Sales leadership programs – four common mistakes

leadershipMcKinsey reported an interesting research study on leadership training.  If you are a Senior VP or a Training Director, the study is a must read.  Although it related to leadership programs across functions, we thought the finding would be particularly important for Senior VP’s of Sales and Sales Training Managers.

There is little doubt that companies get it – leadership training is important.  This is made crystal clear by the yearly investment that U.S. companies direct to leadership training. The McKinsey study estimated 14 billion dollars a year in the US.  The bad news – the programs are not universally successful.  When surveyed only 43% of CEOs felt confidant their investment would achieve the desired payoffs.

Because of the importance and because many CEOs have concerns about success, McKinsey interviewed hundreds of chief executives in reference to successful programs and those that failed to live up to promise.  As a result, they isolate four common mistakes that distinguished success from failure.

Let’s take a look at the findings translated to Sales

  • Overlooking context – Just because someone is a brilliant leader in one environment does not mean they’ll have the same success in another. In other words one-size-doesn’t-fit-all when developing sales leaders. So, rather than compiling a laundry list of competencies to include in the sales leaders program start with questions like: Who will be attending the program? What is their existing performance profile? and What are the specific challenges they will face in the coming year? Then focus on providing the three or four competencies that will make a significant difference in performing the activities they will be required to achieve.
  • Decoupling the training from the real work – Tie leadership development to real, on-the-job projects.  Build in the specifics related to your industry and company.  Make sure the training is up-to-date in regard to what is happening in your customer base.
  • Underestimating mindsets – Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behavior rather than just getting better at doing what your are already do. This, however, can be uncomfortable – yet given the changes occurring in many buying environments it is unlikely success can be achieved without doing something different – and that requires a new mindset.  This means the senior leadership needs to think long and hard about what to do before, during, and after the training to create and sustain that new mindset.
  • Failing to measure results – No training initiatives will be a success in the long run without post-program assessment.  Here it is important to note the multiple purposes for post-program assessment.  Yes, you need to do some type of summative evaluation that informs you how will the program worked – did it do what you said it would do.  This needs to be carried out while recognizing that the results should be measured over time.  However, formative evaluation is equally important – that is what do you need to do to reinforce the results and what do you need to do to make the program better the next time.  It is important to recognize these are two types of evaluation require different methodologies.

Many industries are going through transformational changes in what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  Such changes cannot be ignored on the sales side of the table.  And the changes are not about a little adjustment here and a little fine-tuning there.  It is about fresh insights and new ideas planned and executed skillfully – that requires new leadership from the top.  And, unfortunately the required sales leadership training is involved and expensive – so you have to get it right the first time.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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