Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Avoid Sales Training Failure By Using a Formal Sales Process

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 04, 2018 @ 21:11 PM

37863058_s_LackOFSalesProcessIt's an interesting statistic that 68% of the companies surveyed claimed to have a formal sales process. Yet, when tested, only 9% of salespeople actually follow one. See the research in the White Paper written on Sales Force Excellence by Dave Kurlan. This important research shows that of the companies that saw "significant sales increases" due to the adoption of a formal sales process, 73% of them had evaluated their teams. Based on my experience with sales teams across dozens of industries, the importance of an evaluation cannot be underestimated in the context of sales process because it uncovers the difference between the claims and the reality. Let's look at how sales process, used correctly, ensures you beat your goals.

In an article posted in July, I discussed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors to help you avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, read it here. Readers asked for an expanded description of these factors which can now be found in the links below for the specific factors that have become articles of their own. As a reminder, the 7 Success Factors that avoid sales training failure are listed again here:

Top 7 Sales Training Success Factors

  1. Pre-evaluate the sales team, systems, and processes (Article posted 10/8/2018)
  2. Formal, staged, milestone-centric sales process (This article)
  3. Trainable sales team (Article posted 8/14/18)
  4. Trainable and coachable sales managers (Coming soon)
  5. Training the managers before training salespeople (Coming soon)
  6. Salesperson training with sufficient time scale (Article posted 9/23/18)
  7. Sales leadership accountability (Coming soon)

We know that that lack of a formal written sales process most often prevents sales teams from meeting company goals. When the problem is corrected, sales increase. In fact, 75% of companies reported an increase in sales as a result of adoption of a formal sales process. An effective sales process must have the following attributes:

  1. Written
  2. Customized
  3. Fundamental
  4. Staged
  5. Milestone-centric
  6. Complete
  7. Easy to follow

Now wouldn't this be a good time to describe what such a sales process looks like? Yes it would, but I don't need to do that because Dave Kurlan already wrote a book about it. Buy it here. Or listen to it here. And if you're thinking it's unfair to direct you to an entire book to find the answer, this article provides a handy short cut. 

Once your sales process is ready, the next step is to make sure leadership does the following:

  1. Get everybody using it
  2. Track it with a pipeline tool
  3. Train the sales team on how to use it
  4. Coach the salespeople so they are always improving

The sales process serves these three key functions:

  1. Guides the salesperson on how to take an opportunity from lead to close
  2. Sets the agenda for training
  3. Provides a coaching tool to help managers improve their people

The biggest challenge for managers is not the evaluation, not the creation of the sales process, not the lack of skills on their team, not all the sales DNA getting in their way, and not their own lack of coaching skills. No, the biggest challenge to managers will come from the resistance they face from salespeople who don't want to change and who cause others to doubt that anything good will come from it, creating a negative atmosphere that stifles progress. Overcome that, and you'll be part of the 9% who both have and follow a sales process so you can also be one of the growing number of companies, that might include your competition, that see growth directly attributable to their effective adoption of a formal, customized, staged, milestone-centric sales process.

 

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Topics: sales training failure, steps in a sales process, coaching culture, sales management effectiveness, formal sales process

Top Seven Reasons for Sales Hiring Failure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Oct 22, 2018 @ 20:10 PM

85165311_s_MagnetAttractingPeopleDid you ever wonder why so few sales candidates who performed well at other companies, fail to become top performers at yours? Somewhat unique to the sales role, most other non-executive positions can be quantified sufficiently to make a prediction with some degree of confidence that the candidate will or will not perform in the role. They've done it before, for example. Or they can demonstrate their skills. Or their resume clearly shows that they have the exact experience required for the role. Sales, however, is another matter.

If the candidate's resume indicates that they sold over $50 million in business last year, it doesn't mean they can sell anything for you. I evaluated a sales team for a food manufacturer and most of the 75-member team sold between $500,000 and $2 million per year in business for the firm. However, one salesperson sold over $65 million. "That guy is our best salesperson," they confidently touted. His evaluation, however, put him somewhere near the bottom of the pack, so I asked what he did to sell that much business.

Superman, we'll call him, it turns out had one customer, a single retail chain. He never prospected, which was a good thing because, given his skill level, it would have given him ulcers. The customer, it turns out, was originally brought in by the company CEO and a couple of executives, well before Superman was hired. Since he didn't sell that deal, and he didn't prospect, and never closed a single new customer in his entire company tenure, he really never sold anything. It might seem obvious reading this, but to that organization, they had always assumed he could sell. He couldn't. The truth was he didn't need to. But rest assured his resume is going to say that he sold $65 million in sales last year. Woe to the hiring manager, looking for a hunter, who feels lucky when that resume comes across their desk.

Failure to account for why a sales candidate succeeds or fails leaves a company doomed to repeat the experience of the previous employer. Here are the major reasons given for why hiring managers might believe a candidate can do the job they need them to do:

 Top Seven Reasons for Sales Hiring Failure

  1. Assuming that prior sales success means predictable success at your company
  2. Personality similar to what you believe such a salesperson should have
  3. They come highly recommended
  4. Incompatibility with your selling environment
  5. Poor on-boarding process
  6. Impatience
  7. Lack of overall recruiting process

So what's a more effective sales recruiting strategy? Read the following list of the top five strategies for sales recruiting success and see how closely it aligns with your current methodology.

Top Five Most-Effective Sales Recruiting Strategies

  1. Repeatable recruiting process that helps you find, attract, select, hire, and onboard the best candidates
  2. Objective sales-specific assessment
  3. Effective interviewing skills
  4. Supportive sales culture and leadership
  5. Proper on-boarding experience – Read this article from Dave Kurlan

How does your recruiting process compare with this list? How well do your skill sets support the best sales recruiting outcome? If you are not getting your desired outcome, start by reading one or more of our white papers on sales selection, found by clicking here.

 

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Topics: sales training failure, best salespeople, sales recruiting failure, sales selection

How an Evaluation Avoids Sales Training Failure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Oct 08, 2018 @ 18:10 PM

69481636_s_Pre-Evaluating-MakeRightChoiceSix months ago, a large agency asked me to deliver a sales training program for their business development team. After listening, I recommended a detour that led to something rather unexpected. The business development/sales team at this company was a dedicated sales group with the goal of setting up new business that would supplement the business that was generated by repeat clients, by agent networks, and by inbound marketing programs. The company didn't believe the sales team was gaining much traction, resulting in wasted resources, particularly their marketing spend. So what was going on?

Why weren't they making enough connections with their leads? And when they did make a connection, why weren't they converting the lead into a conversation? Why weren't they gaining traction? What was wrong and how did it happen?

In July, I published a blog article that addressed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors and how to avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, read it here. By reader demand, I am doing a deeper dive into each of the seven factors. Tackling them in no particular order, I addressed Factor 3 in this article regarding the Trainability of Salespeople and the important role of Commitment. Factor 6 was explored in this article on Salesperson Training with Sufficient Time Scale which focused on the Learning Journey of salespeople and included some interesting research about memory. Today, we'll talk about Factor 1, and how and why pre-evaluating avoids sales training failure.

Getting back to our agency example, why was the dedicated sales team unable to reach prospects and set up the necessary conversations with their experts? Could it be an on-boarding problem? Could it be a training problem? Could it be a problem with recruiting and selection? Could it be messaging? Could it be sales process? Could it be coaching? Could it be accountability? Could it be motivation? Could it be their sales DNA or the presence of hidden weaknesses or what you might call, "head trash?" Could it be that this particular group just didn't have the selling skills? Or perhaps, could the company's expectations be unrealistic?

Looking at this another way, what if they had the right people, with the right skills, and the right DNA, but weren't on-boarding, coaching, nor motivating them adequately? What would standard sales training accomplish? How should the solution be designed to target the existing problems and build on their strengths? Might we focus more on management training in this case? 

What if they were on-boarding right, aligned in their messaging, had a motivated team, coached them properly and held them accountable, but were doing all this with sales people who weren't in the right role? In other words, management gets it, but they're spinning their wheels with the wrong people. Might we focus on structure, human resources (HR), and recruiting training?

What if management was doing all the right things, and HR was doing the right things, and the right candidates were selected, but they were failing anyway? Might we look at systems and processes, skills training, and overcoming hidden weaknesses?

So the problem in this agency could be summarized as stemming from one or more of these three major categories:

  1. Management
  2. Recruiting/HR
  3. Salespeople

And we could dig considerable deeper into each of these. For example, if we're talking about salespeople, in which of the 21 sales core competencies are they deficient? For an even deeper dive into understanding salespeople and the 21 sales core competencies, read Dave Kurlan's excellent article on that here. When we understand why they aren't getting the desired results, a training program can be designed and executed that will have sufficient impact. Without that foreknowledge, a sales training program that's broad enough might help, but it might not work, and we might not know why.

What was the problem with the agency I mentioned? We took a valuable stutter-step and evaluated the business development team first, and what we found surprised all of us. The team members, across the board, were missing enough crucial elements among the 21 sales core competencies that sales training would have been a waste of resources. They didn't desire enough success in selling or they lacked commitment to making the improvements to achieve whatever success they desired, or they weren't motivated enough, or their outlook was poor. In short, they were missing too many of the crucial elements that compose what many might simply call "grit." 

So I recommended against training the salespeople. Usually a pre-evaluation tells me what to train. In this case, it told me not to train. Instead, we worked on putting people in the "right seats," as Jim Collins put it in his oft-quoted book, Good to Great. Training was refocused to help HR and sales management. The sales team wasn't ready. 

What's the takeaway? One of the reasons sales training fails is because it either isn't appropriate for the team or wasn't designed to address the specific issues, competencies, and reasons related to the lack of results. Interestingly, this isn't the most important factor of the 7 Sales Training Success Factors as revealed in this article, but you can probably see why it's the most important first step.

 

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Watch Dave Kurlan speak about the value of a Sales Force Evaluation:

evals

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Topics: sales training, recruiting salespeople, coaching salespeople, sales training failure, sales force evaluation, sales management, Jim Collins

The Learning Journey of Sales Training

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Sep 23, 2018 @ 19:09 PM

90142014_s_PilotTrainingConfucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." The quote seems quasi-profound enough except that he didn't say it. Another Chinese thinker, Xunzi, said something kinda sorta similar and it got chopped up around the mid-sixties and misattributed to Confucius, presumably because the latter has more street cred. 'If Confucius said it, it must be meaningful,' so it goes. Either way, the statement has a few holes. Those of us in sales know that visual learning isn't necessarily better than auditory learning, though as individuals, we tend to favor one style over the other. So what did this fellow, Xunzi actually say, and how can we turn this ancient knowledge into useful sales training programs where skills are learned, retained, and used in the field for professional growth and improved performance?
 
In an article posted a few weeks ago, I discussed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors and how to avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, you may find it here. The overwhelming feedback from that article was that more details on each of the seven factors would be helpful. I addressed Factor 3 in this article regarding the Trainability of Salespeople and the important role of Commitment. Today, I'll address Factor 6, Salesperson Training with Sufficient Time Scale. The question we'll pose is which plays a larger role in training retention; the strength of your memory, or the spacing of the learning?
 
Xunzi, not Confucius, said, "Not hearing is not as good as hearing, hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as knowing, knowing is not as good as acting; true learning continues until it is put into action." So this is a bit more useful but still needs cleaning up. We can extract from it that we learn what we act upon better than than what we simply hear or see. In another words, we don't really know a thing until we do it. This distinction is important in the context of both training and coaching.
 
In the context of sales training and coaching, we know from our own research that weekly to bi-weekly training and coaching helps with retention. Weekly is useful for a program in which the follow-up and reinforcement from management is unknown. Bi-weekly is more useful when managers are engaged in coaching by allowing enough time to try the strategies and tactics in the field and get feedback from the coach. The goal is to create the optimal learning journey for the participants.
 
The Forgetting Curve
Important original research on memory retention was done by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 1800s. He gave us the term, "learning curve" and correspondingly, the "forgetting curve," which most people forget about. He showed that we retain about 20% of what we learn after 31 days. As the material is reintroduced, our memory improves until there is enough repetition to create a strong neural pathway in our brain so we can readily use the information. The Forgetting Curve, shows how retention drops over time. The graph below shows that as the information is forgotten, periodic reinforcement improves and prolongs the memory of it.
 
The Forgetting Curve with Periodic Relearning 
image-3
 
Powerful Memories
Next let's look at the strength of the memory. We all know where we were and what we were doing when a major and impactful event occurred. Choose from among many such events in our collective consciousness. But where were you when they unveiled the 2012 Ford Fiesta. "The Ford Fiesta is among the best of an impressive choice of recently redesigned subcompacts," the announcer told us. Remember? Neither do I. But it happened.
 
Let's look at another example: the introduction of the iPod from Steve Jobs at Apple. Our memory of that event is a little stronger. For most of us, however, the strength of that memory has a lot to do with the reinforcement of it through the storm of video links gone viral upon the death of Mr. Jobs. In other words, the information was reinforced more recently than the original event and spaced far enough apart so that the second exposure conjures the first, somewhat blending them over time. The introduction was also a visual and auditory experience that's hard to forget. Who cannot create an image in their mind of Steve Jobs standing alone on a stage? Picture it now. What is he wearing? I'm willing to bet you answered that correctly.
 
Quality and Spacing
So here's what we learn about learning: The quality of the experience is important and the spacing is also important. The quality or strength of sales training consists of the following components:
  1. Pictures, Sounds, and Feelings associated with the material, which could be from video clips, a dynamic speaker, and/or robust audience participation
  2. The Intensity of Emotions surrounding the associations. A "thousand songs in your pocket!" vs. "Recently redesigned subcompact." 
  3. The Mnemonics, which is a fancy way of saying the meanings you associate with the words or concepts. It is easier, for example, to remember ideas that you can apply to other areas of life than ideas that have no meaning outside of the given context. If I tell you that the tendency to get emotionally involved in the sale will reduce your chance of success, you might find other areas of life where that's also true, which leads to better retention.

The spacing of sales training refers to the following:

  1. How often does it take place?
  2. How long between sessions?
  3. Length of the session.
  4. The amount of material covered in each session.

The answer to the question posed in the opening is that both the strength of the memory and the amount of time between sessions are equally important. The stronger the memory, the longer is the acceptable spacing between sessions. Extensive sales training experience has shown that one to four weeks is optimal depending on other factors. When training is coupled with coaching, we see dramatic improvements in closing percentages and in revenues.

Training Supplemented with Coaching Improves Results

image-4

 
Sales Training with Sufficient Time Scale
Getting back to the original point, an important factor in sales training success (number 6 from the article on training success factors) is having a sufficient time scale, preferably customized to the current skill level and willingness of the team, and tailored for the involvement of leadership and the skill and frequency of coaching from sales management. We now know that one-and-done doesn't work and therefore wastes time and resources. To get this right, most companies prefer to measure the current state of the sales organization before attempting a comprehensive training program. That way, training can be customized for the size and scope that best fits your organization and addresses the required needs based on what will help your team fill pipelines, close more deals, and hit your growth targets.
 
 

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Topics: effective sales training, sales data, coaching culture, Ebbinghaus, Learning Curve, Forgetting Curve

A Sales Manager Hidden Weakness that Lowers Motivation

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 @ 17:09 PM

22578882_s_ManagerHiddenWeakness

For sales managers and sales leaders concerned about motivating their people, there is an often-overlooked hidden weakness that could be in their way: their need for approval from their direct reports. This is analogous to a salesperson and their prospect. When a salesperson's success is hindered by their need for approval from their prospects, they won't ask enough questions and won't ask tough questions for fear of offending their prospect. As a result, they don't gain the respect and trust they need to win the business. Rather than seeing the opportunity to add value (their value) by calling attention to an uncomfortable fact or issue, they play it safe making sure they don't provide any reason for the prospect to think less of them. 

The same is true for sales managers and their direct reports. A manager's need for approval from their own people gets in the way of accountability and coaching, which then leads to decreased motivation. The irony is that the reason these managers want their people to like them is often to provide a motivating environment. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect.  “If I can get them fired up and performing," one might say, "I won’t have to have a hard conversation with them for not performing.” The fear of not being liked by your people thus leads to backing off on accountability.  

Is your leadership in fear of the sales team?  Do you or they believe that upsetting salespeople will put the company in jeopardy?  Are there certain sales staff with whom you walk on eggshells?  Are you in control or are they - who's running the show? Click here to learn more about sales management skill sets, DNA, and hidden challenges. What would you do differently if you had no fear of a negative reaction from your sales team? What would you initiate? What would you change? Who would you change? When would now be a good time?

 

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Topics: sales managerment, Hidden Weaknesses, sales force motivation, sales motivation, sales leadership

Avoiding the Top Four Sales Leadership Interview Traps

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 27, 2018 @ 21:08 PM

93605889_s_InterviewTrapHave you noticed a rash of sales leadership recruiting lately? I wondered if it was a trend or a random bunching like highway traffic. Rather than answering that question, however, I'll just add it to the list of things that happen in waves. Since I have had the same conversation with different clients several times in the last two months, I'll use this opportunity to share with you my favorite tips about avoiding the most common traps when interviewing sales leaders. You will find that it applies equally well to sales candidates. There is a unique difficulty in recruiting for leadership positions. Hiring what we like to call "ghosts" can be costly and detrimental, negatively effecting the entire sales organization and corporate profits.

Most Common Sales Leadership Recruiting Challenges

  1. There are fewer capable people available than there are for front-line positions.
  2. Many were promoted from sales positions and lack the managerial skill sets, even if the job descriptions listed on the resume suggest otherwise.
  3. The accomplishment numbers that appear on the resume don't tell the whole story or don't tell the right story.
  4. The hiring managers don't know the right questions to ask and it's easy to get snowballed.

So here are a few tips to help you avoid falling in love, talking yourself into, leading the "witness" - anything to get out of the seemingly-endless task of finding this rare and critically important position that could make the difference between killing it and getting killed. There are several steps to getting this right.

Top 3 Sales Leadership Recruiting Program Must-Haves

  1. A well-executed, strategic, sequentially optimized, success-proven recruiting process.
  2. An accurate, predictive, sales leadership assessment (I recommend OMG)
  3. A set of interview questions specific to the job, integrating the information from the assessment and the resume, and taking into account the sales environment, the corporate environment, and the cognitive capacity level required of the position as it relates to the individuals being managed and to the specific individual to whom one will report.

The interview is where many hiring decisions go sideways. We get so wowed by their intelligence, upbeat personality, researched use of jargon, and brilliant answers to questions during the interview that we don't realize to the candidate, we have set up the practical equivalent of tee-ball.

While developing the right set of questions is a worthy investment for such an important position even if impractical to list here in a generic sense, I hope the following will help you avoid some common traps.

Top Four Must-Avoid Interviewing Traps

  1. Asking the Hypothetical 
    These are questions such as, “So if you run into a problem like this, what would you do?” It's easy to sound authoritative without having done anything. They get to talk about what they think is the right behavior without any evidence that it has happened to them. And most of us don't actually do what we say we would do if X happened anyway - it's aspirational but not historical.
  2. Talking About Tomorrow
    Do not ask questions that require digging for information about things that have never happened. “What do you see yourself doing in three years?” They can make it up. It just has to sound good. There is no way to verify it.
  3. Open-Ended Questions
    “What’s your idea of success?” Most interview "experts" encourage open-ended questions. I don’t.
    It allows them to talk about whatever they want, blathering on and wasting your time.
  4. Asking Leading Questions
    “Do you think coaching makes a difference?” The answer, of course, is given away in the question. The intent in asking the question is valid. You'd like to know the answer. Any hope of truth in the response, however is destroyed by the phrasing of the question.

If you stay out of these traps and focus on specific real experiences that candidates can relate about decisions they made and actions they took, you will dramatically improve your chances of hiring a sales leader, or any other sales position, that stands more than a ghost of a chance of being successful.

 

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Author's note: I urge those interested in developing their interviewing skills to read Tom Foster's excellent book, Hiring Talent, from which some of the ideas above are adapted. Foster based much of his work for this book on the pioneering behavioral research of Elliott Jaques and Samuel Clement, who notably shed light on how the time-span of discretion of an individual relates to her or his cognitive capacity. Getting that part right in hiring is the key to building what Chris Stark calls Lean Hierarchy in your organization. Getting it wrong results in frustration or boredom, states of mind that according to studies, are experienced by up to two thirds of the working population, whose leadership apparently was unaware of this research.

 

Topics: sales leadership, interviewing salespeople, interviewing sales leaders, sales management practices, recruiting salespeople, recruiting

Commitment and the Data Behind Sales Trainability

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 @ 08:08 AM

54991635_s_Commitment_081318It's a startling statistic that 37% of salespeople lack the necessary Commitment to their sales success to make significant improvements in response to training. In an article posted a few weeks ago, I discussed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors and how to avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, you may read that article here. After several thousand views and numerous responses, both from comments in social media and personal notes, it's clear you want even more detail on this very important issue. I'll address one of those factors in more depth today and get to the others in future articles. Factor number 3 of the 7 was A Trainable Sales Force. So what makes a salesperson trainable?

The statistic mentioned above is important to know when setting up a sales training program. It was drawn from the vast trove of data collected by Objective Management Group over the past two decades. This specific finding came from sampling 44,000 recent evaluations of currently-employed salespeople. It's showing that almost 4 out of every 10 salespeople have this issue! It might explain what you are seeing at your own company. How many of your salespeople are making steady improvements in their skills and effectiveness? How many are stagnant?

In the context of training, let's take a wider look at the characteristics that play an important role in yielding the most successful outcomes. First, what does it mean to say that someone lacks the "necessary commitment?" Commitment can be defined as the level of discomfort one is willing to endure to achieve what she or he desires. In short, desire is what we want; commitment is what we are willing to do to get it.

Often, managers use a few rules-of-thumb to determine if a salesperson is going to "make it." I usually hear things like, "they gotta love selling,"  or, "they gotta be hungry," or "they gotta know our industry." While these can be useful, the reason some of us use them, and others like them, is because they are relatively easy to determine about a person, without a comprehensive assessment. When we short-cut the selection process like this, we are guilty of what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls the Availability HeuristicWe are prone to favor readily available information and we have a tendency to over-weigh the implications of a finding we can easily determine. 

Commitment is just one of the 21 sales core competencies that we look at when evaluating salespeople for training or, for that matter, when making a prediction about how successful a sales candidate would be at your company selling your products and services to your customers in your market against your competition. When we connect all of the dots, the picture of the salesperson emerges and that complete picture makes it much easier to predict if they'll be successful. Any one data point is just a dot. Love selling?; dot. Hungry?; dot. Committed?; also a dot. Before I recommend hiring a salesperson, I might look at those first two dots, for example, to help me make a decision but they are not one of the 21 sales core competencies. They are not as important as Commitment - a more important dot.

It turns out, Commitment is one of the most difficult findings to tease out of a candidate. If you ask someone during an interview if they're committed to their success, they'll say "yes." That doesn't help you because who is going to say, "no." Rather, we need to understand that level of discomfort they will endure to be successful in selling (or in their sales managerial role) as they define that success. An evaluation is the simplest, most objective way to find out. A lack of commitment usually leads to the following set of outcomes:

  • Won't do it the right way or won't do it the way you want them to
  • Won't make improvements in their ability to perform in the role
  • Will tend to give in, or give up when the going gets tough

When hiring a candidate or moving someone into a role in which they lack commitment, it eventually leads to regret. If they lack other critical skills required for the role, then the lack of commitment usually results to failure in less than six months. If they have most of the skills they need for the role, a common scenario that understandably presents the greatest challenge for hiring managers who convince themselves that the low-commitment finding is an aberration, what generally happens is the performance over time is lackluster relative to their skills. In this scenario, regret sets in at between 12 and 18 months at the realization that you've lost a year and a half and have to start over.

And what if their Desire for sales success isn't very high? That's another dot that is also very important in the picture that emerges from all those dots as it relates to their trainability. In that same data sample, 13% of sales "current-employees" lacked enough desire for success in sales to justify making the necessary effort to improve, or roughly one in eight. It's an interesting statistic if not quite as alarming as the two out of every five who lack Commitment.

What other factors play a role in determining the trainability of your people? I would want to know if they are sufficiently Motivated. 21% are not. I would want to know if they have a positive Outlook. 36% do not. And I would want to know if they make a lot of Excuses for any lack of results. 60% do that! I would rank them as follows:

Top Five Factors for Salesperson Trainability

  1. Desire for success in sales (without this, one should look for other work)
  2. Commitment to do what it takes to achieve what you desire 
  3. Motivation to put on your game face and make it happen every day
  4. Positive Outlook, unencumbered by circumstances, and "free" to dig into the work
  5. Takes responsibility for outcomes - no excuses

While the percentages of those who don't have each of these characteristics, or necessary grit for selling, is higher than you might expect, remember that each of these factors is a dot. Taken together, generally about 75% of the team is trainable. The impact on revenue from the improvements that those 75% can make in a year usually far outweighs the lack of results that will come from those who are less willing to improve. And when you know who is who, sales leaders can choose to make improvements by looking at three groups that emerge:

  1. The trainable
  2. The less easily trained performers
  3. The less easily trained, or even untrainable non-performers.

For maximum improvement to performance, leaders can train group 1 and choose to replace group 3 with people who are stronger than those in group 1. The group 2 people present a potential dilemma. Generally, it's best to look at both the level of their performance, and the growth requirements and ask yourself if you can afford to let them continue to beat quota quarter after quarter without a year-over-year growth.  

A team with 75% trainable salespeople are commonly able to produce between a 25% and 75% growth on their improvement alone, without even replacing group 3. For sales training to be successful, it helps when the sales force is trainable. Last fall, I evaluated a team that came up short, resulting in a rare recommendation not to spend money training the group. It wasn't going to work. We took a completely different approach that I'll share with you over the phone if you're interested and/or concerned about your team.

For the individual salesperson, commitment is at the heart of their trainability and willingness to make the changes required for their own improvement so they can achieve the success they desire. How committed are you to ensuring your team makes the improvements it needs to meet or exceeds the outputs that you desire for them?

 

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Topics: commitment to sales success, commitment, effective sales training, sales training, grit, excuse making, sales culture

Most Overlooked Reason for Sales Training Failure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Jul 23, 2018 @ 08:07 AM

70287211_s_OverlookedFactorIt's a common exchange but a recent conversation with a new client about sales training sounded like this, "Look, people here have a bad taste about sales training," he said. "It doesn't stick," he continued. "I know it could make a big difference, but we need a program that fits our business and that the sales team will embrace." Then he asked, "How do we get past flavor-of-the-month and get our people to want to improve so we can grow our business intentionally?"

Setting aside, for a moment, all of the details of the prescribed action plan for them, there are seven key factors to a successful sales training outcome that I shared with my client and I'll share with you now. It's in rough sequence to how you might think about rolling it out. Then I'll tell you which single factor gets overlooked the most but plays an outsized role in the success or failure of the program. Amazingly, it gets missed most of the time.

For sales training to be super effective, failure to account for these Top Seven Sales Training Factors will make success more elusive. Addressing them properly, by contrast, will guarantee success! 

Top 7 Sales Training Success Factors

  1. Pre-evaluate the sales team, systems, and processes
  2. Formal, staged, milestone-centric sales process
  3. Trainable sales team
  4. Trainable and coachable sales managers
  5. Training the managers before training salespeople
  6. Salesperson training with sufficient time scale
  7. Sales leadership accountability

Here's a short explanation of why each of these factors matters:

1. Pre-evaluate the Sales Team, Systems, and Processes
In a well-received and timely white paper on Sales Force Excellence, Dave Kurlan's research showed that of the companies that saw "significant sales increases" due to the adoption of a formal sales process, 73% of them had evaluated their teams. A sales force evaluation should answer these four fundamental questions:

  • Can we be better?
  • How much better can we be?
  • What will it take to be better?
  • How long will it take?

Companies must find out why pipelines aren't full, why sales cycles are too long, and why closing ratios are low. What skills are they missing? What are the hidden weaknesses preventing salespeople from executing those skills that they do have? And how is management impacting their success?

An evaluation is interesting by itself, and is most useful when combined with the actions taken based on the findings. If you want to explore this idea for your team, click here.

2. Formal, Staged, Milestone-Centric Sales Process
It's an interesting statistic that 68% of the companies surveyed claimed to have a formal sales process. Yet, when tested, only 9% of salespeople actually follow a sales process. Further, and this data is available in the same white paper mentioned earlier, 75% of companies reported an increase in sales as a result of adoption of a formal sales process. The sales process becomes both the basis of training and the backbone of ongoing coaching.

3. Trainable Sales Team
To be trainable, there must be a sufficient number of factors that support training. Often, people use the word "grit" to describe someone who has what it takes to succeed, but regardless of what you call it, these factors must be related to sales as distinct from other roles or social contexts. These would include desire, commitment, outlook, motivation, and a willingness to toss aside any excuses for their outcomes. There is a range of trainability, as you might imagine. The more trainable the person, the less time it will take to ramp them up to a high achiever. Here's a fun and informative tool that lets you explore the 21 sales core competencies and provides a way for you to compare industry averages with your team.

4. Trainable and Coachable Sales Managers
Many sales managers are former successful salespeople who were promoted precisely for their selling skills. The assumption is that they will have no trouble explaining to others how to be successful, just like them. And while that's helpful, it doesn't correlate to their ability to recruit and ensure they are hiring the right people, to coach their team, to motivate them, or to hold them accountable. These abilities require different skill sets than selling. For managers to improve, therefore, they also must be trainable as described above so that they will learn the skills that the best managers use to create the most successful teams.

In addition, if they are not already "killing it," then they must also be coachable. If you happen to have (or are one yourself) a super-genius who needs no help from anyone, ever, and has a high-performing team who exceed their numbers every quarter, then don't worry about whether your manager is coachable. If not, then this could be a reason why training fails. Beware the manager who knows-it-all already, and even more so, beware the manager who is in the role for herself or himself, as they will be unable to foster an environment of constant improvement. Assuming the other factors are in place, managers who relish the improvements of others will help your sales training program succeed.

5. Training the Managers Before Training Salespeople
Before training the salespeople, and this is critical, it is important to train the managers first. When the salespeople start scratching their head, we don't want them to turn toward their manager and find them looking just as perplexed. It doesn't instill confidence and leads to a "Here we go again," mantra. For sales training to be successful, everywhere the salesperson turns within the company, they should find supportive language and attitudes related to the training. When asked, "why are we doing this?," the sales manager should not say, "I don't know. Let's see where this goes." Rather, they should say, "I've looked at this and I believe we're all going to get a lot out of it. I'd liked to see all of us get even better and hopefully watch our incomes improve."

6. Salesperson Training with Sufficient Time Scale
Everyone has heard of, or experienced the one-and-done training course, long on entertainment and short on staying power. "We laughed, we cried, no one remembers a thing." While day-long kickoffs are often required to introduce the material, the most important factor in retention is the amount of time spent reinforcing the material and allowing for practice, correction, and follow-up. For sales training to be successful, the concepts should be simple and easy to follow, and doled out in bite-sized steps that people can go try in the field and experience their own success with it. The steps should build on each other so the logic is obvious as the sales process unfolds and becomes ingrained in our everyday sales conversations.

7. Sales Leadership Accountability
Though the titles given to the role are wide ranging, there is usually of head of sales at the company. It's commonly understood that this person with their "head of sales" title is in charge of the entire sales organization. But that would be wrong. The chief executive of the company is in charge of sales. If you own a company, or are a shareholder in the company, are you going to listen to a CEO who blames the lack of sales results on the Sales VP? It turns out, that CEO (or equivalent) has the most important role to play in a successful sales training outcome. It doesn't have to be a time-consuming role, though it is necessarily the most important. 

The primary role of the CEO in the context of the sales organization is that she or he holds the sales leader accountable for the output of the entire team and for maintaining a team of people capable of producing that output. The corporate leader's insistence on sales improvements ensures that sales leadership follows through on initiatives like sales and sales management training and coaching.

My favorite example of how this works is from a client in the broadcast media business. The CEO wanted to position the company both for growth and for eventual ownership exit. It was clear that the entire team had to improve, quickly. The path forward included embracing a common sales process across the organization and training the managers how to coach to it. And it included training the general managers on how to read the reports and advise the sales managers.

To be successful throughout an organization spread across the entire country, the general managers had to be unified in their approach and ensure that sales managers developed enough coaching skills to make real improvements. I asked the CEO, "Are you ready to roll up your sleeves, read the reports yourself, and insist on consistency through the sales organization." He said, "yes," and he meant it. For an entire year, he read the reports and commented back to the general managers. His comments often got back to managers and even individual reps. Everyone knew he was reading the reports, so no sales manager could get away with taking a half-hearted approach. It worked. In an age of declining "old media," within a year, the company grew and was successfully sold.

Sales Leadership Accountability may be the last item on the list of the Top 7 Factors to avoid sales training failure and ensure success. Yet it is by far the most overlooked factor due to a common failure to see the role of the executive team and indeed the role of the chief executive as crucial roles within the sales organization. Getting this right almost guarantees success, however. When the entire organization knows that the exits are blocked when it comes to the sales training program, they embrace it. Once leadership proves it's for real and here to stay, the team has no choice but to make it work. What are you willing to do to provide that much clarity to your team so your investment in training pays off for everyone?

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright:  Aleksandr Khakimullin  (123RF) 

 

 

Topics: coaching culture, sales data, grit, 21 sales core competencies, sales and sales management tips, Patrick Lencioni, sales leader, accountability, Sales Accountability

How the Dreaded Sales Script Can Help Improve Your Team

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Jul 09, 2018 @ 17:07 PM

98862376_s_CoachingToScriptImagine using a script for all of your sales calls and meetings. Get on the phone: use a script. Have a meeting: use a script. Get hung up on an objection: use a script. Now imagine managing your people. "Here's your script. Don't stray." And imagine what your ad for salespeople would look like? "Wanted: Anyone who can read."

Sales managers frequently ask me how to use a script for certain selling situations and how to use them for coaching their people. You might be thinking that one shouldn't have or need a script, or that sounding scripted is unnatural and not something real salespeople need, or that scripts are only for rude telemarketers. And you'd be right. And they also serve a more helpful purpose. The sales manager on top of their game understands both the useful purpose of a script and the need to toss it aside just before you might actually be tempted to use it. Let's explore this misunderstood but important area of sales coaching and find out how to use a script to help your people improve while perhaps not sounding scripted at all. Ready?

First, where do we find scripts. Here are some examples:

  1. Cold call opening
  2. Response to an inbound lead
  3. Handling an objection
  4. Asking for a referral
  5. When your prospect says they are all set
  6. At tradeshows
  7. At Closing

It might sound something like this: 

"Good morning, Bill. Do you purchase industrial phenolic wheels? Good. May I take fifteen minutes to tell you why mine are the best? Thank you. We have a vast array of kingpinless phenolic wheels at any load capacity you need...blah blah."

Or:

"Thanks for telling me that, Jill. I often hear people say they are all set. Can I take a few moments to let you know what you might be missing? We have a vast array..."

Or:

"Thank you for stopping by the booth. What interested you? Who are you buying from now? May I show you this short video showing the vast array of..."

And so on.

I chose these somewhat comical scripts because they are close to the kind of language I often hear from clients at the beginning of our engagement. And it doesn't matter if it's industrial wheels, software as a service, TV advertising, or professional services. The concepts are the same. 

On the flip side, some will say, "I don't want to script anything. I'll just wing it." Then I'll ask them, "So what's your strategy for when a prospect says they are all set?" And I usually hear some hesitation followed by several reasons why they should consider buying from them. "If I can just show you our vast array of wheel options, I think you'll be impressed. We are second to none in service. We ship to this area three times per week. We keep every accessory and part in stock locally... etc..."

The Purpose of the Script

The above examples demonstrate where scripts can be helpful. Here's why. Absent a formal sales process, most salespeople will result to the kind of language patterns shown above, and will follow a default process that is some variation of trying to get in front of the right person, present all their great stuff, and ask for an order. The resulting coaching session might sound like this:

Typical Coaching Session
Manager: How did it go?
Salesperson: Great!
Manager: Where does it stand?
Salesperson: They're going to get back to me in two weeks.
Manager: What went well?
Salesperson: They liked the product and we know a lot of the same people in the industry.
Manager: What could be improved?
Salesperson: Since they are talking with someone else, too, I need to do a better job explaining why we're different.
Manager: Great. Let's work on that.

On the other hand, if there were a formal sales process in place (grade yours here), the manager might have poked a few holes in that description and analysis. "When you asked them why it was so important to make a switch at this time, what did they say?" And then, "It sounds like your presentation was a bit premature."

"Okay," your rep might say, "What should I have said?"

And this is where you might write a script together that will start the conversation off the right way. What might that sound like?

Example of a Script

"It's nice to meet you, Bill. I find that the people who do what you do, and who ultimately want my help usually tell me either that they are frustrated by slowdowns caused by bad wheels on their industrial carts, or that they are concerned by the high variability in service life of their wheels making it hard to plan ahead. Are either of those true for you?"

From the prospect's answer, a conversation can ensue. Wouldn't it be nice to work out in advance how this initial question should sound so that it sparks a discussion about your prospect and their issues, concerns, and difficulties, rather than making it about you? Your rep will normally resort to doing it the way they are used to doing it and the way that makes them comfortable. The point of the script, in this case, is to practice a new conversation starter to the point when which it becomes comfortable.

When coaching your people, role play this scenario enough times so that it rolls off the tongue and so they are truly comfortable with it. Then...and here's the good part; never say it the way you wrote it. In other words, write the script, and then don't use it. The point isn't to have a script. It's to get comfortable with a new approach to a conversation. When you are in the moment of a real sales call, be yourself, speaking to your prospect the way you might speak to a friend that you believe you can help. Your salespeople will be relieved that they don't have a recite a script. If they aren't, you might have other problems with your team and you can do some quick math here on what a non-performing person can cost you.

The script is for thinking through a change in the sales conversation. Coaching is an opportunity for a manager and a salesperson to work, one-on-one to make an improvement in the salesperson's skills. Now imagine your people using a script as a tool to make improvements over how they've been doing it for perhaps years and years. Someone smarter than me once told me that no one is in sales for 20 years; they are in sales for 5 years and repeat the fifth year fifteen more times. Now you can add script writing to your available tools to help your people make improvements regardless of how long they have been selling.

 

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Book Dennis Connelly to speak at your event.

Photo Credit - Copyright :  dmitrimaruta (123RF) 

Topics: Sales Coaching, sales management role, Top 10 Sales Tips, coaching culture

The Single Most Important Metric to Turn Existing Accounts into Growing Accounts

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 29, 2018 @ 08:05 AM

52558345_s_puregoldLast week, at our Sales Leadership Intensive we hosted for a packed house of CEOs, Executives, Sales VPs, and Front-Line Sales Managers here at our Training Center at Kurlan & Associates, a question came up about metrics and holding account managers accountable for activities and proactive behaviors related to growth. "How can I create metrics for my people related to growing existing customers that we've had for years -- especially those golden accounts we'd never want to lose?," an attendee asked, adding, "I can see how monitoring these metrics would be great for business development folks seeking new business, but it's not as simple for account managers. What metrics can I use for them?" By the way, this is the kind of fun question that gets a room full of sales leaders charged up like a bunch of astronomers debating whether Pluto is a really a planet. Real geeky sales stuff that I love.

It's interesting that this question was asked. We so often think of pursuing the "new account" as easier to quantify than nurturing existing accounts. But if we think about growing an existing account as simply seeking "net new business," it ceases to look a whole lot different. So I asked the participant, "You probably don't need any of those accounts to grow, right?" He answered, "Haha, you bet we do." And I followed that with, "Well that makes sense, but you probably don't have any attrition with these accounts and they all come back every year without fail." He said, "You're dreaming! That's the whole problem. I don't think my people are on top of this and we're often surprised when we lose an account." Hmm. "So we can get several metrics right from there, can't we?" Now it makes sense. How often are you meeting with your existing accounts to have a meeting about how many other ways you can help them? 

One of the ways in which salespeople grow business is by having productive, eye-opening business conversations with prospects that no one else is having. But to have that conversation, they have to first set up a meeting. Here's where there's confusion for account managers. If I get a lead, I can contact that person and set up a meeting. It might take one, two, or 22 attempts, but the conversation gets awful one-sided when the prospect isn't there, so I need to schedule an actual meeting. Seems obvious enough. And when I have it, I can learn what I need to learn by asking questions and discovering compelling reasons for my prospect to make a change from doing what they are doing to doing business with me. On the other hand, for an account manager, I am usually well past that first conversation and we already have a relationship. But, as the sales leader said, these accounts are pure gold. They already know you, trust you, want to do business with you, and they even call you. So how do we leverage that golden relationship for growth?

Introducing the Reset Meeting

When you already have an account, but need to grow it, and further, when you already have many accounts and want to keep them, the best method is to use a Reset Meeting. The purpose of a Reset Meeting is to shift from the normal, habitual conversation and move toward a business discussion that can lead to more sales. The problem is that it might seem like an abrupt change to the prospect to suddenly be talking about growing the account, and more importantly (and problematically) it might also expose a weakness in the salesperson who might not be used to "selling," and is more comfortable in the role of simply keeping the customer happy.

Setting up a Reset Meeting might sound something like this: "Ya know Bob, we've been doing business for several years now and we've had a lot of conversations, haven't we. Along the way, I've always been ready to serve you and your business and I've taken care of your needs whenever called upon. If you're willing, I'd like to set up a meeting with you just to gain an even better understanding of your business so I can understand how to help you even more, going forward. I think we'll need about an hour and a half. Would you be willing to talk about that?"

When this meeting is on the calendar, it is analogous to the first "needs analysis" type meeting one would set up for a new account. And as managers, we can quantify how many of these Reset Meetings our people have set up, giving us a solid metric. It's important to note that this meeting cannot be ad hoc. The customer cannot say, "Yeah, we'll talk about that the next time you come in." It's vital to the effectiveness of the meeting that there is a commitment on the part of the customer to set the time aside to have exactly that conversation.

As with a new account, the existence of a real date and time on the calendar is the first step toward gaining buy-in. Your odds of converting, or in this case, gaining more business, is significantly higher when the customer/prospect commits to having the conversation as defined. "Yeah, sure, whenever..." and "Call me next week to set something up..." doesn't cut it. Those are put-off responses that say nothing about whether this is important to them, or even if they were paying attention to what you were asking.

If we can't get commitment to have the meeting, it's our first red flag regarding either the account's intent or our salesperson's skills. Sometimes, a salesperson is good at account management, but not as good at what we would call "farming" the account or growing the business within an account. Their skill sets and selling "DNA" support account management but farming requires other skills. With farming, we need closing skills and closing urgency which isn't required for account management. We have to stay in the moment. We can't get emotionally involved. We have to be able to listen and ask questions with ease. We can't have too much "Need for Approval" from our prospects/customers, and we have to be rejection proof. How many of the salespeople whom we expect to grow their existing accounts have the requisite skills and DNA to support farming?

For an aggregate view of these traits on your team relative to other sales teams, at no charge, click here. Or if you have a specific salesperson in mind and wonder if they have what it takes to set up and execute a proper Reset Meeting, click here for a free trial of an assessment tool most useful for selecting sales candidates who will be able to perform and succeed in the role, right from the beginning.

The Reset Meeting gives sales managers a good tool for framing the discussion around growing existing accounts while providing the basis for measuring and monitoring activities that will lead to customer growth and retention. Good luck with this tool and let me know how it works for you.

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright : Dario Hayashi  (123RF)

 

 

 

Topics: Reset Meeting, Sales DNA, selling skills, account management, sales metrics, Sales Accountability, effective sales coaching, sales farming



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