Last week I had a life-changing experience while training the sales and management team of a Nigerian firm in the banking sector. Led by an African man who, following his education in the US, had a dream of benefiting the average Nigerian.
If you want to buy a car in the US, there are plenty of options for financing. Owning a car for us is like drinking water. Getting to work, the grocery store or soccer practice requires this. In Nigeria, a country of 150 million people, access to credit has always been a problem. My CEO's dream was to find ways to help the banks manage their risk better and, as a result, lend more of their capital by creating the country’s first credit bureau.
My client and I have been working together for five years focusing on recruiting, sales management, sales process and skills. Unlike many CEO’s, he made his first investment in the sales force immediately after he raised his first significant round of financing. Most companies can’t make this claim.
Prior to the training, we re-evaluated the salespeople and sales managers. This makes complete sense, yet many CEO’s want to train their salespeople without knowing what kind of training they need and without helping the trainees to better understand their challenges in advance of training.
As always, there was some resistance. For example, in Nigeria there is a certain deference given to people in authority. The result is that salespeople don’t ask as many direct probing questions as needed. How many of your salespeople demonstrate this problem?
It’s not enough to tell people what to do. You have to show them, discuss mental limitations to successful execution and practice a lot.
Creating a best practices sales organization requires a comprehensive assessment of the people, systems and processes. It means having a written, documented, staged and criteria-based sales process that everyone understands, agrees with and executes against. It requires management’s daily coaching, debriefing and lots of role-play with the salespeople and sales leaders. Clearly defined metrics and metrics accountability, emphasizing daily sales behavior, are also necessary.
So what was my experience? My Nigerian students quickly stepped out of their comfort zone, pushing back when they didn’t agree and found ways to quickly utilize the training. By Wednesday, everyone could recount several situations where they had applied the learning and achieved better outcomes.
Perhaps being a citizen of a country with an emerging economy, including all of its associated challenges, makes people more passionate about improvement. Maybe they value being a great employee more or perhaps I was just fortunate to work with a great CEO who was involved in the training all week, applied the lessons himself and worked with his team.
Unfortunately, some CEO’s and sales leaders want to delegate to their staff and give up the opportunity to learn alongside their people and demonstrate the importance and urgency of personal development.
There is much I learned from my experience in Nigeria, not the least of which is that people face the same challenges everywhere. What really matters is how we face these challenges and with what degree of commitment and passion for achieving our very best.