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Learning and Development Leaders: Welcome to Your New Job in Sales – Part 1

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Sales? Learning and development professionals…in Sales? Perhaps frightening to some, but there’s some truth to it.

While it’s tempting to defer to the hyperbole that “we’re all in sales,” meaning that we all represent our companies and are responsible for growing them, that’s not what I mean. I’m also not just referring to those in sales training roles. I’m talking about the “Dan Pink” version of “we’re all in sales,” from his book “To Sell is Human,” meaning, that we’re constantly selling ideas and influencing, persuading and convincing others (especially our colleagues and organisational leaders), to do what we think is best. (We diverge from Pink’s opinion somewhat, because unless you’re a sales professional with a quota, a pipeline, and likely a good portion of your income at risk based on your performance, it is NOT the same, but Pink is certainly correct that many of the dialogue, communication and influence skills are the same.)

That said, I don’t need to tell you that improving organisational results isn’t easy. I’m sure you’re also painfully aware that training alone rarely gets that job done. For years now, thought leaders, performance advocates and organisations like ASTD and ISPI have been guiding our profession away from a “butts in seats” and “smile sheet” mentality, toward a true human performance improvement orientation. And I think it’s fair to note that since not everyone has taken that journey with us, yet, that some selling and influence skills could be valuable.

A Gap Analysis… on Us

If we conducted a Force Field Analysis on this transition from training to performance, I believe we would find two primary restraining forces, holding us back.

  1. A remaining gap of awareness and skills among those in our profession, to execute true performance interventions.
  2. The difficult job of convincing organisational leaders to do the right thing or the actions that we know will produce the best results…front-end or gap analysis, clear problem-definition and problem-solving, solution analysis and selection and initiative execution with change leadership and management.  “Training” people is so much easier.
We could debate why the first is still an issue and perhaps that’s fodder for a future post. But today, let’s focus on the second. Are you selling your ideas as effectively as possible? Are you effectively influencing your organisation leaders and peers? Or do you need to improve your skills?

In the remainder of this series, I’ll offer some things to consider, from a few of our sales training programmes, that will help you in selling your ideas.

Are You a Training Order-taker or a Training Sales Pro?

Let’s start with considering Consultative Selling Skills.

The Framework:

The concepts of opening a call or meeting, questioning to understand needs, presenting solutions that will meet the needs and gaining agreement on next steps is alive and well. People will often have concerns or objections to our ideas, and you will have more success if you can identify potential obstacles, objections or concerns, avoid them if possible, or at least have a plan to address and resolve concerns if you can’t avoid them. These concepts apply whether you are selling enterprise software, insurance or ideas.

Dialogue and Diagnosis:

Non-sales pros often think selling occurs during the presentation of solutions. While there is some truth in that, because there is an element of influence or persuasion involved in selling (choose MY solution, rather than THAT one), the real influence begins with a deeper understanding of the situation (and with the other person’s realisation that you really want to understand and help them). The situation includes background information, challenges faced, possible opportunities, the potential impacts of not taking action or maintaining the status quo, risks of taking the wrong action or possible gains from taking the right action. These result in the core needs and wants or the desired outcomes.  Usually, there is a deeper need, and you can get to it by using The Five Whys or having an authentic dialogue about why addressing an issue is really important. Real differentiation often occurs in understanding the situation better than anyone else (especially root causes), because this leads to better solutions that will most effectively address the issue. So, you achieve real differentiation through real understanding, which you can only reach through authentic and transparent dialogue, investigation and analysis.

Don’t Just React – Test Reality:

Think about the number of times you’ve been asked by well-meaning internal clients to create training when additional training really isn’t the solution to the problem. It’s an interesting conundrum in our profession that people come to us with a solution in mind and say “do this” or “we have a training issue.” If you want to address the real issues, rather than spin wheels, you need to get people to step back with you and have a dialogue and investigate and define the real problem, to determine the best solution.

Build Dialogue Muscle:

In addition to the standard selling framework above, this also involves the finesse of the Six Critical Skills.  These communication skills support your ability to connect with others and lead an effective dialogue.

  • Positioning:  Positioning is presenting information persuasively throughout the sales call. Positioning helps to differentiate products and services by using words to shape a client’s perceptions and encouraging clients to listen and remember.
  • Listening:  Listening is the ability to concentrate on meaning. There are three levels of listening: zoned out (not involved at all), efficient (engaged but thinking about other things), and effective (fully engaged).  Listening at the highest level fosters effective client dialogue.
  • Questioning: Salespeople who really understand their client needs have a competitive edge. How well they question determines how strong the competitive edge is. When questions are well structured they are powerful. Questions give the data to position products and services to meet the client’s needs. When good questions are asked, salespeople demonstrate a commitment to meeting the client’s needs. Salespeople who can ask questions in a way that encourages a client to open up have a competitive edge. Knowing how to get clients to talk about their needs in-depth is critical in sales. Prefacing is a skill that can help you do that.
  • Relating:  Relating is the manner in which sales professionals interact with a client to make personal and business connections.  Although most salespeople feel that they are already strong at relating, it is one of the toughest skills to truly master, and strong relating skills can help differentiate someone from competitors.
  • Presence:  Strong presence is essential because it can give credibility to or undermine any message a salesperson wants to convey.  In many ways, it may be the most important skill because if there is a disconnect between what the sales person’s presence conveys and what he or she says, credibility is lost.
  • Checking:  Checking is asking open-ended questions to elicit feedback from the client on what the salesperson has just said.  By checking for client agreement and understanding key times, sales professionals can keep the dialogue on track and interactive.

Try It, You’ll Like It!

We’ll continue this post in the near future when we’ll share more concepts from our training programmes (in this multiple part series, we’ll cover Consultative Negotiations, Trusted Adviser and Selling with Insights®), which all learning and development leaders can use to further develop your skills to influence others and sell your ideas. Until then, evaluate yourself realistically against the concepts shared here, to see if something might help. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts either now or in the future – especially whether any of the ideas helped improve your influence skills.

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