There’s a disturbing trend in developing the capabilities of sales people. It’s the focus on providing answers, rather than developing skills.

We see this manifested in all sorts of ways:

  1. Increasing focus on scripting–whether it’s written or spoken communications. This is often cloaked in interesting ways, “Tell me the questions I should ask….,” but sales people don’t know what to do with the answers.
  2. Managers “telling” people what to do, rather than coaching them in how to figure out what to do.
  3. Training focused more on being prescriptive, than developing skills.

In truth, too often, these are responses to what sales people are asking for. It seems people just want answers to their problems/challenges in working with customers, rather than developing the skills and capabilities to do it themselves.

It’s a path to certain failure. Each buyer, each customer, each situation is different—and dynamic. It’s impossible to give sales people the answer to every unique situation they encounter every day.

And if we could, then we don’t need sales people, we can deploy a sales force of chatbots, which will be much more effective than human sales people. But then there is the nagging issue with customers, the answers are less important, than the questions, or helping customer navigate their buying process. So chatbots won’t do it, at least for some time. But our own people, seeking answers, don’t know how to do this.

Some might say, “we’re giving our people the skills to do this.” But as I assess their programs, what they are doing is programming their people with answers, not helping develop skills. Instead of developing skills to have conversations, we give them scripts, hoping the customer will follow the script.

What are skills?

The dictionary defines a skill as: The ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance. A learned power of doing something competently, a developed aptitude or ability. Competent excellence in performance, expertness, dexterity.

If we expect our people to think, to engage customers in high impact conversations, we need to help them develop the skills to engage those customers—not give them the answers.

We need to recruit people who want to develop skills, not people who only want the answers.

Our training needs to be about skill development, not how to regurgitate what we have instructed them to say.

Stop giving people answers, give them the skills to figure things out.