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  • ESR’s STVG

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

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The Value and Perils of Customized Sales Training

Yesterday during The Top Sales Experts Roundtable, Linda Richardson made a strong case for customized sales training.  It’s not something she has to convince us at ESR about.

Many organizations want a customized sales training experience, whether it be live or virtual.  This can be good or bad, depending upon what experiences and materials are customized, and to what degree. It’s important for sales training buyer to understand any and all customization requirements and objectives; and, it is incumbent upon that person to have an effective strategy for customization.

ESR have yet to find a client who says, “Yes, off-the-shelf training is just fine for my organization.” Every organization feels that it is unique, that its problems are unique, and that only a unique program can maximize their potential.

The Problem

When an organization brings in a sales training company, there is a challenge that the organization is trying to overcome or an opportunity to leverage.

This fundamentally implies that a change is needed—that the status quo is not sufficient to continue to propel sales growth. The sales training company is brought in to effect some change, usually a behavioral change, in the participating sales people, to stimulate that sales growth.

ESR recommends that the first place to look when considering any degree of behavioral change is your sales methodology.  That’s the backbone on which all your processes, tools, training, hiring, measurement system, and sales approach will be built. Fix or replace the methodology first. If you don’t have a methodology, you will need to build one.  (Training your team on how to employ that methodology eventually follows.)  This is an old song, but everyone needs to hear it until they can sing along.

Change vs. Status Quo

By acknowledging the need for change, it’s important to understand the meaning of sales training program customization. There are two types of customization:

  1. Tailoring—adapting the training materials to reflect the sales organization’s products, services, sales force characteristics, as well as market and corporate specifics;
  2. Modification—altering the intellectual property of the sales training company resulting in different learnings, or modifying the instructional design of the program so that there is a core difference in the way the materials are presented.

Tailoring is almost always useful. Tailoring materials gets your company name in front of the sales people and personalizes the experience. Tailoring can replace canned, generic workshop examples with actual examples from your sales force’s existing pipeline, or recent wins or losses, personalizing the experience and maximizing the probability that the sales person will identify with the program. Tailoring, if limited to phrasing, word usage, workshops and case study examples, is often helpful.

Modification is a two-edged sword. Modification can be helpful if there are processes within your sales organization that you know factually and empirically work, and if you can separate these working best practices from those processes which you know, or suspect, may be constraining your sales growth.

The Risk of Modification

Modification carries a potential risk—LCD—”lowest common denominator.”  There is an observable tendency among course and methodology modifiers, resulting from pressure from certain stakeholders, to fine tune the new methods and processes taught in the course materials to such an extent that they are “devolved” into a mere reflection of the existing, flawed sales methodology. Customizing course materials to make the program “more like our business environment” can effectively negate the original objective of the program, which was to effect behavioral change.

With that in mind, ESR has recognized some leading sales training companies for their very effective approaches to modification.

Avoiding “Devolution”

How do you avoid “devolution” in your customized sales training programs?  Four considerations:

  1. Invest in a comprehensive, objective assessment of the performance of your sales team—know very specifically what works and what doesn’t;
  2. When documenting and implementing best practices, make sure that you have empirical metrics that denote that those practices do, in fact, stimulate behaviors that increase sales;
  3. Evaluate your sales training company’s methods for modification of educational programs;
  4. Stick with tailoring of your training provider’s content, assuming you’ve selected the right partner.

Number three is important. Some sales training organizations resist modification of their programs at all.  Some have a core set of learnings that are assembled and designed around a study of your organization’s best practices. Others have designed proprietary systems or methodologies for modifying course materials that are specifically designed to maximize the value of nomenclature tailoring, while minimizing the probability that the structural integrity of a course will be damaged by the customization effort.

My recommendation is this: Don’t make a snap decision on either a trainer or on your customization approach.  Do you have to spend all this time and effort figuring this out?  Only if you want to get it right.

Source:  The Value and Perils of Customized Training, an ESR/Insight™ Brief.

Photo credit: © bugman – Fotolia.com

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I’m Presenting At The Sales 2.0 Conference In Boston. Join Me.

boston_7000_feet3I’m delighted to be both presenting and participating in a panel discussion at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston on May 21st.

Using recent research from ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, I’ll talk specifically about technology-enabled learning—how technology is changing learning and why today, effective sales learning requires technology.

I’ve not been shy in voicing my concerns about the some of the hype and lofty expectations around Sales 2.0 and the distraction that it causes for some of our client companies struggling through the kinds of sales challenges that Sales 2.0 approaches and tools can’t immediately overcome.

At the same time substantive progress is being made on the technology front.  ESR has given credit to those companies who are making real contributions to sales effectiveness through technology-enabled learning and technology-enabled selling—companies like Kadient, Richardson, The TAS Group, SPI, Holden, White Springs, Primary Intelligence, The Brooks Group, Miller Heiman, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Jigsaw, Lucidera, and many more.

As a researcher and analyst, I’ll be in learning mode at the conference as well.  I’m looking forward to understanding more about the approaches and solutions of the companies presenting and sponsoring this event, and learning from those sales leaders who will be attending it.  Please introduce yourselves to me.

Hope to see you there.  If you can’t attend, I’ll keep you informed through Twitter.


Photo credit:  (c) 2008 Dave Stein — Boston from 7000 feet
+++
Donate $25 or more to the human rights charity Witness.org, email your receipt to me,
and I’ll send you the full-size jpg of this photo.  dave.stein @ ESResearch.com
Make sure your credit card number is not on the receipt, please.

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.

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.

You Won’t Believe What’s New In Sales Training!

For those of you who follow the ups and downs, ins and outs of the sales training industry, here is the latest, as of today, April 1, 2009:

  • Miller Heiman and furniture manufacturer Herman Miller have announced a merger.  The new business, to be called Herman Miller Heiman, will be offering a new, upgraded version of their highly popular Aeron chair.  It will be called The Silver Bullet™. Preliminary tests show that within two minutes of  a salesperson sitting in the chair (seen on the right), the phone starts ringing with people wanting to buy whatever they are selling, immediately, at any price.  An HMH spokesperson called the new chair, “The Silver Bullet that sales people have been waiting for.”

  • Huthwaite, Inc. has announced a new program called S.P.I.N. Stalling. Originally developed with cooperation of Procrastinators International, program participants will learn about the psychology of stalling and how best to strong-arm a reluctant customer into buying something—anything!  By the way, the 25-year-old Procrastinators International has still not scheduled their first membership meeting.

  • The TAS Group revealed this week that they have expanded their vision of the role technology will play in sales effectiveness and have decided to acquire Garmin, GE, and The Gap.  York Baur, The TAS Group’s CMO said, “We’re taking anytime, anywhere learning to the next logical level.  You’ll be able to get our content, learning, coaching as well as instant guidance on your deals directly, without a computer or PDA, from your Nüvi, your toaster and even your jeans.”  Baur continues, “By 2011 we’ll be licensing a TAS-chip which will be implanted just behind the left ear in a painless three-minute procedure.”   The TAS Group is negotiating with Seattle’s SEA-TAC airport to have its distance-learning video clips play 24/7 on televisions throughout the airport.

  • Selling to Big Companies author Jill Konrath told us she is increasing her productivity level for the remainder of 2009.  Each and every week she will be delivering five webinars, four videos, three white papers, two blog posts and a book for all of us to read.

  • The U.S. Congress is about to commence an investigation of why dozens of randomly selected sales trainers all have the same companies listed as references on their websites.  The CEOs from Oracle, Dell, IBM, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, Sun, and other technology companies are expected to testify next week as to who their sales training partners really are.

  • After almost a century of heated debate, two age-old questions have finally been answered unequivocally, once and for all:  “Are salespeople are born or made?” and, “Is sales art or science?”  Now we can move on to other questions such as, is cold-calling dead?

  • Fifty-three purchasing agents from New York City-based multinationals have been granted licenses to carry assault rifles.  They had claimed that during the current economic crisis, sales reps from New York have been even more threatening than before.  Mr. Blake, the New York chapter representative from SPA—the Sales Professionals of America—was outraged.  “If those #^%!@# buyers think they can threaten our &%$@#@$ members with AK-47’s and !#¢Æ§  Uzi’s, they can @!(*(*&@#.  And the horse they rode in on.”

  • Sales legend Rick Page was overheard in the Hartsfield airport in Atlanta saying,  “I really do hope I catch my flight.”

  • The next release of Salesforce.com will include an interface to activity sensor mini-applications on salesreps’ computers. If the salesrep is active on their computer but does not update the required data, Salesforce.com blocks access to MySpace.com, Facebook.com, YouTube.com, Ebay.com, Zillo.com, Meebo.com, Friendster.com, Orkut.com,  AdultFriendFinder.com, and Zappos.com  for 30 days.  Russian hackers are already selling software to bypass the restriction.

  • LinkedIn estimates that the number of sales-related groups on their site will top 1,000 by mid-year.  That will be close to one-half the number of sales-related blogs ESR expects to be live by that time.

  • In Silicon Valley, more than 10,000 out-of-work salespeople  paid $100 each to download a document entitled One Hundred Foolproof Ways to Hide Gaps in Your Resume. Another site was discovered last week already boasting 12,000 downloads of, How to Enlist Estranged Family Members As References.  You may remember that just one year ago today the video, How to Forge a W-2 and Other Income Verification Documentation surfaced on YouTube.  There have been more than one millions views.

  • With promotional webinar attendance down in 2009, WebEx is recommending that companies prospecting for customers pay them for attending the one-hour webinars.  A senior executive at WebEx said, “If you pay them, they will come.”

  • Following a number of snarking incidents Robin Fray Carey of SocialMediaToday.com has decided to change the name of The Customer Collective to the more appropriate The Customer Invective.

  • Well-respected, prolific, and seriously dapper UK sales top sales expert Jonathan Farrington has some explaining to do.  He recently dropped his signature eyeglasses whilst at London’s Heathrow airport, Terminal 1.  Coincidentally, a local ophthalmologist happened to be standing there, recovered the glasses and, after a moment’s inspection, noted that the lenses were, in fact, clear glass.

  • The Harvard and Stanford Business Schools announced today that they will be offering fully accredited Masters of Professional Selling degrees beginning in 2012.  Harvard’s Chancellor I. Kangettitforu Holsael said, “We’re thirty years behind the times.  With more than 7 million salespeople in the U.S. alone, and sales productivity at an all time low, we are taking a bold step.  We want our B-school to be relevant to the business community. Sales is not marketing.  It finally needs to be respected and supported.”

  • Immediately following the Obama administration’s announcement this morning of an investigation of plagiarism and pirating among sales trainers, as many as thirty popular sales tips websites were taken down, with “Under Construction” showing up on home pages.

  • A recent survey of eBay sales shows that a sales training shingle can be purchased for as little as $3.00.  Clever names for new sales approaches have leveled off at $1.03.  Names using acronyms are going for a dollar more.

  • Responding to the financial crisis, IBM issued new guidelines.  Their coveted top performer sales award club will be held at the Admiral’s Club at O’Hare airport later this month.  Each attendee will be given a voucher for a meal at the food court.  Tickets for short-term parking will be validated.

  • Social media advocate Axel Schultze announced today that he is upgrading his dial-up modem. “Present technology supports considerably faster communication.  1200 baud just doesn’t do it for me.  I know if I move to 9600 baud, everyone will quickly follow.”  You may remember that Axel was in the news last month after having convinced senior executives at Wal-Mart to have all their in-store sales associates spend 50% of their time at work on Twitter to prospect for additional business.

  • The interest around Sales 2.0 is expected to continue gather momentum.  The term has proved to be such a money maker for some, that Chrysler, who owns the Jeep brand, is making a Sales 2.0 model of their venerable Wrangler, in an attempt to duplicate the success of their Eddie Bauer model.  Celebrity Cruise lines is even considering a four week “Sales 2.0 Cruise to Nowhere.”

Thanks to Jonathan Farrington for his early opinion this post, with his real glasses.
My sincere respect and appreciation for many Sales 2.0 vendors and, especially, Nigel Edelshein.
Photo credit:  Herman Miller Heiman

Powering Through The Economic Crisis

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting less frequently during the past two weeks.  ESR is in the midst of a number of projects and new initiatives.  In addition, I’ve been on an increasing number of phone calls with clients, prospects, vendors, sales training associations’ leadership, and business associates.

I wrote Here’s What’s Going On two weeks ago.  There has been lots of activity (and some productivity, as well!) since then.

Here are some points, observations, and opinions I’ve taken from my activities over the past few weeks:

  1. I read all the news.  I understand the economic situation.  But deals are getting done.  Four of ESR’s clients I spoke with yesterday are cautiously optimistic about their Q1 numbers. They’re winning business.  A few others are struggling.  But the point is, there is still business going on.

  2. At the moment, ESR believes sales training will be down twenty or more percent in 2009.  If we don’t hit bottom and come out the other end of this situation soon, that number could go down much further.  That’s bad news for a lot of reasons.

  3. As a result of the slowdown in training, many of the sales training companies we cover have been hit hard.  They’ve significantly reduced their staffs and slowed or stopped development.  If you’re engaging with a sales training company, you really need to understand their current financial situation.  ESR isn’t interested in advertising which firms are having trouble.  But we do guide our clients in the right direction, helping them figure out how to mitigate any associated risks.

  4. We’ve convinced a number of our clients to redeploy salespeople who aren’t suited for the sales positions they hold.  By that I mean performing a comprehensive assessment of their past and current performance, their skills, traits and behaviors against what is required to comply with and execute their selling process.  Relative to that, I recently did a briefing call with DDI.  They’re a leader in the talent management and assessment area.  I’ve written about PIWorldwide as well.  HR Chally is another solid alternative.  Now, more than ever, every company, even the smallest, needs to have a talent management/assessment firm partner with a sales specialty.

  5. Under Brian Lambert’s leadership, ASTD is making significant progress in the sales training discipline.  Brian has a lot to offer the industry. I sit on the ASTD sales training committee along with a number of very experienced and professional consultants, trainers and practitioners.  (Al Case, ESR’s Principal Analyst, and I will be presenting at ASTD’s Conference in June.  The subject:  How to Measure Sales Performance Improvement.)

  6. We’ve had a record number of inquiries come in during the past month from people charged with driving sales training initiatives within their companies.  The common theme is that they have to “get it right this time. ”  They can’t waste any more money on ineffective training and, with this economy, they’ve got to get their salespeople bringing in as much business as possible.  Even with overall sales training down, this is encouraging.  Several of those people are charged with moving their companies from positions of commodity to value providers.  A bit late for that, but better late than never.

  7. With the last point in mind, Irish sales trainer, coach and consultant Niall Devitt wrote a post this week that describes precisely how sales leaders go about buying sales training the wrong way.  The post, entitled Need Sales Training? Let’s Sit Down and Talk About It is well worth reading.   Niall sets an example for sales trainers as well.  I commend him on his understanding of how sales performance improvement should be approached and his integrity for not folding, even with money on the table during these tough times.

  8. Louise Leonard, program manager for The Dublin Institute of Technology and Enterprise Ireland’s International Selling Programme, sent me a list of sales-related concerns expressed by the sales executives and CEOs who are participating in the program.  I’ll be addressing many of them during upcoming two-week, five-seminar trip to Ireland.  Although Ireland is plowing through their own set of economy-related challenges, the International Selling Programme has  a record number of participants this year.  Better attendance at each of the sessions as well.  This program is a seriously good place for Irish companies to be investing their money.

Photo: © 2004 Dave Stein — MacGregor Powering Through a Summer Day

ESR’s Approach For A Sales Performance Improvement Initiative

As ESR is completing our Sales Training Vendor Guide we are updating a number of our models.  Here is a presentation of our sales training approach model that we deliver to project teams tasked with finding, evaluating, and selecting sales training companies. The content is based upon work we’ve done with clients during the past two years.

As you can see, the process is considerably more comprehensive than you might think. Clients ask us, “Do we really have to do all this just to do some sales training?” Our answer is, “Only if you want it to work.” (Thanks, John Zobel.)

Here’s another taste of what’s in our Guide:



If you’d like to speak with us about how we support our clients through this process, let me know.

Resources: