We all want better sales performance, but what works best?

Most of us will agree that as sales leaders we want better and more consistent sales performance. The approaches on how to get there, however, vary greatly.

Some tactics offer a temporary lift in sales while other strategies deliver more sustainable changes and lifts in performance over the long term.

Here’s three different approaches organisations take to improve sales performance and their impact.

Annual sales training session/conference – one or two day workshop

Effect: Result score (out of 10)
Popularity 9
Long Term Effectiveness 2
Team Building 7
Risk 5
Return on Investment 3

This is by far the most popular choice amongst sales managers and business leaders. However, the question that needs to be asked in advance is: What are we trying to achieve?

When it works: These sessions are a great way to get the team together, initiate best practice and a consistent approach to market. They can help focus on the core elements of the sales process, markets, the competitive advantage, a new strategy, new and changing products. They can kick off establishing and improving important skills, especially when they are customised to your specific sales process and markets.

When it doesn’t work: ‘Sales are down’ or ‘The sales team is losing focus/motivation’ or ‘We are losing out to the competition’ or ‘My sales team is not closing enough sales’ are common issues sales leaders and business owners say they want to address at these events. Then they request to ‘run a sales training session to fix this’ and cram every conceivable sales skill and process into a one or two-day workshop, hoping that this will fix the issue, after ‘our people received training, they should know what to do.’

The risk: If there is no follow up, for example through follow-up sessions, ongoing coaching, or other implementation support post the session, then most of the good work is lost within days. The good sales people are validated, and the ones that need further development are left to fend for themselves.

While you are doing something for your team – which is better than nothing – you are leaving better sales performance to chance, as the one or two-day event will not lead to sustainable improvement. If there is lack of direction, no clarity, no support to implement and apply the training content, or no support turning new knowledge into practical skills that can be routinely applied, then old habits and behaviours will return as soon as the team is back in the daily churn.

Annual sales training workshop plus coaching in the workplace

Effect: Result score (out of 10)
Popularity 7
Long Term Effectiveness 6
Team Building 8
Risk 3
Return on Investment 6

In the past, organisations often had internal or external coaches for ongoing support of their sales teams. These days this is considered a standard task within the role of a sales manager/leader.

When it works: Sales leaders not only need to be trained as coaches, but also to step back from ‘fixing things for their team’ and from acting as the top salesperson themselves. They understand what ‘enabling others’ and ‘helping them help themselves’ really means. They accept that as sales leaders their customers are now their teams.

When it doesn’t work: It isn’t enough to promote good salespeople to become sales leaders and expect them to be good coaches. Coaching, amongst most other leadership skills needs to be trained and practiced to achieve the desired effect. Sales coaches also need a Sales Coaching Framework to coach to, to understand and promote ‘what good selling looks like’ and to be able to establish a learning path for their people.

The risk: Coaching sessions, for example joint client visits, often are isolated events, just like the solitary annual conference often is. If there is no curriculum, or some organised development plan behind it, no coordination and alignment between the topics covered in the conference workshop and the subsequent coaching, then there is no control or direction towards the desired results. Consistency can’t be achieved, and sustainable improvement is left to puzzle pieces coming together by chance.

Integrated approach over time

Effect: Result score (out of 10)
Popularity 5
Long Term Effectiveness 9
Team Building 9
Risk 1
Return on Investment 9

An integrated approach goes well beyond implementing traditional learning and development measures. It combines practical sales training classroom sessions, online learning, regular coaching, team meetings and follow-ups with an articulated sales process (including behavioural standards), go-to market sales strategy, a compelling value proposition, a specified leadership framework, clearly defined markets and market approaches, etc.

When it works: Managers and leaders on all levels of the hierarchy are involved, they promote and live the approach in their respective roles. They understand that this approach means working on the sales culture above all – not just on tools and measures. There is consistency in their leadership which translates into a sustainable sales performance, leading to a consistent customer experience. There is clarity and articulation around all the standards set for the business. There is no guessing what the goals of the business and each individual are, and how to get there. The business embraces learning not as isolated events, separate from their sales activities, but as an everyday part of their sales operations.

When it doesn’t work: Management and leaders are not on board to keep the momentum going. They are not living through example, contradict what they preach through their own behaviour, starting with lack of consistency in performing their support and coaching tasks.

The risks: This approach requires the highest level of commitment from management, it can’t rely on ‘throwing a training measure or tool at the salespeople’ and hoping that these will pick it up and do the right thing with it. Sales culture won’t change because an organisation has more regulations, tools, structures and benchmarks in place, unless people are trained and supported to utilise them in meaningful ways.

What does your approach need to look like?

Now which of these three approaches is the best for your organisation? At Barrett we tackle this question in the following fashion:

  1. Identify what you want to achieve for your sales team, what your goals are, what you want to improve, what needs to change, what your business needs to become future-proof.
  2. Start the search for the solution by looking at the integrated approach and look at all the things you can potentially do or have in place. (Have a look at the list in this article, or contact us to get a more comprehensive list.)
  3. Tick off what you already have in place (e.g. regular conferences, leaders trained as coaches).
  4. Out of all the things that you don’t do or have, mark all those that you can omit to
    • without causing any harm to the overall approach (e.g. skip creating a differentiated Market Segmentation if you really only have on market with one type of customer).
    • without reducing the effect of the other measures in place (e.g. reduce the number of formal follow-up workshops if your leaders are trained to facilitate practical sales meeting workshop segments and the Leadership Framework ensures that those are conducted regularly).
  5. Proceed by planning your approach to fill the critical gaps. Prioritise which ones are most critical or have the biggest leverage.

Remember everybody lives by selling something

NOW READ: What does selling better mean to sales team retention rates?


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