Who Owns Behavior Change In The Sales Force? - A Key Question For SE Pros From ASTD's 2011 International Conference

This week, I presented a session on "How to Drive Sales Coaching Results" at the International Conference for the American Society for Training and Development. While ASTD doesn't publish the actual number of attendees, my guess is there between 7,000 to 9,000 people in attendance. Session topics run the gamut with topics related to change management, performance management, instructional design, talent management, e-learning, performance improvement, and of course, sales training. 

It was interesting to attend the conference this year and experience it as someone who spends a lot of time thinking through human performance, HR, training, learning, and coaching with Forrester's definition of "sales enablement" in mind. At Forrester, we define sales enablement as "a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system." With this top-down view in mind I participated in a panel discussion on the future of sales training, delivered a session on driving sales coaching results, and also chaired the day-long ASTD Sales Training Committee meeting to help chart ASTDs course for the next few years in the sales training and development space. 

I asked a series of questions to a room of 200 attendees. Here's what I asked:

  1. If organizations are changing their go-to-market strategy, do sales managers and leaders need to help the sales team transform? The answer... a resounding "yes"
  2. If sales managers and leaders need to transform, do sales reps and managers need to change their behavior? The answer... a resounding "yes"
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Are We Facing A World-Wide Sales Talent Shortage?

A week doesn't go by when I haven't talked to someone who is in sales or marketing about the work they're doing to help the sales team change how they communicate value. It seems that many marketing and sales leaders are working hard to "help salespeople sell higher" or "help salespeople differentiate the messages they deliver." A couple of patterns are emerging; like moving the sales conversations from being transaction-focused to a more consultative one, or moving a consultative conversation to a more outcome-focused conversation.

There is no doubt that changing the sales conversation means changing the behavior of the sales team -- many sales leaders believe that change can't happen fast enough. When it comes to making the shift, you have a short list of choices:

1) develop or expand the existing skill set of the current salespeople you have, or

2) work with the sales leadership team and HR team to hire the right salespeople who have the right skills and connections to have the right conversations you need to be successful

3) a combination of both 1 and 2

More and more technology vendors are deciding to invest in the salespeople they have. For most technology vendors, hiring for skill just isn’t working. One sales leader said, “We are realizing that the talent shortage in the profession overall is working against us. Many salespeople just haven’t been trained like they used to, and they have picked up some bad habits along the way."

We are at a sales "skills cross-road."

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