Beginning in May 2017, we started interviewing over 200 sales executives from large and medium-sized companies all over the world. We asked a number of questions, but the most revealing was, “what are the most critical bad habits you see in your salespeople that are hurting their results?
In 90% of those interviews, the same 4 factors come up as the causes:
- Too much talking on sales calls and not enough listening
- Poor use of questions to really understand the customer’s needs
- Inability to differentiate their company and products with dynamic competitive advantages
- Poor ability to guide sales interactions with a sales process that leads to closing recommendations
The thing is, these are very basic foundational skills.
These 4 factors came up over and over. However, when we asked if sales training and follow-up were in place, nearly everyone responded that not only was it in place, but a substantial investment had been made in training and showing sales managers how to coach to reduce these bad selling habits.
So, we started testing sales teams
We decided to test a wide range of salespeople from these same companies to see if they could answer two simple questions:
- What makes your company/products/services better than your competitors?
- If you could boil your competitive advantages down to 2-3 differentiating factors, what are they and how would you communicate that in 90-seconds or less to a decision maker or influencer?
We put them all through the exact same testing process, recorded their responses, and our SalesGym team rated their verbal skills, including their ability to use a relevant, open-ended question that connected with their response to those two questions.
What We Learned From The Testing
- Most companies do not have their differentiating factors and competitive advantages organized in a way that is easy for the sales team to learn, practice, and master. This is a major hurdle and cause of the problem
- Beyond new hire training, over 90% of the people we tested had not practiced or been coached on this most basic sales messaging skill over the previous 90-days or longer
- On a scale of 1-10, most salespeople were rated under 5 in basic areas like the clarity of key points, ability to talk in the customer’s interest, ability to tailor the message, and use of good open-ended questions
- Sales Managers and Executives think their salespeople are better at basic sales messaging than they are. It has been a surprise in every case when they actually hear these skills in action
Most Sales Training Is Very Similar
Nearly all sales training experts and famous authors on sales emphasize how different their training is and why it’s better than all the rest, but when you analyze them, the uncomfortable reality is that most sales training is pretty similar in delivery and methodology.
These types of sales training all have the following in common:
- Cover a lot of material very quickly, increasingly focused on planning and technology topics
- Emphasis on the 4 common selling mistakes is universal … every program emphasizes how damaging these mistakes/bad habits are
- Participants must take significant time out of the field. Usually, 1-3 days where no selling is happening and they are getting behind on follow-up. This stress causes fractured focus and attention.
- The actual time participants spend verbally practicing compared to listening, taking notes and discussing ideas is minimal … <10% of the time is practicing and often <5%
- High Instructor to participant ratios, generally greater than 10:1
- Focus is on what to do, why it’s important, various ways of how to do it, but nowhere near the repetition needed with evaluative feedback to correct the mistakes
- A lot of time spent on planning and organizing steps, getting ready for a call, agreeing on what to focus on, planning and focus process, etc.
- Trainers often are incapable of giving credible examples of selling skills that have real influence on the participants
- The bulk of sales training is developed for and aimed at new hires
- Practice is peer to peer and, as such, practice partners are both early in the learning curve
These approaches are a significant reason why sales training doesn’t impact the 4 most common mistakes. In our next blog post, we’ll look at Part 2 of our research, what we learned from testing the sales teams in these same companies with an athlete-based model of sales training.