Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

Most Overlooked Reason for Sales Training Failure

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

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

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

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

Top 7 Sales Training Success Factors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Book Dennis Connelly to speak at your event.

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



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