Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Most Overlooked Reason for Sales Training Failure

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

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

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

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

Top 7 Sales Training Success Factors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright:  Aleksandr Khakimullin  (123RF) 

 

 

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

Telling it Like it Is - How Candor With Your Team Improves Sales Results

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 @ 20:12 PM

In his book, Winning, GE’s ex-CEO, Jack Welch wrote, “I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business,” adding, “Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.” These are hefty words for a topic that, in your leadership role, I’m guessing is probably not at the top of your list of improvement initiatives for the year. But according to Welch, you might be missing the “biggest” secret and end up a victim of this “killer.”

We could spend more time on why it’s so important to have candor as a primary component of your culture and why the practice of “telling it like it is” is so important to your team’s success but I’m going to focus on how to do it. And you can get amply educated for the benefit of your sales team, executive team, or any other team where there’s hierarchy and structure and where a leader can shape her own environment. You can also read Mr. Welch’s book or you can read Dave Kurlan’s article about your role in the sales environment, where he shares another important book recommendation. But read on if you want to know how to do it, what approach to take, and what must be present in your team environment to make it work.

Let’s look at two important areas of candor:

1. The environment required for candor

2. How to give feedback, especially criticism

And let’s face it, candor is not simply “telling it like it is” when things are great and when you have good news, no criticism, and nothing to worry about. Anyone can do that, and we don’t need to write about it, do we? Candor is a mindset, a habit, and a conviction about honest and direct communication, especially when the message isn’t all sunshine and cookies. It’s a commitment to open and direct honesty with your people. When there's concern the message won't be well-received, one could be uncomfortable delivering it, thus the need for commitment. When you reach a point where no one on your team is wondering what you really meant or believe and there is no mystery about how you will react and behave, then the corresponding trust frees them to get to work on the business problem, confident that they understand the full meaning of your communication.

 

THE ENVIRONMENT REQUIRED FOR CANDOR

First let’s talk about the environment, which we can break into two parts:

1. The conditions that must be present

2. How you can actively shape that environment

Conditions for an Environment of Candor

This one is simple: trust. Business author and thinker, Patrick Lencioni writes about this at length in his book, The Advantage. Starting with trust, he builds a case that there are building blocks one can visualize in the form of a pyramid that will lead to a healthy organization and to the top of the pyramid, which he defines as “Results.”

To build a healthy organization, start with trust. Trust allows for conflict, which is vital to airing out and understanding the issues. The team has to have trust in the leader and in each other to ensure that sharing ideas, no matter how radical, will be taken in the proper context. To fully vet an issue, opposing views are necessary, leading to conversational conflict or what Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy refer to as “Robust Dialogue,” in their important business book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

Once there is trust, there can be a healthy form of conflict that gets to the decision more effectively. In Execution, the authors write:

“Robust dialogue starts when people go in with open minds. They’re not trapped by preconceptions or armed with private agenda. They want to hear new information and choose the best alternatives, so they listen to all sides of the debate and make their own contributions.”

 

64890177_s_Candor_121117

 

Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? That’s because none of that can happen if there isn’t a trusting environment, and what’s the probability of that? Zero, if there isn’t a purposeful effort to create it. And it won’t rise out of nothing all by itself. There will always be someone putting their own interests above that of the group, sometimes more than one person. When it is tolerated by leadership, it festers and grows like toe fungus. You have to own your environment and insist on ensuring its health, precisely so you can tackle the other building blocks that lead to the Results at the top of the pyramid of healthy organizations.

Lencioni puts them in sequence to build the pyramid:

1. Trust – in each other, and bringing our authentic selves to the table

2. Conflict – so we can be heard and so we can listen to understand the issues fully

3. Commitment – to the decision once it is made

4. Accountability – to the leader and to each other so we do our part

5. Results – what naturally follows from getting all this right

How You Can Actively Shape Your Environment

This is less simple. But here’s how. As a leader, get to know each of your people and develop a relationship with them, not so much to be friends, but to have mutual understanding and appreciation for who they are and how they see the world. Know them well enough, and understand their lives just well enough, and know how they interact with others well enough to be able to answer some fundamental questions about how they contribute to the environment you are shaping.

Next, take an inventory of everything that might impact the environment or indicate its current state. Make a spreadsheet so you can get a visual reference point when you have finished it. And then go to work on it and watch it improve. Place a check mark in every box where there is a gap. Examples might include is there mutual trust, is there respect, do they have the skills required, and do their beliefs support their success. If you are interested in finding out how hidden weaknesses limit their results, come to this webinar tomorrow.

These are just a few, and I do an entire workshop on this with sales leaders who consistently report that it’s one of the most impactful tools to building a world-class sales team. It helps them to see how they can directly impact the team and get results from any starting point with respect to the quality of their team. Our own research with clients who learned about shaping their environment has provided an interesting statistic: when leaders actively shape their environment, they hit their numbers. When they fail to shape their environment, they don't hit their numbers. There's a one-to-one connection.

One of the things that frequently comes out of my work with sales teams when managers do the above exercise, is that they find that it only takes one or two people to throw the whole environment off. They quickly see that a lot of their resources are wasted on the few to the detriment of the whole, leaving them with a caffeine-like boost of clarity on how to fix the problem.

 

GIVING CRITICAL FEEDBACK

Five years ago, I wrote an article on how to give criticism, parts of which I’ve revised below in the context of candor and the importance of “telling it like it is.” Most managers believe that when providing feedback, especially when it could be perceived as negative, one should pad it with positive comments on either side - a "criticism sandwich," if you will. It's Grandma’s mincemeat in between two pieces of cinnamon toast. Mmm. Sounds great!

In addition to the above approach, many managers will give a positive statement first, and then fire off the criticism, as if they've warmed them up so they're ready for bad news. The practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop. The brain goes into full alert, he explained, when hearing negative criticism, and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in near total loss of the memory of anything just preceding the criticism. It might take minutes, hours, or a couple of days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply cannot hang onto those words of praise that came just prior to the criticism. If asked later if there was any positive feedback from the discussion, one simply can’t remember. "What cinnamon toast?"

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when you give someone 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 the opportunity is often wasted. Most managers, at this point, provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities. That’s the slice of bread on the other side of the sandwich. Generalities, it turns out, by their very nature are hard to remember. So we soon forget that slice as well. With all of the bread missing, what remains might leave us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.

So how do we improve on this model? When coaching your sales force, finding optimal mixes of positive and negative feedback, while important, is not the real goal. Rather, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback. Criticism is important, after all, if you want to improve a specific behavior. And positive comments are also important to ensure you get more of the behaviors that are already working. When both forms of feedback are delivered in the same conversation, and you want both to be remembered, you need a better strategy.

Here are three must-do steps for effective criticism:

1. Tone – How you say it is more important than what you say

2. Order – Negative first, positive second

3. Actionable – We handle criticism better when given the recipe for improvement

First, your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then we can still smile at them, love them, cherish them, be filled with gratitude for them, and remain firm that the behavior needs to change. Keep the list of negatives short and specific. Too many criticisms will feel like a barrage which can be depressing rather than instructive. A few helpful points will provide focus. Second, the order matters. Tell them the positive comments after the negative ones, and make the list of positives long and specific, rather than general. “ You’re basically doing a great job” can be replaced by, “You’ve been growing the front end of your pipeline by making more calls, which is really going to help you in the last quarter.”

Third, always provide actionable feedback alongside the criticism so they understand how to correct the problem. Don’t leave them hanging and wondering what it all means. General negativity makes us anxious and frustrated. Specific criticism with the steps to make it better leaves us empowered and provides a sense that someone is looking out for us. Is coaching an important part of your culture? Do your people regularly come to you for help? Do you look for advice and feedback in your own organization?

Candor, as so many successful business people have echoed, is a requirement for success. It starts with trust. The supportive environment you build that you, as the leader, must own and insist upon, is the foundation from which to build trust, leading to candor and healthy conflict, and ultimately to buy-in, accountability, and results. When we get good at building an environment where there is trust and open honest dialogue, where people aren’t “trapped by preconceptions” and “private agendas,” the full potential of our teams and ourselves can be achieved.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright, Igor Zakharevich

 

 

 

Topics: Candor, Jack Welch, Patrick Lencioni, Dave Kurlan, sales management, Executive Team, Organizational Health, Shaping the Environment, Clifford Nass, Criticism



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