But now, there are added degrees of complexity, with buyers just a web search away from answers they used to get from sales professionals.
The selling environment, the tools of the trade, and the sales cycle itself have been forever transformed by technology, globalization, and always-on connectivity. Yet, the foundational sales skills remain as relevant as they ever have been: preparation, needs dialogue, consultative selling, and so on.
Research: Aligning Learning and Development Initiatives with Sales Goals
Sales training and sales effectiveness have been a cornerstone of many company initiatives to grow profitable business, increase revenues, and drive efficiencies. What is needed now is for Learning and Development (L&D) to align the competencies of its sellers with the skills to succeed in dynamic environments. This involves the mastery of customer engagement strategies that are able to adapt to where each customer is along the path to closing a sale so sellers can participate in shaping opportunities and positioning their offerings accordingly.
Are companies currently setting up their sales personnel for success? Are they targeting sales competencies that reflect the 21st-century business landscape? To find answers, Training Industry Inc. and Richardson conducted a study in the fourth quarter of 2016: “Aligning Sales Competencies in Learning and Development.”
The confidential survey was completed by 228 companies in a range of industries, with 36 percent representing durable goods/consumables, 10 percent technology, and others including banking/finance/insurance, manufacturing, construction, business services/consulting, entertainment/hospitality, and government. The companies ranged in size, with 19 percent having between 500 and 1,000 employees and 18 percent with more than 50,000 employees.
Results: Effectiveness of Sales Training Initiatives
When asked about current sales training initiatives, about one-third of respondents said they were “almost always effective,” 26 percent said “always effective,” and 25 percent “usually effective.” While few companies were rated flatly ineffective, the responses revealed that many companies have plenty of room to grow and improve their impact.
Results: Common Training Modalities
Respondents identified the most common training modalities used as on-the-job training (66 percent) and video (62 percent). This was followed by instructor-led training (45 percent) and, tied at 43 percent, on-the-job coaching and video instructor-led training. Additionally, there was a prevalence of multiple training modalities used, with the majority of companies using up to five training delivery methods to meet the learning needs of their sellers.
Results: Demonstrating Sales Competencies
Sales competencies involve a cluster of behaviors, and participants were asked to rate an average seller at their company in three broad areas:
- Finding opportunities through prospecting and utilizing market knowledge
- Winning opportunities through understanding customer needs, positioning solutions, and closing sales
- Growing opportunities through expanding accounts and fostering client relationships
“Winning opportunities” received the highest response, with a combined 69 percent “always effective” and “almost always effective,” suggesting this cluster is generally the strongest area of sales capabilities across companies. In rating the importance of sales-related skills, respondents said keeping knowledge current and making informed use of sales metrics were the most crucial skills.
Respondents rated three broad categories of sales competencies – selling skills, market knowledge, and customer relations – for both effectiveness of training and strategic importance to sales outcomes. Of note is the fact that more than half the respondents said their companies are providing “very effective” training for all sales competencies examined in this research. This suggests that sales training is reinforcing competencies at the majority of organizations and that there remains plenty of room for companies to improve their training offerings to better align with the importance of relevant competencies.
Results: Barriers to Sales Training Effectiveness
A number of hurdles exist in driving training effectiveness in sales competencies. According to half the survey respondents, the single most frequent impediment to rolling out sales training is consistency, both across employee functions and across geography. Though not as prominent, other challenges included a lack of leadership support, issues with evaluating and sustaining the impact of training, engaging with learners, and resource limitations.
The second of this two-part series discusses insights emerging from the research.