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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

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Miller Heiman. What A Brand!

When it comes to marketing, Miller Heiman leads the pack.  I recently spoke with Elizabeth Vanneste, their Chief Marketing Officer. Elizabeth brought Miller Heiman into four telecommunications companies where she had previously worked. She joined the Miller Heiman team last June as a sales VP and took over marketing three months ago.

Elizabeth shared with me that her firm just added 15 sales consultants and kicked off a new partnership in India.  They have a new program, Securing Strategic Appointments, in which the participants learn, among other things, how to craft the right message, with valid business reasons, to meet with customer executives.  In addition, the program lays out specific plans for getting those critical appointments.  Elizabeth says there is a lot of interest in using these skills for selling to the government.

We talked about the economy and travel restrictions.  Miller Heiman has set up additional public sessions.  I wrote a post about public sales training sessions a while back.  They are, under certain circumstances, something to consider.

Elizabeth and I discussed technology as well.  According to Elizabeth, Miller Heiman has made significant progress with their e-learning offerings and their sales enablement tools that integrate with the top nine CRM systems (through White Springs).  Miller Heiman consultants are also now performing Blue Sheet reviews via webinars and conference calls, helping to keep their customers’ costs down.

Back to Miller Heiman’s marketing.  Miller Heiman’s brand equity is substantial.  That’s not only because they’ve been around for thirty years.  (Other training companies have been around that long or nearly that long.)  So far as sales training companies are concerned, Miller Heiman is predominant on the Web.  I’ve got Miller Heiman tagged in Google Alerts, as well as 40 or so other sales training companies.  There is no question that Miller Heiman significantly outnumbers the others with hits coming from blogs, articles, other companies’ websites (Hoover, for example), conference agendas, news, and other sources.

“Strategic Selling,” a trademarked Miller Heiman brand, is certainly widely recognized, but has become so often used generically, that it may not be connected to Miller Heiman as often as they would like.  This is similar to the issue that SPI has with their trademarked “Solution Selling.”

Miller Heiman’s leadership position in marketing isn’t something to take lightly.  After all, with the close relationship sales should have with marketing in most companies, a training company’s ability to market themselves effectively is a proof statement of an understanding of some of the most important issues, isn’t it?

Finally, this all may sound terrific to you if you’re searching out a sales training company. I can only warn you that selecting Miller Heiman or any other company based upon this or any other one-page write up is precisely the wrong thing to doESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition, will be published later this month.  In the Guide, Miller Heiman and two dozen other providers are evaluated, compared and contrasted.

Disclosure:  Miller Heiman subscribes to ESR’s research.

Photo credit: DesignImage.com

Sales 2.0: Does It Enable Effective Selling Or Is It Yet Another Decoy?

As ESR continues to work with our clients, observe salespeople and research sales effectiveness, we’re frustrated and concerned with the increasing hype around Sales 2.0.

Is Sales 2.0 real?  Yes.  Are Sales 2.0 applications actually helping salespeople to win business? Yes.  There is no question about that.  But we believe in numbers significantly less than some would have you believe.  I expect the Sales 2.0 vendors will be all over me about this.  Yes, I know they can provide compelling case studies, references and testimonials.  The issue is much broader and quite serious.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there are highly effective sales enablement (Sales 2.0) apps on the market.  What immediately comes to mind are those of some of the leading sales training companies: The TAS Group with their Dealmaker and TAS:Pedia (we saw an exciting demo of new releases last week) and the effective technology implementations of a number of other sales methodologies by White Springs.

ESR knows that the sales methodology and the processes upon which it is built should be the backbone of a company’s sales approach.  Significant research bears this out.  Get that methodology thing right, provide all the support, training and coaching and get all your salespeople following it (with the requisite flexibility for differing situations, of course), and you are taking one of the most important strategic actions that determines sales success.  Automate it and you’re doing even better.  That’s what some of the leading training companies are accomplishing.  They’re helping companies improve sales performance by getting them to employ a process.  Then they’re automating the process to make salespeople more effective and efficient.  It works considerably more often than not, and in the world of B2B selling, that’s an accomplishment.

Here’s my concern: Sales 2.0 vendors are pushing hard, claiming that their software applications will solve specific selling problems.  Many of the vendors are right, but—here’s the thing—if the sales leaders who are considering investing in those apps don’t have their team lined up and fully compliant with the consistent execution of a sales process, with training, coaching and metrics in place, they will more likely compound the problem than fix it.  That’s what happened with CRM years ago.  Many of us saw it promoted as a paradigm-changing fix for most sales ills.  CRM’s big problem, was (is?) that there was nothing in it for the salesperson, and that’s why compliance was (and still is, in many cases) so low.  For many companies, CRM served to make the situation worse, not better.  It kept sales management from focusing on the real issues.  It was a decoy!

Will sales problems get compounded with the purchase of a few cool Sales 2.0 tools?  It’s like my problem with sales tips.  Allowing sales people to spend time seeking out and using random tips from unapproved (and sometimes incompetent) sources takes everyone’s attention off the real issue—no process!—and the lack of discipline to build one and follow one.  Sales 2.0 has become the new silver bullet—this year’s universal elixir to solve a company’s selling problems.  In those cases, Sales 2.0 may provide some value, granted, but with a steep price: it becomes a distraction from what really has to be done.  By the way, I spent better part of a week struggling to make the same decoy argument about the current state of social media with respect to B2B sales

Here’s an example of how a solid Sales 2.0 application can turn out to be a broken promise: There are some terrific sales analytics packages out there.  But what good are analytics if a company doesn’t have a documented and fully-complied with sales process?  What will happen when leading indicators show a bunch of deals are slowing down?  What will managers coach reps on?  How they themselves won business years ago?  Those managers should be coaching the rep on how the rep can better comply with the pre-established sales process—on what specific behaviors the rep must improve so they can effectively execute the process and move the deal along.  We have worked with companies that have installed analytics tools and the results were precisely as I described.  Lots of data, but no standard operating procedure for fixing the situation.

Another example would be Sales 2.0 lead generation tools.  There are some really good, innovative ones out there.  Sexy as hell.  So what happens when a sales rep uses one of these and winds up with some really good prospects and the rep can’t advance the sale from that point to closure because they don’t have the skills, proven path, tools and support to get that done?  I hope you get my point.

So here is my recommendation.  If you get all charged up about a Sales 2.0 tool that you think will help your sales team sell more stuff, faster and for bigger dollars, map the application onto the backbone of your overall sales process.  If you don’t have a sales process, stop right there.  That’s what you need to do first.  It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it takes time, thought, focus and you’ll find every excuse not to do it.  But the research says it’s what you have to do.

Bottom line: If you want a real boost in sales effectiveness, get your selling methodology and process built, train your people on its use and support them in their effort.  Automate it all, if you like.

Then, and only then, when that’s ticking nicely along, and you can measure progress, start layering in the Sales 2.0 applications that will have the biggest bang for the buck.  Then you’ll really get some value out of Sales 2.0.

Let me hear from you.  Do you think a solid, complied-with sales process is the backbone upon which Sales 2.0 applications must be layered?  Or not?

Photo credit: © Valeriy Aksak – Fotolia.com

New Year Resolutions For Sales Leaders

2009Pick one or more of the resolutions below.  Commit, execute, enjoy the results.

  1. I’ll never hire another sales rep who can’t get the sales job done. First, completely understand the position and the skills and traits required to be successful.  Evaluating whether a candidate meets those requirements requires a series of two to three structured interviews.  There are no perfect candidates, but if you understand gaps between what capabilities the candidate possesses and what is required for the job, you can train, coach or support that new rep to success.

  2. I won’t spend another dime on technology for my sales team without knowing specifically how it will help my reps win business. In general, what companies receive in return for their investment in CRM technology is significantly short of expectations.  Before you make any investments in CRM, Sales 2.0 or other emerging technologies make sure the primary recipient of value is the salesperson. There has to be a direct, proven connection between the software application and the salesperson winning more business.

  3. I will teach and then continue to encourage my reps to look at selling strategically. Many salespeople don’t think past the next meeting or phone call.  You will be doing them (and yourself) a big favor if you can coach them into seeing the big picture—the next five steps in the sales cycle or what the customer’s situation might be in six months when they expect to make a buying decision.

  4. I will look at sales performance improvement strategically. You should know by now that tactical, event-based sales training doesn’t really provide any long-term value.  So why are you still wasting time and money on it?

  5. I will implement a formal coaching function to support my sales reps’ growth. Coaching is not a sales manager closing a deal for a rep or telling them what to do in a tough competitive situation.   Coaching is a mission-critical, formal, ongoing activity that is required for significant sales performance improvement.  If you don’t know where to start, send me an email.  I’ll point you in the right direction.

  6. I will run my sales organization like the business that it should be. In order to be successful, businesses require business plans, process, discipline, documented responsibilities and accountabilities, quality assurance and measurement of output.  I’m not suggesting bureaucracy here.  Just the appropriate measure of formality and seriousness.  If seat-of-the-pants ever worked in B2B selling in the past, it certainly doesn’t any longer.

  7. I will provide my sales team with the leadership they need and deserve. A few questions for you around one area of leadership:  Is marketing not getting the job done?  Does the CEO set unrealistic revenue targets?  Are customers angry due to product problems?  Do your products or services not meet the needs of your market?   These and other challenges can stop the best sales team in its tracks.  It’s your job to get issues like these addressed and resolved.  If you don’t have the required leadership skills, get them.

  8. I will advance my team considerably further than foundation Sales 101 skills so they can really be competitive. Winning these days requires more than just basic selling skills.  Make sure your sales process includes advanced components, such as political mapping, selling to senior executives, and competitive strategies and tactics.  Find the best approaches in those areas that fit your business requirements.  Train your people.  Sustain improvement with coaching and other post-training reinforcement.

  9. I will elevate the importance of my team’s knowledge about our customers’ businesses. Many customers of yours are buying only what will help them survive this economic crisis.  If your salespeople can’t position your products and services in terms of contributing to your customers’ success—from your customer’s perspective—they aren’t going to sell very much.

  10. I will commit to understanding my weaknesses and improving those capabilities as a sales leader. There is no shortage of intelligence, research, best-practices, coaches, consultants and just plain good advice.  Avail yourself of the best of them.

Photo credit: © Stefan Rajewski – Fotolia.com

Embedded Sales Learning

Chris Hens, President and COO of White Springs, presented at the Richardson client forum last week.  The subject was in-context sales learning and reinforcement.

With a background in sales training, Chris has a deep understanding of the challenges companies face with respect to sales performance improvement.  White Springs has worked with Complex Sale, Holden, Huthwaite, Miller Heiman, ValuSelling and SPI, among others, to automate sales and opportunity management processes and to connect those to a company’s CRM system.

Richardson has been, and continues to be, a leader in non-traditional (other-than-classroom) learning.  They’ve engaged with White Springs for embedding and integrating their sales learning content into their established tools and business practices.  Chris calls this embedded sales learning. (See graphic, courtesy of White Springs.  Click for full-size.)

esl1

Why is this so important?  In order to increase sales effectiveness, more salespeople must complying with the sales process that has been designed for their selling situation.  When that process is modeled in software such as this and they are provided learning reinforcement within that software, it will increase compliance, contributing to sales performance improvement.

Whether you’re shopping for sales training, sales process work, Sales 2.0 tools, or CRM, be certain that your sales processes (qualification, discovery, opportunity management, etc.) are top-of-mind. The vendors you should consider must have the proven ability to support technology-enabled selling and learning.  ES Research has done a considerable amount of research in this area. 

Joe The Salesrep and CRM User Adoption

Lee Allgood, a colleague from my days consulting with ERP provider MAPICS, sent me an email referencing a March 2008 survey performed by Sand Hill Group and Neochange.

Although the survey looked at enterprise software success from the software company’s perspective, some of the findings resonate with what we know about process alignment and user adoption related to CRM and Sales 2.0 implementations.

This is from the press release:

When asked how to best define “enterprise software success,” both providers and buyers agreed that the top indication is value realization for the company. 70% of buyers and providers believe that “effective user adoption” is the primary driver to realize the full business value.

And this is from the report:

This is not really a surprise.  One of the reasons that CRM software hasn’t reached its full potential is the lack of effective user adoption.  The software designers didn’t put themselves in the position of the Joe the Salesrep. 

Another point.  Process alignment is another factor in realizing value.  CRM is not a replacement for a sales process.  We’ve said it again and again.  Build your sales process.  Test it.  Train your team on its use. Run it for a while.  Adjust where needed.  Then look at a CRM solution that can be adapted to your process.  CRM should help salespeople sell more, not waste their time.

My advice on the adoption issue?  Before investing in any Sales 2.0 or sales-enablement technology, get your Joes and Janes to be part of the evaluation team and please, answer the question, what’s in it for them?

Industry-Focused Sales Training Is More Than Buzzwords

Your salespeople need to know more than just the buzzwords.

A strategic and comprehensive approach to sales effectiveness must include, among other programs:

  1. New hire training

  2. Product training 

  3. Sales skills training (basic to advanced, as appropriate)

  4. Sales-enablement tools and technology training (CRM, Sales 2.0 tools, podcasts, internal knowledge management systems, etc.)

  5. Other specialized training (business training, creating proposals, cold-calling, working with business partners, as examples)

    • Technical training (for some situations) — basics of the technologies that a company’s software runs on, for example.

    • Training for sales engineers where applicable.  (We formally cover Salesengineering.com and are aware of the great work Peter Cohan of The Second Derivative is doing in that area.)

  6. Industry-focused sales training.

If you hire all your salespeople out of the industry you sell into, and they are experts in that industry, you can skip the rest of this post, since it’s about point number 6.  (You must put those new hires through the rest of the training listed above, in any case.)

For the rest of us, it’s important to understand the growing impact that specific industry knowledge has on a person’s ability to sell. 

One of our clients sells sophisticated imaging software into hospitals, radiology group medical practices and ambulatory care facilities.  Although each salesperson has a sales engineer (software application expert) available when needed, those reps would at at extreme disadvantage if they did not have experience in the very domain into which they are selling.  Most have come out of health care.  Many out of radiology, specifically.  They are an impressive group.  But they’re not alone.  We’ve worked with with companies whose top salespeople came out of the industries those clients sold into as well: the pulp and paper industry, group life insurance, chemical manufacturers, professional services, application software, etc.

If you’re not hiring people from the industry into which you sell, the first thing to consider is whether a candidate not from that industry has a proven ability to move from one vertical industry to another and be successful selling.  Among other competencies, they’ve got to be a quick learner, analytical, flexible, self-motivated… You get the idea.  I want them to prove to me they’ve made that transition before and precisely how they accomplished it.  I’m not taking any chances!

The next consideration has to be to build a program to get new hires up to speed as quickly as possible in the new environment.  I’ve seen a number of successful approaches to this challenge.  When I was a VP of sales in a software company, we used to put new sales hires in customers’ businesses for the first two weeks of their job.  Each day for those two weeks, new hires performed a different role: accounting, order entry, production, inventory control, quality control, purchasing, customer service, shipping, receiving.  After two weeks, they knew how that company operated and how our software supported that operation.  Try it.  It works.

One approach that ESR will be exploring is the specialized training provided by firms like Cambashi.  Among other things, Cambashi provides a number of services to vendors selling into the manufacturing space.  One of the various programs in their Manufacturing Industry Readiness Training Curriculum is the Level 200 Factory Simulation.  Read this and you’ll understand where the value would be for salespeople selling into manufacturing companies:

FACTORY is a simulation game that is held as a 1- or 2-day interactive learning seminar. The game represents the financial circumstances of a manufacturing company – allowing the participants to analyze and understand the fundamental operational functions of the company.

In small groups of three to five individuals, the participants act as the management team of a manufacturing company. The game is set up to represent a business that has been successful during the past few years – but now the economic environment of the company has changed and the business faces new challenges.

The Management team has three years to make decisions and changes that will make the company increase its profitability.

The FACTORY game demonstrates cause and effect in a company. It shows how one decision in a functional department of a company can affect the profit of the company as a whole. The simulation will demonstrate the relationship amongst the departments of a company and how they work together and influence balance sheet, stock value, P & L account, and other financial indicators of a company.

Although ESR has not formally reviewed Cambashi, and therefore can’t recommend them to you, we certainly think that any of you that are selling into the manufacturing space should consider speaking with Cambashi and other companies that perform that flavor of specialized industry readiness for salespeople.  There are other Cambashis for other industries.