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.