Develop soft sales skills, too

Sales reps need to know more and their knowledge must be at a higher level of proficiency today than ever before. To be among the emerging winners, sales reps must not only be able to sell a competitive advantage; they must be a competitive advantage. They must bring value to the customer by the way they “sell” as well as by what they sell.

All this means that sales training has moved closer to center stage and the spotlight is a little bit brighter than in yesteryear.

sales trainingGiven these trends, we sat down the other day to analyze the sales training we have conducted over the last 25 years. We asked ourselves: What has been common among those sales training engagements that produced significant and lasting performance improvement? What is that necessary ingredient that is required for superior success?

First a couple of givens. The instructional designs must be engaging and the content must be solid. In that regard, sales simulations work better than lecture-based PowerPoint driven programs and tips and tricks need to be replaced with best practices. These requirements are foundational. However, they are not sufficient.

The additional ingredient is “co-ownership.” Sales Training departments cannot produce superior results if they alone are viewed as owners of the training effort. The Sales business unit must come to the party. Sales leadership must be engaged in helping to define the “why’s” and “what’s” of the training effort. They must co-own the sales training initative.

McKinsey & Co conducted a survey of 1,400 executives worldwide to answer the question: Do your training efforts drive performance?

McKinsey reported the more cooperation that exists between the training function and the business unit, the more likely the sales training will have an impact on business results. Bottom line lesson – “Co-ownership” leads to success.

As reported, “co-ownership improves a program’s credibility and effectiveness thereby encouraging additional investment. When senior leaders become more confident about a program’s contribution to business performance, they start thinking about potential capability gaps and become better able to estimate the potential value of filling them.”

If you are a VP of Sales and if believe your sales team needs to improve their sales performance and sales training is a part of the answer, don’t just send your Training Department an e-mail to “do some sales training.” Get engaged – co-own the initiative – the impact on performance change and revenue gain will be strikingly different. As an additional note, it would be great to get the folks in Marketing to be engaged in the training effort, too.