Recently, I wrote an article for LinkedIn that discussed the Incredible Business Disconnect that Nobody is Talking About.
In a nutshell, I looked at the myriad of sales content that has been written, recorded, produced and delivered over the past several years. More specifically, I looked at everything that has targeted consultative selling, asking questions, listening skills, sales process, value selling, qualifying and closing. Google has literally thousands of links to content like this, and some of it is really good. Top Sales World has, or links to some of the best material from some of the finest sales experts.
At the same time, there are more people claiming to be sales experts than at any time since I entered this business in 1985. That large number means that an awful lot of sales training must have been delivered in the last several years too.
You would think, that with all of this sales learning and development taking place, that people in the profession of selling would have shown some significant improvement. But the data tells us a different story.
Objective Management Group (OMG), compared that data from 100,000 salespeople that were evaluated before 2012 to 100,000 salespeople that were evaluated after 2013. The data clearly showed that there has been almost no improvement in the primary sales competencies during this time.
The LinkedIn article pointed to the actual data but I want to ask why so little has changed.
- There is a seemingly endless number of possibilities, for instance:
- The Tease: Most of the abundant free content is more teaser than substance
- Old School: Some of what has been written is either wrong, outdated or irrelevant
- Limited Application: Much the content applies to only some roles, industries or markets
- Knowledge but not Power: The big problem with reading and viewing free stuff is that you can learn things but without good training, coaching and practice, you have only learned it – you haven’t applied and mastered it
- Too Short: Where training has been paid for, it’s often too little, and reinforcement is much too infrequently for anything to actually change
I could continue this list but the reality is that nothing will change until companies get serious about an integrated approach that must consist of the following components in the following sequence:
- Customized and Optimized Milestone-Centric Sales Process and Methodology – most companies believe they have a sales process and methodology but from my experience, they’re almost always wrong about it being effective. None of the other stuff will have an impact if the process isn’t right and the salespeople can’t apply the methodology.
- Sales Management Training and Coaching – if your sales managers aren’t a step ahead, and can’t coach to the process and methodology, as well as hold their salespeople accountable to adopting it, the sales training won’t take hold.
- Sales Training – This can’t be the garden variety one or two-day affair. Sure, it can start with a kick-off but it must be followed up with preferably two live, interactive sessions (online is OK if they are live and interactive) each month for at least 8 months and preferably 12.
- Practice – Why do people think that you can master advanced concepts in selling without the practice that is required to master the same type of concepts in sports? Without constant practice it won’t work! In sales, practice means role-playing, something that most salespeople don’t enjoy and aren’t very good at.
- KPI’s – If you begin to change expectations as a result of improving your sales process and methodology, then the KPI’s need to change too. New approaches using old KPI’s will have you focusing on the wrong behaviors and milestones.
- Not Optional – In some companies, top executives fail to communicate the importance of an initiative like this and some sales managers and salespeople interpret this to mean that mastery and application are optional. It’s not only not optional, it should be a condition for continued employment!
All you need to do in order to recognize how difficult it is to master anything is read George Leonard’s great book, Mastery. If Mastery isn’t the goal, then you should also drop the expectation of significantly increasing revenue because you can’t have one without the other.
Mastery of anything means mastery of the basic fundamentals that lead to great success.
In sports you must first be able to make the routine plays before you can make the great plays, so we must master making the routine plays.
In sales you must first be able to make the routine calls and have the routine meetings. If nothing else, that means having great listening and questioning skills. Not 50 Questions, not prepared questions, but real-time questions that arise from super-active listening skills. Those are the fundamentals required for selling success yet those are the skills that most salespeople lack!
Effective listening and questioning skills aren’t even sales specific but when you become masterful at listening and questioning you can become masterful at selling.