"What have you done for me lately?"
That question is running through the minds of the sales executives, sales managers, and sellers you work with on a daily basis. If you're a sales trainer who answers this question with the number of programs you facilitated or the results of Level 1 surveys you collected, you may soon realize that the excitement you have for such data isn't shared by others.
If you're honest with yourself, you'll realize that those results probably don't translate well into the day-to-day workflow of your internal clients. In light of the current economic times, the last thing you want to do is bring hollow data to the table because it doesn't translate well or mean much to the sales team, who can't see how the data you provided will help them succeed with their clients or customers.
It stands to reason that changing the questions you ask will change the responses you receive. So, what type of questions should you ask and what type of data should you collect to gain more influence and drive change with your sales team? The answers to those questions lie in understanding what type of data helps client-facing, revenue-generating team members drive more sales results. If you can gather information that ties your development efforts to tangible performance improvements, or if you can quantify real-world impact on the audience, then you are one step closer to establishing real influence through your work. This influence, garnered through action and impact, can then begin to facilitate the change you are looking for, while providing a personal payoff at the same time.
The sooner you can make the transition from a sales trainer to a sales performance improvement specialist the better it is for you, the team, and the stakeholders you support. This philosophy isn't new, but it's often ambiguous at best. So, what is a sales performance improvement specialist?
Sales performance improvement specialist
According to the research that led to the 2009 ASTD World-Class Sales Competency Model (a profession wide competency framework that outlines the roles, areas of expertise, and foundational competencies of professional selling) the role of consultant is critical to the success of sales trainers, sellers, and sales managers. Through the research, the team found that all sales professionals who are accountable and responsible for driving revenue wear different "hats" throughout a day, a month, or a year.
Choosing the right role at the right time is truly the crux of the matter - correctly interpreting customer demands and how to respond. This is how world-class sales organizations should strive to operate, but they can only do so if salespeople have already been equipped with the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet the demands of the roles that they must play.
Understanding the top three roles will help you become a more effective sales performance improvement specialist. To get off to a fast start with your sales team, you need to focus on building your own foundational competencies. These foundational competencies (also found in the ASTD World-Class Sales Competency Model) include:
- Partnering. The goal here is to position yourself and clearly define your approach so you can be viewed as a partner with the key stakeholders. One of the easiest ways to do this is to understand the current situation and the gaps that exist. Be prepared to ask thought-provoking questions to elicit better understanding of the source of the gaps. And make sure you know just as much about the selling environment as your sales team members.
- Gaining and sharing insight. In your job, you have the opportunity to get involved with the internal customers you serve. You are also in a unique position that allows you to observe skills in action during "ride-alongs" in the field, listen in on customer classes, and observe actions in the field, role-plays and one-on-one interviews with salespeople, sales managers, and even customers. You must also bridge the sales profession with the learning profession. Your ability to gain and share insight on adult learning principles, change management approaches, coaching strategies, and training delivery and design can help fill critical performance gaps in your team. You are also able to share the latest trends, best practices, or benchmark data that can help you help your customers.
- Providing solutions. Many internal customers will view training as the number one solution to close any performance gaps. If you are unable to influence others through questioning, partnering, and gaining and sharing insight, then you will run the risk of being told what to do as opposed to being asked for an opinion. Your job is much like that of a doctor, who should diagnose before he prescribes! Use your knowledge of selling and learning to recommend solutions that get results, close performance gaps, and fit within the sales team's existing workflow. If you can provide relevant solutions while equipping sales team members with robust sales tools that build trust with customers, you're on the right track.
- Maintaining personal effectiveness. One of the best ways to achieve the impact you're looking for is to maintain a high outputs-based tempo. In other words, the work outputs and deliverables you produce allow you to show momentum while at the same time brand your efforts. It is through solid execution, thorough follow through, and rock-solid analysis of results that you show your ability to get the job done. To do this, you need to manage your time, improve your own business acumen and skill, leverage technology, and manage knowledge. You also need to run sales meetings that are on-point, focused, and meaningful.
Below is a five-step process to help facilitate the transition from sales trainer to sales performance improvement specialist. Remember, the key is to leverage partnering, solution, insight, and effectiveness competencies within the three sales performance improvement roles identified above:
From sales trainer to sales performance improvement specialist
Using this simple five-step process, you can successfully move from sales trainer to sales performance improvement specialist:
Step 1| Know where you are going. Be prepared to sit down with your stakeholders to understand the goals of the sales group (for example sales results, new starts, growth, competitive takeaways, and engagement). When working with your stakeholders, ask the following: "Imagine that your people are doing the job perfectly and that you and all other stakeholders, including the performers, are satisfied and delighted. What are they doing and achieving differently from what is currently happening?"
Probe encouragingly to draw out all aspects of desired performance by:
- identifying and quantifying stakeholder or customer goals
- specifying the sales performance required to meet those goals.
Step 2| Understand sales performance gaps. Augment the data points you collected in step one with supplementary quantitative information based on direct observation, surveys and questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups, including the performance test you or an expert might administer. If you are supporting a sales organization you should have access to the performance dashboard, weekly learning and performance metrics, and data on staffing, customer satisfaction, new hire retention, and engagement scores.
The goal is to help you better define the performance gaps that exist. The more specific you can be the better. There are three dimensions to a performance gap: magnitude (how big and all encompassing is the gap), value (how much the gap represents to the organization in terms of revenues, profits, or cost savings), and urgency (how quickly it must be resolved). You need to identify what caused the gap in the first place.
Identification of those skills gaps should include
- an assessment of the current level of sales performance
- a definition of the sales performance gap
- an identification of sales performance gaps factors.
Step 3| Select the performance improvement approach. There are three key points to retain in identifying learning solutions. First, the better you execute step two, the easier it is to identify the most appropriate approach. Second, there is a limitless array of possible solutions you can use, and third, as a specialist you need to identify the best possible approach that attains the results you're looking for. This responsibility should fall to you.
But before you begin making choices, keep this in mind. Your list of potential solutions may, at first appearance, seem long, but some of the solutions do not require a tremendous amount of effort. Clarifying expectations, increasing supervisory support, or eliminating interfering tasks, for example, may simply be resolved through a few meetings and a cleanup of existing practices. On the other hand, a solution such as training may demand a greater amount of resources and time. So, don't worry about the number of potential solutions... yet. Instead, focus on four criteria:
- Appropriateness - Based on the audience and the size of the salesforce, is the solution being proposed allow for efficient execution and deployment?
- Economics - Is the solution within budget or can the financial investment be justified?
- Feasibility - Is the approach realistic?
- Acceptability - Will you get sign-off from stakeholders and support from field management?
Step 4| Roll out meaningful solutions. It's time to roll out your solution! This requires three steps: design, creation, and prototyping. Whether the solution is training, job aids, process redesign, or a new incentive system, each must be initially designed. The creation phase generally includes specifications for developing solution. Depending on the nature of the solutions, this phase may be performed by you or others. Once you have a solution or set of solutions in a draft usable form, you need to ensure that it is valid and tested. If your group has a formal design or curriculum standards process, this is where you would implement the process.
When it comes to implementation of your solutions or set of solutions, you can break it down into three phases: planning, execution, and support. Implementation planning begins long before you arrive at step four. During the analysis steps, you collect a great deal of information not only about the gap, but also the context, the performers, the resources, and the constraints of the situation. Execution - little things mean a lot.
Friendly invitations to events, excellent materials ready and waiting, incentive and feedback systems operational, and even hardcopy all have to be in a "go" mode. Implementation of any set of performance improvement solutions requires two types of support: for the implementation of the solutions themselves and for the targeted performers.
Step 5| Measure the impact. Besides the creation of an actual learning development plan, the most critical step is the ongoing engagement, which includes follow through and the monitoring of progress (good or bad). This step will tell us what impact we are having, what's working, and what's not. The action plan should be completed and followed up after every formal solution. To be successful in this process, you must identify how you will monitor performance of your solutions and develop a plan for maintaining it over the long term.
The benefits of making the shift to a sales performance improvement specialist are many. First, you can help your organization build a repeatable and sustainable selling process. Often, there are many processes that need to be managed with a broader focus than just the sales funnel, and you can help. Second, you can help measure selling efforts. Through objective assessment, measurement, and documentation of efficiency, you can ensure proper resource allocation and contribution to the sales effort. And lastly, you can help establish learning as a competitive advantage. With today's dynamic selling reality, salespeople and sales managers cannot rest on what they currently know; and you can help them stay on top of market demands and stay ahead of the competition. T+D