Today's blog post is by Tom Stanfill, CEO and co-founder of ASLAN Training and Development, a global sales training company with seven consecutive years in the Selling Power Top 20. Since 1996, ASLAN has worked with many of the largest sales organizations in the world, training more than 50,000 sellers and leaders in more than 33 countries. Through numerous speaking engagements and published articles, Tom is widely recognized as a thought leader in selling and sales leadership. His passion: helping organizations and individuals embrace the idea that we are more successful and fulfilled when we serve.
In the past few months, I’ve attended two conferences for sales and sales enablement leaders. At both, the main focus was this: The economy is up, but sales performance is on a continued decline.
Everyone seems to be scrambling to find the big fix. And this is probably why the latest sales productivity tools are so hot right now.
According to Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and CEO of Selling Power magazine, there are now more than 3,000 sales productivity tools on the market (with AI tools at the top of the list). Everyone, it appears, is looking for something to make selling easier.
Can You Make Selling Easier?
More power to them! Selling is hard, and any edge you can get is worth pursuing. But here’s the truth about selling: There is no secret sauce, silver bullet, or magic fairy dust (pick your favorite metaphor) to mastering the profession.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the tools, pro-tips, insights, or anything that will make it easier to sell. Our company has invested heavily in such tools.
But, just like learning to play golf or the violin, sellers need a defined set of capabilities and skills to succeed. There are no shortcuts. If you’re struggling to hit the ball in the fairway, you could invest in the latest driver – but rigorous practice is required to fix your swing.
As long as sellers are talking to customers, there are no shortcuts to mastering the art of influence.
So this begs the question: What is the most effective strategy for developing a seller’s capabilities? Is it sales training? Nope. Is it delivering real-time microlearning to your sales team? Nope.
Frontline Sales Leaders Are the Key to Better Sales Performance
Here’s what we have learned from 20 years of research, conducting control group studies, and analyzing the highest performing sales organizations: If you want to change your sellers’ performance, there is nothing more effective than focusing on your frontline sales leaders.
Training, microlearning, and productivity tools are all critical to improving sales performance, but nothing has more impact than the leader/coach. The leader drives the culture and engagement, and is the key to developing the seller’s competency. Change happens one-on-one, not in a workshop.
I know this idea, on face value, isn’t revolutionary. You’re probably a big believer in sales coaching. You love the whole sales coaching movement. I get it – almost every organization I’ve worked with supports this idea.
When I spend time in the field, I ask questions to assess how well teams are being coached, including these:
- “When was the last time your manager rode with you?”
- “After a ‘coaching session,’ what is the plan to build a new skill set?”
- “How are you measuring a seller’s competency level or engagement level?”
- “What are the seller’s personal development goals?”
And, in response, I often get blank stares.
Most sales coaching sessions are really management meetings or strategy sessions. They are discussions about what went wrong, what went right, what the plan is to win, and how the numbers are looking.
Even if it’s an incredibly collaborative exchange, where the seller successfully diagnoses opportunities for improvement, nothing changes without practice. And, honestly, even the best reps can’t accurately assess their abilities without another set of eyes.
My point? Effective sales coaching takes time – and most organizations are still looking for the quick fix.
The very best tool, in the hands of an incompetent rep, will yield very little. To learn to “play,” we all need a coach to help us see our blind spots, encourage us, challenge us, and continually support the skill development process.
No judgment; I get how tough it can be. Our organization struggles regularly with coaching; and, when we fail to make it a priority, performance suffers. If you want to change performance, ask yourself: Are the frontline leaders the number one priority?
What Is Your Sales Leadership Score?
If you suspect there is a need to refocus on the frontline sales leader – or you want to personally assess your approach to developing your team and improving sales performance – check out our leadership diagnostic. In about five minutes, you will see if there are quick wins you can implement.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what you will discover:
- How well are you igniting the desire to change?
- Is your current culture enhancing or diminishing engagement and performance?
- What are the real metrics that matter?
- How much time, realistically, should be allocated to coaching?
- Are you focused on the three elements of coaching that change performance?
- Are you coaching the right people?
- Are you assessing and measuring the eight competencies that determine ability?
- Have you created the most effective development strategy for the four types of sellers?