• This Blog Is Inactive!

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

    I will no longer be posting on this URL. Comments will not be moderated. More information.

  • ESR’s STVG

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

Five Minutes With Gerhard

Here is today’s featured video on SellingPower.com.

Gerhard Gschwandtner interviewed me before one of his sales leadership conferences.  If you click on the link (or the photo) you’ll have access to other videos as well, featuring Howard Stevens, Jim Dickie, and a other thought leaders in the area of sales performance.

Note:  I understand the upcoming Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston is sold out.  If you happen to be attending, please say hello.

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

Give Some Sales Advice! Get Your Name in Print!

My friend and colleague, Brian Lambert (ASTD Sales Training Drivers) is writing his third book titled 10 Steps to Successful Sales. It will be published by ASTD press in October 2009.

His new book targets brand new salespeople.  He is collecting 100 great quotes of advice for entry-level salespeople. He’s got a link that allows you to provide a short (25-75 word) gem of advice that will help any new salespeople get off to the right start in selling. For example, what one thing do you tell all new salespeople? What do you wish someone told you?

If he uses your piece of advice/quote, he’ll send you a copy of the book for free!

Submit your quote to Brian and to ASTD press by May 1st, 2009.

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.

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

My Interview with SMT

I was recently interviewed by Lori Champion from SMT (The Professional Society for Sales & Marketing Training) as part of the ramp-up for their annual conference in Orlando October 14 – 16, 2009.  I’ll be keynoting at the event.  The topic will be Sales Excellence 2012: Overcoming Tough Obstacles,  Achieving Measurable Results.

Lori’s interview begins:

What do a CEO, a Trumpet player, a computer software programmer, a VP of Sales, and an expert in landing “very big contracts” have in common? They describe the background of one man and he is Dave Stein! Let’s add “Opening Key Note Speaker” to the list. He is, after all the Key Note for SMT’s 2009 annual conference in Orlando, Florida this October.

I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with Dave about a week ago. I wanted to find out more about this very versatile CEO who will be addressing us this fall.

Dave Stein is the CEO and Founder of Massachusetts based ES Research Group, Inc. (ESR) which provides Gartner-style, independent advice about sales training programs, sales performance improvement tools and approaches. It also does  evaluations and comparisons of the companies that provide them.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Customized Sales Training

From ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide — Third Edition:

“Most buyers of sales training want a customized sales training experience. The question is, what categories of modifications are positive for their organizations and which limit the impact from the learning experience?

Universally, sales training companies claim that they will customize course materials.  But the buyer needs to understand what forms that customization takes. Customizing case studies, workshops, and examples can often enhance the learning experience for the student.  However one must be very careful requesting significant content changes to a course developed over many years by a reputable vendor. The tendency when making these changes is to modify the course so that it closely resembles the company’s current sales process. This works only if the current sales process is known to be effective.  We have found that only in rare occasions is that the case.”