Artificial Intelligence – a last best hope for sales management coaching

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AI and Sales Management

Sales leadership talks about it all the time.  Sales consultants advocate it and sales managers say they would like to do more of it.  The “it” of course is sales coaching.

Yet, if you nose around, you’ll find less sales coaching is occurring then might be expected given all the advocacy.  Lots of companies start sales coaching initiatives but a scarce few sustain them over time.  Why might that be?

Well, there are a number of reasons but one tends to stand out – conflicting demands for time.  Sales managers get bogged down doing administrative coordination and control tasks.  So sales coaching gets put off until Friday and it never happens.  The underlying problem is a lack of sufficient focus and the absence of a long-term commitment by the key players to overcome the competing priority of shiny objects that take precedent.

It is difficult to imagine developing and sustaining a superior sales team unless a solution is found for cracking this sales coaching dilemma.  From our experience the key to cracking the code is not another training program or a motivational speech at the national sales meeting.  Reason – the problem is not primarily a deficiency of skill or a lack of motivation. It is about finding a way for sales managers to spend time doing what everyone knows they ought to be doing – providing direction and coaching to their sales teams.

There is nothing new or particularly insightful about this proposition.  Lots of thoughtful sales leaders have tried lots of smart ideas for getting this right.  The problem is too often the solution for the time problem has not worked over time.  Distractions creep back into system and once again coaching doesn’t happen.

As they say there’s got to be a better way and we would suggest one is on the horizon – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The impact of AI, like any new technology, tends to follow the classic S-Curve.  Therefore it is very easy to overestimate the impact in the short-term and underestimate the impact in the long run.  When it comes to AI we are presently at the inflection point on the curve – hence developing and using AI is now a realistic technology to incorporate into future planning.

In support of this proposition we recently came across a great article in the Harvard Business Review: How Artificial Intelligence will Redefine Management.  The authors surveyed 2000 managers from the front line to the C-suite – across industries and functions.  Their overarching conclusion was – “artificial intelligence will soon be able to do many of the administrative tasks that consume much of the manager’s time – faster, better, and at a lower cost.”

Although currently there is no “solution in a box” the potential impact of AI for giving sales managers more time to spend on providing direction and coaching is an idea worth keeping your eye on.

When sales managers spend more time with their sales teams, good things happen.  Across studies the revenue increase figures vary from 20-40 percent.  Plus, think about the potential impact on other results like: sales rep retention, alignment with corporate strategy and customer satisfaction – talk about making a difference.

A factor that distinguishes best-in-class sales organizations is their ability to leverage trends before their competitors do.  The use of AI for providing the needed time for coaching may well be a case in point.  So a note to sales leaders – do you have someone on your staff noising around out there keeping track of what is going relative to the use of AI?  If not – you might want to re-visit that decision.

 

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

 

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Sales memo – winning starts with thinking strategically

Crafting sales strategy

Crafting sales strategy

In B2B sales, one-size-does-not-fit-all is a cornerstone proposition.  There are no generic customers; hence there are no winning generic strategies – each customer is unique and every winning account strategy must take that uniqueness into consideration.

When thinking about what it takes to formulate a winning sales strategy, a good starting point is remembering you are dealing with a complex buying environment. Many decision-makers and influencers are involved, the needs and issues are multi-layered and often conflicting, and the solution configuration and implementation management is likely to be complex and sophisticated.

Given this situation let’s explore two overarching ideas for how to develop a winning account strategy.

Comprehending the customer. The best practices for formulating a winning strategy all start with developing an understanding the customer. Top sales performers develop a comprehensive picture of the customer and average performers develop snapshots. Let’s examine some ideas for what it takes to develop that comprehensive understanding:

  • Understanding the Buying Process.  It is hard to sell if you don’t know how people buy.  Crafting an effective account strategy requires knowing who the players are, the roles they will assume in the buying process and their opinions of you and the competition?

You also need to know what the buying process looks like – for example assuming that it mirrors your selling process is a common mistake. Even the often-held notion that the buying process is linear is at risk in many major accounts.

Last, and importantly, just because you are starting at the beginning of your selling process, don’t assume the buyer is at the beginning of their buying process. It is well to remember that although the number is somewhat notional, approximately 75% of the time customers make their final decision halfway through the buying process.  Many salespeople do the right thing but do it too late.

  • Interpreting the Business Environment. Events occur in the business environment that impact – positively and negatively – your probability of capturing the business. Top sales performers are aware of these events and adjust their strategy accordingly. These events tend to fall into three categories:
    • Business Context – example: a new competitor
    • Your Company – example: new product introduction
    • Customer – example: your internal champion leaves

These changes are occurring constantly. This is one of the reasons that winning account strategies cannot be developed and then stored away but instead must be constantly reviewed and updated.

  • Knowing the Decision Criteria.  Competition is almost always present in B2B sales; therefore:

(1) Know the decision criteria the customer will use to decide between competitors.

(2) Determine how you fit against the customer’s decision criteria. The fit is a two-way street. You must determine in an objective fashion 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 when it is legitimate to help a customer change their point of view. A misperception about one of your capabilities is an example. A second example is when a customer deems a particular decision criterion to be extremely important and it is your experience the 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 changing 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.

(3) Obtain the customer’s perception of how the competition fits with the decision criteria. With all that information at hand you can make a good assessment of your competitive position as viewed by the customer.

Thinking innovatively.  It is well to note that account strategy development has bit of a checkered past.  In the bad old days account strategy was fundamentally about how to pitch your product and how to counter those nasty objections encountered along the way.  As time rolled on, things got better but often account strategy was mainly about filling out a form that was then filed away never to be seen again.

Fortunately today the world is a better place.  More and more companies have recognized the need to help their sales reps to think and act strategically.

So what are some additional tips for getting that right?  Recently we came across a great article in the Harvard Business Review by Mark Chussil about frameworks that can help salespeople to do a better job thinking strategically.  The article was about business strategy in general but we thought it was particularly useful for those of us in sales.

Mark’s first suggestion is to shift from starting with the question “What should we do?” to a question that tends to broaden the alternatives – “What could we do?”

The notion of “could” asks what if?, what else?, or why not?  The article provided several specific framing questions:

  • Imagine you could do it again and you’re saying, “I wish we’d thought about X.” What is X?
  • Ask what would be the equivalent to your situation in another division or territory and how would they strategically handle it.
  • Ask what you’d do if you were a new company preparing to enter your market.
  • Ask what you’re afraid your competitors might do.
  • Note your favorite metaphor for business: chess, war, making deals, enriching share­holders, satisfying customers. Switch to another.

Today markets are going through transformational changes. The medical sales and technology industries are classic examples. Buyers are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  Moreover in the future the dust is unlikely to settle.  Instead the new constant will likely be a constant state of change.

In such a market environment there is limited room for the “tried and true.”  From a strategic perspective doing the same old, same old is not going to carry the day.  Thinking and acting strategically to bring unique innovative ideas to each account will take on increased importance.

Sales reps and companies that adopt the “let’s just stay the course” strategy are likely to continuously erode their competitive advantage.  “Tried and true” is likely to reemerge as “Sorry and Sad.”

 

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Wishing you a successful sales year.  Keep an eye on the Sales Training Connection for new ideas that may help you improve your sales performance.

To a smashing 2017,

Janet and Richard

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Making it all connect: the power of sales enablement

From time to time we post a guest blog written for the Sales Training Connection.  Today we thought we would share with you some thoughts from Rachel Davidson of Highspot.

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Sales enablement technology helps accelerate the time towards close and gives you the power to leverage faster, better, and stronger sales best practices.

At its heart, modern sales enablement exists to organize, strengthen, and drive results in these three concrete ways:

  1. Content management
  2. Customer engagement
  3. Content performance analytics

Driving Improved Sales Performance by Better Connecting Sales Training

We know that sales training is a key building block to setting your team up for success. But how do you improve the relevancy – and by extension, the effectiveness – of your sales training?

A recent survey of nearly 400 B2B respondents titled “The Sales Enablement Practitioner Survey” found that companies who use sales enablement position themselves to dramatically improve their conversion rates.  For example:

  • Companies focused on sales enablement found…
    • On average 10% improvement in pipeline conversion rates.
    • 50% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 10%.
    • 23% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 20%.
    • 11% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 30%.

One of the foremost objectives of modern sales enablement platforms is to help reps achieve even higher conversion rates by enabling access to training and onboarding material on the same platform as the rest of their content.

Accessing Training & Content Together Saves Time

Sales enablement does more than just drive sales effectiveness; it increases sales efficiency by saving your reps time to do what they do best: sell.

When reps can access sales training and sales content via the same platform, they’re in better position to save time and engage customers more effectively.

Unfortunately, too much of a salesperson’s time is spent on non-sales activities, like searching for and organizing content. By implementing a sales enablement platform that syncs with your other existing platforms and sales training materials, you can have all of your work in one place and eliminate time-wasting digging, sorting, and guessing which content works.

Ultimately, you should be aiming to engage with your customers more effectively, and that means presenting them with the type of content they want, when they want it.

Making Sales Effectiveness Happen

One of the most valuable benefits of a modern sales enablement platform is it delivers the ability to organize and prioritize your sales training and content. However, it’s important to remember that it’s the best content at the right time that lends itself to increased sales effectiveness

Let’s look at four ways that show how some of the best sales enablement platforms do this via effective Sales Content Management

  1. Browsing and Filtering: Flexible and effective approaches to using lists and filters to organize product lines, customer segments, regions, or whatever makes sense for you.
  2. Salesforce Integration: Seamless integration with your preferred CRM system for instant accessibility.
  3. Intelligent Recommendations: Advanced machine learning analyzes which sales content, at what time, and in what way is most positively impacting your business.
  4. Cloud File Sharing Integration: Integrating with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Alfreso, and other cloud file systems keeps you one step closer to your content.

Plus, you’ll have the ability to pitch content via a wide range of media, track analytics to measure customer engagement, integrate with your existing sales platforms, and optimize your sales cycle with intelligent machine learning.

Focusing your Process on Results

The key to achieving faster conversions and higher sales ultimately comes down to the process it takes to get there.  At its core, a modern sales enablement platform can deliver: stronger sales in less time.

By strengthening your sales pipeline with organized content, customer engagement, and potent analytics and connecting sales training, you’re setting your reps up for success.

About Rachel Davidson

Rachel Davidson is a content specialist for Highspot, a leading sales enablement platform for content management, customer engagement, and analytics.

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Selling at C-level and the too late-too little puzzle

Selling to C-Suite Puzzle

Selling to C-Suite Puzzle

In major accounts sales success at the C-level is a “do or die” proposition.  What makes it particularly challenging is “one strike and you’re out.”  There’s no second chance to get it right.

Successfully selling to senior executives is a book with many chapters. However, three footnotes are particularly important:

  • When do you sell to senior executives?
  • How do you gain access?
  • How do you get it right?

When do you sell to senior executives?  Senior executives are not equally engaged throughout the buying cycle. They are involved early and late and tend to delegate the middle of the buying process to others. Let’s begin at the beginning – early engagement.

Senior executives attention is merited early in the buying cycle since that is when the operational and financial parameters of the project are defined.  In the middle of the buying process attention turns to evaluating competitive options, a step that is usually handled by others.

The trap for salespeople is getting to the senior executive too late after they have turned over the decision process to others.  By then, you have lost your ability to help shape the scope of work and to position the fit of your capabilities.  This is particularly telling when the competition has done it right.

A correlated reason for getting in early and getting it right with senior level executives was pointed out in an excellent study by Steve Martin.  Martin interviewed 1,000 customers as part of a win-loss analysis study.  The results indicated – “Approximately 30% of the time, the winner of the sales cycle was determined before the official selection process started. Another 45% of the time, customers had already made up their minds about the winner halfway through the buying process.”  This means “75% of the time, customers make their final decision halfway through the selection process.”

How do you gain access?  The research is clear and straightforward. The most effective approach for gaining access to a senior executive is a recommendation from a key influencer inside the organization.

There is a second reason why the key influencer is helpful.  A conventional piece of wisdom is even if you don’t know much about a company or their needs you ought to push for a meeting as soon as possible.  This idea makes no sense and should be labeled a “worse practice.”

You have to be prepared and meeting with key influencers is a great way to get there.  Being prepared means you understand the company.  When you meet with the senior executive you need an overview of the challenges and a point of view about the path forward.

In addition to a recommendation from a key influencer, three other approaches will likely increase the chances of a senior executive granting access to a salesperson:

  • A referral from outside the company from a respected colleague of the senior executive.
  • A referral from a company that is a strategic partner of the executive’s company.
  • Having a previous successful professional relationship with the senior executive.

How do you get it right?  The first requirement is to understand the senior executive on the other side of the table.  Senior executives have different needs, pressures, and perspectives than managers lower in the organization.

From a strategic perspective it is important to keep in mind that senior executives are more concerned about the unknown than the known. They look at the big picture vs. individual snapshots. They are more concerned about the future than the present. They are concerned about topics related to increasing market share, shareholder value and building a competitive advantage not product features.  Most importantly they are seeking insights and new ideas about the company’s strategic challenges not standard product presentations.

From a process perspective, what rarely works is the traditional needs discovery conversation.  We are all familiar with the traditional discovery conversation – it starts with salesperson asking questions to uncover a problem they believe the customer is concerned about and then continues by further development of the problem – ending with the salesperson presenting an overview of their solution for how the problem can be solved.

Why is a sales call like this ineffective with senior executives? The reason at the top of the list is the time spent vs. the value received does not work out very well for the senior executive.  Too much of the time in the meeting is spent on educating the salesperson about a problem the senior executive already understands.

An alternative?  One option is a Point of View business conversation.  A Point of View sales call focuses on helping the senior executive learn something new about a significant strategic challenge for example increasing market share.  The successful salesperson explores the problem from a different perspective, provides new insight about the problem and an innovative path forward.  Needless to say this type of call requires an entirely different type of call preparation and pre-call planning.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Negotiation strategy – positioning the glass as half full

Negotiation Strategy

Negotiation Strategy

There are a substantial number of skill sets and bodies of knowledge that constitute the discipline of sales negotiation. In the end, however, the ability to craft and execute a thoughtful and creative plan for the negotiation is a bottom line for achieving a successful end result. This is particularly true in major accounts where the negotiation is complex and there is more to lose and more to gain.

In any major account, if the sales team is actively engaged in the negotiation process without a well-conceived and coordinated plan, they are playing Russian roulette with the long-term relationship with the customer and with the profitability of the sales opportunity.

Anchoring your message.  In building a well-conceived plan the importance of anchoring is consistently underscored as one of the factors for getting the job done. The concept recognizes the old adage – “how you say it is as important as what you say.” Whether the glass is perceived as “half full or half empty” all depends on how one frames the conversation about the contents of the glass.

In a sales negotiation anchoring is all about presenting your concessions on a given issue in a way that justifiably emphasizes the value of those concessions.

The most practical and best-supported phenomena in anchoring relates to the notion that individuals generally do not evaluate concessions in an absolute sense but rather as a change with respect to some reference point.

So the anchoring challenge boils down to selecting the most effective reference point. Is it: the status quo, a prior contract, a competitive comparison or some industry standard? In the end, anchoring is part of how you help your customer understand the value of your concessions. And, remember anchoring will always occur, so if you don’t do it your customer will.

Building value.  It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of anchoring. No concession whether it is on price, technical support or any other issue – has a fixed inherent value.

As part of the anchoring process top negotiators build and verify the value of a concession before they offer it. In doing so in major accounts it is important to remember different people in the account may have different views about the value of a concession.  So how you go about optimizing the value of a concession is position specific. In that regard, the opportunity may exist to use others, such as your internal champion, to influence the value with the major players in the decision process.

A final point. The least desirable outcome is offering in good faith a significant concession, only to find out after the fact, that it had very little value to the customer – hence, the deal was lost. Of course the best situation is to provide a concession of significant value to the customer that “costs” you very little. The moral of the story: being smart about customer value is just as important in a negotiation as it is in any other aspect of selling.

Download our free eb00k – Mastering Magor Account Negotiating now.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving … and for many a long weekend filled with fun, football, and perhaps some shopping.

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Virtual reality – a new day for medical product launch presentations

Virtual Reality and Sales Presentations

Virtual Reality and Sales Presentations

Each year medical companies develop a dazzling array of new products.  Some are minor upgrades.  While others are extraordinary new products designed to be game changers or, in some cases, “bet the company” entries into the market.

Unfortunately after all the market assessments, business plans, beta tests, and approvals many new medical products fail to achieve the anticipated commercial success. Why so?

Well, sometimes the product design was fundamentally flawed.  In others, the product concept was backed by poor market research.  In still others, the timing was just off.

Yet, even when all these problems are addressed, and increasingly they are, failure too often remains the final result.  Reason – the commitment to train the sales team to sell the new product is not commensurate with the potential of the new product. This omission constitutes a strategic oversight.

Even an extraordinary new product will not sell itself beyond early adopters. The sales team needs a comprehensive body of product knowledge and they need to fine-tune and adapt their sales skills to the customer requirements related to the new product.  They need the knowledge, skills and tools to present the product to their customer base in a compelling fashion that differentiates the product from a wide array of competitive offerings – the more innovative the new product, the truer this proposition.

There are a number of new and exciting answers as to how to better prepare a sales team to sell a new product ranging from sales simulations, to customer value profiles to tools for presenting and demonstrating the new product.

Here, let’s just explore one exciting option for the latter – using virtual reality as a tool for bring heretofore unimaginable imagery to the entire range of the benefits of the new product. Several weeks ago I had the privilege to talk with Matthias McCoy-Thompson co-founder of Agora VR an exciting, innovative company in the virtual reality market that is knowledgeable about the medical market.

For those of us concerned about providing sales reps with the presentation tools that can make a difference, the conversation provided some interesting insights about the use of virtual reality as a tool for medical product presentations:

  • It’s here now.  The impact of any new technology, such as virtual reality, tends to follow the classic S-Curve.  Therefore, it is very easy to overestimate the impact in the short-term and underestimate the impact in the long run.  When it comes to using virtual reality we are now past the inflection point on the curve – developing and using a virtual reality presentation is now a realistic alternative.
  • It’s truly compelling.  Unlike the traditional technologies for product presentations, most of us have had limited experience with virtual reality.  You can get a first order look via sample videos by going to the Agora VR website and if you wish to continue the search journey the folks at Agora can be a helpful guide.

One of my specific walkways from the videos and conversation with Matthias was the power of the technology for demonstrating implantable medical products such as stents and orthopedic replacements.  Reason – it is now possible to create a virtual reality model of the implant site into which the viewer can be placed so they can actually experience, for example, a stent being implanted.  Implanters can experience the subtleties of implanting and  learn how to deal with possible complications and operative considerations.

  • It’s just the beginning.  In considering the applications of virtual reality for product presentations it is well to remember it is not a mature technology.  Because it is an emerging technology there are associated up and down sides to consider.   We have referred to a number of the upsides.

Regarding downsides – because it is new technology, prices are manageable but still higher than they will be in the coming years.  There are also implementation considerations to address such as providing the customer the required viewing equipment.  Such downsides mean care should be taken as to when and where to consider a virtual reality presentation as a viable option.  The more innovative the product, the higher the upside market payoff, and the more difficult it is to demonstrate the unique benefits, the more seductive the option becomes.

During our conversation, Matthias noted four additional points in regard to using virtual reality as an option for medical product presentations:

    • Image quality. Virtual reality can make you feel like you’re in the same room as a potential customer. No, we are not at the Star Trek holodeck level yet and perhaps never will be in regard to some of that technology.  Right now, it still feels a bit like talking to a video game character but as motion and 3D image capture technology improves over the next few years the difference between a real life meeting and a virtual meeting will dramatically diminish.
    • Financial considerations. As to some cost estimates a good quality mobile virtual reality headset today costs as little as $600 (including a high-end smartphone) and doesn’t require a computer or any additional equipment. Fully animated 3D models of nearly anything imaginable can be created for a few thousand dollars. If a company already has 3D models of their products, it’s often fairly easy to repurpose them for a virtual reality presentation.
    • Analytic feedback. Analytics systems in virtual reality can be extremely robust. Data can be captured on a wide variety of variables from how long users looked at certain aspects of a product, to how engaged they were during the sales presentation. The sales presentation can then be altered based on the data and perfected over time.
    • Availability. Virtual reality is a reality.  Companies are presently using it for a wide variety of sales and marketing initiatives.  And, the good news is the initial research out of the Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab shows that virtual reality presentations can be powerful motivators for people’s buying behavior.

The answer to the question of whether the use of virtual reality is a viable option for presenting and demonstrating any particular medical product is sometimes yes and sometimes no.  However, the more important proposition is the technology has reached a point where the question is worth asking.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Sales productivity – time to push the more button

Sales ProductivityCompanies spend a tremendous amount of time, money and effort every year to improve the productivity of their sales teams.  The intervention strategies range from sales training efforts to coaching initiatives to sales tools to marketing materials.  These efforts tend to be laser focused on helping sales reps enhance their ability to sell more effectively.

All of this, of course, makes great sense since companies in B2B markets recognize that it’s increasingly difficult to win by product alone. Companies need a competitive sales team and what it takes to be competitive is greater than ever.

The strategic question facing companies that are serious about improving sales productivity is whether there are stones unturned.  Are there other areas of focus that could improve sales productivity that historically have received less than the optimal attention?

Our answer to that question for most companies is – yes.  And, our suggestion is “push the more button”– that is help sales reps be able to spend more time selling versus doing something else. Here let’s restrict the definition of selling to planning, doing and reviewing actual interactions with customers.

How great is the opportunity?  Substantial.  Emma Brudner reported the results of a sales productivity study where sales reps spent only 33% of their time selling.  Other studies have reported the figure to be a low as 10%.  It is difficult to impact the bottom line by helping salespeople get better at something if they aren’t doing the something.

So let’s take a look at some ideas that companies might implement to increase the time sales reps have available to spend on selling versus tasks such as: searching for or developing content or carrying out administrative activities or completing CRM tasks.

  • Take a time profile snapshot.  We have found that many front-line sales managers have only a vague impression of how their sales reps are prioritizing their time.  If a company emphasizes the need to have a more accurate answer, a number of good things happen.

First, the sales managers isolate some of the best practices for optimizing the time spent on selling – that is what are the good folks doing on a good day.  Second, they can determine which sales reps need the most help. Third, they can identify the time sinks and fourth, they can identify whether it would make sense to invest in tools or additional support personnel to help the cause.

  • Help front-line sales managers be a filter not a funnelAll sales managers get a tremendous amount of internal requests from top management related to answering ever-popular questions such as: Are you meeting your sales figures?  Here the trap is passing all these requests directly on to the sales team and getting them bogged down with paperwork and activities that reduce selling time.  The most effective sales managers handle it differently.  They are a “filter not a funnel.”

Simply put, they filter the information “coming down” from the division or central office and only funnel to their sales team the information the sales person needs to succeed.  They eliminate the clutter going to the team thereby freeing up time for the salespeople to spend on selling.

  • Recognize and reward.  Reinforcement works.  There are incentives for all sorts of sales activities.  So if a company wants to increase the time spent on selling, they should put in place ways of recognizing and rewarding reps that are getting it right.

If you need some encouragement for “pushing the button,” make a rough estimate of the impact on revenue if each rep spent 10% more time interacting with customers – for an additional shot in the arm think of the secondary payoffs.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Sales training – more of the same never results in something different

Sales training

Sales training

If you look back over the last decade, a number of industries have gone through dramatic change. They have changed what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it. The future will produce more of the same with the changes likely to be even more dramatic.

If your customers are making changes of substantial magnitude, then the case is made that it’s no longer business-as-usual for your sales team. It becomes a matter of doing something different rather than simply doing a better job doing what you are doing. The required shift in sales isn’t incremental; it’s transformational.

Because it is transformation, the design work involves more than just some word changes to the title page of your sales training documents.  Doing something different requires a greater time commitment, a different type of training design and greater top management engagement. 

How do you design sales training when companies need to help sales reps do something different rather than just doing a better job doing the same thing? First, let’s explore that topic from a sales leadership perspective, then drill down and examine what it means for designing sales training.

Understanding the leadership task. Not long ago CSO Insights published a report entitled Sales Management 2.0: Optimizing Sales Performance that included two outstanding articles on sales transformation from a leadership perspective. They pointed out four particularly important pitfalls:

  • Under commitment. “If your management team does not fundamentally believe that successfully redesigning your sales process is one of the top strategic challenges your company faces, don’t even start a sales transformation project.”
  • Lack of coordination. Successful sales transformation projects require an enterprise-wise orientation. “If you let each of your departments attempt to deal with their portion of the sales process independently, you may create a configuration that even Rube Goldberg couldn’t figure out.”
  • Champagne dreams and beer budgets. “Trying to implement a sales transformation cheaply is another common mistake.” The key is to “figure out what you want to achieve, determine what it will cost to get there, compare the benefits to the costs and then decide if it a good investment.”
  • Expecting to “just add water.”  Designing and implementing a sales transformation effort is not a quick fix. It is unlikely that Version 1.0 will be a perfect fit for your organization. “No new sophisticated sales effectiveness strategy will work perfectly the first time.”

Exploring sales training design lessons. All that leadership stuff must be addressed before crafting a sales training intervention that will help the sales force understand the new sales process and develop the skills required to implement it. However, once done, what are some of the lessons for designing an effective sales training component for a sales transformation initiative?

  • Understand the difference. The profile of the sales training solution is strikingly different if the challenge is to help a sales team take the next step at getting better at doing what they are doing versus doing something different. Achieving the latter requires greater design innovation, a longer timeframe and a more comprehensive plan for skill acquisition.
  • Build upfront understanding and enthusiasm. Before the sales training, the leadership team must set the stage for the sales training. This includes communicating what is to be done and why it is being done. The sales team needs to see why the sales process needs changing, what the new process and skills sets look like, how others are also being asked to change and what the anticipated payoffs will be.
  • Select the right partner(s). There are 100s of viable sales training companies if you are selecting a sales training vendor for your national sales meeting to deliver a sales training presentation. The number is dramatically reduced for a sales transformation project. The best fit will, of course, depend on the specifics of the transformation being planned – nobody is the best across-the-board. However, there are some overarching considerations. Your partner needs to have the capability and the commitment for: understanding your industry and culture, committing the A-team, bring innovative design and implementation expertise, and being receptive to alternative pricing models.
  • Spotlight the pivotal job. The front-line sales manager is the pivotal job for driving the success of any sales transformation effort. They need to be engaged in defining the new sales process and take a leadership role in introducing it to the sales teams. They will also be the key element in helping the sales people learn the new required skills. They need trained first – and subsequently they should participate in the sales reps training – most importantly, they need to be committed to providing coaching over the long haul.

Remembering some basic principles. If the industry you sell into is undergoing transformational changes in the way they buy, it is likely that a parallel effort will be required on your part from a sales perspective. From a competitive standpoint it does not pay to be the last holdout for the ways of yesteryear. Three final principles are worth keeping in mind:

  • Changing behavior is tough. Your sales team has been doing what they have been doing for a long time – changing technology is easy compared to asking people to change their behavior.
  • Walking before running is okay. Once the change reaches a certain level, it is worth considering doing it in phases or using a “skunk works” approach to work out the problems.
  • Sticking to your guns. Sometime doing the change, a crisis such as a fall in revenue will occur; this of course is the time when the brave of heart must step forward.

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