Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

Sales Accountability Lessons from the Emergency Room

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

10127196_s_DoctorsRushing-1.jpg

I noticed the nurses and doctors rushing past me one afternoon as I lay on a gurney, parked in the hallway of a busy ER. Reasonably sure, by then that my spooky, painful experience was just kidney stones, I turned my focus to all that rushing about.

Over the course of a few minutes, a nurse, then another nurse, then a doctor, and several more, rushed by, all moving quickly to the same place past the central desk and part way down one of the halls. They weren’t running, exactly, but they were moving pretty fast.

Then I overheard one of them yelling over her shoulder, “I’ll look that up in five minutes,” she said, “I have to get to our huddle!” I felt like a kid hearing a siren and waiting to see the fire trucks, only to realize that it’s just the noon alarm in the center of town.

One of the more indispensible tools for the world-class sales manager is the huddle. Yet it is often neglected due to real or imagined time constraints. Why?

For sales managers, the morning huddle is primarily an accountability tool, to help salespeople stay focused on the most important top-line pro-active behaviors that will help lead to the results they want. That might seem like something salespeople wouldn’t love. However, executed properly, by a sales manager that has embraced the huddle, sees the value in it, and wouldn’t live without it, the salespeople in turn, also love it. And here are the top reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Love the Huddle

  1. Gets everyone feeling like they a part of something bigger.
  2. Creates a team spirit.
  3. Leaves them uplifted and energized 

And here are the Top Three Reasons Why Sales Managers Love the Huddle

  1. Creates peer-oriented accountability
  2. Builds bonds and energizes the group
  3. Provides a daily conduit to provide strategy, direction, and clarity to the team

Of course, this assumes it is done right. On the flip side, can you imagine that it doesn't always go this way? It’s probably not hard to believe that there are some real time-wasting huddles out there. Welcome to the land of Dilbert, where the manager drones on and everyone is checking their emails. Okay, when I hear about how much people don’t like it, these are the usual reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Hate the Huddle

  1. Too much criticism or too negative
  2. Always runs long so cannot plan around it
  3. Types of activities reported are inconsistent with stated goals
  4. Boring waste of time

When the Huddle has been commanded from above because of something an executive read about online or learned at a conference, and the manager herself is not bought in, the results are predictable.

For the past 30 years starting with my first introduction to huddles from a coating manufacturer, I have found this tool to be one of the most indispensible for the well rounded sales manager who shapes their environment and gets results; the same kind of manager who has mastered coaching. For more on coaching, read this article. I consistently hear that huddles are the one thing they would never give up. 

If doctors and nurses in a busy emergency room put saving lives on hold to have their daily huddle, we can certainly take 10 minutes a day from our 50-plus-hour weeks to make sure all those hours are used in such a way that success is unavoidable.

Topics: accountability, sales managerment, top sales leadership, Sales Coaching, daily huddle

Mastering Channel Sales Management - Part 1

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 @ 04:09 AM

13300026 s ChannelSales tugpullingboatWhat is it about managing sales in the channel that is so much more challenging than managing direct sales? After reading about the perils of sales management over the past several years, it’s hard not to think of it as the hardest job in the company (though not the hardest job on earth). If you disagree, you’re right! But never mind, it’s not far off.

Your channel partners are the folks who sell your products to customers further down the sales or distribution channel. They could be distributors, rep agencies, value-added resellers (VARs), retailers, brokers, etc. To make it even more complicated, often we hire a sales agency wedged in between our company and our channel partner to act on our behalf leaving us even further removed from our end customers. That might be the right sales model for you, but the challenges are magnified.

In any case, with a channel sale, the front line sales people don’t actually work for your firm. At first glance, the regional manager for your products might barely seem like a manager since he or she might not have any direct employees. Where are his or her people? Or this manager might have five or six direct employees, two rep agencies, and five distributors and their respective salespeople to manage. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

So how does this person hold all these groups accountable? How does he or she motivate the sales reps on a daily basis? Incidentally, Dave Kurlan wrote this terrific article on motivation. It’s worth a detour to read it. And perhaps still more challenging, how does one effectively coach these people who aren’t really your people so that they consistently improve and sell more of your products and services? I submit that this takes a manager’s manager. They must do what sales managers do but with one hand tied behind their back.

Since the start of this year, I have had the privilege of coaching sales managers in over 180 one-on-one sessions or as live coaching demonstrations of their sales people. About half of these managers work with channel partners. In fact, one such person manages several distributors, rep agencies, and a half dozen direct employees in one of the most far-reaching and complicated management arrangements I have seen. He raises channel sales management to an Olympic sport. Look for it in Rio 2016.

So let’s look at what these people must do to be successful.

Among many functions, a typical sales manager must do the following:

1)     Motivate their salespeople.
2)     Coach their salespeople to make incremental improvements every day.
3)     Hold their people accountable to agreed goals.

However, the channel sales manager must do a complicated variation on the above:

1)     Motivate their channel partners' salespeople.
2)     Coach their channel partners' salespeople to make incremental improvements.
3)     Hold their channel partners accountable to agreed goals, both in the field and at the level of the distribution agreement.

Channel sales managers must have all the people skills and sales management knowledge of a standard sales manager, plus the business skills to negotiate with partners, if not on the original deal (though they are often involved there as well), then on an on-going basis to get the results on which they have agreed. And they must do all of this without direct control over the salesperson’s day-to-day activity.

Under normal circumstances, the channel sales manager doesn’t determine who the front line sales people are, because they were hired by their partner. They must work with what they have, often in cooperation with distribution managers who might possibly be less skilled than they are. Here’s another article by Dave Kurlan that includes the top 10 problems with channel sales and how not to be held hostage.

In short, the job is simply harder than normal sales management, and takes more skill. The most important requirement to success is gaining the commitment of the channel reps to listen, to get better, and to make changes where necessary. This starts with the quality and strength of the original partnership agreement, which leads to the commitment on the part of your distribution sales managers to use their leverage to ensure that their reps are supporting the sales effort and aligning with your growth objectives.

Distribution partners cannot use the excuse that they have other products to sell. That’s a given. The growth goals, time commitments, and accountability are a key feature of the deal. But none of that makes the sales manager’s job any easier. He or she needs to have the added skill of coming across as a helpful participant and not a threat. Do your people have that capability?

Do your sales managers have what it takes?

  1. Can they set up an effective environment of accountability?
  2. Can they coach their channel partner’s salespeople?
  3. Can they motivate the reps throughout the channel to push even harder?
  4. Are they well-received and not seen as a threat?
  5. Can they forecast sales and not just report history?
  6. Can they lead in a variety of circumstances without losing their eye on key metrics?
  7. Can they get CRM working regardless of the hurdles?
  8. Will they insist on coaching the reps for continuous improvement?
  9. At a higher level, can they manage the relationship with the partner and keep them in line?
  10. Do they have the sales management DNA to be successful in this context?

In Part 2 of this series on managing channel sales, I’ll explore the challenge of coaching the front line sales team of your channel partner, why it’s so important, and how to lower resistance so you can meet your sales objectives. If you have questions about sales management, channel sales, this series, or this blog, email me at dconnelly@kurlanassociates.com.

Incidentally, Hubspot’s INBOUND14 event is happening this week in Boston. Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, will be speaking there today at 4:15 pm. Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath and other great books, will be speaking later this morning at 8:30 am.

 

Photo Copyright: pius99 / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, accountability, leadership, Motivation, channel sales

Breaking Through a Common Sales Management Hidden Weakness

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:11 AM

HighJumpBarbedWireFence 200pxWe often talk of “breaking through barriers” as an important step to getting unstuck, achieving goals, and reaching full potential.  As many of us know, entire industries have been created around this topic.  When we speak of “living sales excellence” (the purpose behind these blog posts), understanding and overcoming our barriers is an important part of that conversation.  This might surprise you, but I’m not going to cover the whole topic in this article, partly because my limited knowledge on that very broad topic would endanger you, and partly because my computer doesn’t have enough ink.

So, let’s just look at one common barrier amongst sales leaders:  Need for Approval from Salespeople.  This differs from Need for Approval from Customers as the titles suggest, but they do not necessarily go together.  When we assess sales managers (and we’re up over 150,000 in our database), we find every combination of one or the other, prospects and/or staff.  In smaller companies, sometimes the sales manager wears other hats (including CEO).  Without the bandwidth to focus 100% attention on sales people, there is often less understanding of how to manage them and greater fear of upsetting them.

First, here’s a short explanation.  Need for Approval means that one needs to be liked.  It means that one is concerned enough about being liked that certain kinds of questions are not asked, certain topics are not broached, and a theme of avoidance of difficult topics permeates every discussion.  It’s difficult to properly challenge a prospect when there is need for approval.  So, how can you be consultative in your approach?  Similarly, when it applies to sales staff, there is a fear that actions, statements, or demands might diminish how one is perceived and lead to some form of mutiny.  If you have this fear, how can you really hold your people accountable?

Recently, I was working with a sales leader who had this particular weakness, which the OMG Sales Manager Assessment clearly indicated.  In his case, he was particularly good at motivating people.  It’s analogous to having one bad knee.  You limp a little and make the other leg carry more load.  This could lead to a cascade of other problems including back pain.  Interestingly, his weakness in the area of Need for Approval led him to emphasize his ability to motivate, in an obvious but subconscious attempt to overcome the weakness.

In other words, if holding people accountable is hard, one might look for alternative ways to accomplish that in the thinking that it might alleviate the need to stand up to your people.  “Gosh, if I can get them fired up and performing, I won’t have to have a hard conversation with them for not performing.”  The root cause of this particular brand of Need for Approval might be fear.  The “back pain”, however, is the lack of respect and corresponding ineffectiveness in holding people accountable.

If you’re starting a new job as a sales manager, or if you have just hired someone with this issue to lead your team, here is a way through it:

  1. Like all barriers, the first step in moving past it is acknowledging it.
  2. Start out on the right foot and set an expectation that accountability will be enforced.
  3. Tell your people that you will be “tough, but fair; confrontational, but kind.”
  4. Prepare your people for “hands-on, constructive criticism when appropriate, all in the spirit of making them better”.
  5. Now, go live up to your words.  It’s easier once you’ve set the expectation.

If you’re not new, but know you have this problem, it’s trickier.  You must now make a change in your behavior, and people notice changes.  If you are already worried about how your people view you, this might make it even more difficult.  Sometimes it’s helpful to combine this change with other corporate changes, such as new demands for higher growth, greater margins, expanding territories, increased market share, new partnerships, or any other goal to which you can reasonably tie your change in behavior.

You might say something like this: “Our shareholders are demanding 10% growth this year coupled with a 25% reduction in overhead.  These are big goals.  We’re a motivated group of talented salespeople, but we need to elevate our game.  I expect to lead the way by elevating my own game.  You can expect, going forward, that I will do a better job of clearly defining what I need from you.  My goal is to bring out the best in you so you can achieve the goals of the organization.  At times, I might be tough, but fair; sometimes confrontational, but as kind as I have always been.  It’s going to feel a little different to you and that’s understandable because you won’t be used to that from me.  But know that my commitment to your success is unwavering and together we can be much better.”

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 around whom you walk on eggshells?  Are you in control of sales staff or the other way around?

It might be time for a sales force evaluation.  Try this handy sales force grader and see if you might be ready for that step.  Take a look at this case study to see what happens when, instead of reacting to the need to make changes, you stop and assess to find out what’s really happening.  Sales force development is a broad topic.  Dave Kurlan explains it well in a video found at this link.  How much better can you be?  What will it take to get there?  What would you do if you had no fear of negative reaction from your sales team?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, Management, accountability, sales leaders, leadership, change, changing salespeople, WCSO



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