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Sales Training Success Dependence on Trainable Sales Managers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Jan 07, 2019 @ 16:01 PM

22728302_s_UntrainedDogsIt's a new year. "Don't train your sales force!" As strange as that sounds, it might surprise you how often this was my recommendation to business leaders looking for help last year for their sales organizations. But please don't misunderstand. Unless your sales force has a full pipeline, accurate forecasts, high closing ratios, improving margins, consistent revenue growth, and meets budget every quarter, they might need training. But that doesn't mean you should get them trained. For sales training to be effective, the conditions must support it, or it isn't worth the investment. Without knowing the underlying causes, the training could be indiscriminate and ineffective. 

Recently, I posted an article listing the 7 Success Factors that support sales training. If interested, read it here. Today, we'll address number 4, below: Trainable and coachable sales managers. After all, why should it matter? If the manager is on her game, knows how to sell, and operates autonomously, is it really necessary that she be coachable and trainable, too? C'mon! Here's why.

7 Sales Training Success Factors

  1. Pre-evaluate the sales team, systems, and processes (Article posted 10/8/18)
  2. Formal, staged, milestone-centric sales process (Article posted 11/4/18)
  3. Trainable sales team (Article posted 8/14/18)
  4. Trainable and coachable sales managers (This article)
  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)

Number 4 is that sales managers themselves must be trainable and coachable. Mining the data from 1.8 million assessments of both salespeople and sales managers evaluated by Objective Management Group, we know that 22% of managers are uncoachable and 28% are untrainable. That means that almost one in four won't be able to make the changes necessary to improve their skills 

Among many of the conditions or environment that support training success are the willingness and ability of sales management to support and reinforce the training to ensure that it sticks and that the team improves. It isn't always simply a matter of needing to make improvements, but rather it's having an organization structured and ready to capitalize on those improvements. 

Most managers are interested in developing their skills further in important sales management areas such as motivation, coaching, recruiting, and holding people accountable. Understanding the common areas where sales management gets in their own way is a good start to mastering number 4, above, and clearing the way to effective sales training.

How sales management gets in the way:

  1. Not coachable - think they know it all, and won't listen to advice
  2. Not trainable - apathetic - do not desire success enough to work to improve
  3. Not skilled - want to succeed but don't know how
  4. Not committed - won't exceed their comfort zone to do what it takes to succeed
  5. Non-supportive beliefs - this covers a wide variety of beliefs but any belief that doesn't support either sales success or managerial impact on sales success would be in their way
  6. Too busy selling - Some sales managers are really glorified salespeople with a large book of business. Don't expect real sales management from this group.
  7. Non-Existent - What sales management? Do we need that? Haha. Sometimes, it's the CEO in an "acting" role. 

Sales management is a full-time job. Sales managers must desire success in the role and be committed to doing what it takes to be effective in the role. If they are not coachable or if they are not trainable, or both, they will not be able to improve and will have a difficult time cultivating an environment that supports learning and improvement among their team.

Because there is often confusion with two important terms above, I have illustrated the difference between Untrainable and Uncoachable using pictures:

Screenshot 2019-01-06 20.39.45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Untrainable people lack the desire to succeed. They won't try to improve. Uncoachable people might or might not be trainable - they are independent. The uncoachable cannot imagine that you or anyone else could help them perform better. They already know everything. If they are right and they do know everything, that's great until you try to implement a change. If they don't already know everything but think they do, or if they are no longer interested in improving in their role, welcome to a world of frustration for company leaders. And for goodness sake, don't train the sales team. Yet.

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If you would like to know how your managers measure up in these important areas, click here.

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 Top Photo: Copyright : Eric Isselee

Topics: top sales management articles, sales training failure, coaching culture, managerial leadership, Shaping the Environment

Five Steps to Frictionless Feedback

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Dec 04, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

63645866_s_FrictionlessFeedbackSix years ago, I wrote an article on how to give feedback. It was narrowly focused on how the brain processes criticism. As an executive coach, I'm frequently asked for the best way to give constructive feedback and I'm still stunned at how many people try to insert negative comments into a "sandwich" with two positive-sounding bread slices on either side. Even though we have all been on the receiving end of such a tactic and therefore probably know it doesn't feel good and isn't motivating, many of us still do it and wonder why we get friction and resistance to our generous offers of help.

After reading the research from many world-class business thinkers, extensive personal training in neuro-strategies, and 30 years leading several companies, I'd have to be in a deep sleep not to pick up a few tips on human behavior. If your role includes helping people change their behavior and you want to be more effective and encounter less friction, I hope you find some useful distinctions here.

As I was pulling my notes together for this article, I came across Forbes.com contributor, Dede Henley's warm-off-the-press article on this very topic as it applies to millennials. No matter how old the subject, there is always room for fresh perspective. Millennials' nearly continuous social interaction puts them in a different category than earlier generations. They have developed and evolved certain norms of interaction that are foreign to non-digital natives. As leaders adapt to the unique managerial challenges that many (though certainly not all) in this younger group present, the lessons learned will bring them more success with other generations as well. What works for millennials will work for others, but the reverse is not necessarily true, as any frustrated boomer knows.

I revised the original article to keep up with new research, to add fresh experience, and most importantly to share the topic with a wider audience than my necessarily finite list of clients. I hope you find it useful. Please send me your feedback, which I will graciously accept whether you do so in a manner consistent with the use of the tools presented here or not!

Giving Feedback

What if you ordered a baloney sandwich and just as you were being served, both slices of bread were swiped away leaving only the inside part?  You might feel annoyed and hungry for something better than just a pile of baloney.  When coaching your staff, feedback is an important tool. However, many often use the same idea as the sandwich. They give criticism but sandwich it between two pieces of positive encouragement, thinking that approach will somehow soften the blow of the criticism. It's sometimes referred to as the "criticism sandwich!"

Research has shown that this approach is surprisingly ineffective for several reasons. Nobody remembers anything you said before the criticism and no one believes your positive comments that follow the negative ones. That leaves them with only a stack of baloney and a bad taste in their mouth.

This practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Computer.  The brain goes into full alert when hearing negative criticism and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in nearly total memory loss of anything said prior to hearing the criticism. It might take minutes, hours or even a couple days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply forgets the words of praise that precede criticism. If asked later if there was any positive feedback in the discussion, one simply can’t remember. 

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when giving criticism. In that same heightened alert state, one also experiences a new sense of awareness that Nass calls “proactive enhancement.”  You’ve got their attention, so now they are ready to listen and absorb whatever you say next. This is where managers miss an opportunity.  Most managers provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities when the person they are coaching is open to hearing real and specific reinforcement. In our heightened state of awareness, it's hard not to notice the useless generalities as mere padding. Thus in our effort to be positive, we simply annoy. Haven't we always known that the two pieces of bread are nutritionally deficient? Turns out they don't work in conversation either.

Henley's article talks about feedback in relation to millennials. They don't like the typical workplace feedback because it doesn't align with social media norms. When they post a picture of their lunch, for example, feedback is immediate and positive. "Delish! Salivating for pomegranates! Where are you?," they write.  Compare that with, "I'm not getting the output from you that I was hoping for, Stanley." They will tune you out because in their view, you don't get it and you don't understand them. Managers, of course, are responsible for the output of their teams, so it's important that they "get it" if they want to have an impact. 

Perhaps the millennials are onto something important about the human brain. Reading about the research on criticism above, one can't help but notice that our reactions are more intense than we might have expected. Our brain literally sheds information it only recently processed, and then it goes into a heightened state. Those are big shifts.

Our brains treat feedback as a threat. Threats put us into a state of fight or flight, or what Daniel Goleman calls an "amygdala hijack" in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The amygdala is that small part of the brain just above the spinal cord, often called the "lizard brain," that takes over in stressful situations, pushing aside the involvement of your conscious mind. "Back off, I've got this," it says, adding, "You're too slow for this, and we're in trouble here."

Yes, the conscious mind is too slow, which would take a whole book to explain and thankfully, Daniel Kahneman already wrote it, Thinking Fast and Slow. When you ask the hero why she dove into shark-infested waters to save the drowning man, she says, "I don't know. I didn't have time to think. I just did it." Exactly. If we are meeting with a person whom we are trying to help, knowing what we now know, who would invite that person's amygdala to the conversation? How do we keep the conversation thoughtful and genuinely helpful, without inspiring an attack of mental re-wiring and selective amnesia.

Clearly, we need to improve on the sandwich-lizard-brain-retroactive-interference-help-me-skipper model we've been using for years, right?  When coaching your sales force, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback. Criticism is important if you want to improve a specific behavior, but effectiveness is a function of intent and delivery.

Positive comments are still an important way to encourage the behaviors that are already working. Let's talk about how to express what you need to change in a way that will be heard, and not just by millennials, but by anyone. When you want to see positive behavior changes, master the following five steps and instead of charging into a wall of resistance, you'll be basking in the glory of frictionless feedback:

The Five Steps to Frictionless Feedback

1. Provide Coaching, Not Feedback

The problem with feedback lies in its context. Hey, can I give you some feedback? See how that feels? For some, it brings pangs to the stomach, even when they are just words on this page that couldn't possibly pertain to you. Feedback has a corrective connotation and is often associated with the dreaded annual review. Reviews seldom improve results and usually only serve to provide cover for postponed drama. 

Coaching, on the other hand, is more of a process that by it's nature is collaborative, mutual, and centered on continuous improvement. And for all of millennials dread of feedback, they love the idea of always improving. Coaching, done well, is set up as a process; it's a regular and expected part of the relationship. The purpose is understood. There's always a lesson or takeaway. It gives one a sense that the manager is investing in their success. One of the most informative articles on coaching salespeople that I have read comes from my colleague and world-leading sales master and Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. Sales managers who want to get this right could become absorbed for days in the information and corresponding links found in his article.

When changing a behavior is important, shifting away from providing feedback and moving toward an environment of coaching will get better results, especially if the intent is a positive and nurturing environment rather than just getting results. Consider adding these components to your coaching when you notice a behavior that needs to change:

2. Set the Tone

Your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. In Dede Henley's article mentioned earlier, she writes that it's helpful to ask permission. I learned from neuro-strategist, Steve Linder, several years ago to say, "Do I have permission to coach?" Henley suggests saying, "I have a perspective I would like to share. Would you be willing to hear it?" I like that, too. What's important is that you are priming them to listen and making them a collaborator in the process.

My colleague and leading sales expert, Chris Mott, in this article, provides excellent advice on how to frame the discussion for minimal pushback. He makes the excellent point that setting up the relationship at the outset to include regular feedback minimizes resistance later. When it's time to provide feedback, first ask permission, then tell a story. He writes: “I was hoping we could take advantage of our agreement to openly discuss areas for improvement. Do you mind if I share something with you?” Then tell a story they can relate to without making them the protagonist: “I know we have been under a lot of pressure lately. My experience is when I react to the pressure, I lose sight of the big picture. This can make me less aware of how others perceive me even when I’m trying to do the right thing.”

3. Clear Intention

It's critical that they understand your intent. Have you noticed that it often doesn't matter if the evidence you shared with someone is irrefutable, or that what someone said made tons of sense, because your conversational "adversary" seems only to care about the source. "Who said we all want to feel good about ourselves? Oh that guy from the TV show? I don't trust anything he says!" Knowing the source of the information becomes a shortcut to understanding the intent, and the intent determines whether the information will be absorbed and used to change our thinking or our behavior. Intent makes it easier to attach meaning to what you are saying; we don't know how to feel about something until we assign a meaning to it.

If you do not already have a coaching channel established that's an expected part of your relationship (see Chris Mott's article), make sure they know why you are asking to coach. "I'd like to help because I want to see you become wildly successful." This works because it presupposes two things: A) they can become wildly successful, and B) you believe they can, so your criticism can be seen in that context. In sales management, coaching is where today's top managers spend half of their time. If this channel of communication isn't well established with all of your people, it's much more challenging to get the results you seek.

4. Stick to Behaviors

Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then it's not about who they are anymore. We also have to be careful not to generalize or distort. "You always do that," appears to address a behavior but it is dispiriting because if gives them no credit for the times that they haven't "done that," and doesn't acknowledge that you are even aware of those times.

When we stick to specific instances of specific behaviors in which they have control, it helps us put the problem in the proper context not only for them, but for ourselves. We can still be grateful for this person and for who they are, while remaining firm that the behavior needs to change as it relates to the task. Be very specific. "I noticed you didn't push back when your prospect said he wanted to think it over. Understanding why they want to think it over might tell us what we missed in our discussion." This counts for positive comments as well. "I love how you asked her questions based on what she just said instead of from some pre-determined list. That really made her feel heard." 

5. Make It Actionable

Coaching works better when it includes the recipe for improvement. Always provide actionable steps alongside the coaching so that they understand how to do it even better the next time. An ideal coaching session always ends with their lesson learned or top takeaway.

One of the most useful coaching tools is role playing. In a sales environment, one of the action steps usually includes having a conversation that covers a specific topic, or readdresses an area that might have been missed the first time around. Describing the topic is helpful to a point. Role playing it embeds it in our heads. One can hear what it will sound like coming from them and give them practice so that the real conversation isn't the first time they are saying.

Not role playing is like getting a piano lesson where the teacher hands you the music and describes the score to you without letting you play it for them. Imagine a rock band performance where the first time you played the piece was at the concert. What might the band leader say afterward, "I don't get it. We went over what this piece should sound like many times. Remember when I said to play softer in the eighth measure. Jeez you guys!" Role playing isn't always comfortable at first, but managers who lead the way into their own discomfort set an example for their people who are committed to improving.

What's important is that the person you are helping has a clear idea of what to do differently. Your action plan should include steps they can perform applying behaviors in which they have control. 

Eliminating feedback friction and resistance starts with a mindset and it takes practice. Set up the relationship from the outset to move toward a coaching culture. If the relationship is several years old, frame it as a reset and ask for their help so you can move toward increasing their skills and your own, and eliminate weaknesses, non-supportive beliefs and other head trash so they can achieve their goals more quickly.

I hope you found these tools helpful in the context of your leadership role and especially helpful for anyone with direct reports. Unless you have perfect self-winding people who exceed quota every quarter without any input from you, then you have faced the challenges described above, whether they were millennials or any other category you care to describe. Have you made coaching a part of your culture? Do your people regularly come to you for help?  Do you personally seek advice and feedback in your own organization? When it’s time to serve feedback to your staff, are you a critic or a coach? What steps do you take to make sure your people are served with a balanced and useful diet of advice and coaching or are they often left with a pile of baloney? (No offense to baloney lovers.)

 

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Dennis Connelly is Senior Sales Strategist at Kurlan & Associates and 30-year owner and co-founder of multiple businesses in manufacturing, chemical technology, building materials, importing, and contracting. He now helps executives in dozens of industries from media to technology, from manufacturing to professional services, to remove obstacles to growth and unleash massive hidden sales potential.

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Photo Credit: Copyright Denis Ismagilov (123RF)

Topics: sales and sales management tips, frictionless feedback, coaching culture, coaching salespeople, growth mindset, Feedback, intention

Don't Buy the Exit Interview Crap - How Sales Managers Win with Environment

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Nov 19, 2018 @ 17:11 PM

21131228_s_awesomeworkenvironmentIt's not often you see a disconnect between belief and reality this large, but a PwC exit survey concluded that managers believe that employees leave the company 89% of the time because they want more money and 11% of the time for other reasons. The same survey revealed that almost the reverse is true for the employee; 12% of time it's for money and 88% of the time it's for other reasons.

Unfortunately, managers either get their information from the exit interview, or make up a story, being careful not to blame themselves. After all, who wants to say to their employer, whom they will be listing on their resume, "My manager just didn't get me and failed to recognize my real contributions and nurture my soul. I simply wasn't flourishing under their tutelage." They're not saying that, and not just because they can't pronounce tutelage. No, they often say, "I found a great opportunity for higher pay." Simple. Innocuous. Is it hard to imagine that most managers are unaware of those "other reasons?" Is it difficult to believe that most managers are not aware of the factors that shape how and why an employee wants to be on their team and follow their leadership, or why they want to get off their team and follow someone else?

Forbes recently published data from a number of sources. For example, A Harvard Business Review study revealed that 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss. 79% of people who quit their jobs cite "lack of appreciation" as the primary reason. The Conference Board reported that 53% of Americans are currently unhappy at work

CareerBuilder revealed in their recent study that 58% of managers received all of zero management training. And what are the odds that the other 42% who received training got the right training in the right areas along with requisite coaching and regular training reinforcement? Fat chance.

We know from our work with clients that the best sales managers pay a lot of attention to shaping their environment relative to the specific and tangible functions to which they are accountable. They do not necessarily put more time into their environment than the other important functions of the job, but they are always aware of it and always working on it along with the other more tangible elements of the job.

Sales managers who want to perform among the best, achieve or exceed the outputs expected of them, and do it by building a culture of constant improvement. As a result, their people are always growing in their professional skills, have more autonomy to perform, and if done with sincerity and care, feel more aligned with a shared purpose consistent with the values of the organization.

Indeed, these are the three universal motivators described in Dan Pink's famous book, Drive. People need a certain level of autonomy or freedom to perform their job as they see fit, he wrote. They also need opportunities for personal and professional growth, and they need a sense of purpose or how they are making a difference. Money is not on this list because once you achieve the minimum level of income you require to meet basic living expenses, for most of us, it ceases to be the primary motivator. 

Here is a list of the primary sales managerial functions. Today, the first two on the list should take well over half of a manager's time. 

Primary Sales Managerial Functions

  1. Coaching
  2. Motivating
  3. Recruiting
  4. Holding People Accountable
  5. Territory Management/Sales planning
  6. Systems and Processes
  7. Strategy (often VP level)

Knowing this list, and even knowing how to execute each of the items on it is not enough to be successful. It is nearly impossible to be an effective coach, to motivate your people, and to hold them accountable in a toxic work environment. Therefore, we would add the following managerial function as arguably the most important area of expertise of a manager committed to achieving her or his required outputs.

     8. Shaping the Environment

During the summers of my college years, I managed a house painting franchise to pay for school. Management training was intensive, over several weekends. We lived in dormitories or hotel rooms with other managers during the training period. The company did their own research and learned that the number one stress of workers on the job sites and their number one impediment to job performance was their manager. The impact of the manager was a critical success factor, but not in the obvious way. What a great lesson to learn as a sophomore in college. Thirty years later, Dave Kurlan wrote this article pointing out Robert Hogan's research showing that 75% of the workforce feel that their bosses are the most stressful part of their jobs. 

So what was true about how people respond to managers 30 years ago is still true today. The environment matters. Since people really work for their boss as a matter of course, more than they work for the company, how important might it be to take a look at your relationships with subordinates and work to improve them? Wouldn't it be more motivating if your people trusted and respected you? Wouldn't it be easier to hold your people accountable if they thought you had good intentions and took the time to understand their world? Wouldn't it be easier to coach them if they thought you believed in their professional growth, not just the results you are reporting to your superiors?

Managers who shape their environment work on the quality of the relationship they have with each of their people. Using that strength as a starting point, they work on building trust and respect so they can offer help in many other areas important to the required skills and to professional growth generally. They gain mutual appreciation because they actively work on what that environment looks, sounds, and feels like.

Last year, CNBC contributor Suzy Welch asked Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, about his team environment, "Talk about how you think about what the right relationship is with your subordinates," she challenged him. Belichick's response? "Coach all of the players the same. I like and respect all of the players. I give everybody what they earn." Audible groaning from my non-New England clients aside (yes, I can feel the scorn - I'm talking to you, Helmrath!), there is much to learn about leadership from this talented winner.

From our own research, clients who were trained on how to shape their environment and then took the step of putting it into practice met their sales goals for the year. In fact 100% of respondents who did so met their goals. 0% of respondents who did not shape their environment met their goals. Most of them improved, but hitting their targets was correlated with shaping the environment one to one. To succeed in sales management, one must master the majority of the skill sets. However, shaping the environment must be in that majority. 

Two to three times per year, we host a Sales Leadership Intensive in our training center near Boston, limited to 30 sales managers and executives. Email me if you're interested in attending, dconnelly@kurlanassociates.com. The next one will be held March 19th and 20th. While there is a heavy emphasis on coaching mastery in this intense fast-paced two-day program, one of the more important areas on which we work together is a mini-workshop on Shaping the Environment. We know that getting this right makes getting the rest of it right a whole lot easier.

Given the high cost of undesirable turnover, can you imagine how much better your team would perform if they trusted you more than strangers, their primary stress wasn't caused by you, they were actually happy at work, and in the rare cases where they left, it was for the right reasons? How close are you to that now, and what would it take to get the rest of the way?

 

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Photo Credit: yanlev (123RF)

Word Credit: "Tutelage," used in that exact context by M&A expert, Sean Slade, 20 years ago - a rare exception that proves the rule.

Topics: Shaping the Environment, sales and sales management tips, sales leadership intensive, coaching culture, sales leader, bill belichick, dan pink

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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Photo Credit: alphaspirit (123RF)

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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Photo Credit "Pilot in Training" - Copyright : stokkete (123RF)

 

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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Photo Credit - Copyright : alphaspirit (123RF)

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



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