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What Changed?

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Over the years, I have been struck by how much sales training is delivered – and how often it is sub-optimal. I have spoken with numerous leaders about this fact to confirm my insight. After all of that, I have to ask  two questions that I think really encapsulates many of the discussions I have had over the last few months with executives:

Have you noticed that you (and your peers at the more senior positions and more tenured levels in sales organizations) were better sales people than many sales people in the industry today; and that even though we now have; CRM, Category Management, all of the fact-based tools, reliance on “big data,” etc., performance has not improved as expected? What did you and your peers know how to do that seems to be missing from many current sales people?

Has the skill level of salespeople decreased?

If I could share an insight I have developed over the last 25 plus years of training –

I began in sales training believing that it was incumbent upon the sales person to uncover needs, identify “pain points” of the prospect or customer, and link product or services to those needs.  For years, I worked to refine my skills in honing the ability to zero in on the proper questions to ask; the “bridge to a close,” and the sales process methods to “get to Yes,” etc.

 I would conduct 2 day workshops where I would trot out forms, profiles, processes, etc. all designed to reinforce the skills of the “best in class” salespeople.  All the while believing that the answer to sales success lay in the application of the skills being trained.  Skill in rapport was something that was “hired in” as it was not easily trained.  Either someone “had it, or not.”  Sure, we trained people on how to do the steps mechanically (shake hands, make eye contact, look for pictures or trophies in the buyer’s office to comment on, etc.), but it did not lead to success.

 Over that time, I got quite good at creating exercises, job-aids, reference materials, case studies, etc. designed to enhance the competencies of the sales forces I trained to follow the path of “Fact-based selling/Consultative Approaches/Solution-based techniques/etc.”  And, the results of that effort rarely led to a change in performance across the majority of sales people trained.  It was often assumed that the issue was in their practice or commitment to the skills, or was in some way reflective of their weakness or inability to integrate the approach into their selling behaviors.

 It was not until I did some more research, spoke to experts OUTSIDE of sales (Attorneys, Therapists, and others) who exposed me to a completely different insight on what compels people to act, how to align with others, ways of building trust, develop relationships, etc.  This workshop is the culmination of all of that work.

 What I think is unique about this program versus the traditional way that salespeople are taught to sell is that the current “Conceptual Selling” or “Consultative Approaches” place an emphasis on being fact-based, data-driven, and following a very “Seller-Process focused.”  While I do not know what your company is specifically using and how they address the issues; what I find to be common across many training courses is a downplaying of “the other side of the equation” (the Buyer’s thoughts, successful approaches to increase receptivity, ways of building mutual or collaborative approaches, etc.).

 As part of the sales initiative or effort, the key skill of relationship building and being trustworthy has been given short-shrift or assumed to be a “given” (the expectation is that sales people are good at connecting with buyers – but often do not really do not know how to do it, replicate it, train it, manage it, etc.).  There needs to be more focus on the very skills that differentiate interacting with a sales person vs. the internet:

  • the ability to share the emotion of the sale, not just a talking fact sheet.
  • The importance of telling a story and providing context to the benefits of the purchase.
  • Developing trust with the company, the sales person, the product/service.

What is needed is enhancement of those skills by identifying them, “codifying” them, and developing those competencies.

David Zahn

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