CSO Insights have just released their eagerly-awaited annual review of the state of sales performance - reflecting detailed inputs from over 1,500 sales organisations from around the world. Their latest report suggests that B2B sales leaders could and should do more to equip their sales people to succeed through more relevant and effective training.
You can get hold of your copy of CSO Insights’ 2012 Sales Performance Optimization Report here. I plan to share a number of their conclusions in future articles. But for the moment I’d like to concentrate on the current state and effectiveness of sales force training - and to suggest some areas in which you might want to improve your team’s capabilities this year.
Reinforce continuously - or don’t train at all
Let’s start with a restatement of the obvious. As CSO Insights suggest, no amount of training is ever effective unless the lessons learned are supported by continuous reinforcement. So here’s the first obvious opportunity for improvement: only one in five of the firms surveyed expressed confidence that their chosen sales methodology was being put into practice on a daily basis by the vast majority of their sales people.
I’ve long believed that which sales methodology an organisation chooses (and there are many good ones) is less important than the commitment the organisation makes to ensuring that it becomes part of the daily way of doing business for their sales people. CSO Insights’ report shows that many organisations still have a long way to go.
So here’s my first suggestion: assuming that you’ve already invested in sales training, review your sales processes, your approach to pipeline management, and your CRM system to ensure that each of these systems reinforces the core messages, language and approach of your chosen methodology. And if you are planning to invest in sales skills development this year, be sure that you’ve got your reinforcement processes in place before you put your sales people through the training.
By the way, and to reinforce this point, McKinsey reported a while ago that 75% of all "solution selling" initiatives were deemed a failure by the companies investing in them. The failure to reinforce the chosen methodology is the key reason why these expensive initiatives fail, and it's entirely avoidable.
Shift focus to understanding the customer and how they buy
It seems that the focus of sales training is changing. Most of the surveyed firms reported that the amount of sales skills and product training currently undertaken by sales people met or exceeded expectations - but in two vital areas, they identified that more and better training was required: customer marketplace and purchase justification training.
It’s not hard to understand why: your prospects increasingly expect your sales people to understand their markets, empathise with their issues, and speak their language. They may even appreciate it if your sales people are trained and equipped to bring a new perspective on their situation that stimulates them to think in a different way.
And with an increasing number of stakeholders involved in most buying decisions, your sales people’s ability to come up with a series of compelling reasons to buy that satisfy all the vested interests could well make the difference between a successful sale and a decision to do nothing.
Has your approach to training kept pace?
It’s clear that the centre of gravity of sales training has moved beyond basic product and sales skills training to better understanding both your prospect’s business environment and their buying decision and justification process. Have your investments in training your sales people to succeed kept pace? And are you embedding what has been taught into the daily routine of your sales people? If not, all that supposedly valuable training could be simply going to waste.