As the 2011 calendar year winds down, many sales enablement professionals are working on their sales kickoff initiative for the coming year. These large-scale events are an integral part of annual cycle, where the sales team converges on a fully prepared hotel for a days-long pep rally full of content sessions, vision-setting, and plenty of networking. Many of the sales kickoffs we hear about, and participate in, are focused on motivating and inspiring the sales force to hit their annual quota, or better yet, set new sales records.
While a healthy dose of motivation for the sales force is always important, next year's sales kickoff may require a healthy dose of reality as well.
It seems the expense of sales kickoffs is being scrutinized more than last year at higher levels of the organization. In fact, many of sales enablement professionals we talked with this quarter are being asked to justify the sales kickoff investment by their CEO. On top of that, sales leaders are asking for a more specific description of what's going to happen in the sales kickoff, and how the content in the event is going to help their salespeople drive the sales process forward. Both of these views – the view from the top and the view from the trenches – converge at a seemingly simple, yet often difficult to answer question:
"What's the expected impact of the sales kickoff next year?"
I have yet to meet a senior executive who doesn’t agree that agility is important in business. At Forrester’s 2011 Sales Enablement Forum, Forrester CEO George Colony shared some of his research with fellow CEOs. He asked a simple question; "Are you satisfied that your sales force is advancing your strategy?" The answer was a resounding "No!" Giving their sales forces an average grade of C- [read the full post here]. George’s research found that CEOs have the following problems with their sales forces:
“Speed.” The sales force is always 12 to 18 months behind strategy.
“Calling too low.” Sales reps aren’t getting to power.
“The sales force can’t tell the story.” The focus is on price and not on the full value and quality of products.
“We have the wrong people.” Not smart enough; not tuned in to the market.
Technology vendors continue to focus on implementing sales coaching programs. I'm finding that sales coaching programs mostly focus on providing sales managers the skills they need to be more "coach-like" with their reps. When you step back and look at what kind of skills sales managers need to be more coaching oriented, you end up with a broad ranging list like objectively assessing reps and where they're at, or clearly defining future rep behaviors, or using technology to help inform sales coaching decisions. Along with this focus on skills, some sales coaching programs focus on defining the critical elements of each sales coaching conversation (like increased relevance, giving developmental feedback, and providing motivation). Yet, despite these efforts, the sales enablement professionals we talk to share their frustration that sales coaching doesn't quite take off with frontline sales managers like they were expecting.
For example, in one technology vendor, sales coaching didn't take off despite sales coaching training, top-down sales leader support, and feedback from reps demanding more coach-like interactions with their managers. In another technology vendor, it seemed massive communications and sales coaching training efforts were a non-starter (and dare I say it, dead on arrival). Why is that? Why are technology vendors seemingly doing the right things, but not getting the traction they expect?
It seems that one critical and often overlooked aspect of helping sales coaches be more successful is the ability to help coaches get started: 1) defining their sales coaching approach, and 2) starting each and every interaction with reps in a valuable and meaningful way, especially when those interactions are around previously identified sales coaching scenarios.
Sales training and enablement professionals who effectively build an internal sales coaching capability help sales reps overcome complexity and sell more successfully. According to the sales enablement professionals we interviewed, building an internal sales coaching capability has two major components: strategic architecture and effective enablement.
The strategic architecture is built from thoughtful design, implementation, and reinforcement of sales coaching initiatives. Effective enablement comes from using sales coaching conversations as the design point while making sure coaches have the right content, skills, and tools to do tailor those conversations.
Unfortunately, most of the sales coaching programs we see lack the tools and methods to do just that.
So what is an enterprising sales training or sales enablement professional to do?
Join me for a Forrester workshop on sales coaching
To understand the state of sales coaching today, Forrester interviewed sales enablement professionals at 35 technology vendors. They universally agreed that achieving the goals of the sales leadership team, including selling at higher levels, often requires a change in salesperson behavior. This workshop provides sales enablement professionals the strategies and tools needed to create effective sales coaching programs at their companies to more effectively support their sales initiatives in the field.
Many sales enablement professionals we talked to have looked to sales coaching as a key enabler to salesperson success. So we built the workshop to
Help you plan a more effective sales coaching program
Provide a methodology for prioritizing, facilitating, and continuously improving individual sales coaching conversations
Why does sales coaching continue to be an important sales enablement trend? Perhaps it's because salespeople learn new skills through mutually beneficial relationships with individual coaches. If you think about it, sales coaches can come from many parts of the organization and include sales managers, sales trainers, sales engineers, and in some cases from product marketers. When sales enablement professionals effectively support tailored sales coaching conversations between coaches and reps, salespeople learn faster, converse more confidently with their customers, and achieve specific sales objectives, like gaining access to the right buyers or building a winning business case.
If you think about it, the role of a sales coach is challenging. Sales coaches must process many different content inputs from across the organization, package those inputs (in their head), and then deliver content through an effective sales coaching conversation to one salesperson at a time. And, sales coaches must make sure they treat everyone uniquely, so they maximize their sales coaching impact. Sales Enablement professionals need a strategy, a methodology, and tools to effectively enable their sales coaches to implement and sustain high-quality coaching conversations that help salespeople achieve sales objectives.
In order to make sales coaching successful, Sales Enablement pros need a clear definition. The definition should drive specific sales coaching behavior while at the same time clearly defining the business reason why sales coaching is important. The definition should serve as a clear design point for sales coaching success.
Over the past several months, I’ve had conversations with a lot of technology vendors about "overcoming sales training challenges." While all of the people I talked to fall into the Sales Enablement function, (meaning they come from product groups, marketing groups, and sales groups and are working to support the conversations that salespeople have) only 2 of those people were actually from within the sales training function at their company. In other words, there seems to be a lot of concern about sales training and a lot of work going on in the name of sales training but the discussion is happening outside the sales training group!
This finding led me to ask, "Is sales training strategic or tactical?" over on LinkedIn [check out some of the answers]. Taking a step back and looking through those answers in light of the conversations I've been having, I found an interesting pattern emerging.
Most of the people involved in sales training initiatives have a specific view on the role, scope, and value of sales training. This view biases the ways these people approach solving these sales training challenges or leverage training for solving the sales challenges their organizations face. At a macro level, these differing views, or paradigms, can be broken down into two camps which are often in direct conflict with one another. These competing mindsets can end up pulling in opposite directions, creating a sales training stalemate with noting really being solved and lots of money being wasted.
Here are a few examples of these different, often competing views:
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:
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"
If sales managers and leaders need to transform, do sales reps and managers need to change their behavior? The answer... a resounding "yes"
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."
I was in South Africa this week, giving a keynote at a Forrester Sales Enablement event in Johannesburg. As I wrapped up the discussion of overcoming complexity and creating more of an adaptive sales enablement approach in sales organization, someone asked, "How important is the role of the sales manager in supporting the behavior change needed within the sales team?" A great question! As a sales leader, he recognized that communicating value to today’s buyers requires a behavior change by today’s sellers, and that behavior change needs to be supported by an involved manager. My answer to his question was, “Before I answer that question, who owns your sales coaching strategy, and does that strategy provide sales coaches what they need to be successful?" Sales coaching is playing an increasingly important role in helping sellers adapt to change while handing the complexity around them.
With an effective sales coaching strategy, salespeople can expand skills and advance the sales process. Perhaps this is why so many sales trainers and sales enablement professionals are asked to focus on developing sales coaching programs in support of driving more valuable sales conversations with buyers.