When you look at an elite sports team, one that wins year after year, you will nearly always find a stellar coach at the helm. Someone that sets high expectations, provides urgent leadership, attracts winners like bees to honey and creates a practice and training regimen that generates consistent winning. In sales organizations, that front line sales manager is key to consistent winning performance. Kevin points out one of the challenges with promoting strong salespeople into this role…
The front line sales manager is one of the most overlooked positions in an organization. -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“The front line sales manager is one of the most overlooked positions in an organization and it’s one where we tend to promote the top performing sales person from that region because we risk the affection of that individual if they don’t get promoted. What that can lead to is somebody who is not qualified, interested, or in the right position to lead an organization. Then in six months, eight months down the road, not only do you lose the manager, but you’ve lost your top performer.”
Top performing salespeople can grow and become fantastic sales managers, but it’s certainly not automatic. They need to be trained on how to manage and coach because what made them successful may or may not be transferable to others. They need to learn how to transfer the skills and disciplines that average salespeople can learn to become top performers.
Great coaches get the training system right
When a new coach is hired to take over a failing sports team, one of the first things they do is examine the training and practice routines and look for ways to strengthen it. I used to play basketball with Kurt Rambis in our local gym around the time Phil Jackson was hired to take over the Lakers in the late 90’s and he said the change in the practice approach was immediate and significant from the first week he arrived. Practice became more focused and intense and eventually, transformed that Laker team into a consistent winner.
When we start a SalesGym training project with a new client, we interview a cross section of sales managers and ask them to describe their training and practice system and it’s rare that the sales manager is able to give an answer. Most simply say things like… “I give my people help when they ask for it” or “my training is situational… I coach my people when they’re in situations where they really need help.” Most agree they don’t have a disciplined training schedule to steadily develop the skills of their people and Kevin points out one of the key reasons why…
We've trained salespeople to go to sales training and sales leaders that their sales reps need sales training. So when they go to training that day, they think it's done... -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“We’ve trained salespeople to go to sales training and sales leaders that their sales reps need sales training. So when they go to training that day, they think it’s done, it’s over, problem cured. The reality is that when we talk about reinforcement, about the practice, about continually getting the managers to repeat this and to coach to it, they say, “We can’t afford to have people out of the field any longer.”
We’ve found the key to this stubborn issue is to move away from the “training event” model and learn from how elite first responder units and sports teams train … they build it into their weekly routine and it’s done in the field, in the flow of activity they’re engaged in.
Training sessions should be shorter but more frequent
When sales executives ask us what we’ve learned from working with so many good sales organizations over the years and what the best of the best do, one of the first things we point out is many of them reduce the amount of time and resources they invest in big, splashy sales training events that often involve expensive travel and days out of the field. Instead, they tend to invest in strategies that deliver shorter, more frequent training sessions without removing salespeople from the field for long stretches. They also closely align their sales training team with the front line sales managers to work together, every week, to practice, reinforce and improve core selling skills. Most importantly, they create a practice culture that values practice so the entire team buys into it and puts their best effort into it as well.
Keys to a powerful practice culture
- Get 100% buy-in from sales managers first on what the sales process is everyone will learn and be held accountable to
- Begin the training effort on sales messaging … determine the core competitive advantages and differentiating factors and train sales managers and salespeople until they can tailor them into concise impactful nuggets that fit any conceivable selling situation
- Determine the 5-10 absolutely most critical open ended questions that need to be asked more frequently and train everyone on how to use them in a natural, conversational way
- Figure out what your company’s breakthrough ideas and insights are and teach everyone how to communicate them in a concise way
- Create a simulation based training system so sales managers and salespeople can practice realistic selling situations with helpful coaching and feedback
Kevin points out how critical it is to deliver coaching when it’s needed most…
The statistics show that where managers provide the most support and get the most benefit, is when they're involved early in the sales process. -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“The statistics show that where managers provide the most support and get the most benefit, is when they’re involved early in the sales process. So either sit on phone calls or do field rides. Then they have to think about how they are preparing themselves and their salesperson for that call so that they’re in a position to coach. Thinking about questions like, ‘What are the expectations? What do you hope to get out of this call? Where’s the deal in the pipeline? And at the end of this call, what does success look like?”
Training on products, features and benefits is not enough
When we look closely at the new hire training many sale organizations put their salespeople through, it’s often heavily focused on products, features and benefits and in many cases the “guest speakers” in the training are product specialists in the company that come in to talk about … you guessed it .. products. Certainly, salespeople MUST learn their products and services, but an effective sales call is built around understanding the perspective, biases and thinking of the prospect. Kevin points out…
One of the things that we've done for new hires is we will spend that first week talking about the customer... -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“One of the things that we’ve done for new hires is we will spend that first week talking about the customer, the customers market, the customer’s challenges, the customer’s needs, and customer insights. Then ensure that they’re able to present that message and able to stand in front of a customer in their first weeks, first months in the role and talk to the customer about their industry, not talk to the customer about our products.”
When training is mostly about products, it creates a chain reaction that has a long term impact on how salespeople perform. We’ve found that many, if not most, salespeople will use the approaches on sales interactions they’re comfortable with, even if they’re less effective. Training and practice is how we make the more effective, more skillful approaches comfortable enough to try and then master on live sales calls. Without this approach, Kevin points out what can often happen…
We walk into a prospect and we start with information about our company...and our products, and by the time we get to asking about them we have already lost them. -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“We, we-we all over ourselves. We walk into a prospect and we start with information about our company and our customers, and our products, and by the time we get to asking about them we have already lost them.”
Accelerate new-hire learning pace
A few years ago, we were working with a financial services company that had an ultra dynamic training director that had just designed and rolled out one of the best new hire programs we’ve ever seen. On the very first day, in the first hour, she had arranged for two customers to be in the training room with the 15 new hires. The customers then told the new hires the mistakes that salespeople typically make, what they would prefer salespeople do with them when they meet and then opened up for a Q&A about their needs and why they used that company for their investments. Then, over the next 3 weeks, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she repeated this exercise so that the new hires understood, by listening, exactly how prospects wanted to be treated in the beginning, middle and end of the sales cycle. It was all about learning how to sell the way the customer wants to buy and it made a huge difference in performance in their first six-months.
Kevin points out…
Traditional face-to-face sales model, while it does have its benefits in the right situations, that's slowly going by the wayside. -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“Organizations need to look a lot more closely at how our customers want to buy. With millennials, they don’t want people coming into their office. Maybe millennials aren’t even in the office. Maybe they’re working from home. So that traditional face-to-face sales model, while it does have its benefits in the right situations, that’s slowly going by the wayside.”
Best practices when it comes to new hire training
- Expose new hires very early to customers or perhaps recordings of customers
- Focus more on the sales conversation than the product early on
- Practice verbalizing competitive advantages and differentiating factors before going deep into product features and benefits
- Develop realistic simulations that allow the new hires to practice using relevant open ended questions … simulations need to start off being easy with cooperative role play partners
- Practice the way elite athletes do … Perform → record → review → adjust → repeat...
Selling is about connecting, asking, listening, responding in a helpful and relevant way and doing all of this skillfully and it takes real practice to make that happen. When you do build a true practice culture with effective training and coaching, then you’ll build a sales team that is part of your competitive advantage.
Tiger Woods, when he was at the top of his game, was so dominant, and after he won a tournament, he'd be back up on the range the next day practicing. -Kevin Casey - Senior Director of Sales Enablement - Business Services Industry Click To Tweet
“How do we make our sales team the differentiator? It’s not through more processes. It’s not through more best practices of how you do things. It’s about that communication with the customer and understanding who the customer is. If we’re leading the finance team and you want them to perform better give them processes, if you want the sales team to perform better, give them different tools.”
The SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.