Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

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

Most Overlooked Reason for Sales Training Failure

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

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

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

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

Top 7 Sales Training Success Factors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright:  Aleksandr Khakimullin  (123RF) 

 

 

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

How the Dreaded Sales Script Can Help Improve Your Team

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

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

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

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

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

It might sound something like this: 

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

Or:

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

Or:

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

And so on.

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

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

The Purpose of the Script

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

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

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

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

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

Example of a Script

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright :  dmitrimaruta (123RF) 

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



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