Pave the way to long-term sales methodology adoption.
Imagine this: You are a sales curriculum manager for a large company and just learned that sales leadership plans to launch a third-party sales model to the global sales force. The contract will be signed in a few days. The vice president of sales operations has asked how quickly you can schedule the workshops and load the prework into the learning management system. You are sure you can add a higher order of value, but you aren't sure where to start.
Don't wait for someone to ask for your input about driving adoption. Be proactive. Create a plan you can share with key stakeholders for consideration and feedback. And, of course, partner with those stakeholders to implement the revised plan.
This article is based on firsthand experience from the customer side of multiple large-scale sales methodology rollouts, each with a different sales performance vendor. Even if you're not a sales curriculum manager, the guidance is relevant to anyone who has some degree of responsibility to help their company garner results from a sales training rollout.
Let's say the unexpected happens, and the vendor is under contract to provide postworkshop support to help drive adoption of new sales behaviors. Do you still play an important role? Yes; it's impossible for an outside vendor to see the same opportunities you can.
At its core, sales methodology is a business process that touches many functional areas, including marketing, talent acquisition, customer relationship management, and other business systems. Some areas will support the methodology rollout and have their own adoption plans, so find out who those people are, how the plans align, and the opportunities for collaboration. That cross-functional approach can bolster and organically grow your long-term adoption plan.
Build a relationship with the vendor
The vendor is a central player in the rollout beyond the workshop delivery. Its team has been talking with your sales leadership stakeholders, sales managers, and sales training audience about their training needs, and it will continue to do so for some time. Your employer has placed its trust in the vendor, as well as significant dedicated funding. The faster you can develop a relationship, the better. Exchanging insights can evolve into a powerful, collaborative alliance that will factor heavily into your adoption plan.
If someone from your sales organization hasn't already connected you with the vendor team, find out who is managing the relationship and ask for an introduction. Explain that your goal is to align the company's internal sales training to the new methodology where possible and that you would like to get the vendor's insights.
Also see if you can audit one of the vendor's workshops. Observing a workshop is on the critical path to developing an effective adoption plan. The methodology workshop is an opportunity for you to understand what content the instructor emphasizes, where learners struggle, and how the instructor answers questions and explains main points. Simply reading the training materials will not provide that knowledge.
Create a revision plan
It's important to align your sales curriculum to the new sales model. Without alignment, the salespeople will face several mental hurdles each time they take one of your courses.
So, what will you need to adjust in your regular sales curriculum? The answer will be unique to your organization and the sales methodology, but here are three givens: lexicon, principles and techniques, and emphasis and proportion.
Begin by comparing your current sales training template to the new methodology. That will require a bit of homework and a step-by-step approach. First, document your typical sales training approach in a way that will be easy for the vendor to understand. Listing the modules in sequence enables others to see at a glance what the course generally covers. If the module titles aren't descriptive, use graphic phrases in place of the titles.
Next to each module, give a percentage that indicates the proportion of the course dedicated to it. For example, topics and weightings for a course may look like:
- market opportunity (why salespeople should be excited)—5 percent
- customer needs—10 percent
- solution overview—30 percent
- prospecting/where to hunt—10 percent
- developing the opportunity—15 percent
- why us versus the competition—20 percent
- customer success stories—10 percent.
After making that list, provide a summary of what each module typically entails. What are the learning objectives, keywords and phrases, learning activities, and sales techniques per module? You are basically creating a snapshot of your company's current sales lexicon and approach. The goal is to give the vendor a picture of what your sales courses commonly cover and how product information balances with sales techniques.
Now review the methodology and note key differences. Document your initial thoughts on how you will need to adjust the sales training to mirror the new methodology. For each module, document a revision plan. For instance, the second module of your sales courses has traditionally included an elevator pitch for a given solution, but the new methodology uses the term attention-getter. Therefore, make a note in your revision plan indicating that attention-getter in module 2 replaces all instances of elevator pitch. If you want to include a job aid on how to construct and deliver the attention-getter, write that down as well.
Walk the vendor through the revision plan to collect feedback. Start with your template or course snapshot to provide context for planned changes. Give the vendor a few days to reflect, then have a follow-up meeting to collect input. During that meeting, get the vendor's explicit approval for any new learning collateral—cheat sheets, learning activities, or other supplemental materials you'll need to develop to leverage the vendor's intellectual property.
Once you update your documentation with the vendor's guidance, you will essentially have an aligned sales training template. Be sure to update your revision plan. As you will see in the next section, it will become a key learning reference.
Coach training designers, developers, and SMEs on the new method
At this point, you are prepared to help other team members make the necessary mental shift to the new approach. Stakeholders can include instructional designers, technical writers and editors, project managers, and content subject matter experts.
For some SMEs, the shift will be difficult; they are accustomed to being the masters of their content and may resist change. Other SMEs will be excited and appreciate your guidance to ensure their content stays fresh and in step with the sales organization's evolution.
To quickly get everyone up to speed, consider holding a workshop with the cross-functional team to guide members through revising an existing course to align with the new format. Select a strategic course that will have a long shelf life so it's worth the effort of updating it. Spend time reviewing the revision plan with them so they get a sense of important changes, module by module.
Now is the time to rename the revision plan to reflect the new purpose of the document, which, to put it plainly, is to help team members understand what they need to stop and start doing when developing a sales course.
Provide training tools for sales managers
Even though sales managers will learn the sales methodology and likely receive additional training on how to coach to it, you can bolster their efforts to help their salespeople internalize and apply their new sales skills. Something that has worked well for me in the past is to provide "training in a box" that sales managers can easily deliver on their own during routine sales meetings or quarterly business reviews.
I partnered with a sales manager to zero in on one type of business challenge the sales team needed to tackle. Next, I developed these deliverables for the manager to use with the team:
- a short PowerPoint presentation (no more than three slides) that the manager uses to refresh everyone's memory of a specific technique from the methodology
- a template to help each salesperson draft an approach for leveraging that technique with a specific prospect or customer
- a commitment sheet, where each salesperson pledges to use the technique with that specific customer within a specific timeframe and report back to the rest of the group on results.
The sales managers who used that approach reported that it was an effective management tool for them and made a measurable difference in sales productivity and performance. Benefits included more efficient customer meetings due to conveying essential messages more effectively the first time, increased ability to break into new accounts, faster identification of influencers, and increased deal size due to selling more complete solutions versus point products.
Talk with sales leaders about partner training needs
It's inevitable that leaders and managers of the indirect channel will ask how partners will be trained on the new methodology. Refer them back to the sales leader who purchased the training method so they can discuss the business need. No one should share the vendor's training with a partner unless the vendor has given written permission to do so. Otherwise, that would be considered eliminating a workshop opportunity for the vendor, thus threatening its revenue stream.
However, some vendors are open to negotiating unique arrangements that are mutually beneficial. The key is to draw a clear distinction between using some new sales techniques with a partner in the context of pursuing a joint sales opportunity versus attempting to train the partner on the methodology itself. Consider which job aids blend the vendor's techniques with your company's content.
Let's say sales team members are working with a partner on a specific opportunity, and they are at the stage of discussing return on investment. In such situations, I have created a mock-up of the job aid and included joint branding between my employer and the vendor, along with a URL to the vendor's website where the partner can go for more information. The vendor was pleased with that free marketing approach and didn't charge my employer a fee for sharing the job aid with the partner. Our arrangement was on a case-by-case basis; we didn't treat it as blanket permission to distribute to our partner base.
Prepared for success
If you are supporting a sales methodology rollout, you are bound to identify many additional opportunities to remove the barriers to adoption. In fact, you may have noticed a key topic I haven't yet discussed: onboarding training (in other words, sales boot camp) for new sales hires. How can you successfully integrate a sales methodology into a sales boot camp? Is a stand-alone methodology workshop still needed? If you have dedicated in-house sales trainers, what are the pros and cons of certifying your own sales trainers to deliver the methodology?
By following the guidance I've outlined, you will be better prepared to address those and other questions as they arise. For example, you will have a head start on transforming sales onboarding training if you have already transformed your standard sales training template and created a new set of sales job aids. And if you already have a good relationship with the vendor, discussing new challenges—such as how to evolve your sales boot camp—will be an easy extension of your ongoing collaboration.
Learn About the Vendor
Before you speak with the vendor, do some homework that will help make the most of the rep's time and yours. Here's what you should learn in advance:
What is the vendor's perspective on sales success? What are the critical skills and attitudes that can make the difference between a mediocre salesperson and a top performer?
An online search and visit to the vendor's website will give you a good head start on those answers.
Why did your company choose this vendor and sales model over others? What sales behaviors is your company seeking to change? How is this vendor and the chosen solution uniquely suited to help effect those changes?
The people on the vendor selection team—or colleagues who can speak on their behalf—will be the best source of information for answering those questions.
Learn From the Vendor
After setting up time to meet with the vendor, have these questions (listed in order of priority) on hand to ask the rep directly.
1. What main behavior changes are you trying to effect through this rollout? Why have those changes been deemed critical to the company's success? What is the magnitude of the skills gaps?
2. Can you provide a set of the training deliverables the target attendees and their managers will receive so I can start coming up to speed? (If there's a fee for the set, it's worth the price. Some vendors will have books on the commercial market, but they aren't a substitute for seeing the training materials. Generally, such books don't include job aids, role-play activities, or other useful training staples.)
3. Do you have any recommendations on how someone in my position can best support the rollout and help drive adoption of the methodology?
4. Do you have examples of how other customers have adapted your ongoing sales training to the new methodology?
5. Is it possible to speak to a training peer from one of your company's customers for firsthand lessons learned and best practices?