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Sustainment Planning

Sales training sustainment and reinforcement ensures your team achieves continuous improvement

If you’re thinking about sustainment as protecting the status quo, then you’re thinking about it wrong. Sustained improvement offers considerable benefits.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who sustain and reinforce skills demonstrate a 16 percent increase in overall performance as reported by their managers. Moreover, this same group exhibited 125 percent less burnout than their peers.

What makes sustainment so powerful is that it serves as a basis for what the researchers behind the study identify as growth, or “thriving.”

They explain:

“We think of a thriving workforce as one in which employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future — the company’s and their own ... people who are developing their abilities are likely to believe in their potential for further growth.”

This growth is characteristic of a sustainment strategy.

How Sustainment and Reinforcement Drive Results

Competitive advantages are fleeting. Advancements in technology have brought affordable, effective capabilities to nearly all businesses. This phenomenon has led to a continued pursuit of the next big advantage.

As a result, businesses are churning through “advantages” at an accelerating rate.

Consider research from Deutsche Bank showing that business cycles are likely to shorten in the near future.

This trend may explain why research from AT Kearney shows:

“About two-thirds of companies have a strategy horizon of four years or less ... Another 30 percent have plans of five to six years, and only 6 percent of companies in our survey have a strategy that stretches beyond six years.”

Corporate lifespans have nearly halved in the last 30 years. Constantly switching strategies is expensive, risky, and labor-intensive. The better solution is to focus on employees and their abilities to sustain skills because a strong workforce is competitive in any economic setting.

Advantages of A Strong Sustainment Strategy

Some advantages to committing to a strong sustainment and reinforcement strategy include:

  • Driving Engagement: A business cannot succeed without employee engagement. Long-term results and innovation come from employees who are “dialed-in.”
  • Boosting Alignment: Sustainment creates consistency across team members. As a result, managers can be certain that business outcomes are tied to learned skills. When teams are aligned around a core set of skills, they’re better able to work in cooperation and even help one another.
  • Improving the Customer Experience: The most productive business relationships are long-term. Creating a long-term relationship means delivering a consistent customer experience. Sustained selling skills are the foundation of this approach.

How To Develop a Sales Training Sustainment and Reinforcement Strategy

Sustainment requires structure. As leaders get a more informed sense of what works and what doesn’t, they can change their sustainment framework, as needed.

Here, we look at the five key steps, in sequential order, that we believe form a sound sustainment strategy.

1. Set Expectations

Communication is critical. Sales professionals need to know that sustainment is a priority for leadership. These expectations should be expressed in clear, actionable language containing no ambiguity.

Additionally, leaders should underscore the urgency of the expectations by expressing them in the right medium. That is, they should conduct a meeting in which all expectations are outlined in person. If the selling organization is distributed geographically and an in-person meeting is not possible, then leaders should share expectations via video.

The key is to avoid easily dismissed messaging like emails or a short memo. Just as sales professionals are expected to sustain skills, leaders should be expected to sustain communication by reinforcing expectations consistently.

One announcement is not enough. Achieving this critical first step immediately places leaders ahead of the competition, given that “only about half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work,” according to research from Gallup.

2. Connect 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 after training when it’s still fresh.

When sales professionals see the effectiveness of the skills in real selling situations, they’re more likely to continue using them. In other words, skill effectiveness gives sales professionals agency, and agency underpins sustainment.

To connect skills to real selling challenges, leaders should also encourage sales professionals to “post-game” each sale, whether successful or not, and reflect on lessons learned. Consider Harvard research findings showing that “reflection has an effect on both self-efficacy and task understanding.”

3. Prevent Relapse

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. In addition, success, even partial success, is important so that people feel the benefits of putting in the effort to master the new knowledge and skills.

Many sales professionals have habits that are counter to the new skills. Leaders can help them overcome this problem by using the old habits as a trigger for the new ones. As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit explains, “the Golden Rule of Habit Change: you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

4. Create Accountability

Hold people accountable for their behavior change.

Doing so helps people to take personal ownership of change management. Without accountability, reinforcement can feel like a “top-down” approach in which sales professionals take directives from leaders. This approach puts distance between the sales professional and the outcomes of their work.

Sales training sustainment requires sales professionals to see the connection between their efforts and results. Create this setting by communicating that each person is responsible for sustained skill adoption. At the same time, remind employees that the leaders represent a support structure and resource.

Accountability is a routine; it must be perpetual and underpinned by direct feedback. Employees need to know where they stand. Honest communication is important because it ensures that the employee’s understanding of expectations matches those of the leadership.

Finally, accountability requires measurement. Both leaders and employees appreciate the clarity that comes from well-defined metrics.

5. Shape the Culture around Sustainment

Behavior changes must be “real” and not a “flavor of the month.” If people go through training but their work environment has not noticeably changed to support the new behaviors, people will think that the new behaviors are optional or, worse, that management is not serious about change.

On the other hand, if people go through training and return to a work environment that is significantly different and better aligned to support the new behaviors, people will see that management is serious about this change.

Shaping the sales culture around sustainment means creating routines and initiatives that advance the goal of growth.

Some key ways to do this are:

  • Reinforcing one skill set at a time
  • Aligning skills to higher priorities
  • Using a variety of modalities
  • Mixing coaching and training
  • Providing on-the-job tools for performance support
  • Developing a feedback mechanism

How Sales Training Sustainment Evolves Into A Culture of Growth

Sustainment is important because it’s a precursor to growth. That is, growth cannot occur if each new skill set erodes.

Consider superior selling skills as a structure. Each new skill sits on top of the last. If any of these underlying capabilities give way because of lacking sustainment, then the structure collapses. This tiered configuration of skills is the sales academy structure common to selling organizations today.

The sales academy structure is a necessity as selling becomes more challenging. Sales professionals can no longer rely on one core skill. Instead, they need to draw on a spectrum of capabilities and seamlessly shift between those skills. Reaching this level means building upon a sustainment strategy and creating growth.

Fortunately, a sales training sustainment strategy provides the environment for exactly this growth in two key ways:

  • Sustainment emphasizes the long game
  • Sustainment boosts resolve

The result is a more purposeful environment in which employees believe their work has meaning. As employees become more achievement-oriented, they become more receptive to continued skill adoption because they know that each new capability learned brings them closer to an outcome that rewards them emotionally and financially.

Traditional ideas about sales training sustainment are often incomplete. They miss the crucial idea that true sustainment means constant improvement.

Without regular improvement, sales professionals standstill while the competition moves forward. Matching and exceeding their pace demands consistent growth.

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