Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Of Polar Vortices and Training Sales Managers First

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 @ 21:02 PM

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What if the whole company went to a transformational conference except for the executive team? How likely would any of the actions, strategies, and ideas generated at that conference gain traction? I was in western Canada at a conference in the early part of last week, way up into cold country, in what at that moment was the very heart of the Polar Vortex, about which news anchors everywhere breathlessly warned us. While trying to thaw out my semi-frozen brain, I got to thinking about that. What would happen?

The conference I attended was at a client who was taking the opposite approach. Their executive team was all-hands-on-deck leading by example, exposing their vulnerabilities, and welcoming the team to take risks and solve problems together. They illustrated the point using well-curated examples from the movie, Apollo 13. I got to thinking about the alternative approach because I have seen it before in sales organizations. A failure to engage at the highest levels of the company creates a toxic force working against the progress most companies desperately seek.

This article is another installment in the series, The 7 Sales Training Success Factors and How to Avert Failure. Read the original article by clicking here. Today, we'll address number 5, below: Training the Managers Before Training Salespeople. 

7 Sales Training Success Factors

  1. Pre-evaluate the sales team, systems, and processes (Article published 10/8/18)
  2. Formal, staged, milestone-centric sales process (Article published 11/4/18)
  3. Trainable sales team (Article published 8/14/18)
  4. Trainable and coachable sales managers (Article published 1/7/19)
  5. Training the managers before training salespeople (This article)
  6. Salesperson training with sufficient time scale (Article published 9/23/18)
  7. Sales leadership accountability (Coming soon)

To be fair, I haven't heard about exactly that scenario where leadership skips the strategy retreat, annual conference, transformational event, etc., except one old story about Ben and Jerry (the ice cream company founders) showing up when such an event was well along and well after participants had experienced important and deeply-moving events together. Having missed it in real time, the founders drummed up their usual round of stories and legends, not getting it, and completely deflating the mood. I forget where I read that but I'm pretty sure it was from Tom Peters, who wrote the In Search of Excellence series of business books in the 1980s.

Companies thrive or die on the strength of their sales organizations, whose ability to fill capacities and grow revenues makes it arguably the most important function in the business. (But don't argue it with me because I'll just block my ears and hum the theme song from Sesame Street till you go away.) Even for its high relative importance, however, sales remains a mysterious profession about which the rest of the company is happy to simply complain or celebrate as circumstance commands. Even sales management, it seems, can sometimes let salespeople do their thing as they watch with awe or frustration from the bleachers.

I stepped off the plane in Canada last week directly into the gasping, lung-shocking air temperature of minus 30 degrees F, which lived up to the hype from all those news anchors. That kind of cold was a first for me. When I saw one person smoking a cigarette without gloves on, I had new respect for the hardiness of the Canadians in this deeply-entrenched hockey town hundreds of miles north of the border. I noticed no one complaining about the temperature like they do in my hometown of Boston, because really? "Who's the new guy?"

So leaders must be involved, and deeply so. It might seem obvious to most readers that for a sales training program to be successful, one must train the managers first. However, too many sales training programs do not even include the managers. The thinking goes like this: "Our salespeople are not filling their pipelines, the sales cycle is too long, and forecasting is woefully inaccurate. So let's get them trained up." A sales training program ensues and the managers assume that since it's really just for the sales team, they don't need to participate.

The results of this hands-off approach to sales training are predictable and can be summarized as follows:

  1. Sales training lacks continuity. Managers aren't picking up where sales training leaves off.
  2. Sales and sales management are not aligned. Salespeople learn methodologies not supported by managers who continue to coach to their own process. Instead of coaching up, they are coaching sideways. The salespeople will eventually forget what they learned in an environment where the core concepts are not supported.
  3. Sales managers lack the knowledge of key skills and can neither coach nor support what they aren't directly learning along side the sales reps.

This is precisely how the cynical "flavor-of-the-month" label gets slapped on the latest program. In the absence of management support and follow-through, the salespeople fall back on what's comfortable without consequence. If managers only want an increase in sales, for example, and send their people off to sales training, they won't get their outcomes. The impact of the training will dissipate and will eventually be forgotten, creating more cynicism and reinforcement of non-supportive beliefs about training.

Sales managers who engage personally in the training and see it as a useful tool, will create lasting benefits for their sales organization. They will:

  1. Improve their coaching by using a consistent and proven set of processes and methodologies
  2. Support a culture of constant improvement that includes management
  3. Reinforce the training material by using the tools and strategies in the context of real-life examples 
  4. Stay aligned with corporate goals and leading by example 
  5. Demonstrate the importance of the material to improve buy-in

The key element in all this is not what the managers know, but when they know it. When managers are trained on the sales improvement processes and methodologies before the sales people, there are few more critical benefits:

  1. When salespeople push-back, they find a consistent message throughout leadership, already in place.
  2. Managers have a chance, before sales training occurs, to add nuance and tighten the message to improve buy-in.
  3. Managers' confidence in the material improves. The salespeople see that, which further reinforces buy-in.
  4. Salesperson training gets off to a fast start because leadership becomes part of the training and coaching team.
  5. Sales training typically dissipates or accelerates on the backs of the managers. Getting their buy-in first, therefore, is critical.

After canceled flights and unexpected overnights, I arrived in Alabama later that same week for a meeting with a different client. I stepped off the plane into the calm soothing warmth of 77 degrees F, "improving" the temperature by over a hundred degrees from two-days earlier, and remembered once again why I respect and admire the Canadians, but don't live there. 

 

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Photo Credit: Copyright alphaspirit  (123RF)

 

 

 

 

Topics: effective sales training, sales management effectiveness, sales training failure, sales environment

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 
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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

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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Photo Credit - Copyright : Dmitriy Shironosov   (123RF) 

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



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