Which of these issues are
worrying you these days?
Keeping the good salespeople
Motivating your salespeople?
Stimulating your salespeople to become more productive?
Attracting good quality, new salespeople?
If you are concerned about
any one of these issues, you are not alone. These are near the top of almost
every businessperson's list these days. With good reason. If you can positively
resolve each of these issues, you'll go a long way to profitably growing your
business. If you can't, you may have a very rocky road ahead of you.
Now, suppose you could focus
on one initiative that would help positively resolve each of these issues. With
one simple move, you could help yourself on every one of these troublesome issues.
Is there such an initiative? IS THERE ONE thing you can do that will help you
keep the good salespeople you have, motivate your salespeople, stimulate your
salespeople to become more productive, and attract good quality candidates?
The answer? Of course there
is. It's this: You can build a systematic approach to developing your salespeople.
And in successfully accomplishing that one thing you'll resolve all the others.
First a definition. By "development"
I mean this: "Continuous improvement in the knowledge, processes, skills and
tools necessary to be ever more effective and efficient." I don't mean that
once a month you have a sales meeting when you talk about problems, new company
policies and procedures or discuss a new product. Those kinds of meetings are
necessary, but hardly sufficient.
Nor does it mean that you
expect your salespeople to learn on the job by trial and error. At best, that
is a very time consuming and costly approach. At worst, it leads to mediocre
performance, confusion and frustration on the part of the sales person as well
as his boss. Most companies who claim to do on the job training are really making
an excuse for their lack of ability to do anything better.
I don't know of any other
sophisticated area of human labor where it is expected that every practitioner
will figure out how to do the job well on his/her own. I, for one, would not
want to settle into my seat on an airplane and have the pilot announce that
he's figured out how to fly this plane on his own. Nor do I want to put my life
in the hands of surgeon who learned a surgical procedure by trial and error.
The list can go on and on. It includes almost any profession you can think of:
lawyers, teachers, social workers, ministers, engineers, repair technicians,
etc. In every one of these sophisticated jobs, there is a body of knowledge,
of principles and procedures, that the practitioners are expected to master.
While all of these professions expect people to practice, none of them expect
them to learn the basic principles on their own by trial and error.
Are field salespeople somehow
different? Are their jobs so simple that it's easy to learn how to do it well?
Or, are they some how super intelligent and able to figure it all out on their
own? Clearly the answer to both questions is NO. Sales is an incredibly formidable
profession that offers its practitioners a lifetime of challenge. No salesperson
is ever as good as he/she could be. And salespeople are no more nor less intelligent
then than counterparts among teachers, social workers, ministers, and the like.
Not only that, but every
other profession expects its members to continually improve themselves. Show
me a doctor, lawyer, CPA, teacher, social worker, minister, etc who has not
gone back for additional training and development in the last two years and
I'll show you one who is either retired or dead. Show me a salesperson that
hasn't invested in improving themselves in the last two years and I'll show
you 80% of the salespeople in this country.
Why is that? One major reason
is that most of the companies for whom they work don't require continuous improvement.
One of the main reasons they don't require it is that they don't know how to
pull it off. So they busy themselves with "product-oriented" sales meetings
and complain often about unmotivated salespeople.
Being systematic about development
is far more extensive than that. Here's what your organization might look like
after you have invested in developing your salespeople.
Picture of the company
that develops its salespeople
1. You'd have a structured
training program for all new hires. There would be a body of knowledge they
would need to acquire, skills and processes they would need to master, and benchmarks
along the way by which you could measure their progress. This program would
teach such important practices as:
- developing territory
- planning for sales calls
- strategic planning for
- relationship building
- prospecting and cold
- making appointments
- collecting information
- maintaining good records
- getting organized
- making persuasive presentations
- gaining commitment
- implementing customer's
- following up to assure
- penetrating key accounts
2. Once a certain minimum
level of competency is attained, the salesperson would then be required to continually
improve on his/her skills by investing time and energy in getting better at
the job. You'd make that happen by:
- requiring monthly or
quarterly involvement in "learning experiences." These could be anything from
classes at the local university, audio or video training programs like our
sales certification or continuous improvement programs, to something as simple
as checking a book out of the company's library and sharing a list of good
ideas at the next sales meeting.
- holding regular developmental
sales meetings in which you focused on a special behavior or practice and
helped people improve in that one area. That's the specific application for
our video training kits.
3. At some point in the
development of a salesperson, he/she will likely look for additional career
challenges. When that happens, the focus of development should be on providing
the salesperson opportunities to expand his/her competency into areas that can
be of assistance to the company in areas other than sales. This is when some
salespeople want to focus on training or coaching others, for example. They
can be channeled into learning how to do that. Others may want to expand into
management, and should be encouraged to begin gaining management skills and
practices. Others may want to pursue team leadership, etc.
A comprehensive development
system then, should account for three things:
1. learning the basic principles,
processes and tools for effective selling,
2. continuous improvement
in the sophisticated practices of highly effective salespeople
3. opportunities to expand
in complementary careers and learn the skills necessary to do so.
How will this help you retain
and attract good salespeople, motivate the ones you have and improve the productivity
of the entire group?
Which would you want to
work for? A company who doesn't invest anything in developing their people,
or one who has a regular, formal and systematic approach such as the one I described
Imagine yourself interviewing
a prospective salesperson, before and after you've implemented the system described
above. Before that, you say to your candidate, "We expect you to learn on the
After that, you say, "We
have a structured training program to assure that you master the basic practices
that will ensure your success. Then, when you've mastered those, we have a system
to stimulate your continuous career growth so that you are always growing better
at your job, Finally, we have a system to help you expand your knowledge and
skills into complementary areas like sales management, team leadership, and
so on, if your are so inclined."
Everything else being equal,
which company would you rather work for? That's how a development program will
help you attract the right king of people. Clearly, the same is true of your
current sales force. Begin to require continuous improvement, provide the means
for them to do so, and invest in them, and you'll be surprised how loyal they
This kind of program cannot
help but improve your sales productivity. When all your salespeople know that
constant and measurable improvement is required, most of them will begin to
work on that. And you'll begin to see the result in increased sales and gross
Training and development
like the kind we're talking about can be one of your best investments. If only
one salesperson acquires only one new account because of your investment in
their development, it's likely that that one new account will more then pay
for a year's worth of development costs by itself.
How to move in the right
Here are some small steps
you can take towards becoming the kind of learning organization I've described.
1. Budget for development.
As simple as it may seem, this one step will be a major one. Once you have a
budget, you'll find it much easier to actually spend that money. The decision
will not be "if" but rather "how." Also, by budgeting money for development
and then letting your managers know, you will have sent a powerful message that
you are serious about it and willing to invest some of the company's resources
The natural question is
then, how much should you invest? There are some benchmarks available. The Facing
the Forces of Change 2000 study found that high-performing wholesale distributors
spent about 2.5% of payroll on training, while an ASTD member survey found that
their member companies averaged 3.2% of payroll. Since training is a smaller
issue than development, and since salespeople can generally benefit the company
more than drivers, warehouse workers and production personnel, I'd suggest a
bit higher number. I like to see 5% of payroll invested in continuous development
of the sales team.
2. Have your sales managers
create individual development plans with each salesperson. It is common practice
for sales managers to hold annual goal-setting meetings with their charges in
which performance goals are identified. That's a great opportunity to create
annual development goals and strategies at the same time. Doing so lets everyone
know that continuous development is a requirement of the job.
3. Regularly generate learning
opportunities. Learning opportunities are events at which salespeople are exposed
to new ideas, or reminded of good practices. They can encompass a wide range
of possibilities from reading a new book on sales strategies, having roundtable
discussions of success stories and common problems, to viewing our monthly videotape
series for inside or outside salespeople.
The point is that you generate
learning opportunities on a regular basis, and require your salespeople to take
part in them.
While not everyone will
gain the same thing from each event, over time they'll understand that you are
serious about their growth, and that their continuous development is your priority
and their responsibility.