Today's blog post is by Bob Sanders. He currently serves as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development. He has more than twenty five-years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. He is dedicated to elevating the sales profession and delivering exceptional results for sales people, their customers and their companies.
If you want a sustainable competitive advantage, it may be time to radically rethink the traditional approach to sales training. We are finding an increasing number of companies living on the front lines of a sales learning revolution and achieving lower turnover, faster ramp times, higher participation rates, and better overall performance. These spectacular results are being achieved by making learning a continuous part of the sales cadence and integrating learning, coaching, and selling tools into their CRM.
We all know the challenges with traditional sales training programs. Most can provide a small, short-lived spike in sales performance, but the overall impact and ROI of the investment is often suspect. However, the transformation of CRM systems, especially Salesforce.com – from contact, account, and opportunity management solutions to full sales effectiveness platforms – presents an opportunity for a radically new paradigm: the learning sales organization.
From our perspective, the learning sales organization differs from a traditional sales organization in the following ways:
- Classroom training is replaced largely by online learning that is available anywhere – any time salespeople want or need to learn.
- Sales managers play a significantly greater role in the development of their sellers. They leverage technology to help them better diagnose improvement opportunities and leverage the online learning to improve the skill and knowledge of their teams.
- Applications for opportunity management, account planning and management, and sales coaching are often embedded in Salesforce.com and drive learning application, methodology execution, and Salesforce.com adoption.
- Senior leaders set objectives for learning and coaching and integrate these performance metrics into their score cards.
A recent special report by Aberdeen helps highlight the impact this shift is having for best-in-class sales organizations.
Beyond improving sales performance, the continuously learning approach can help your company dramatically reduce their training expenses. One company we know well recently merged with another organization of nearly the same size – onboarding nearly 500 sellers and managers to their existing sales and coaching methodology without conducting any traditional training events! This saved the company an estimated $1,000,000 in travel and training expenses and dramatically reduced integration time.
Beyond the traditional metrics and improved CRM adoption, becoming a learning sales organization can transform your customer relationships. When learning is a matter of course rather than a sporadic event, sellers and managers develop the habit of continuous learning. This habit will allow them to absorb and apply new information about your solutions and competitive intelligence more quickly and completely – making the entire organization more flexible and improving the sales ramp-up for new products. More importantly, however, by building their learning muscles, salespeople are able to engage with customers in a dramatically more effective way. Salespeople who have “learned to learn” build more authentic relationships with their customers, investing in understanding customers rather than constantly pitching the next product. Customers are better served, salespeople deliver better results, and relationships are stronger and more sustainable.
So where should you begin your journey to becoming a learning sales organization? As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Here are a couple of suggestions on how you can begin the transformation in small but meaningful ways:
- Establish a common methodology for key selling activities, including opportunity management, account planning and management, and sales coaching. This should include an ideal model for engaging customers supported by well-defined skills.
- Insist upon a plan for any training initiative that includes follow-up activities that will help cement the learning. See this blog post for more information on the learning cycle that necessitates the need for small, bite-sized learning activities followed by practice and application.
- Implement a coaching solution. Sales leaders will have greater impact on the development of their teams than anything done by the training and development team. Make sure your managers become great coaches by:
- Setting meaningful goals and creating individualized sales success plans
- Uncovering performance gaps before they impact sales results
- Identifying the root cause of performance gaps
- Defining corrective action in the form of learning, practice, and application activities that will shrink gaps
- Measuring and evaluating coaching effectiveness across the organization
- Integrate measures for sales coaching and learning into your senior leadership scorecard. Even if you are not fully equipped as a learning sales organization, adding measures for this will help ensure you continue to make incremental progress along your journey.
- Celebrate learning and coaching. Once you start measuring this, be certain to celebrate it. Too often, leaders give far greater attention to what is wrong than what is right. As Frank Blake, former Home Depot CEO, has said, what you celebrate tells the organization what is important.
Should you need help with your initiative, or if you’re just looking to share ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at AXIOM. We’d be happy to assist you in any way we can.