• This Blog Is Inactive!

    On of May 8, 2009, I moved my blog over to a new domain: DaveSteinsBlog.ESResearch.com

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  • ESR’s STVG

    Here is ESR's highly acclaimed Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition.

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ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide Published Today

ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide: Third Edition was published this morning.

The Guide analyzes, compares, and contrasts 23 leading sales training providers across many areas including:

  • Solutions Range
  • Range of Target Companies
  • Range of Target Audiences
  • Range of Training Programs
  • Adaptability
  • Range of Instructional Aids & Tools
  • Quality of Instructional Design
  • Measurement Programs
  • Post-training Reinforcement
  • Supporting Technology
  • Yield Growth
  • Return-On-Training (ROT)
  • Utilization among sales teams
  • Ease of Learning/Adoption

The Guide weighs in at more than 150 pages with 40 graphs and charts.

Based upon pre-publication sales, I believe this edition of the Guide is going to be the most widely appreciated and used to date.

You can learn more and order here.

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Webinar: Sales Training – The Independent Expert’s View

The TAS Group has invited me to deliver a complimentary webinar next Wednesday, April 8th, at 1:00 pm EDT.  During the webinar, I’ll be sharing ES Research Group’s latest findings about trends in sales training and sales training providers from ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition, which will be published next week.

  • How to get funding for sales training in a down economy.
  • What comes first, CRM system, Sales 2.0, or sales methodology?
  • Should you engage with a sales training provider, employ internal resources or wait until times get better?
  • Why classroom-based training isn’t getting the job done anymore.
  • How leading training companies are leveraging sales-enablement technology.
  • The 2009 ESR/Arena™—what is it and what value does it bring to companies seeking sales training solutions?

Please join me for this event.

An Important Message About An Important Message

A while back messaging and branding expert Maureen Blandford asked me to lend an endorsement to what was then her new book, Branding Doesn’t Work in Business to Business. I had not met Maureen.  I was skeptical. By the time I got through with the book, I was a Maureen Blandford fan.  Why?  Maureen provides the quality of insight and advice that is too rare these days—she’s passionate and completely devoid of B.S.  See for yourself:

Dave Stein: You’ve been pretty strident on Twitter about companies not getting the messaging thing right these days. What’s your perspective on what they’re doing wrong?

Maureen Blandford: It seems the sales thought leadership community is pretty aligned that selling collaboratively is where sellers need to be. I’m a huge fan of sellers asking great questions, building relationships, uncovering pain AND holding their opinions and solutions until they’ve first uncovered and quantified pain.

But HQ folks are busy flooding the marketplace with a lot of noise. Corporate marketers have a tough time shaking the Brand—the Dog & Pony Show sell. They’re creating boatloads of copy for upfront in the sales cycle when prospects are least likely to be paying attention. They spend days talking about tactic aesthetics (color, shape, size, etc) that are meaningless to our prospects. Our prospects want a solution that can solve their pain for less than the pain is costing. And if they can work with someone they like and possibly even trust to implement that solution – all the better.

Marketing and sales support tools essentially need to be the feet on the street in place of salespeople. Our sales folks can’t be everywhere at once. So we really need our tangible tools to mimic what we want our sellers doing: Be cool, confident, savvy. Ask great questions. Don’t assume you know all the answers. Intrigue the prospect enough to want to talk to a rep. Think: questions, bullet points, phrases.

DS: Is this any different from how it’s been in the past?

MB: Here’s the thing. We’ve been selling the same way for, what,  thousands of years, right?  Show your product, do a song and dance, negotiate price, close or lose the deal. Classic dog and pony show. That type of selling is in our DNA. Relationship Selling has only really been around for probably between 15 & 20 years. So, even though we can all be fans of Relationship Selling, it’s still really hard for salespeople to make that transition.  If you get Jill Konrath’s newsletter, she just wrote about some classic mistakes she’s made just recently. And she’s a fabulous seller. So, again, it’s tough to get this great model right.

But Marketing hasn’t even begun to make this transition. They’re still in Dog & Pony Show + Branding glory days. Marketing must make the transition to supporting how we sell today. The problem with that for marketers is (sorry, marketers) they’ve always been more concerned about shooting that next commercial, or winning that next ad club award, than they have been about how to help sales move the ball down the field. It’s a new day. Sales organizations are the stars now and marketers need to be happy and find the honor in being the back stage crew.

DS: Can you give us an example of a company that recently made a change in this regard, what the symptoms were and how they are faring now?

MB: Wow. I wish I could. Most of the orgs that are really successful at this fly under the radar. (I guess they value success over a globally-recognized brand. Huh.) Remember that there are thousands of B2B companies in the US alone. The big ones (IBM, Microsoft) get a lot of attention. But there are so many good companies out there, with salespeople generating revenue that many of us will never know about.

The way I see B2Bs today is in a kind of suspended animation. Our sales organizations need help making the transition fully to the consultative sale model. But where’s the budget, Dave, for on-going, sustainable training, mentoring, and support? (I can see you shaking your head, Dave…) Those budgets have vanished. Meanwhile, we only need to read the national news to understand the silly ways corporate is spending the revenue that the sales folks generate.

DS: Other than what you just described, how would a sales leader know that it’s their messaging that may be part of a sales problem?

MB: Most salespeople and sales leadership have given up on getting help with bad messaging. A colleague of mine, a VP of sales at a very successful biotech company, was at a product launch for a truly breakthrough, efficacious cancer drug targeted toward premier oncologists around the country. The marketing folks modeled their product launch campaign after, get this, a popular laundry detergent campaign. Uh huh. You read that right. Cancer drug, laundry detergent. Sheesh.

If I’m ever strident (!) about these issues, it’s because it’s unbelievable to me what’s going on in B2Bs. How long are we going to starve our salesforces of the training and support they need when their marketing teams (most of whom have never carried a bag) have the keys to extraordinary budgets but are quite clueless about the tactics necessary to support a consultative sale.

DS: Without asking you to give the entire content of your book away, could you enlighten us on why branding doesn’t work in B2B?

MB: Branding is a great methodology for consumer marketing. The consumer buying process, however, is the polar opposite of the B2B buying process for big deals. Universities don’t teach the difference between marketing for Consumer v. marketing for B2B. It doesn’t make sense to take the methodology for one and try to apply it to a completely different model.

Great B2B marketers need to think much less about what color does X need to be? And more about the revenue targets, prospect and customer buying processes, how sales needs to sell to match the buying process, who influences the prospects, and what are the best support tools to land new accounts and grow existing accounts.

Trust. Confidence. Relationships. Deals. Branding can’t get us there. But our people can.


Coming up…

  1. Please join me on April 8th when I present Nailing Your Sales Training—An Independent Expert’s View a complimentary webinar sponsored by The TAS Group.
  2. On Tuesday, April 14, I’ll be joining a stellar panel of sales experts for The Top Sales Experts Kickoff Event: The Future of Professional Selling.

Photo credit: © Beboy – Fotolia.com

The New Social Media (Wars)

I’ve been involved in a number of posts on The Customer Collective where there have been some personal attacks by a few social media zealots against some of us that have a more balanced view of the capabilities and tools required for effective B2B selling going forward in this new(est) economy.   Jonathan Farrington1, Dave Brock, Niall Devitt, and I have a somewhat similar opinion of the role of social media.  (These are smart guys.  I recommend you subscribe to their blogs.)

The four of us had an email exchange today after some comments to one of Jonathan’s posts.  The comments sounded like sweeping indictments of “old school,” and the four of us as well.

What’s really worth considering, as Dave Brock pointed out in the email thread, is that people are attacking the four of us for being old school, when we’re all entrenched in the new social media: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, virtual meetings, and much of the rest.  Are they attacking our not being immersed in the new social media, which you would think might be their mission? No.  They’re attacking us for the opinions we voice about the social media from within the social media environment.2 We’re not outside observers.

Here is an edited slice of my thoughts on the subject of social media zealotry and “old school” from that thread:

ESR has studied the issue of inter-generational selling. It’s a big challenge for companies and for consultants and trainers. It will become even more challenging. How do we “experts” stay relevant to younger salespeople, managers and CEOs is one question. The bigger question is how will younger salespeople become relevant to serious corporate buyers?

Here are a few more questions: The Millennials (Y’ers) show considerably less willingness to follow convention (read process) than those who are older—a generalization, I admit. Salespeople in general have less discipline and process-orientation than professionals, which compounds the problem. B2B customer buying patterns and practices are getting tougher, requiring more discipline, process, strategy, etc. on the part of those who sell to them. So how will the Millennials, many of whom are rejecting much of what has come before, wind up selling though this capability gap? Answer: Many will not! Companies will have to tighten up their profile for B2B salespeople and a boatload of soft skills with little else won’t be a desired characteristic—not in the kind of serious B2B selling that drives the economy. So the pure social media types will have that to play with that in their spare time, or lock on to a subset of buyers in corporations who may be open to that stuff.

A client of ours went into a very tough negotiation with a well-known company yesterday.  Big, big bucks! They were meeting with a senior strategic procurement executive. Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Virtual or online anything?  No. Weeks of research, customer profiling, political positioning, testing approaches, strategizing, number crunching, competitive positioning, collaborative brainstorming and one very, very important face-to-face meeting. Is that model going to change in the next few years? Sure, in some sales environments, but not in mission critical areas of most companies over $200 million in sales.

With all this being said, with respect to the business side of my life, I’ll listen to and consider anyone’s opinion on any subject, so long as they can express their opinion clearly and succinctly and don’t resort to manipulation, games, or personal attacks.  I believe passion is good.  So is being a zealot, if your goal is benevolent as well as your means of getting there.  I confess:  I’m a sales effectiveness zealot.

Notes:

  1. Jonathan Farrington is hosting the kick-off event for the Top Sales Experts Roundtable:  The Future of Professional Selling on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 1.00 pm EDT.  I’ll be a panel member.  With Jonathan in charge, it’ll be worth your investment.
  2. ESR will be publishing the findings from our recent survey on the new social media’s role in B2B selling next week.  If you’d like to be notified of the publication of this report, subscribe to this blog or the ESR/AlertTM.

Photo credit: © Carsten Reisinger – Fotolia.com

My 2009 Word of The Year, So Far

One of my most-used words these days is “scrutinize.”  Merriam-Webster says it means to examine closely and minutely.”

At ESR, we find ourselves using the word fairly often:

  • VPs have been asking us about how to determine which sales reps to keep and which to redeploy.  In this current economic situation some of what salesreps depended on to win in the past will simply no longer work.  It’s the old, “the past does not equal the future.” We recommend scrutinizing past performance as well as all the reps’ strengths and weaknesses against the new set of required skills and traits. And we strongly recommend psychometric testing. It’s very effective objective scrutiny.

  • We know from work with our clients that business acumen is more important now in B2B selling than ever before.  Salesreps need to scrutinize their customers, clients and prospects.  (More about this and some disturbing data when ESR reports on the results of our social media in B2B sales survey, which closed today.)  By the way, I was recently briefed by Chip Terry, Vice President and General Manager Enterprise Solutions at ZoomInfo.  He demoed their product.  Within two minutes I could see how ZoomInfo can provide the breadth and depth of information about not only companies, but equally as important, people within those companies, on whom salesreps would be calling.)

  • Messaging.  How relevant are the messages your salespeople are delivering to your customers and sales prospects?  Those need to be scrutinized and relevance to what and how your customers are buying must be determined.

  • New approaches and tools.  I’ve written a lot about the new social media as well as Sales 2.0 (again here).  These are very hot topics. (Just the number and flavor of comments to these three blog posts will attest to that.)  ESR’s recommendation is to… You guessed it:  thoroughly scrutinize any new direction or investment with respect to either or both of these promising technologies. The time may be right.  But then again, it may not be.

  • Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing.  Brian Carroll (podcast) and I are working on a project together.  Just yesterday we were discussing the challenges most companies are facing these days in those challenged areas.  What’s required for many companies is significant scrutiny. Bring in experts if you need to.  Get the right one—someone like Brian perhaps—and it will be money well-spent.

  • Sales training.  I’m very concerned about the significant drop in sales training during the past quarter.  Sales training may be precisely the right area to scale back in certain companies.  But certainly not in all, or even most.  Again, here’s where some significant scrutiny will enable you to determine where to spend your limited funds so that you have the biggest chance of making it through this economic situation.

  • Here are a few more areas that should be targeted for some scrutiny: Territory assignments, compensation, coaching mechanisms, measurement and analytics, sales process, sales support and readiness.  The list goes on.

Photo credit: © Sandor Kacso – Fotolia.com

Should You Spend Your Money On Sales 2.0 Or Sales Training?

Sales training is more than 100 years old.  With few exceptions, it’s not very sexy.  Many salespeople believe (PDF) they’ve been through enough of it to last a lifetime.  For many reasons, most of their managers don’t see any value, so they take a tactical, event-based approach just to check the “trained my people this year” box.

On the other hand, Sales 2.0* is sexy.  It’s new.  There are terrific, proven, Sales 2.0 solutions that can support the sales and marketing function in being more efficient and effective.  There are also enough white papers, advertisements, websites, articles, blog posts, conferences, books, tweets, strategies, tips, definitions, claims, approaches, experts, studies and hype to confuse any sales leader who is wondering how to come out the other side of this terrible economic situation.   The promise of success from this Sales 2.0 wave is  overwhelming.

What should you do?

First let me state that ESR doesn’t sell sales training or Sales 2.0 applications.  We sell independent research and informed advice.

As an objective observer, let me suggest a simple way to assess your situation:  Neither sales training nor Sales 2.0 will deliver any real, long-term value (measured in any number of ways: more sales, more profitable sales, bigger sales, shorter sales cycles, etc.) unless you have the right people and processes in place first.  (Hopefully this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this.)

Tens of thousands of companies invested in CRM, skipping one or both of those two critical success factors.  That’s why something like only one in six companies claim their CRM systems are contributing to their selling efforts.  And how about this: less than two in ten companies get sustainable, predictable performance improvement out of sales training!

If we invest in Sales 2.0 solutions without the proper foundations in place we aren’t just going down that same road?  You bet.

Do you have the right people selling for you? If not, start fixing that right away.  Is there isn’t broad compliance across your team with the use of a flexible, pragmatic sales methodology?  If not, get that in place.  (The foundation of the methodology should be based on the current and expected attributes of the markets you are selling into and the buying preferences and tendencies of your customers, e.g. if your buyers use Twitter to communicate with their suppliers, that capability should be built into your methodology…)

Spend your money on people and process first.  Then tools. Sales 2.0 isn’t a shortcut or a replacement for those or other critical, foundation components of a sales infrastructure.  Neither is tactical, single event-based training.

One more time, listed in the right order: (This is only a partial list for purposes of illustration.)

  1. Get the right people on board;
  2. Build or rebuild a flexible, pragmatic buyer-centric sales methodology;
  3. Train your team on the methodology;
  4. Then, provide them with the right Sales 2.0 tools to make them more effective and efficient in use of the methodology.

Tell me where I’m wrong or off base about this.

* Sales 2.0 is a registered trademark of Sales 2.0 LLC

Photo credit: © Vivid Pixels – Fotolia.com