Changes within the sales organization often involve putting sales reps through training to add skills, knowledge, processes, or expertise.
As we wrote in an earlier blog post, solving “the Forgetting Curve” is a challenge we all face. Unless we put new information or skills to use in our daily lives, we’re bound to forget most of what we learn within a matter of weeks. That’s not comforting news if your goal is to sustain lasting change. So, how can leaders ensure that their changes will be implemented and that training is effective for the long haul?
One strategy is to use pre- and post-training diagnostic surveys. Have your sales reps take pre-training diagnostic assessments of their skills as an initial benchmark before the training. Find out where sales reps are today by identifying their current strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a group. Then, several months after the training, reassess the sales reps to see if they’ve progressed, regressed, or stayed the same. By utilizing both pre- and post-training diagnostics, you can pinpoint at an individual level where sales reps need to focus to improve.
As an example, a client of ours (a global network infrastructure company) has engaged us to conduct a training program to improve how their sales managers coach their sales reps. The purpose was not to achieve a 20% lift in coaching, but to be able to look at each individual to see where they improved and what developmental needs they still have. They really value the reinforcement component of refreshing the training for participants nine months after the classroom by going through the post-training diagnostic. The pre- and post-diagnostic assessment has become a sustainment strategy for them.
The importance of self-awareness
The term “self-awareness” likely conjures different thoughts depending on your perspective. Sci-fi geeks would no doubt think of Skynet from the Terminator movies, the computer network that becomes self-aware and wages war on mankind. Judgmental fashionistas question others’ lack of self-awareness when they ask, “Doesn’t he/she own a mirror?” when scoffing at some unfortunate outfit. But in a business context, talent managers think of self-awareness as one’s ability to objectively recognize their emotions as well as their areas of strength and need for improvement.
When you think about changing buyer behavior, how can you get your most seasoned and grizzled sales reps on board? Start with self-awareness. The pre- and post-training diagnostics are an objective way to help them along. But self-awareness can be a challenge for many people:
- Young, inexperienced, hot-shot know-it-alls bristle when an elder tries to tell them how to do something better or differently. “That might be how you did it last century, but I know better.” This group might need convincing that it is important to follow structure and the company way of doing things rather than ad lib each moment of their lives to record on social media sites.
- Conversely, long-term (read “long-in-the-tooth”) employees are likely to be set in their ways and may cling stubbornly to old routines and habits. “Why do I have to change? We’ve been doing fine this way since 1986!” When you’ve been beaten down (real or perceived) for a long time, it’s easy to become stale and frustrated. Are your skills as sharp and current as they need to be? Old dogs can learn new tricks if they’re willing — you need to help open their minds. It’s hard to argue when presented with personalized individual assessment data.
- How many people are savvy enough to be able to look at themselves through clear lenses? To acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses but also to be able to receive constructive feedback from others? These people are more open-minded and likely to be most receptive (and eager?) to improving themselves and embracing the change.
Self-awareness is critical. If you’re unaware, then it’s difficult to improve. But if you’re honest with yourself, the diagnostic results will reveal areas in need of change.
Communication and commitment
You can’t just schedule your sales reps to take the pre- and post-training skills assessments without providing context and some level of expectation (particularly for the post-assessment). Help them and your initiative succeed by communicating with them before, during, and after the training. Your strategic change initiative should have a communication plan in place with regular announcements and updates. Piggyback on those efforts to make sure that the message is getting through and that sales reps feel like they’re receiving coordinated support.
Conducting pre- and post-training assessments isn’t complicated, especially when coupled with a strategic communications plan. If you are committed to seeing this change through and reaping the benefits, then you need to be just as committed to changing and sustaining your sales reps’ behaviors. Assessments help bring a level of objectivity into the process, which helps target developmental needs and creates buy-in at the individual level.
Getting that feedback can be eye opening, but it should direct you to seek the right help. Trying to move the middle of the pack — the 25th to 60th percentile of sales reps trying to keep their heads above water — is a good place to start if you want to have an impact and “move the masses.”
We believe that sales reps and sales managers will change one to three behaviors as a result of going through training. Adding the diagnostics to the program gives them the opportunity to not only learn and use new skills but also to receive invaluable additional feedback on what more they can do to improve and keep up the pace. This tool reinforces continuous individual development.