I’m not sure that what you might describe as the “traditional” approach to sales skills development - sending sales people on an occasional formal sales training course based on one of the many off-the-shelf methodologies - has ever delivered consistent results in terms of driving sustained performance improvement.
And that was in yesterday’s relatively static marketplaces! In today’s fast changing business environment, sales competencies require continuous honing and development. Simply repeating what worked a few short years (or even months) ago no longer guarantees future success. This has a number of significant implications.
First, skills development programmes themselves have had to become more agile - evolving to more of an on-demand, self-paced, customised-to-the-individual approach. There’s still an important role for team-based training, but bringing sales people together in a room once a year (or less) isn’t going to satisfy these new needs.
The role of the sales manager as coach and mentor has never been more important - and yet many organisations have not historically trained their managers to perform these critical roles (or appointed them because of their innate skills in these areas). This has to change - and is already changing in more progressive sales organisations.
A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY
But even enlightened organisations can by themselves only solve part of the personal skills development puzzle. The development of sales competencies is not just an organisational responsibility - it also requires the personal and collective commitment and contribution of everyone in the sales team.
I don’t know about your approach, but I cannot imagine hiring a sales person nowadays who did not demonstrate a powerful personal commitment to ongoing development and learning, regardless of what their organisation provided for them. We need to recruit people that are hard-wired for continuous personal development.
NO ROOM FOR "KNOW IT ALLS"
And we need to assess our existing sales people for these same positive character traits - and make it clear that these attitudes are now the expected norm for every player in the team. Managers have a responsibility to constructively confront sales people who believe that they know it all and that there is nothing left for them to learn.
These "know-it-alls" and so-called “experts” are often lone wolves and frequently a disruptive presence in training programmes. I can recall a number of such experiences on training courses in the past, and I imagine you might be able to do the same.
TAPPING INTO COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
We need to find ways of tapping in to the collective experiences of all of our sales people. We need to encourage and enable them to share what they have learned with their colleagues - and to accept that it’s OK to ask for help when facing an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation.
If this is at odds with a traditional “macho”, every-sales-person-for-themselves sales culture, all well and good. If such organisations have not already failed, they surely will, and sooner rather than later. No modern sales organisation can survive or thrive without a collective learning environment.
Collective learning environments can, of course, be facilitated by technology, and there are a growing number of platforms that are capable of supporting such initiatives. But technology by itself isn’t going to address the issue - it can only help when supported by both executive and collective individual commitment.
FROM "ALWAYS BE CLOSING" TO "ALWAYS BE LEARNING"
Rather than “always be closing”, surely our modern mantra must be “always be learning”. And there’s an obvious upside - organisations that practice collective learning and shared best practices don’t just performer better - they are also better places to work.
There’s a powerful flywheel effect at play here: collective learning organisations make fewer mistakes, qualify more effectively and execute winning sales strategies more consistently. Because they attract and retain better people, they lay the foundation for both current and future success.
But they also recognise that as an organisation, there are limits to what they can formally teach, and that they also need to create an environment where everyone is encouraged to play their full part in continuously enhancing their own skills and knowledge and that of their colleagues.
This article first appeared in the December 2017 edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation, and is reproduced with permission.