliminate products that don’t fit their needs – rather they’re seeking the best fit among just a few products that made the initial cut.

This is when customers start evaluating multiple criteria simultaneously, trading off price for reliability, features for speed, and so on.  Trade-offs result in customers choosing a product that is not the one that dominates on all criteria, for seldom is there such a case, but rather one that offers the best overall value.

To accomplish this, sales reps must: Make sure they understand which criteria are important to customers and how they value each so they understand the “exchange rate” customers will use when analyzing their trade-offs.

Summary.  Sales reps cannot win a sale if they don’t understand the buying process, don’t make the initial cut-off and once there – don’t understand the trade-offs customers will make and the rationale for those trade-offs.

To make that happen you must have conversations with the customer to determining how you fit against the customer’s decision criteria. It is important to remember that fit is a two-way street. You must determine in an objective way the degree of fit between the customer’s decision criteria and your capabilities. In addition, you must obtain the customer’s perception of that fit. It is often the case that the two assessments are not in alignment and a part of your strategy is what to do about the misalignment.

For example, there are times where it is legitimate to help a customer change their point of view. A misperception about one of your capabilities is one example. A second example is when a customer deems a particular decision criterion to be extremely important and it is your experience that priority is misplaced. This, of course, is a road to be walked with care. If the customer would end up making a better decision if they changed their assessment, then that brings value to the customer and to you, and that’s legitimate. Obviously, it is not legitimate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest.

The second step is obtaining the customer’s perception of how the competition fits with their decision criteria. With all that information at hand you can make a good assessment of your competitive position as viewed by the customer.

This assessment provides the information you need to determine whether to commit additional resources to pursuing the business or whether this is indeed “bad business” and you should move on to other accounts.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Customers no longer only learn about you from your sales reps

Changing sales process because of online information

Changing sales process because of online information

Whether it’s checking a review on Amazon, Yelp, CNET or Zagat or posting a question on Facebook or Twitter – consumers can do comparative shopping as long as they have a keyboard within reach.  They can learn about a product’s functionality, quality, and pricing before they even go to your web site, let alone talk to a salesperson.

As reported in a strategy+business article – in 2012, 70% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen indicated that they trusted online reviews—which represented an increase of 15% in four years.  We doubt the number has decreased in the last two years.

But consumers are not alone.  This is not just a B2C market trend.  Corporate buyers are also increasingly seeking information and insights from online sources. Just look at LinkedIn group discussions and you’ll find recommendations about products, as well as, insights about solving particular business problems.

Since buyers now are able to easily gather in-depth information about you and your competitors, they’re more knowledgeable about your company and its products than ever before.

So what does this mean for B2B sales reps?  Well, one thing we know for sure is when buyers change how they buy; it’s a good idea for salespeople to rethink how they sell Let’s take a look.

  • You are no longer the sole purveyor of information.  The salesperson isn’t the only one introducing prospects to your products and services. Customers are finding information, collecting product reviews, and pricing information before talking to a single salesperson. This means that buyers have already formed impressions about your product and your competitors which salespeople must address, manage, and in some cases counter – when inaccurate data was obtained and assimilated. Remember – there’s no filter on much of the information appearing online!
  • A lot of data isn’t always a good thing.  It can end up generating a tremendous amount of clutter that makes decision making harder.  Buyers can easily find themselves immobilized sifting through a mountain of data, and that’s where salespeople can play an important role.  The salesperson needs to help the buyer identify the criteria that are important to them in making a buying decision and how their solution meets those criteria.  It is all about helping translate data into useful information.
  • Customers demand personalized interactions for addressing their business challenges. Generic sales pitches are not needed or acceptable. Nor can the salesperson any longer walk into the sales call and ask “basic” questions about a customer’s business – the old “discovery your pain” discussion.  Buyers assume salespeople have done their homework through websites and other online sources. There are great apps for making this search both easy and comprehensive.  Customers expect that sales people will bring fresh ideas for framing their problems and generating insights for solving them.
  • The salesperson will enter later in the game.  Given the information they’ve accumulated, customers decide when, where, and how they want to talk to salespeople. This is very different than days of yore when salespeople were brought into the buying process at the beginning when customers were initially planning to make a purchase. Now it’s more likely that the buying process will be farther along when customers start to talk with salespeople. This means winning suppliers must find ways for Marketing to impact the information companies get early on and develop stronger Sales Enablement functions to provide sales reps with the information that customers expect. 

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

 

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Win customers for life – Interview with Dr. Richard Ruff

blog podcastLast month, I shared this challenge in a Sales Training Connection blog: Sales – don’t just close a deal, win a customer for life.

I proposed that to realize this goal, salespeople must understand their customers better than the competition and develop more trust and a different type of relationship than they have in years past.  They must ensure that every customer interaction brings a small piece of value and strengthens the nature and extent of the relationship. 

Last week SmartBusinessTalent.com posted a podcast of an interview he did building on this topic.

Take a deeper dive – you can download the Podcast and Transcript here.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales and storytelling – 16 tips and 3 shout-outs for help

Storytelling and Sales

Storytelling and Sales

Sales reps that are able to share engaging stories that resonate with customers can make a more compelling connection between their solution and the customer’s needs. It is one thing to list why a customer should do business with you; it is another to be able to relate a past success story that beings the value of that list to life.  It is not so easy to do but when you do it; it makes a big difference.

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling to sales success. We’ve shared 12 tips in a prior blog.  Here we have augmented that list with some tips shared by Dr. JD Schramm from Stanford’s Business School in an HRB blog.

▪  Know your AIM – Know audience, your intent, and your message.

▪  Focus on the prospect – Tell stories that relate to solutions that address the customers needs.

▪  Leave the jargon at home – Translate the story into language familiar and relevant to the prospect.

▪  Make the story make a point – Have well-researched, provocative viewpoints included in the story that relate to the customer’s environment.

▪  Follow the “Goldilocks” theory of detail – Give just the right amount of information – not too much detail, but not too little either. Use fewer words that carry more meaning.

▪  Don’t rely on PowerPoints – Verbal communication is a better way to create images when telling a story.

▪  Use images – They live longer in the listeners’ mind, evoke a reaction to what’s being said and are more repeatable and memorable.

▪  Dramatize the story – Contrast customer’s current state and desired state after using your solution.

▪  Build up your story inventory – Have an appropriate story ready to illustrate a point and advance the sale.

▪  Rehearse the telling in advance – It always sounds different when you hear what you say aloud! And a corollary …

▪  Choose your first and final word carefully – Don’t necessarily memorize your opening and closing, but rehearse. Know what you’re going to say cold so your opening and closing are powerful.

▪  End with an unexpected benefit – When possible, share unexpected benefits. For example after highlighting the benefits achieved, round off the story by saying something along the – lines of “and on top of that, the unexpected benefit was…”

▪  Spend more time on preparing the story – Don’t focus solely on the feature/function portion of the presentation.

▪  Fewer words may be better than more words – Don’t assume that you need to include everything you know when storytelling. Less is more.

▪  Punch the story – Put your audience in the story. Introduce a new thought.  Challenge conventional wisdom.  Use humor when appropriate but not jokes!

▪  Use silence for impact and emphasis – It’s a powerful, underused tool – intentional silence draws emphasis to what you’ve said or what you’re about to say.

Given all the skills that sales reps must master, it is easy to underestimate the priority of storytelling.  It is harder if you actually observe salespeople who are good at it – you can see the difference.

There are three situations where sales reps need some help it getting it right.

  • New product launch.  When a company launches a new product there is no history; hence there are no stories.  Here, it is important for Marketing to quickly gather, codify, and disseminate stories based on initial successes.
  • New sales rep.  A new sales rep will not have any stories.  So this is a case where the rep cannot both create and tell the story.  Here Marketing should have an inventory of stories that can be included in new hire training.
  • Multiple divisions.  In companies where separate sales reps are selling separate products to the same customer, the sales reps always need to be aware of cross-selling opportunities.  Although they are not responsible for selling the other products, they can identify opportunities and create initial awareness – stories are great for achieving the second goal.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Networking – a critical skill for winning deals – An STC Classic

 

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

Networking is simply getting the right message, to the right person at the right time. Fundamentally, networking is about knowing who’s who and having relationships characterized by superior access and credibility. Regarding who’s who, the entry level requirement can be summarized by the following three questions:  

  • Which people will be involved in the buying decision?
  • What’s the importance of the role each will play – is Lee Baker the key decision maker or simply a minor influencer?
  • What are the players’ opinions of your company – are they internal champions, adversaries or do they have a neutral position?

If the answer to these questions is in doubt, then the doubt must be removed.

Everyone knows it, some because of experience and some by a leap of faith.  A big piece of successfully getting to the right person, at the right time, with the right message is about sales fundamentals.  Four sales fundamentals worthy of highlighting are:

  • If you don’t know – don’t pretend
  • Do what you say you are going to do
  • Own up to problems and mistakes
  • Appreciate the arts of discretion and timing

The thing about the fundamentals is not the knowing – it’s the doing.  The key, for example, to: “do what you say you are going to do” is consistently and reliably delivering on that promise day in – day out.      

In addition to knowing the answers to some key “who’s-who” questions and the knowing the fundamentals, there are some other best practices for successfully networking in a complex sales environment.  Three desire particular attention.

  • It useful to separate business issues from relationship problems.  Relationship problems stem from past mistakes, misperceptions, poor communication, or lack of understanding – a better business deal won‘t help.  For example, frustrations can run high if you fail to deliver on a promise.  A concession on price is unlikely to resolve such a fundamental communication problem; it may even make it worse.  Instead, one might search for ways for all parties to “vent” their frustrations as a first step towards addressing the situation.
  • In most complex sales there is some lack of disagreement around at least one issue that is important to both parties.  On the other hand, there is all most always some common ground around another item – the customer wants something that you can provide or appreciates something you have done.  So leverage the common ground to build the relationship and to provide a foundation for addressing unresolved issues.
  • Be upfront about “showstoppers.” Showstoppers are constraints where, due to some legal, regulatory, or fundamental company policy reason; there is no room for discussion.  The key is to get these issues on the table. Top performers share showstoppers early, and equally as important, they help the other party do the same.  By sharing these constraints, you can reset expectations and avoid surprises that will probably look like a trick to the customer.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Happy Columbus Day!

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue …

Happy Columbus Day to all of our readers.

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Motivating sales reps – the power of autonomy and recognition

Motivating sales reps

Motivating sales reps

Motivating sales reps is a key responsibility of every sales manager. How can they motivate their sales teams effectively? Newton and Davis recently shared several factors that help improve the effectiveness of an organization. Two struck us as really important for sales managers.

Autonomy. We’ve written about the importance of sales managers not micro-managing. We all know from experience that when we’ve been micromanaged, the results are less then positive.  The negative reactions can vary from disappointment to outright anger.  And, it turns out that even when people appear to ignore it and keep a good face, their performance is interrupted or degraded.

Neuroscientists tell us:  “A reduction in autonomy is experienced in much the same way as a physical attack.  In fact there is a “fight-or-flight” reaction.  An ever-growing body of research, summarized by neuroscientist Christine Cox of New York University, has found that when this fight-or-flight reaction kicks in, even if there is no visible response, productivity falls and the quality of decisions is diminished.”

On the other hand, “by giving employees some genuine autonomy, a company can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of this threat state.” Indeed, Mauricio Delgado and his research colleagues at Rutgers University have found “the perception of increased choice in itself makes people feel more at ease.”

Rewards and recognition.  Most of us have had experiences that suggest a little recognition goes a long way – everyone likes being recognized and rewarded for their actions.  But take it to the next step – optimize the experience by personalizing the message. People appreciate when someone takes the time and effort to create and share a different type of recognition that is personalized to them.

“Neuroscience explains the importance of the personal touch in delivering recognition that matters. When a manager recognizes an employee’s strengths in a personalized way before the group, it lights up the same regions of the brain as winning a large sum of money.”  This type of recognition encourages people to repeatedly behave the same way

Summary for sales managers.  So what’s the walk-away?  For sales reps, selling is an up and down business.  When engaged in major sales, the “Motivation Hit” that occurs from closing deals comes a lot less frequently then in transactional sales.  So what can you do in the interim to help keep up the motivation level – provide sales reps the autonomy they appreciate and the personalize rewards and recognition for the small successes they achieve everyday.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Why do millennials make great salespeople?

Millennial sales reps

Millennial sales reps

Many companies are now hiring millennials – a move that expands generational diversity of their sales teams. It also raises a couple of significant questions like: How do you engage millennial sales reps? We’ve addressed that question in several previous blogs.

But the question we haven’t discussed is: Why might millennials make great salespeople? Mark Roberge – Chief Revenue Officer of Inbound Sales Products for HubSpot – published an interesting article answering this question in the SMM Monitor. It’s definitely worth a read. Here are some highlights:

According to Roberge, “Today’s buyers are empowered by the Internet and are demanding more personalized, more relevant, and more helpful interactions with salespeople.  Millennials are well positioned to deliver on this expectation. This generation not only embraces the new playbook, they helped write it by leading the digital charge and tuning out old-school sales tactics from day one.”

He goes on to share the top reasons he thinks millennials will do well in today’s challenging sales environment:

  • They’re digital natives – It will become increasingly important to be digitally savvy and it’s a sweet spot for millennials.
  • They live and breathe your product – Young sales reps in general are drawn to a company’s mission which means they don’t just sell your product, they believe in it and that is transparent to customers.
  • They’re entrepreneurial – In today’s market bring a business mindset to the engagement is exactly what customer are expecting.
  • They’re data-driven – Millennial salespeople will approach selling as a science, embracing the tools and analytics that are increasingly becoming important as a foundation for success.

Roberge ends the article with this point: “The criteria for hiring salespeople have changed dramatically over the past decade. Customers don’t look for salespeople that want to control the conversation anymore; they look for reps that are data-driven, solution-oriented, and empathetic.”

Our sense is Roberge is correct.  Customers want trusted advisors not product facilitators.  They expect sales rep to bring fresh ideas for framing the problem and insights for generating creative solutions.  Our bet is millennials are free from some of the history that will prevent that from happening and some of the talents to make sure that it does.

The challenge for sales management is to develop the mindset and skills to leverage that potential.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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