Much good is happening.
The past few years have been an exciting time to be in the sales performance improvement profession. Analytics abound. Technology tools proliferate (and put the right stuff at the fingertips of sales reps, when it’s needed). Marketers are creating insightful content and influential sales messaging is being developed. Scientific talent selection practices are becoming more mainstream. Training professionals are focusing more on learning systems, transfer, reinforcement, performance support, and trying to provide platforms to influence, or at least encourage, informal learning. Sales process and methodology are getting the attention they deserve. And perhaps it's been driven by the changes in the buying process and current buyer's market, but there has been a cyclical but welcome return to a focus on the customer, complete with new approaches like buyer personas and buying process mapping. Definitions still vary widely, but Sales Enablement has arrived.
This is all good news right?
I believe it is, but don't cheer quite yet.
We’re not over the hump yet.
- ES Research Group, Inc. estimates that 20 to 33 percent of salespeople do not have the capabilities to be successful at their jobs.
- Based on ongoing research, ESR estimates that 80 to 85 percent of sales training produces no long-term impact (after 90 days).
- And 65 percent% of top sales leaders surveyed by CSO Insights said their top objective for the year was capturing new accounts—67 percent of those same leaders said that their team "needs improvement" in generating leads.
- In ASTD’s report The State of Sales Training, 2012, half the respondents felt that 50 percent or less of the training they received was relevant to their job.
So, with all of this growing data, knowledge, science, process, and technology, why are we not doing better as a whole?
We could debate this for weeks, and in the not-so-black-and-white real world, the answers vary by organization…but I think there are two big blocks, for certain. I’ll call them Issue #1 and Issue #2, and will get to them in just a minute. But first…
The sales performance ecosystem.
Why are we not doing better? In part, it's still a confusing mess, that's why. Have you looked at all the elements or levers in the sales performance ecosystem lately? It's like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces cut in the same shape.
In sharing this, I don't mean to spawn debate about what discipline falls under what heading. There's probably value in that discussion at some point, but right now it feels more like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. “What falls where” could easily vary by organization and is largely undefined in our space, since we’ve been horrible as a profession about defining things clearly. In some companies, sales compensation is handled at the executive level or by senior leaders. In others, it’s housed in sales operations. In many, it's in HR or supported by HR. In some companies, sales learning and development falls in sales enablement or a sales training department that reports to sales. In others, training reports to HR/talent management/development. So, rather than debate that for now, just recognize it’s an issue, notice the proliferation of moving parts, and if you think I've missed something entirely, please comment and call it out.
Next, remember that the average tenure for senior sales leaders is 18 to 24 months. The pressure to “make the number” is intense. Combine that pressure and fire-drill urgency with the complexity of figuring out what to do and when to address the most important root cause issues and move the performance needle (meaning, the 20 percent of things that drive 80 percent of the results), and you can easily see why things don't get done, or don't get done well. (To be clear, this is not a poke at sales leaders. The pressure is intense and they have more to deal with than many realize, unless they’ve sat in the hot seat themselves.)
Here are Issues #1 and #2.
Issue #1, which I will address in a future series in August, is this: How do you conduct a root cause analysis, prioritize initiatives, and determine where to start to get the best results, before the curtain falls and your runway is up. (Whew!)
Issue #2 is the other issue I want to mention today, and tee up for August as well. This one is equally as important...and oddly...not even on the chart above. Why? Well, it's not specifically a sales or marketing discipline, it isn't talked about as much in our space, but it’s another general critical discipline that we (business leaders) frequently don't get right. Have you guessed it?
I'm talking about change management and change leadership.
Don’t go changing, to try and please me.
According to John Kotter, 70 percent of change projects do not achieve desired outcomes—in fact, 52 percent fail with no evidence of change and in many cases, cause long-term damage to the organization. Stunning, considering that leading change and improving our companies is supposed to be a core competence of organizational leaders.
How does this relate to us? Imagine sitting around a boardroom table, talking about what needs to be done to make a training initiative a major success. You’ve been in these meetings, right? Everyone always nods their heads like a bobble head. Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar. We should:
- Involve SME sales managers and top sales performers upfront, to ensure the content will make a difference. (nods)
- Design the training in an interactive way, giving people enough time to learn new skills. (nods)
- Make training a process, not an event. (nods)
- Communicate expectations in advance, for all the stakeholders of the results from the training, and align what each will be doing before, during, and after the training. (nods)
- Prepare leadership messages about what we're doing, why we're doing it, why it's important, what they expect from stakeholders, and how they'll support the change themselves. (nods)
- Have sales managers attend the sales training in advance. Then, teach the sales managers how to coach as effectively as possible. Then, have the sales managers attend training again, with their sales teams. (nods)
- Have senior sales leaders follow-up to ensure the after-training coaching is occurring and being done effectively. (nods)
- Benchmark results prior to training and measure the lead and lag indicators after training, to ensure you're getting the needed results, or can make course corrections to get them. (nods)
Great stuff, right? So, after all that nodding, how often do you actually see all these things being done, for each major sales change initiative? Truly.
Hmm. If you don't see this consistently, why not?
I'll leave you for now to mull over this question and hopefully, share your thoughts in comments. I’d love to hear your perspective and be able to include it in the future posts. I'll be back in August to reinvigorate this topic and delve more into Issue #1, how to prioritize initiatives and determine where to start, and Issue #2, how to lead and manage the change initiatives effectively. In the meantime, I’ve included some additional reading below, for those interested.
Until then, "stay the course" (bad pun fully intended) and happy enabling!
Sales Change Management/Leadership: