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

The 5 Steps to Sales Management Mastery

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Jan 28, 2019 @ 21:01 PM

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Twice a year, we take a 2-day time-out from our private work with clients and hold an open-enrollment Sales Leadership Intensive in our training center outside of Boston. We grab everything that works, across hundreds of companies and dozens of industries and pack it all into the best two days you'll spend on your own improvement all year. Attendance is capped at an optimal size of 30 people. Because of demand, we are holding an additional session this year and the next one is March 19-20. If you are interested, you can find out more about that here. And whether you are ready to take big action toward your success right now or not, here we are in January at the beginning of a new year, and this could be a good time to think about what will be the very next improvement you are willing to make to support your team so they dramatically outperform themselves vs. the alternative outcome.

Leading sales expert Dave Kurlan points out that in sales management, you have two choices. You can develop your leadership skills to catapult your professional success and that of your teams or you can continue to perform at status quo. Today, a company needs every possible efficiency, effort and effectiveness from its sales management and salespeople to get ahead and emerge at the forefront of industry. Those companies that innovate are growing. And then there's everybody else.

 

What does it take to get there? How would you have to "show up" as a leader to make consistent improvements that lead to sales management mastery? What changes would you need to make? What beliefs about yourself and your team would you have to embrace? Let's take a look at the top five steps to sales management mastery from which to choose at least one new skill on which you can work to help you become even better at what you do, on your own journey to mastery.

 

Top Five Steps to Sales Management Mastery

1 Model Success

If you didn't know about the invention of the wheel, given enough time, you would probably figure it out and learn how to move things around more easily. Pushing large rectangular stones is simply too exhausting. Round ones are easier. You would eventually invent the wheel, vbut it might take a long time and a lot of wasted energy. However, if you started with a wheel early in your career, how far ahead of the pack would you be today? People who try to figure out sales management by trial and error, if given enough time (decades?), will eventually figure it out. But why bother? It's known. Find someone who is already there and do what they're doing. You'll be way ahead by the time your know-it-all peers are just getting started.

2 Choose the Right Role 

Find a managerial role in which you will be able to operate at one level of thinking above your team members. You should know their job well and understand their strengths and weaknesses so that you are able to challenge them just enough to stretch them without breaking them. If, on the other hand, you are operating from a similar level of thinking, it's easy to fall into the twin traps of either micro-managing and doing it for them. Neither works well. They won't learn, you'll be overloaded, and it will be hard to meet your goals, let alone leverage your time. Make sure the role is right for you.

3 Know What Motivates

Motivating your people starts with knowing what already motivates them. Use language consistent with their goals and motivating triggers. Do they love to win or hate to lose? Do they like recognition or are they more self-satisfied? Do they like close management or do they prefer to manage themselves? Do they like extrinsic rewards like money and recognition, or intrinsic rewards like a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment? The language you use will reinforce one or the other of these choices. If they love to win, you might tell them, "You have a real chance of winning this deal, or winning this contest. You're doing the right things to move ahead of the pack." If they hate to lose, you might tell them, "You're ahead now but there are two people close behind. One of them is almost in a position to take the lead from you." Or you might ask, "You aren't going to let that guy beat you, are you?"

4 Make Coaching Your Most Important Skill

Coaching is not mentoring. Coaching is not a pipeline review. Coaching is not just about answering questions when team members ask them. It's not the blocking and tackling part of the job. Coaching is not even training; it's not theory. Coaching is an opportunity specific deconstruction of a sales call (either before or after it happens) for the express purpose of improving effectiveness. Coaching is about practicing selling skills in the safety and comfort of an internal meeting. It's about following process, trying out language, and practicing how it should sound. It's about role playing. It's about conditioning the mind to respond unconsciously in selling conversations. I know not everyone is comfortable with role playing but it is the single most important tool in a coaches toolbox. Managers who coach their team members on a set and consistent schedule create a culture of constant improvement that simply cannot lose.

5 Create an Environment that Supports Success

Winning sports teams always have a positive atmosphere. Team members trust each other, respect each other, and help each other. They believe in their coach and she believes in them. When any of that erodes, so does performance. In this article I wrote several weeks ago, there were a few statistics revealed that should frighten any manager:

"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."

From these statistics, it sounds like most managers are missing the chance to channel energy in the right direction. Teams with a poor environment lose. They don't meet their numbers. They make excuses and point fingers. In the worst situations, performers leave and non-performers are stuck. Look at your team, person by person, and make a list of any areas in which the relationship is not supporting a positive and healthy environment. Seriously, make a list. You can do it on one sheet of paper and it will take a half hour. Address each deficient area with each person one by one until there are none left. I promise you will hit your numbers. 

If you decide to make only one improvement, I suggest working on number 5. It will change your life. But choose any of the above that feels right to you. Or if you're feeling unstoppable, improve all five and welcome to sales management mastery.

 

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Photo Credit:  Jakub Jirsak  (123 RF)

 

 

Topics: sales management seminar, best sales leadership training, sales environment, effective sales coaching



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