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

The Single Most Important Metric to Turn Existing Accounts into Growing Accounts

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 29, 2018 @ 08:05 AM

52558345_s_puregoldLast week, at our Sales Leadership Intensive we hosted for a packed house of CEOs, Executives, Sales VPs, and Front-Line Sales Managers here at our Training Center at Kurlan & Associates, a question came up about metrics and holding account managers accountable for activities and proactive behaviors related to growth. "How can I create metrics for my people related to growing existing customers that we've had for years -- especially those golden accounts we'd never want to lose?," an attendee asked, adding, "I can see how monitoring these metrics would be great for business development folks seeking new business, but it's not as simple for account managers. What metrics can I use for them?" By the way, this is the kind of fun question that gets a room full of sales leaders charged up like a bunch of astronomers debating whether Pluto is a really a planet. Real geeky sales stuff that I love.

It's interesting that this question was asked. We so often think of pursuing the "new account" as easier to quantify than nurturing existing accounts. But if we think about growing an existing account as simply seeking "net new business," it ceases to look a whole lot different. So I asked the participant, "You probably don't need any of those accounts to grow, right?" He answered, "Haha, you bet we do." And I followed that with, "Well that makes sense, but you probably don't have any attrition with these accounts and they all come back every year without fail." He said, "You're dreaming! That's the whole problem. I don't think my people are on top of this and we're often surprised when we lose an account." Hmm. "So we can get several metrics right from there, can't we?" Now it makes sense. How often are you meeting with your existing accounts to have a meeting about how many other ways you can help them? 

One of the ways in which salespeople grow business is by having productive, eye-opening business conversations with prospects that no one else is having. But to have that conversation, they have to first set up a meeting. Here's where there's confusion for account managers. If I get a lead, I can contact that person and set up a meeting. It might take one, two, or 22 attempts, but the conversation gets awful one-sided when the prospect isn't there, so I need to schedule an actual meeting. Seems obvious enough. And when I have it, I can learn what I need to learn by asking questions and discovering compelling reasons for my prospect to make a change from doing what they are doing to doing business with me. On the other hand, for an account manager, I am usually well past that first conversation and we already have a relationship. But, as the sales leader said, these accounts are pure gold. They already know you, trust you, want to do business with you, and they even call you. So how do we leverage that golden relationship for growth?

Introducing the Reset Meeting

When you already have an account, but need to grow it, and further, when you already have many accounts and want to keep them, the best method is to use a Reset Meeting. The purpose of a Reset Meeting is to shift from the normal, habitual conversation and move toward a business discussion that can lead to more sales. The problem is that it might seem like an abrupt change to the prospect to suddenly be talking about growing the account, and more importantly (and problematically) it might also expose a weakness in the salesperson who might not be used to "selling," and is more comfortable in the role of simply keeping the customer happy.

Setting up a Reset Meeting might sound something like this: "Ya know Bob, we've been doing business for several years now and we've had a lot of conversations, haven't we. Along the way, I've always been ready to serve you and your business and I've taken care of your needs whenever called upon. If you're willing, I'd like to set up a meeting with you just to gain an even better understanding of your business so I can understand how to help you even more, going forward. I think we'll need about an hour and a half. Would you be willing to talk about that?"

When this meeting is on the calendar, it is analogous to the first "needs analysis" type meeting one would set up for a new account. And as managers, we can quantify how many of these Reset Meetings our people have set up, giving us a solid metric. It's important to note that this meeting cannot be ad hoc. The customer cannot say, "Yeah, we'll talk about that the next time you come in." It's vital to the effectiveness of the meeting that there is a commitment on the part of the customer to set the time aside to have exactly that conversation.

As with a new account, the existence of a real date and time on the calendar is the first step toward gaining buy-in. Your odds of converting, or in this case, gaining more business, is significantly higher when the customer/prospect commits to having the conversation as defined. "Yeah, sure, whenever..." and "Call me next week to set something up..." doesn't cut it. Those are put-off responses that say nothing about whether this is important to them, or even if they were paying attention to what you were asking.

If we can't get commitment to have the meeting, it's our first red flag regarding either the account's intent or our salesperson's skills. Sometimes, a salesperson is good at account management, but not as good at what we would call "farming" the account or growing the business within an account. Their skill sets and selling "DNA" support account management but farming requires other skills. With farming, we need closing skills and closing urgency which isn't required for account management. We have to stay in the moment. We can't get emotionally involved. We have to be able to listen and ask questions with ease. We can't have too much "Need for Approval" from our prospects/customers, and we have to be rejection proof. How many of the salespeople whom we expect to grow their existing accounts have the requisite skills and DNA to support farming?

For an aggregate view of these traits on your team relative to other sales teams, at no charge, click here. Or if you have a specific salesperson in mind and wonder if they have what it takes to set up and execute a proper Reset Meeting, click here for a free trial of an assessment tool most useful for selecting sales candidates who will be able to perform and succeed in the role, right from the beginning.

The Reset Meeting gives sales managers a good tool for framing the discussion around growing existing accounts while providing the basis for measuring and monitoring activities that will lead to customer growth and retention. Good luck with this tool and let me know how it works for you.

 

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Book Dennis Connelly to speak at your event.

Photo Credit - Copyright : Dario Hayashi  (123RF)

 

 

 

Topics: Reset Meeting, Sales DNA, selling skills, account management, sales metrics, Sales Accountability, effective sales coaching, sales farming

Rugby and the Executive Role in Sales Manager Accountability

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Apr 16, 2018 @ 07:04 AM

When a sales manager says, "This guy isn't cutting it, but I can't let him go," it's an "uh-oh" moment, the "a-ha" moment's evil cousin. When she says, "I have him on an improvement program but it's not working," adding, "Every time I give him something to do, he has an excuse for why it can't be done, shouldn't be done, doesn't work in this market, etc." And then she says, "I think he thinks I don't have the authority to do anything about it. I have no leverage." That's when I say, "uh oh, what's behind this?" Having no leverage is like a rugby scrum. No one has any leverage and the line of scrimmage at the center of it barely moves at all. But there's always a way to get the ball out.

2508552_s_Rugby_041618

What's going on here? Why did she say, "I can't let him go." The answer, it turns out, is that he's been with the company for 22 years and the CEO says  he stays, period. "We're a family," I heard one CEO say recently. The same CEO complained that the numbers weren't improving as expected. I have seen enough close involvement of CEOs with their sales managers lately that it's worth taking a closer look at what can happen with that approach and offering a way through it that's so simple it will surprise you.

I'm not talking about CEOs who directly manage sales managers and who are therefore coaching them. I'm referring to the examples where higher-level executives and/or CEOs specifically limit the authority needed by managers to perform their required responsibilities. Before I get into what I see is at the core of this issue, let's dispense with some of the other possibilities that could be happening independently of any meddling:

  1. The manager might have a need to be liked by her reps. This is an issue for some managers. It could be the reason why she is still getting resistance from this rep. If she's worried about what he thinks of her, she might be holding back a bit. There might be much she could do to make improvements if she weren't worried about the consequences to their relationship. 
  2. It could be an issue of Shaping the Environment of the team. What is her relationship like with this person? Is there mutual trust and respect? Does he ask her for help? Does she offer it? Does she coach him effectively? Does she hold him accountable? Does she know what motivates him? Has she created an environment for him and the other team members that supports constant improvement and learning and does everyone know where they stand with respect to their goals, behaviors, and activities.
  3. It could be that the CEO believes this rep has a lot of desire for success and that the right management style will bring out the best in him. However, "desire" is often confused with "commitment." In this case, the desire might be there, but perhaps commitment is low. Commitment is defined as the level of discomfort one is willing to endure to reach what they desire. Desire is the height of the bar. Commitment is what you are willing to do, ethically, to get over it. The CEO might not see this and might be stepping in for a personal reason and/or a genuine sense that this person wants to be there and wants to be successful. That's why measuring commitment is so important. People tend not to improve without some degree of change and discomfort.

What is often overlooked as a root cause for lack of results is the way that hierarchies are structured within the organization. With so much time and effort going into ensuring salespeople are properly trained and that managers are coaching and performing other key duties properly, it's frustrating when the organization structure is the block, not the people, nor their ability.

So let's take a page from a master of organizational leadership drawing from a tremendous body of research done in the 50s by Elliott Jaques (pronounced, "Jacks"). Managers will be relieved to see in such starkly obvious terms what they intuitively know. Executives could use this to free their organizations from the shackles of misalignment and organizational blockage. It's a simple way to get ball quickly out the back of the scrum and off to the fly half to make something happen.

Managerial leaders, Jaques writes, must have three critical accountabilities and four critical authorities as follows:

The Three Critical Accountabilities of a Sales Manager

  1. For the output of their salespeople
  2. For maintaining a team of salespeople capable of producing the outputs required (e.g., meeting quota)
  3. For the leadership of that team so that they collaborate with competence and full commitment with them and with each other in pursuing the goals set.

When you hire a manager, this is what you are expecting, particularly if they are not also acting in a sales role. The sales manager role, by definition, demands that these three responsibilities rest on their shoulders. However, these accountabilities are unattainable without the proper authority. So what does that look like?

The Four Critical Authorities of a Sales Manager

  1. Hiring manager - who's going to be on my team
  2. What do I want them to do? What tasks should be assigned so that we attain the required outputs?
  3. Judging their effectiveness and deciding any merit awards as appropriate. This is not a group activity, nor is it something that a CEO or owner should step in and do. It only would undermine the sales manager's authority.
  4. Initiating removal from the his or her team. Not necessarily firing. The CEO can keep their long-time friend at the company, but the sales manager must decide who is on his or her team.  
I have seen situations where the manager has taken a large hit to their compensation due to the organizational inability to exercise this vital authority. Hire the right person and then get out of their way. If you don't like the job they are doing, fix that - develop their skills are move them to a different role. If you believe they are doing a good job in the role, then get out of their way.
 
Let's take a look at rugby again for another management parallel. In the book, Legacy, which was written in part about the All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand, author James Kerr writes, quoting head coach, Graham Henry, "The manager's first responsibility was to find a captain for their team - to pass the ball to them. And the Captain's first responsibility? To pick a team. And the team's responsibility? To turn up for every game on time." Quoting further, Kerr writes, "The leader sets objectives and parameters, then ‘passes the ball’ to the team, handing over responsibility for implementation and detail. Leading by creating leaders."
 
One can see the empowerment inherent in this approach, but make no mistake. There is tremendous responsibility placed on those captains. As a college rugby player, I witnessed something similar (not similar rugby ability). Our team was a club sport and we played several other colleges in our league with similar club status. We had no official coach, so our back captain and scrum captain were the leaders. They had both a responsibility to the team and the authority to decide who played, in what position, and how often. There was an A team and a B team and they chose those players as well.
 
On the surface, it might appear rather egalitarian. We voted them into those positions. But the managing of the team wasn't a flat organization, and necessarily could not have been. We might have elected our leaders, but once on the job, we expected them to perform. They were accountable for the performance of the team. And they had the authority to decide who was in what position and who sat out.
 
Back to our example with the CEO insisting that a rep cannot be let go. Without vested authority, a sales manager cannot do the job she or he believes is necessary to achieve the required outcome. Thus impeded, a good manager feels held back and eventually finds a new job where they will be allowed to succeed. The CEO might be thinking that his or her feelings that we're all a family are useful and meaningful to the organization. That's the "uh-oh" part. The sentiment is nice, but the effect on the organization can be devastating. By denying the the manager the proper vested authority of the position, they cannot reasonably be held accountable for their outcome. As the CEO, I'd be worried about the manager who stays.
 
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For sales managers who are seeking a major advantage over their competitors, check out our sales statistics tool and see how your team compares against your competition in the 21 Sales Core Competencies.
 
 
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Photo Credit:  Alison Bowden

 

Topics: rugby, sales managerment, 21 sales core competencies, all blacks, Sales Accountability, managerial leadership, liberational hierarchy



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