If there’s only one department in an organization that conjures the words “bottom-line impact” more than any other, it’s probably sales. After conducting research with more than 100 executives who make large-scale purchasing decisions to identify what they consider important in sales professionals, as well as studying some of the world’s best sales forces in companies such as UPS, Nokia and Lexus, Lou Schachter, senior vice president of The Real Learning Company and co-author of “The Mind of the Customer,” uncovered four key pillars for effective sales training: understand, create, communicate and manage.
“Four pillars exist in every world-class sales training program that really allow companies to bring their sales forces to the next level with a strong focus not just on the customer but on accelerating the customer’s desired business results,” Schachter said. “The first pillar is called ‘understand,’ and that is about understanding your customer in a really deep – not just superficial – way. Understand your customers’ business the way they see their business. There’s a lot of research and analytic skills that sales people really need today to understand their customer at this level that they probably didn’t need even five years ago when the focus was more on solution selling.”
The second pillar is “create,” and it refers to sales value as your customers define it and then providing that value the way they want it. The third pillar is “communicate,” which includes communicating interactively with the customer. Schachter said a PowerPoint sales pitch in which a sales persons talks at prospective clients for 45 minutes with 15 minutes for Q&A is not going to work.
“Part of that pillar is also negotiating collaboratively,” Schachter said. “The last pillar ‘manage,’ and that means managing to world-class best practices, and we’ve identified six sales best practices, as well as a series of coaching best practices because today, sales management is not about going in and being a super closer. It’s about coaching your sales people so that they can develop into their full potential.”
The five of the six best sales practices are: understanding the customer’s business, being passionate about the customer’s business results, building a network of relationships within the customer’s company, positioning a full range of capabilities from everything your company offers and developing a long-term partnership strategy for each account.
“The final one is to see themselves as facilitators of change,” Schachter said. “Sales people are not just there to provide information about products or even to help customers solve problems, although they have to do both of those things. They’re also increasingly becoming facilitators of change for customers.”
Providing appropriate development opportunities to build these faculties into sales staff might require a thorough understanding of adult learning principles and a nontraditional approach focused more on the student than the teacher.
“There’s a ton of research out there that says learning and behavior change happen at the group level. People need to dialogue with their peers, if they’re going to do things differently,” Schachter said. “They need to test out these models and make sure they work. Every learning session needs to include an opportunity for the participants to experience the new model or new way of doing things. The experience is the first part. The second part is being able to reflect on that. The third part is being able to apply it in some sort of practice setting. The fourth is actually applying it to their own real work or their own real accounts – have people bring real accounts into the sessions.
“When you’re teaching people sales or helping people learn sales, you’re trying to do three things to be successful. You’re trying to change their mindsets, give them new knowledge and you’re trying to change their behaviors. E-learning can be useful in the knowledge piece, particularly in a subset of that: the product knowledge piece. That’s the only piece that I’ve seen e-learning work – when there’s a lot of factual data that people need to absorb at their own pace. We recommend product knowledge be done through e-learning or other platforms, but things that require attitudinal or behavioral change need to be done in classrooms with facilitators, among peers in small groups,” Schachter said. “One of the other adult learning principles is relevance. If people don’t see things in the materials that reflect their real world that they can use back on their job, they’ll just tune out.”
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