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Are you wasting a lot of money and effort on sales training? And more importantly, could that be one factor keeping you from growing your sales as fast as possible?
In its vendor guide a few years ago, the ES Research Group says their research indicates --
- 90% of all sales training programs result in a 3 to 4 month increase in sales productivity.
- But, at more than 80% of the companies the productivity gain is gone within a year. A spike occurs, then it is back to the old ways again.
ESR also says that the single biggest challenge for companies investing in sales performance improvement is the usage of a well-founded and relevant sales methodology. But they point out:
- Many companies are unable to get their sales people to comply with a methodology simply because the company doesnft have one in the first place.
- Other companies have invested in a methodology but it does not match the buying patterns of their customers.
- Still others are unaware of the degree of business and behavioral change required to achieve a higher degree of sales performance, and experience failure as a result.
ESRfs research is US-centered. But the results seem to fit in Japan, based on what we see around us.
Sales managers generally are not stupid. Why would they do these things that end up not achieving the core target of more sales? If we can figure out the why, maybe we can identify how to take steps to get better results.
Letfs look at the spike in productivity after a sales training seminar. Coming out of the seminar, account managers such as Ichiro are fired up and eager to use the content. Hopefully, Ichirofs immediate superior Watanabe-san wants the content to be used too. So the techniques get used – for a while. Performance goes up.
But the account managers are in an environment of selling big-ticket stuff to corporate customers. Maybe that environment itself works against the techniques, and more broadly against use of a methodology?
When Ichiro and his counterparts have a pipeline (a series of deals in progress), his schedule is driven by clients. The busier his pipeline, the less control Ichiro has over his schedule:
- Client A wants to meet at 10 AM Tuesday – gYes, sir,h Ichiro says, and that dayfs cold calling period disappears.
- Client B wants a proposal by 3 PM Thursday, and seemingly lower priority activity like entering info into the CRM system gets epostponedf (i.e. not done).
- For new prospect C, Ichiro has to meet Product Support, explain the prospectfs needs, and coax someone into going with him to the prospect.
So Ichiro soon is pushed away from a very basic habit reinforcement technique: a daily or weekly schedule.
Go up a level to Ichirofs immediate boss, Watanabe-san, and a similar situation occurs. Watanabe-san gets busy fighting fires, or going to a client to help close a deal, and his weekly meeting with his account managers disappears this week. His account managers point out how they HAVE to meet a client or do a proposal, so they canft do the cold calling today or enter CRM info this week. And usually, Watanabe-san accepts that.
In a less satisfactory situation, Watanabe-san is probably not comfortable with the recent training content. Thatfs natural - we all feel uncomfortable with something new, especially if it is a new behavior. Maybe he doesnft fully understand how to use it, or doesnft agree with its importance. He may put more weight on what hefs used for years. So he may gradually stop requiring use of the new methods because his priority is to get this weekfs sales done.
Account managers respond to the daily directions from tbeir boss. Account managers will migrate to whatever methods Watanabe-san favors daily. So when Watanabe-san fades away from the new content, and goes back to his more comfortable old ways, in short order his team will do the same.
The training content may also require added effort. Three favorites come to mind: cold calling, getting to decision-makers, and inputting info to a CRM system. With these, the path of least resistance beckons loudly.
The subject of cold calling will spark lively debate anytime it is brought up among anybody in sales. Nobody likes to do it – not just in Japan, but anywhere in the world. Some will say gIt is ineffective, especially in Japan.h Others will swear by it as a key to increased sales.
Some basic points about gcold callingh:
- To be effective, a system has to be in place. Baldly telling Ichiro, gMake cold callsh, with no structure in place, is highly likely to fail.
- gPureh cold calling is indeed very difficult and likely ineffective, especially in corporate sales. Ways to gwarm uph the call can be implemented.
- Ichiro needs to have specific names identified, to call. These can be generated from Marketing department activity, from the company database, from directories, etc. As just mentioned, gwarmed-uph names are much preferred over names pulled cold from a directory.
- Ichiro has to have ways to get through to the named prospects. Not easy, if the prospect is an upper management decision-maker.
- Ichiro needs to know what he is trying to do with a call. He needs to learn methods to use during the call.
- The need for persistence must be understood. Research shows that a prospect may not be reached until the sixth attempt, on average. The overall program, including gwarm uph methods and lead generation, needs to be pursued consistently for many months and quarters.
- Watanabe-san has to insist on gcold callingh, no matter what demands are made on Ichirofs schedule. Metrics should be set up, in number of dials, number of prospects talked with, meetings set up, etc.
So, you do a training seminar on cold calling. The next day, at his desk, Ichiro gets a list from Marketing, of gprospectsh to call, pulled from a directory or outside database. Cold. No warm-up methods. Ichiro tries a few calls. He doesnft have his objectives laid out. He did only minimal, or no, research on each prospect company. He canft get through to the prospect. Watanabe-san is busy, and when Ichiro says Client A needs a meeting and Client B needs a proposal, Watanabe-san lets Ichiro pass on the cold calling today. And probably tomorrow, and the next day. Ichiro sees the cold calling as unsuccessful, and Watanabe-san doesnft have any metrics to track and judge what Ichiro is doing. After a few months, cold calling is dead again, just like before the seminar.
A similar situation arises when trying to get account managers to reach and relate to decision-makers:
- Decision-makers are usually upper management. They are busy, and harder to get through to by phone. Techniques for getting through must be learned.
- The cold-calling itself may be aimed at decision-makers, so the comments in the section above all apply, doubly.
- Ichiro has to talk in a different way. Decision-makers are concerned more with value, results and ROI than lower-level operating staff, who relate more to operating features. If Ichiro uses his typical materials and terminology, the decision-maker will send him to the lower-level staff. Suitable materials, terminology and techniques must be provided to Ichiro, along with practice.
Without a support system, and without Watanabe-sanfs daily insistence, Ichiro likely will fade back to the easier path of contacting known persons at lower levels in the prospect company.
For inputting information into a CRM system, anyone who has tried this knows the drudgery of it. Basically data input. Many advantages for Ichiro-s company – a corporate memory for when Ichiro gets transferred; the raw data for Watanabe-sanfs pipeline management and forecasting; lists for Marketing to use; etc.
But what is the immediate usefulness for Ichiro himself? It can be a reminder system for when to get back to prospects, and about what - but that benefit is weeks or months in the future, not helping Ichiro today. If Ichiro is new to his position, he may find the info from his predecessor to be useful – but thatfs a freebie, Ichiro himself didnft have to input the info.
Entering info today doesnft give Ichiro any benefits today. So it is drudgery, and human nature is to put it off, not do it.
After 2 or 3 days of not inputting, Ichiro now is faced with possibly 2 hours of work to get caught up. Instead of a daily short task, he has a sizeable effort to make. He says, gAh, to hell with it. Just put in the minimal items, enough for this weekfs pipeline report. Got to do that proposal for Client B and go persuade Product Support to give me more help.h
Watanabe-san, busy as usual, doesnft notice Ichirofs lack of daily input. Itfs not a high priority for Watanabe-san, either., since most of the other benefits are in the future, and Watanabe-san has to get sales this week. If Ichiro puts in the basics for pipeline management and forecasting, Watanabe-san probably wonft push for the rest.
Ifve covered three items – cold calling, reaching decision-makers, and inputting to a CRM system. If you put together various other components with these, youfll be headed towards the gwell-founded and relevant sales methodologyh that ESR mentioned.
ESR says that many companies are unable to get their sales people to comply with a methodology simply because the company doesnft have one in the first place. I may state that a bit differently: Many companies may have a methodology, but it is sitting in books on Watanabe-sanfs shelf gathering dust. He likely was promoted to be a sales team leader, without himself fully using and understanding the system. The methodology might get lip service, then the press of daily business pushes Watanabe-san and Ichiro along the path of least resistance, doing what is easy instead of what gets results.
If the above analysis is broadly applicable, what actions can you take to get better longterm results?
Well, the possible actions themselves seem to be difficult. Maybe that is why few companies – including most of the readers of this article – adopt them.
- Your first-line sales team leaders like Watanabe-san are pivotal. Yes, training for the Ichiros is essential. But make sure Watanabe-san et al are very comfortable with the content. Check weekly that Watanabe-san et al are using it. Include usage in their performance review and bonus payment calculation.
- Make your sales methodology, and any new training, visible around your office. Put up posters. Talk about it at your sales meetings. If you give awards for best salesman, give another one for best use of methodology.
- Understand that really strong persistence is needed. Persistence to implement change, to establish habits. Persistence in support programs, such as to warm up prospects to avoid absolute cold calls. Persistence in making enough repeat calls to reach that prospect. Persistence in the face of daily fire-fighting and Things To Do This Week for Clients A / B / C. But especially, persistence in turning what is new, what has just been learned, into longterm habits.
In any group, results typically follow a bell curve pattern. The top performers are about 15% to 20% of the group, depending on how you define gtoph. How do you get into that top segment? Itfs unlikely that letting Watanabe-san follow the path of least resistance will take you there. You have to get him to enforce your methodology every day, 6 months out , 12 months out, 18 months out – in other words, forever.
As you talk with your colleagues or peers, be careful. Unless you are at a top-notch company, two-thirds of your peers are likely to be doing mediocre (or worse) things. If two-thirds of your peers are not making quota, donft listen to what they say is gthe way to do thingsh, and donft imitate their work habits. You need to emulate the top performers, not the mediocre mass, so make a conscious effort to find out how top performers do it. Maybe you can find that within your company, or maybe you have to go outside. Either way, donft expect top performance to come easy. Anyone that is doing well in their field – athletes, managers, programmers, musicians, politicians, doctors, you name it – had to work hard to get to that top 20%. From that viewpoint, sales isnft any different.
Email dan.harris (at mark) mapjpn.com Dan Harris, principal
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