Last week we brought our six-year old son to the batting cages where, for the first time, he hit against little league pitching. Big deal? You bet. Up until last week, he was clobbering whiffle balls with whiffle bats from about twenty feet away. At the cage, he was wearing a batting helmet, swinging a heavy metal bat, and seeing baseballs thrown at 35 MPH from 45 feet away. It was a huge difference.
How did he do? He missed the first 10 pitches. He missed the second 10 pitches. Then he made two adjustments. He moved back in the batter's box, began his swing earlier and began making contact. Then, as his confidence grew, he made better contact until finally, he was hitting baseballs with the same authority we saw when he hit whiffle balls.
At six years old he is way ahead of where I was when I was ten years old - very cool. Now the sales analogy.
Lesson #1 - Salespeople need to make adjustments. New competition, new buying strategies, unfair competition, price competition and the resistance brought on by the recession all change the way they need to play the game and they need to make adjustments too. They need to be quicker, sharper, more strategic and much more effective with their use of selling tactics (skills, not tricks).
How do your salespeople make these adjustments? Some, as many as 30%, can't and/or won't make changes and what you see is what you will continue to get. For the remaining 70%, change can be as easy as showing them the way and as difficult as pulling teeth. Few have the strengths and skills required to simply sell differently and even fewer in management have the skills required to help them make these changes. You'll have to bring in help from the outside to help an entire sales force make the complete transition from order takers and account managers to effective, proactive, impactful salespeople. Your expectations must be realistic too. You can't simply tell them what you want and show them how to do it and expect them to be able to go out and execute. It could take a few months of telling and showing before they'll be comfortable enough to try it themselves and even then, they'll probably be ineffective the first few times. There will be a need for repetition and you won't see the impact on revenue for about six months plus the length of your sales cycle.
Lesson #2 - New salespeople ramp up at different speeds based on their ability to figure it out. Some of the more talented new salespeople will quickly figure it out and out-perform your veterans, who failed to make adjustments to the changing sales challenges. You can read more about new salespeople ramping up in this comprehensive post from June 28.
Six-year olds are conditioned to change - they're expanding their sights and abilities every day. Veteran salespeople are conditioned for complacency - taking the known way, the comfortable way. Are you ready to challenge them?
(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan