In the fourth quarter of 2016, they conducted a study in which 228 companies participated by completing a confidential survey on sales competencies alignment with training initiatives.
The first post in this two-part series, “Are Companies Setting Up Their Sellers for Success?“, touches on market conditions that led to this inquiry and the focus of the questions. Part two switches gears from responses to insights.
It is undeniable that today’s sales environment has dramatically changed how customers and sellers interact, with both pros and cons. On a positive note, buyers are better informed about products and services than ever before. This can shorten the selling cycle, as customers may already be aware of which product is best-in-class and have eliminated other potential buying options before engaging with sellers.
Conversely, product positioning – and, by extension, positioning the company – and marketing collateral have grown in importance because they may form prospects’ first impressions as they search for options. In this complicated environment, sellers of all tenure in the profession must be armed with the competencies to meet customers where they are in their buying processes.
Sales Competencies Research Insights
Key to setting up sellers for success is the alignment of sales competencies with learning initiatives. Among the insights emerging from the recent survey are the following:
- Learning and Development (L&D) needs to carefully consider the modalities used in presenting training, matching their methods to the ways sellers can most easily consume learning content. While survey respondents named on-the-job training and video-based learning as the two most common modalities, most companies also utilise additional methods, such as classroom training and e-learning.
- Respondents ranked customer needs as the most influential driver of sales competency strategy, even though other stakeholders, such as sales managers and sellers, may also factor heavily in a company’s approach. Similarly, “understanding customer needs” was rated by respondents as the most important competency for sellers to develop, further underscoring the criticality of customer needs to the sales environment.
- Sellers interact with customers at every stage of the sales cycle. Although 82 per cent of respondents agreed that sellers first interact with customers at the prospecting stage, this research also found that 64 per cent of the time, sellers first interact with customers to follow-up on sales. These results suggest that not only is the ability to identify a customer’s stage in the sales cycle a critical competency, but sellers need to leverage the appropriate competencies to move the customer along to the next stage. Accordingly, L&D must align competencies to address the sales skills necessary to navigate customer engagement at any point in the cycle.
- According to the survey results, the effectiveness of training to reinforce sales competencies does not correspond to their strategic importance. At least half of the companies represented were “extremely” or “very” effective at training in sales competencies, but in nearly every instance, gaps existed between each competency’s importance and the effectiveness with which companies are developing them. The competency areas identified as those which companies should focus on to close gaps in training effectiveness included targeting buyers, prospecting opportunities, knowing the market, understanding customer needs, effective presentation skills and expanding current accounts.
- The biggest challenge to L&D departments is maintaining consistency of training across employee functions and across geography. Additionally, implementation of sales training is often hampered by operational complacency, trouble identifying employees with skill gaps and issues in fostering learner motivation.
Sales training and sales effectiveness have been cornerstones of many company initiatives to grow profitable business, increase revenues and drive efficiencies – and these elements are no less important today. In order to set their sellers up for success, L&D must help them master engagement strategies that adapt to where customers are along the path to closing a sale so they can participate in shaping opportunities and positioning their offerings accordingly.