In our last sales training blog, we went over some top-line conclusions from over 300 interviews we did with leading sales executives from all industries. Some of those conclusions were:
- From observation, they believed collectively that over 70% of all salespeople make the same 4 mistakes on most of the sales calls and meetings they go on (bad selling habits)
- Less than 10% of all front line sales managers have the skillset and overall focus to do the kind of coaching and training with their sales teams that break these bad habits
- In general, one of the weakest links they observe in their sales teams is lack of practice … the kind of practice and rehearsal for big games that elite athletes do
There are a number of other key observations they shared with us, but these three came up over and over. We then started observing and testing salespeople from dozens of these companies to validate the observations of these executives and found, for the most part, they were correct. The most results limiting mistakes we found from about 80% of the salespeople we tested were:
- Taking too long to get to the point which is a key contributor to the talking too much problem
- When asked about differentiating factors and competitive advantages, over 80% of the salespeople we tested were unable to give compelling and convincing responses
- Over 80% of the salespeople we tested use too many closed-ended questions and have a hard time, generally speaking, using open-ended questions to guide the conversation
To be clear, these are not advanced selling skills at all. Every sales training program in the world emphasizes these skills, yet so many salespeople are simply ineffective in these areas which is a significant cause of their poor results.
We tested the athlete based training model …
Some comments we heard over and over in these interviews were framed as “athlete analogies” suggesting salespeople needed to practice and rehearse the way elite athletes do and, more importantly, that the top performers on their team just practiced more.
So the next step in this research project was to refine and test the athlete based model to see if it would impact these bad habits and, in general, see how sales teams responded to it. Elements of this athlete based training approach are:
- Training and coaching are spread out over months and not crammed into a 1-3 day sales seminar. Instead, an hour a week over 3-6 months depending on the complexity of the sales cycle. Training and coaching were delivered in 1-hour segments each week.
- Coaching and practice were one-on-one with a talented practice coach that knew how to conduct sales communication drills to break bad verbal habits and practice communicating how top performers do.
- An upfront effort to organize the company’s sales process, competitive advantages, differentiating factors and other sales messaging in a way that could be easily learned and practiced. This is a big task as most companies, even large ones, do not have this information well organized to support ongoing coaching.
We tested salespeople from dozens of the companies we had interviewed and focused initially on sales messaging because it was easy to observe and measure the changes and they were dramatic. The 7 areas we tested and rated, before and after the athletes based training approach was used were:
(On a 10-Point Scale)
|Clarity / Concise||How crisp, concise and efficient is the rep's Value Proposition. Brevity-saying more with less|
|Engagement||How the rep uses strategic open-ended questions to maintain control of the conversation|
|Confidence||How much conviction was demonstrated in the rep's voice|
|Tailored||How the rep responds to the customer's question(s) demonstrating empathy and linking their Value Proposition to what the customer said their needs were|
|Knowledge||Reps command of the core differentiating factors and competitive advantages of the company|
|Genuine / Sincerity||Flow, natural, ease of conversation, friendly, connecting|
|Structured Response||Can skillfully apply a framework and structure to their responses that reduces friction, conveys relevant compelling information and naturally engages the prospect|
In this graphic, you’ll see a national average.
In team after team, the results were similar. Salespeople respond quickly to the practice-based, drill-oriented style of training and sales coaching which is what makes athlete-based coaching so unique. Salespeople need to go through verbal drills to break bad habits as raising awareness, which is what most sales training is focused on, doesn’t work well to break bad verbal habits. Additionally, they learn much faster if they hear examples of better communication approaches. Demonstrations have more impact than long analytic explanations of how to do it.
In an upcoming blog, we’ll explain why this form of sales training has a greater impact and how to execute on these insights.
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