Despite this importance, too much of the planning falters amid ambivalent decision-making because there are many possible paths to follow in the pursuit of training. As a result, progress stalls. A McKinsey survey of more than 1,200 respondents shows that 56% of those at the C-level spend more than 30% of their time on decision-making and that more than half of that time is ineffective.
These findings suggest that businesses, and the C-level executives that run them, could be far more effective if they took a different approach to decision-making.
Here, we offer that approach by clearly outlining the 3 key decisions leaders need to make when planning a training course designed to boost the skills of their sales professionals. By focusing on these three areas sales leaders can narrow their attention to only the most important decisions thereby creating a more efficient planning process.
Moreover, leaders can develop a flow in which one decision informs the next by focusing on these three areas in the order in which they are presented here.
1. Identify the KPIs in Need of Improvement
Leaders need to begin with the end in mind. That is, they need to determine the KPIs that they most want to improve. Making this decision early serves two purposes. First, it allows leaders to create a baseline measurement for the initiative. Early identification of critical KPIs allows for a clear and measurable definition of success. Second, the KPIs selected will facilitate the process of determining what skills to train.
Identifying the right KPIs is what makes sales training programs worthwhile. It is what drives the ROI of the endeavor. Leaders must remember that there is no universal definition of the word “right.” Instead, the right KPIs are the ones that are most meaningful to the individual organization.
Many businesses select KPIs such as:
- Win Rate: A team or company’s win rate serves as the primary indicator of market competitiveness. As an all-encompassing measurement, the number is easy to track and easy to baseline.
- Quota Attainment: This number reveals what percent of the sales team is meeting their goal. The number serves to judge performance against expectations and is a gauge of the effectiveness of business strategies.
- Time to Productivity: The measurement is pertinent because when new sales professionals require more time to contribute to the bottom line, the productivity and profitability of the entire sales team diminishes.
- Attrition: The median cost of turnover is nearly one-quarter of an employee’s annual salary. Attrition represents the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the sales team and, to an extent, the demand for the product they are selling.
- Contract Value: Increasingly each sale requires more resources to reach closing as the customer’s needs are becoming more nuanced and complex. Contract value represents how effective sales teams are at focusing their effort and resources on deals that offer meaningful impact to the bottom line.
- Profitability: Profitability indicates the effectiveness of a sales team to convey competitive advantages and efficiently use resources to win the sale
- Pricing: Pricing reflects, in part, the negotiation skills of the sales team. By creating meaningful and differentiated value throughout the sales cycle teams can protect the pricing of the solutions they offer.
- Sales Cycle: A company’s sales cycle reflects the effectiveness of the sales team and the buyer’s engagement. As sales teams increase their productivity, the sale cycle decreases, which narrows the distance between the start of the pursuit and the signed contract.
2. Choose the Skills to Develop
Once leaders have selected the KPIs that are meaningful to their organization they can determine the skills that will improve those metrics. If pricing remains a top priority, leaders may choose to focus on negotiation training. If contract value is major goal leaders may choose to engage a training program for high-stakes sales opportunities which help participants learn how to create stakeholder alignment in a high-risk, high-reward setting. If profitability is central to the organization’s success leaders may choose sales training that addresses the service professional’s ability to access white space within existing customer accounts.
In many cases, leaders will need several forms of training to achieve their list of KPIs. In this scenario, it is critical to properly sequence the training so that each skill learned provides the foundation for the training that follows. Simply, all the parts must fit together. For example, if an organization includes sales coaching as part of the training curriculum they will need to ensure that those coaching behaviors properly support the sales process taught in the previous instructor-led training. Adherence to a process is critical to success. In our 2020 Selling Challenges Research Study, we learned that of those who missed their sales quota only 16% “always” followed a sales process.
3. Choose the Sustainment Method
Sustainment of learned skills leads to a consistent sales strategy. Consistency is important because it leads to accurate performance measurement, a cohesive support network, and enhanced customer experience. Moreover, sustainment improves the long-term ROI of the sales training program. However, sustainment is a challenge for many selling organizations because it often lacks a formalized structure. Those who succeed do so because they build a specific framework for sales training sustainment which consists of four parts:
- Set Expectations: Communication is critical. Sales professionals need to know that sustainment is a priority for the leadership. These expectations should be expressed in clear, actionable language containing no ambiguity.
- Link Skills to Challenges: Skill training often unfolds in the controlled environment of a classroom. Scenarios are clearly defined, and outcomes are hypothetical. Converting learned selling skills to the real world is more challenging. Leaders need to help sales professionals bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world by encouraging skill adoption immediately.
- Prevent Skill Erosion: Change takes time, and most of us are impatient. If people don’t feel like they are making progress with the new behaviors, they are much more likely to return to their pre-training behaviors. It is important to break up behavior change into incremental steps so that people feel that they are making progress.
- Develop Accountability: Hold people accountable for their behavior change. Doing so helps people to take personal ownership of change management. Without accountability, sustainment can feel like a “top-down” approach in which sales professionals take directives from leaders.
Building effective sales teams means becoming more intentional and structured when planning a corporate sales training program. Successful sales reps and the sales skills they possess in both the B2C and B2B world emerge from this three-step process that encourages leaders to get specific about their required outcomes, the skills needed to foster those results, and the sustainment that makes new selling behaviors durable.