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"
  3. If sales reps and managers need to change their behavior, "who owns the behavior change in the sales force?" The answer...Half the room believed the learning/training function should own behavior change, and the other half of the room believed sales managers and sales leaders own behavior change in the sales force.

Interesting. What would happen in your organization if one person believes they are responsible (for anything) and the other person believes they are responsible (for that thing?). I would venture to guess that results would be less than optimal.

In the ensuing discussion that followed, here were some comments:

  • Sales leaders and managers are responsible for driving sales performance and setting sales strategy. To accomplish that, they need to resource and retool the sales force to achieve those goals. That means sales managers and leaders are definitely responsible for equipping the sales team to be successful.
  • Sales training and development leaders are responsible for making sure salespeople have the right skills. Because of that, sales training and development leaders must drive business value and not drive activity. When it comes to defining and improving skills, it's assumed by most sales leaders that the skills imparted by the training and development teams are helping drive the performance that sales leaders want.
  • Sales training and development leaders have multiple stakeholders in their success, from HR, the content providers like product teams, sales operations, and sales management. To serve their customers (the sales leadership team) successfully, they must be clear on the role that they play (as sales training and development professionals) in order to be successful. 

What do you think? 

  1. Who owns behavior change in the sales force? Sales leaders/managers or training/learning professionals? Someone else? 
  2. More importantly, if behavior change needs to be driven from the top-down because it's of strategic importance to CEOs who want to change how they go to market, bring new capabilities to market, drive efficiency/cut costs, or retool the sales force, how does this impact those who view behavior change as a sales enablement challenge? 


Who Owns Behavior Change?

Great insights Brian. I would say that most organizations today have relegated the 'learning/training' function to HR-type initiatives (compliance, some professional development on a broad-stroke basis, etc.) or, in many tech companies, technical proficiency and/or certifications. If sales training does occur my experience is that it is largely around opportunity management, not about how to be more effective in the selling motion.

That being said, changing sales behaviors SHOULD reside in the sales organization but more often than not trying to drive systematic change in your 'revenue machine' is complex. Not to mention that trying to convince sales managers that they NEED to change can be a challenge.

We are finding that by beginning to introduce a new 'vocabulary' around our SE efforts is yielding some fruit. I recently sat in on a meeting with our sales leaders and without fail each one of them chimed in on how we need to begin to focus on our customers challenges and less on our products/technologies. It was music to my ears.

Sales HAS to own the transformation. Sales Enablement will influence and drive alignment with marketing and learning/training can facilitate the process but ultimately sales and sales leadership must be emotionally committed to making the change or the effort will be futile.