Managing A Sales Force As An Integrated System:
Eleven Essential Steps To Turn Sales Training Into Long-Term Sales Increases
Right now sales executives are either getting ready to negotiate their sales budgets and goals for next year or they’ve already been set. Either way, you are now faced with the big question: how are you going to get your sales people to deliver those numbers in this economy and is there any way to actually beat those numbers? Further, is there a way to move past the quarterly quota push and wow top management, the board, and shareholders with an ever rising, sustainable increase in sales that can carry into 2013, 2014, and beyond?
Many sales executives are probably making list of all the tools, tactics, and strategies that have worked in the past, trying to figure out which ones might make the difference this time. Maybe more sales training or a new type of sales training will help. Or a new sales contest. Possibly ramping up field coaching could do the trick. Some will simply focus on raising activity quotas like cold calls or some new fangled sales report. The list goes on and on. Trouble is that these tools usually result in short-term sales bursts often followed by performance returning to where it was before. To break out of this cycle, you have to manage everything you and your sales people do as one integrated sales management system.
Consider these sobering facts. A survey of 10,000 prospects after they made a purchase decision (win/loss analysis) showed that prospects only tell salespeople the truth about why they lost the sale 40% of the time. That means for 60% of the sales your firm has lost, you and your salespeople don’t know why you really lost those sales. Add to that recent surveys of buyers that show they are saying no to salespeople primarily because the salesperson didn’t understand their needs well enough, didn’t focus enough on their issues, and were not prepared to talk in depth about their firm’s issues in a presentation. These were salespeople from Fortune 500 corporations who are very well trained.
First Concepts has studied sales why people buy for 30 years. Even experienced and trained salespeople can use this knowledge to increase their sales.
Effective Sales Management Systems and Championship Sports Teams
You can think about your sales management system like a professional sports team. Notice that each team has the same number of players. Those players have been carefully selected to represent the best talent in that sport. There are coaches and trainers for every specific task and skill required by each player on the team. They use measurements of each player’s performance that, through statistics and observations, go much farther than most businesses measures their sales people.
Yet not all teams perform the same. Some consistently perform better than others. Certain coaches can take over a mediocre team and turn it into a championship force then go to another team and do the same thing. Through all this, the other teams that have all the same talent and support don’t seem to be able to get the whole thing to come together and perform at a peak level. On paper, some of these teams have every part and piece necessary to win. But on the field, their system does not function well enough.
In championship teams, the sum of all the parts and pieces of that team is greater than the whole. For the other teams, the sum of all their parts and pieces is less than the whole. The difference is in how well the head coach and manager work the team as a complex and integrated system so that every part and piece supports and enhances every other. Together, all those parts and pieces add up to something much greater than any single player or support element.
Without Treating Sales Management As A System Too Many Sales Are Lost
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of sales management systems, the parts and pieces that make up all that sales management does do not equal the whole output. They actually produce far less than the potential sales that system could deliver because those parts and pieces are not working like a system at all. Instead, most actions are treated like a separate island under the notion that somehow doing all these individual activities will cause the sales force to keep selling more. Lots of activity does not make a system function as a system. It just wastes a lot of time and effort, produces huge inefficiencies and lowers productivity.
Too many companies are leaving 20%, 30%, and even 40% of potential sales on the table instead of the income statement. And yet, as the end of each quarter approaches, sales management runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, pushing everyone to meet and beat their quota.
If we added up all the time sales management spends just pushing for the quarterly quota, it would probably add up to 25% of management’s time during the year and maybe even more in some cases. Just think about that. 25% of your time spent on a short-term sales push that does nothing to pour a stronger foundation for lasting sales increases that could blow away your typical quarterly results. Pushing for the quarterly quota is just one of many activities that is a part and piece of the sales management system, which is not run like a system at all.
So do you want to continue carrying water uphill by pushing, pushing, pushing to meet those quotas and maybe squeak past them? Or do you want to start acting like a championship sports team and run the sales function as an integrated system where every single thing you do supports and enhances everything else you and your sales people do?
Eleven-Step Sales Management System To Deliver Effective Sales Force Training
A real world example may help clarify what it means to manage everything as a system. If you want to improve how well sales people sell, they need some type of training that involves skills, techniques, and knowledge that should be tailored to the specific sales force’s needs. Training does not exist in a vacuum. It must be implemented as part of an integrated sales management effort for a long enough period of time to be effective.
This means sales people have been conditioned to apply close to 100% of what they were trained to do with every prospect on every call, every day. Total retention and reinforcement of what a training program covered is the measure of whether the training is successful, but 99% of all sales training currently being delivered fails to come anywhere close to that standard. So what is all that sales training money going for? Short term sales burst? Sales people picking up a few techniques to put in their toolbox? The only way to produce a high return on investment (money, time, and effort) is to manage everything you do as a system.
Here are the minimum sales management elements that must be integrated together for a company to come anywhere close to condition 100% of their sales people to apply 100% of the training:
1. Customized Training. Any training offered must be specific to your company’s products or services, your industry, your prospective customers’ needs, and your selling methodology. Additionally, it should address weaknesses that have been identified in your specific sales force. Is your training an isolated event or is it integrated into your sales management system? Generic training can’t raise all your sales people’s performance consistently and build a foundation to sustain those increases.
Further, does your training teach your salespeople how prospects and customers actually think out a decision to buy? Do they know what really affects them? Do they know what turns them off? Do they know how prospects figure out their perceptions of value which affect their level of price resistance? There is new information about how people think out their decisions and what affects them during the sales process your salespeople need to know if they are going to consistently win against the competition.
2. Follow Up Training. Multiple training sessions on the same subject matter provides sales people with clarification of those parts of the training that are fuzzy or not working for them in the field. Usually, there needs to be at least two follow up training programs to provide sufficient clarification and review. These programs also tell the sales people that what was covered in the original training is important. It helps reinforce the message that they do need to learn this and apply it.
3. Communications and Coaching. Daily communications and regular field coaching by management needs to emphasize what was covered in the training. Every phone conversation, email and in-person contact with sales people must reinforce the training. This often involves asking sales people questions about what is going on with their most recent sales calls where the answers require knowledge and application of the training. When sales people know this is what their sales manager is going to ask them about, they will make sure they are up to speed the next time they talk.
Coaching also delivers in-the-field training to further clarify what they learned and see how to apply it with real prospects. Finally, coaching provides immediate feedback on how well they are applying the training and goals for what they need to improve at. There is no way to condition sales people to apply training without this level of management involvement.
4. Measurement. There must be a way of measuring sales activity and results that can be tied to what was trained. Measurement tells sales people the training is important and connects their clarity at applying the training to feedback about how well they are doing.
5. Sales Meetings. Every sales meeting must have time allocated to discuss how the training is being applied. It is important for sales people to have an opportunity to talk about their experiences, hear success stories from other sales people, and identify areas that have proved challenging. Sales management needs to listen carefully so they can provide the necessary additional training and clarification that will move sales people toward conditioned application.
6. CRM and Reports. Elements of the training should be built into the CRM and other technology solutions as well as sales reports.
7. Evaluation. Sales people should be surveyed about their experiences applying the training so common issues can be identified and presented in follow-up training. This will also help improve future training.
8. Compensation. Sales people must see a strong connection between their compensation and their own efforts. If their sales go up as a result of applying the training, their compensation should rise as well. This direct connection between their actions and their pay is a critical element in the feedback loop that reinforces the training.
9. Sales Contest. A sales contest that is connected to new measurements tied to the training further reinforces the importance of applying what was learned by introducing competition and excitement. Sales contests that are not connected to any management initiatives have little long-term impact. Contests should always be seen as one part of an integrated effort to raise sales performance.
10. Cascading Reinforcement. It’s not just the sales people that need reinforcement. For sales management to consistently and frequently reinforce the sales force, management needs their actions reinforced as well. Someone needs to be reminding them to do all these reinforcement tasks, clarify how to do these tasks, address issues that come up, handle frustrations, and provide feedback. Otherwise, management will get side tracked by the next quarterly quota push and stop their reinforcement activities.
Sales management, by its very nature, tends to focus on tactical short-term activities instead of strategic long term initiatives. Sales management teams need frequent reinforcement to counter this tendency. This is called “cascading reinforcement” meaning that each level in an organization needs to reinforce the next level. That’s the difference between an organization functioning as a system versus a group of unconnected parts and pieces. Yes, even the Vice President of Sales needs reinforcement.
11. Time. This entire process using all these elements needs to continue for many months, usually six months at a minimum, to lay a strong foundation. Then it needs to continue with more reinforcement along with additional training. Any company that can stick with a systems approach to training for at least a year will probably beat their annual sales budget by a wide margin. Turning training into conditioned behaviors in the field takes time. It takes time to clarify everything so sales people have no gaps in understanding every part of the training and how to apply it with prospects. It takes time to repeat behaviors after the task are ultra clear before they become habits. And once they are habits, they still need constant reinforcement to remain habits.
These eleven sales management elements are only a minimum. In some cases, more will need to be built into the system. In other cases, issues that frustrate sales people or things that create a lack of clarity about their job need to be addressed so these don’t work against the training. For example, if sales people are complaining about the poor quality of leads or their territory has not been focused in a useful way, they are not going to be motivated to learn new selling approaches.
When the sales force’s job is clear and they see a connection between their effort and results, they will be highly motivated to learn and apply something new because they can see how the training will help them to sell even more. When sales people lack task clarity, any effort to boost sales will be short lived.
Notice that each of the eleven elements is not treated as a separate, unrelated task or support piece. Each one is linked to the training and they are all tied together so you have multiple ways that you are reinforcing the training. Feedback, measurement, and compensation are included in the elements as well as several different ways to clarify the training. This sends a clear and constant message to the sales force that they are expected to apply this training and the company will help them any way needed to make this happen.
This is just one example of a systems thinking approach to managing your sales force. In truth, everything sales management does needs to be integrated into a system so that each element and task enhance and support all the others. When you manage your sales force as a system, the sum of all the parts will be greater than the whole and that’s when your sales go through the roof.
Schedule a phone conversation with Don Shapiro, President of First Concepts Consultants, Inc., to answer your questions and explore how your sales force could boost it’s long term performance above existing forecast.
Closing the sale is about raising the customer’s perceptions of value as high as possible. This article summarizes 28 years of First Concept’s research about how customer’s figure out their perceptions of value and how this can be applied to get them to say yes more often.
First Concepts Sales Training and Reinforcement System can increase sales above forecast within six months.
To increase your rate of growth and market share, consider a 360 degree comprehensive revenue investigation.
Postscript: Applying Systems Thinking To Organization Success
This article was based on applying systems thinking or general systems theory to business. Don Shapiro has been studying systems thinking along with other major thinking processes since the 1970’s. This led First Concepts Consultants to follow a core philosophy that knowledge and experience are not enough to produce the best results, solutions and analysis of options. Thinking processes can identify opportunities and methods of execution that go beyond what industry veterans typically find. Thinking processes have been woven into First Concepts way of doing business since its founding and reflect the key to how it helps clients increase pretax profits and ROI. You can learn more about these thinking processes by reading the article It’s All About Thinking.