Archives for August 2016

How Sales Training & Sales Managers Can Partner to Drive Results

There’s a lot of talk these days in the sales enablement community about the need for sales and marketing alignment.  I wish I saw more of it actually happening, but I’ve written about it, too, and see the need, so you certainly won’t hear me disagreeing.  When it happens, the results can be impressive:  less internal friction, more effective messaging to both the market and individual buyers, more efficient lead gen, improved velocity (right content in the right hands at the right time), and increased sales results.

There’s another alignment and partnership opportunity that gets a lot less airplay yet has equal potential to drive sales results:  the alignment and partnership between Sales Training and Frontline Sales Managers (FLSMs).

If it sounds as if I’m ignoring the need for top-down support for training from company executives and especially sales leadership – trust me, I’m not.  Sponsorship and support is critical.  Leaders have a key responsibility in sharing the change story and inspiring and gaining support from frontline managers and employees.  But without buy-in (not just compliance) from Frontline Sales Managers, getting large-scale organizational results from training, is a pipe dream.

The role of these managers in driving change seems to be a fairly-well acknowledged point of view.  Given that, engaging FLSMs  is a critical strategy and worthy of discussion.

Sidebar:  Sales Training vs. Change Management

Just a quick note… I want to recognize that I’m talking about sales training as if it were some sort of… prepare yourself… change management project. 

[Insert ominous music here.]

In case there is any doubt, I want to dispel it here, before I move on.

Sales Training IS a Change Management project.  If you don’t acknowledge that, you will never get the best possible results from your sales training investment.  

Engaging Frontline Sales Managers

With that said, let’s talk about how Sales Enablement and Sales Training Leaders can get FLSMs engaged in your sales performance change project.  I could write a book about this topic, so for this post, will confine myself to four recommendations that we can explore more deeply in some future, more-targeted post.

FLSM Buy-In

Gaining FLSM buy-in is the first step.  Executive sponsorship and top sales leader support are certainly important, but if you don’t have true buy-in from managers, top-down support will only gain you a certain level of compliance.

We can (and should) debate this practice, but we all know that typically, FLSMs get promoted because they were good sales reps. And, they also still see their reps grappling with reality every day.  This makes your FLSMs a great source of content, customization advice, feedback, and training program reality checks.

Getting your frontline managers involved in content development or customization is a great way to not only ensure your content will make a difference, when used, but to gain your managers’ support.  Engage them, listen, take their advice when you can and explain why if you can’t (and have a good reason), and this will go a long way toward getting their buy-in.

FLSMs as Coaches

Preparing Frontline Sales Managers to coach effectively is another critical step.  It’s hard to ask them to coach if they haven’t received great coaching as a model, or been trained to do it.  In one client organization, years ago, where I was asked to improve sales coaching effectiveness to help them lift sales results, managers thought they were coaching when they said, “Mary, you’ve missed your goal for the past two months and if you don’t hit it this month, I’ll be forced to document it and start performance management with you.”  (And no, I’m not kidding.)  In another, “sales coaching” was where the managers sat down with the reps to tell them what they were doing wrong and what to do instead.  Then, it was “Go get ‘em, tiger” and “Do better next month.”

This isn’t a post on coaching, specifically, but generally, to coach behaviors effectively after sales training or a sales methodology implementation, managers must know how to:

  • Use reporting and analytics to identify areas for improvement
  • Hypothesize about the possible behavior gaps that are responsible for the performance gaps
  • Have a dialogue with their rep and observe them in action to confirm their hypothesis or determine the actual behavior gaps, compared to what was taught and known to be an effective practice
  • Conduct an effective coaching session where the rep is engaged in both the discovery process (coming to their own conclusion about what the manager now realizes) and building the solution. (Interestingly, this is not much different than what we expect reps should do with their buyers.)
  • Engage the rep in the construction of an action plan to implement a solution that will address the issue and improve their results
  • Get the plan in place and follow-up appropriately, coaching further, as needed

With content that will work, FLSM buy-in, and effective coaching skills as a foundation, I’ll share a formula for a successful partnership between sales training and frontline sales managers, which I hope will help you.

Formula for Success: Sales Training & FLSMs

In short, this is the formula:

  • Train Managers First
  • Involve Managers During Sales Rep Training
  • Partner for Knowledge Sustainment
  • Partner for Skills Transfer and Application
  • Partner Coaching to Mastery

Train Managers First

Depending on the size of your sales force and management team, some managers will have been involved in the Sales Methodology Content development, and some may not have been.  If you have a small manager force, involve everyone.  If you can’t, select wisely.  Often, the involvement of key, respected sales managers will help with the buy-in of others – especially if the involved managers update the others (positively) during the content development cycle.

Even if they were engaged, your FLSMs should still be trained first in the final program content – as should those who weren’t as closely involved – before their reps are trained.

I often joke that if I had a dollar to spend on sales training, I’d spend 75 cents on the sales managers.  That’s hyperbole, to make a point, but not far from true. 

If you expect your managers to coach and drive results with what was taught, they need to be the experts in your organization, on the content. They will need their own sustainment, transfer plans, and coaching on both the rep program content and the sales coaching training, and this is where the Sales Training department can partner with sales leaders to support the FLSMs, for the benefit of all.

And, as mentioned briefly in the previous section, the FLSMs should receive training on Sales Coaching, as discussed above, and the same sort of support as you’ll provide for the training on Sales Methodology (Content).

Show your respect for the FLSMs and support them in doing their jobs more effectively and getting better results from their reps, and you’ll have all the support you need, in return.

Involve Managers in Sales Rep Training

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  “But Mike, I just trained them on the rep training. You expect me to ask them to attend the training TWICE??  You’ve lost your mind or don’t get reality!”  I may have lost my mind, but yup, that is exactly what I’m recommending, and what I have done multiple times across multiple organizations, form SMB to Middle Market companies to Fortune 500 corporations.  Is it always an easy sell?  No, of course not.  Is it doable?  Absolutely.  In fact, I’ve done it multiple times.  It helps when you have a sharp sales leadership team who “gets” it and believes in what you’re doing.  In fairness, I haven’t always succeeded, but it is completely possible.  Sometimes, I’ve had to create an abbreviated training for managers, but I don’t lead with this option.  It’s a negotiating position, only as needed.  If you’re a “pick your battles” person, I believe this is one worth picking.  In your organization, you’ll have to use your best judgment.

When managers attend the rep training sessions, have them attend to set the stage upfront, to generally observe and set the tone for not stepping out constantly for phone calls, possibly even for an occasional group demo (helps with rep buy-in), and especially to be an extra coach for exercises, activities and role plays.  Plan for some preparation and alignment between the sales trainer and the FLSMs to ensure the right expectations are set in advance, including roles, participation, and effective classroom behaviors.

Knowledge Sustainment

There are various ways to support knowledge sustainment, including post-training sales meetings, follow-up testing/assessments, follow-up webinars and/or elearning, as just some options. But today, there are also options on the market that offer technology support for sustaining knowledge gained in training programs.

The options continue to grow, but in alphabetical order, here are a few that come to mind immediately:  Axonify, Count5, Mindmarker, Mindsetter and my favorite, Qstream.  You can search for others or see slide 59 in the Appendix of my presentation on Sales Onboarding

Skills Transfer and Application

Getting people to use what you teach on-the-job has been a Holy Grail pursuit for so long in the learning/training profession, that it amazes me that we’re not better at it, as a whole.  I’ve used performance support (job aids) and “Meetings in a Box” for years to help managers run post-training meetings to reinforce the training and help reps prepare to apply what they learned to real-world situations.

Most of the major sales training firms offer multiple options to support transfer and application, and unfortunately, a common insider complaint in the sales training industry, is how difficult it can be to get clients to purchase these critical add-on solutions.  If that were because organizations had their own solutions and were prepared to execute with discipline, I wouldn’t worry about it.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  Often, sales training remains event-based, with only good intentions and the hope that reps will apply what they learned.

The options continue to grow here for skill practice, too, but my current employer, Brainshark, offers an excellent virtual coaching solution that makes it more efficiently (easier for managers to coach remote employees and coach more frequently) and effective (provides a structure for better coaching) .  Keep in mind that as good as these learning/sales enablement tools may be, most are designed to improve messaging or enable skill practice, but don’t necessarily support transfer (using the skill on the job, with real clients).  Performance support, manager follow-up, post-class meetings and follow-up training, and holding reps accountable are the old stand-bys that still work.  If you can incorporate process-oriented parts of the training into CRM, workflow support, or other sales enablement solutions, that’s an added bonus to make the new skills and behaviors “the way we do things around here.”

Coaching to Mastery

If reps remember what they were taught and apply it on the job, you are still only halfway home.

[Sorry.]

When was the last time you learned a new skill or a shift in a complex behavior and mastered it while you were learning or immediately afterward?  If you’re a sports-minded person, think about a tennis or golf lesson, which involved a new grip or swing.  Or perhaps trying to become a better public speaker or change eating and exercise habits.  These examples usually resonate with people and prove the point.

Changing behaviors and habits is not always easy.  Initial application does not equal mastery.  Mastery is gained over time. 

And elite athletes and public speakers (and executives) often engage coaches to reach higher levels of performance, just as some people engage a personal trainer to reach their health goals. Why we would expect this to be any different for sales professionals, I will never understand.

After the training, your reps will need coaching, and you’ve prepared your FLSMs to do it.  Now they need to execute, not just to help reps apply new skills and behaviors, but to develop new habits, and refine how they’re doing things over time, until they reach mastery, often to a level of unconscious competence.  Although, I will say that my personal experience with top-producer analysis suggests that the very top-tier of performers (top 4%) shift between conscious and unconscious competence more frequently, as they continually try to learn and improve on their own, as well.  This is not common, however. Most of us mere mortals need coaching.

Coaching to mastery is a longer-term effort, of course, and should be part of every FLSM’s arsenal and every rep’s personal development plan.  I can go one step further to suggest that what was learned in training become part of the organization’s entire performance management system, but that’s a topic for another day.  For now, I’ll end here.

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As usual, this is what I think.  More importantly… What do YOU think?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

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