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  • ESR’s STVG

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

Groundhog Day

I’m in Ireland this week and next working with Sales Executives and CEOs in a series of one- and two-day workshops as part of the International Selling Program offered by Enterprise Ireland (Ireland’s commerce department) and DIT (The Dublin Institute of Technology, where I am an adjunct professor of sales and sales management).   My overall message to the 125 or so people I’ll be in front of is one word: process.  (Here it’s proh-cess, not prah-cess).

I cover three of the most critical processes for building an effective sales capability: qualification, hiring and planning.  Sales process itself is covered in another module.

Timeline to disaster

One of the big challenges here is similar to that in the U.S.—selecting a sales VP (or director) who can get the job done. Considering the average tenure of sales VPs these days—less than two years—I created a pro-forma timeline for the newly-hired sales VP who isn’t going to work out long-term:

  • Months 1-3: On-boarding. VP learns about the company, salespeople, colleagues in marketing, services, customers, competitors, etc. Asks a lot of questions.  Generates excitement and hope.
  • Months 4-6: VP makes changes in approach, terminology, territories, business partners, marketing materials, routine (sales meetings, forecast calls, etc.) VP may bring in former salespeople that worked for them in the past.
  • Months 7-9: Little to no performance improvement realized. VP says that new mechanisms haven’t “gained traction.” Or that their new reps “need a little more time.” VP suggests that there have been changes in the market/economy/environment since they joined. Assures the executive team a little more time will do the trick.
  • Months 10-12: An occasional success! The heat is off for a time, until the CEO realizes that “one big win does not a trend make.” (Dave Hathaway, partner, now retired, from prestigious VC firm Venrock Associates said that to me in a board meeting when I was an inexperienced VP of sales and bragged about a big deal we had just won.)
  • Month 13: Consultant or board member or expert is brought in to assess the situation. Meetings, reports, discussions, back and forth
  • Months 14-16: VP and CEO see the handwriting on the wall, but keep it to themselves, hoping that the situation will magically approve.
  • Months 17-20: CEO covertly searches for new VP. VP covertly taps into his/her network while updating their resume with the appropriate spin on this latest position.
  • Month 21 (or The New Month 1): New VP of sales arrives… On-boarding…  It’s Groundhog Day!

Who is responsible?

You might wonder who are responsible for this all-too-common situation.  It’s the people who continue to hire the wrong VPs of sales or promote their best salesrep to the job.

What is the root cause?

The profiles for a Sales VP and a salesperson are, by definition, different.  Granted, most successful sales VPs have a sales background.  But promoting a successful salesperson into a management role doesn’t work unless that person has the skills and traits required for that job.  Here are a few generic sales leader skills:  management (!), team building, conflict resolution, strategic planning, coaching, hiring, and motivating.  There are numbers of additional skills required for success in each unique sales leadership position.  Plus there are a list of traits, too, many of which even top-performing salesreps just don’t possess.  Process orientation is just one.

Wait, wait!!!

If you’re about to hire a sales VP, director, or sales manager (or are about to promote a rep into one of those positions) and you don’t have a profile for that position specifying the skills and traits required for success with your company’s sales people selling your products to your customers against your competitors, STOP.

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.

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
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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.

ESR’s Survey On Social Media Use in B2B Selling

With the assistance of The TAS Group, ESR recently surveyed nearly 400 users of the following technologies to determine the effects that these new technologies in helping them win B2B sales opportunities:

  • Jigsaw;
  • LinkedIn;
  • Twitter;
  • Plaxo;
  • Facebook;
  • Hoover’s or OneSource.

The pace of technology development today is dizzying. It seems as though a new sales-related technology appears daily. The question is, do these new technologies produce additional sales or just consume valuable selling time and distract sales leaders and their teams from focusing on what can really improve performance?

A few specifics from the survey:

  1. 35% of respondents say that LinkedIn has helped them win sometimes or often;
  2. 69% of respondents say they don’t use Twitter. Of those that douse the tool, 20% say it has not helped them win;
  3. 8% of respondents say that Facebook has helped them win sometimes or often.

Buy the 10-page ESR/Insight™ Brief, The New Social Media: Do They Enable B2B Selling? now.

Photo credit: © altiso – Fotolia.com

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.