Six months ago, a large agency asked me to deliver a sales training program for their business development team. After listening, I recommended a detour that led to something rather unexpected. The business development/sales team at this company was a dedicated sales group with the goal of setting up new business that would supplement the business that was generated by repeat clients, by agent networks, and by inbound marketing programs. The company didn't believe the sales team was gaining much traction, resulting in wasted resources, particularly their marketing spend. So what was going on?
Why weren't they making enough connections with their leads? And when they did make a connection, why weren't they converting the lead into a conversation? Why weren't they gaining traction? What was wrong and how did it happen?
In July, I published a blog article that addressed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors and how to avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, read it here. By reader demand, I am doing a deeper dive into each of the seven factors. Tackling them in no particular order, I addressed Factor 3 in this article regarding the Trainability of Salespeople and the important role of Commitment. Factor 6 was explored in this article on Salesperson Training with Sufficient Time Scale which focused on the Learning Journey of salespeople and included some interesting research about memory. Today, we'll talk about Factor 1, and how and why pre-evaluating avoids sales training failure.
Getting back to our agency example, why was the dedicated sales team unable to reach prospects and set up the necessary conversations with their experts? Could it be an on-boarding problem? Could it be a training problem? Could it be a problem with recruiting and selection? Could it be messaging? Could it be sales process? Could it be coaching? Could it be accountability? Could it be motivation? Could it be their sales DNA or the presence of hidden weaknesses or what you might call, "head trash?" Could it be that this particular group just didn't have the selling skills? Or perhaps, could the company's expectations be unrealistic?
Looking at this another way, what if they had the right people, with the right skills, and the right DNA, but weren't on-boarding, coaching, nor motivating them adequately? What would standard sales training accomplish? How should the solution be designed to target the existing problems and build on their strengths? Might we focus more on management training in this case?
What if they were on-boarding right, aligned in their messaging, had a motivated team, coached them properly and held them accountable, but were doing all this with sales people who weren't in the right role? In other words, management gets it, but they're spinning their wheels with the wrong people. Might we focus on structure, human resources (HR), and recruiting training?
What if management was doing all the right things, and HR was doing the right things, and the right candidates were selected, but they were failing anyway? Might we look at systems and processes, skills training, and overcoming hidden weaknesses?
So the problem in this agency could be summarized as stemming from one or more of these three major categories:
And we could dig considerable deeper into each of these. For example, if we're talking about salespeople, in which of the 21 sales core competencies are they deficient? For an even deeper dive into understanding salespeople and the 21 sales core competencies, read Dave Kurlan's excellent article on that here. When we understand why they aren't getting the desired results, a training program can be designed and executed that will have sufficient impact. Without that foreknowledge, a sales training program that's broad enough might help, but it might not work, and we might not know why.
What was the problem with the agency I mentioned? We took a valuable stutter-step and evaluated the business development team first, and what we found surprised all of us. The team members, across the board, were missing enough crucial elements among the 21 sales core competencies that sales training would have been a waste of resources. They didn't desire enough success in selling or they lacked commitment to making the improvements to achieve whatever success they desired, or they weren't motivated enough, or their outlook was poor. In short, they were missing too many of the crucial elements that compose what many might simply call "grit."
So I recommended against training the salespeople. Usually a pre-evaluation tells me what to train. In this case, it told me not to train. Instead, we worked on putting people in the "right seats," as Jim Collins put it in his oft-quoted book, Good to Great. Training was refocused to help HR and sales management. The sales team wasn't ready.
What's the takeaway? One of the reasons sales training fails is because it either isn't appropriate for the team or wasn't designed to address the specific issues, competencies, and reasons related to the lack of results. Interestingly, this isn't the most important factor of the 7 Sales Training Success Factors as revealed in this article, but you can probably see why it's the most important first step.
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