ES Research Group Inc. and ASTD Research recently partnered to produce Accelerating Revenue Through Learning: Developing Sales Teams That Win, a research study that explores the strategic and tactical issues affecting the delivery of sales training today. Highlights of the study, which offers key recommendations for resolving these challenges, are included here.
Accelerating Revenue Through Learning: Developing Sales Teams That Win and its preceding study, ASTD's State of Sales Training, reveal that sales effectiveness - ongoing, consistent sales performance against quotas - has been an elusive goal for many companies for a long time. Unfortunately, training alone will never turn things around for a struggling sales organization. Success comes from understanding the role of your salespeople and the challenges they face; defining a comprehensive, strategic approach to training; and giving sales staff the tools, processes, learning, and ongoing support they need.
A sales training event leaves everyone in high spirits. Positive comments on the evaluation form and the good energy generated can lead you to believe that the task is complete. It isn't. Sales training is purely a means to an end, and that end is the consistent attainment of revenue targets.
Time for a wake-up call
Study findings are clear: salespeople are not performing. According to CSO Insights, an organization that tracks trends related to sales effectiveness:
- Only 59.4 percent of salespeople met quota in 2010.
- The win rates of forecast deals are at 46.6 percent.
This does not just pose a challenge for the sales organization; it affects everyone in the company. If the salesperson doesn't sell; there is no revenue. Some companies can't grow. Others can't survive.
Selling is a tough job. Customer buying processes have changed, especially over the past three years, and few organizations truly understand the impact on their sales team. Sales and management personnel are often unqualified or don't have the right tools. Inter-departmental support for the sales staff is severely lacking. Many companies have no formalized selling process, and sales training is often ineffective.
Many training professionals simply do not see that when it comes to learning, salespeople are different.
Effective salespeople typically possess a combination of personality traits (extroversion and a high degree of positivism, for example) that their colleagues don't need to be successful. Salespeople bring to the job a diverse range of techniques and experiences gained from previous jobs or careers. Inherent skill, previous experience, or even prior selling successes, however, will not ensure that your salespeople hit their revenue targets, especially in a complex selling environment.
What are we delivering to our salespeople?
When sales lag, companies often turn to additional product training or one-time motivational events. Neither will solve the problem.
Surveys conducted as the basis of Accelerating Revenue Through Learning indicate that most sales professionals believe they would benefit from greater inter-departmental support; improving their selling and influencing skills; having frameworks, approaches, and methodologies they can customize to leverage their sales training; and developing three important skills - relationship building, problem solving and diagnosis, and listening.
Salespeople are not getting what they need from a variety of perspectives.
The sales process has undergone a revolution, and according to the study, most salespeople do not have the ability, tools, strategies, and support from management that enable them to negotiate in the best interest of their organizations:
- The sales environment has become increasingly complex.
- Tech-savvy customers are able to do extensive, independent research.
- Strategic procurement has expanded dramatically.
- Competitive pressures are relentless.
- Customers want consultative guidance from trusted advisors.
The answer is not more product training.
Salespeople surveyed for Accelerating Revenue Through Learning rank the importance of "more product knowledge" as an "8" out of 10 possibilities when asked what they need to be more successful in their selling efforts (Figure 1). Product knowledge is important, but they are generally receiving enough.
The answer is not taking a "personal approach" to continuous improvement.
Nearly 90 percent of surveyed salespeople say they self-direct their own learning (Figure 2), even though leaving each to define his own selling strategy is a recipe for individual and organizational failure. Having worked with countless organizations that started out with as many different approaches as they had salespeople, ESR can assure you that it is no way to run an effective sales organization.
All too often, time and resources are continuously diverted as salespeople seek out tips, tricks, and shortcuts. The process becomes a never-ending (and futile) quest for a silver bullet to overcome their obstacles. The ongoing search distracts the sales organization from its real goals and doesn't produce results. Salespeople should not be seeking out knowledge on their own. (Would you want your surgeon surfing websites for tips and tricks just before performing your bypass surgery?)
The solution is to provide your salespeople with structure, ongoing reinforcement, and support that will allow them to be successful. According to the study,
Accelerating Revenue Through Learning offers key recommendations for cultivating a comprehensive, strategic approach to developing a winning sales team:
- Understand your buyer (your first priority).
- Place only the right people in sales positions.
- Build the sales process before any training.
- Reinforce behavior changes.
- Measure the new behaviors and sales results.
Unlike a single motivational event or one-day training session, developing and implementing these processes can take time and focus, but the rewards - a thriving company and effective sales organization - can make it well worth the effort.