Current meeting and travel restrictions are changing more than the way B2B companies sell (from field sales heavy to mixed used of digital, virtual, and face-to-face interactions).
It is creating a new imperative for successful and efficient global sales force development, where traditional “once per year” long format classroom sales training give way to increase use of bite-sized digital & virtual learning sessions, supported by hands-on manager coaching.
The challenge faced by sales leaders in the current environment is that the need for sales force development has never been greater (big changes happening in the seller’s world), while the traditional way of driving sales force development (through classroom trainings) has become impossible.
This situation accelerates the companies’ adoption of digital & virtual ways to drive required sales force development and emphasizes the importance of sales managers, acting as “boots on the ground”, through mentoring & coaching of their sales team members.
Companies will find that the shift results not only in cost savings from lowered investments in time (and travel)-consuming classroom training, but also a more effective way to drive capability development, where learning & development become a more integrated part of the sales professional’s daily work.
A shift that will stick, even as meeting and travel restrictions evidently will lift, with a new imperative for global sales force development:
1. Development investments from large one-off expenses (Sales Transformation projects) to long-term infrastructure building (Sales Academy)
2. From low frequency long-format classroom training to high frequency bite-sized learning sessions
3. Marketing plays a key role in developing & driving development of sales excellence
1. Sales force investments from sales transformations to sales academy building
Key take-away: As the cost and resource requirements of building and operating company specific sales academies drop, sales leaders should shift development investments from one-off sales transformations to long-term capability development through academy building.
For many years, global sales force development in B2B companies followed a remarkably similar pattern:
1. Company X defines their “way of selling”, with associated sales process, tools, capability requirements etc., often on the back of a chosen sales methodology, (Challenger, SPIN, Solution Selling etc.)
2. Transformation towards Company X way of selling initiated by gathering salespeople and commercial leaders in regional kick-off events, with less focus on actual capability development and more focus on creating a burning platform for change and compelling vision for the future. Sales leadership is involved in design and execution to ensure ownership.
3. 2-3 day classroom training sessions conducted in each market by expert facilitator, teaching the different elements of Company X way of selling to local salespeople. Focus on capability development.
4. A selection of anchoring activities used based on company needs and willingness to invest (sales manager training, co-visits, coaching, competitions, brush-up sessions etc.)
The model worked well from the global executive perspective:
- Easy to buy: Select methodology vendor and tailor to create “Company X way of selling”
- Easy to roll-out: Regional kick-offs with local market classroom training for capability development
- One-off item: No recurring costs added to P&L
Although the model may show initial results from adoption of new behavior it comes with three major flaws.
1. As the sales force changes due to people joining and leaving the company, learning and behavior from the development initiative disappears over time
2. As the sales force splits into two types of sellers (consultative & transactional) due to changes in B2B buying, ONE company way of selling becomes less relevant
3. As sales force requirements change due to changes in the company and its customers, so too does the development needs of the salespeople
To overcome these things, companies need to treat sales force development less as a one-off expense for a change initiative conducted every few years and focus more on building infrastructure for continued sales development (Sales Academy).
Although the concept of company sales academies is nothing new, what has changed is the degree to which it has become feasible for smaller companies (beyond your IBMs, Microsofts and GEs of the world), due to developments in technology, content and training methods.
1. Technology: Learning Management Systems (LMS) has moved from large enterprise solutions to SaaS, which can be bought based on a number of licenses rather than a total solution cost
2. Content: E-learning content for LMS has moved from low availability (bought through sales methodology providers or created by the company) to readily available for purchase through online marketplaces
3. Training methods: Reliance on available trained instructors (either internally or from external vendors) to conduct training sessions has decreased as virtual possibilities have become more prevalent, as trainers don’t have to travel to local site and local sales managers are equipped with e-learning content to conduct local training themselves.
Whereas in the past, the idea of building a company specific sales academy was outside the reach of many companies due to the high initial investment required, companies can now create and operate it at lower cost and resource requirements, due to the developments described above.
Instead of writing off sales transformation projects as once every year expenses, companies should invest in building an asset over time.
1. Define roles and responsibilities of different types of salespeople operating in your sales force (Inside Sellers, Customer Acquisition focused consultative sellers, Key Account Managers etc.) and define capability requirements for each of these at different maturity levels (Junior, Senior, Expert/Mentor)
2. Design development paths for each role at different maturity levels, with (a) clarity on what salespeople must demonstrate to progress and (b) learning modules to help salespeople develop knowledge and capabilities where required
3. Buy or create learning modules for different roles and maturity levels, consisting of e-learning modules, local manager led training sessions and instructor led training sessions (delivered through classroom training or virtual training sessions)
4. Hardwire learning paths into the company learning management system (LMS), and use it as a tool to guide different sales roles forward from different points of departure (maturity levels)
5. Assign salespeople to development paths based on assessment of needs and development priorities of the salesperson and the company
2. Focus on bite-sized learning modules delivered through mix of digital, virtual and physical interactions
Key take-away: As learning content and delivery systems become more widely available, sales leaders should take advantage of new possibilities to conduct development in smaller more focused learning loops, rather than big broad development programs
As author of one of the most widely used sales methodologies put it on his website; “Very few times can you learn anything by hearing someone else talk about it for two days”
Unfortunately, that is how many sales development programs have traditionally been designed, to accommodate the need for bulk capability development of thousands of sales professionals across the global organisation.
However, two major changes are taking place as the before-mentioned developments in technology (cheaper and more user-friendly Learning Management Platforms), content (cheaper to buy and create) and training methods (more delivery methods available) spread:
1. Learning & development can be conducted in shorter and more focused learning loops: Ability to drive learning and development through digital & virtual delivery methods reduces the need to get people physically together every time sales training takes place
2. Learning and development can be done with more supporting activities around training: Ability to activate salespeople before and after training through supporting tech platforms increases the level of engagement around training and learning impact
Degrees of Training Impact
This is essential, as development is optimized when new training sessions are made “bite-sized” and learning activities (e.g. training sessions) are reinforced with activities before (e.g. e-learning) and after (e.g. manager coaching).
Instead of bulking sales development into a 2-3 day course taught annually (or less frequent), where different learning modules are crammed into one-go, capability development should be broken into smaller bits that is developed one-by-one, through blended learning and development (e-learning, virtual training, classroom training, manager mentoring & coaching).
1. Break down defined sales roles into different capabilities they must demonstrate at (a) junior level, (b) senior level and (c) expert/mentor level
2. Create a menu of (a) learning activities and (b) reinforcement activities that can be put into place depending on development needs of different salespeople to progress
3. Assess maturity level of salespeople for different sales roles defined in the organisation to identify capability gaps to close
4. Use skills coaching sessions between the manager and salesperson to create agreement on (a) capability gaps to close and (b) development activities required to close gaps
5. Use learning management system (LMS) to capture assessment and defined actions to close gaps.
3. Marketing plays a key role in developing and driving development of sales excellence
Key take-away: As sales success increasingly depends on effective collaboration with marketing, sales leaders should partner up to develop and drive sales force capability development, instead of as a “sales only” project.
Breaking down the silos between sales and marketing is often found on the top of the commercial leadership agenda – and for a good reason; It has tremendous impact on top and bottom line results.
Research by Hubspot and the Digital Marketing Institute found that close sales and marketing collaboration result in:
- 24 % higher 3-year revenue growth rates
- 27 % higher 3-year profitability growth
- 36 % higher customer retention rates
- 38 % higher average win-rates
Although much progress has been made by commercial leaders in bringing sales and marketing operations closer together, collaboration is still often missing in one critical place; Sales force development.
This is important for three reasons in particular:
1. Marketing sits with valuable expert knowledge in critical sales force development areas (Understanding of market dynamics, customer segments, buyer profiles etc.)
2. Marketing sits on sales collateral and tools, valuable for salespeople to activate in interactions with existing and potential customers (articles, thought leadership presentations, value proposition canvases etc.)
3. Marketing needs an intimate understanding of required salesforce behavior, knowledge and capability requirements to support them with the right insights, collateral and tools in daily operations.
To close the sales & marketing gap, sales leadership should invite marketing to play a key role in both the development of specific learning modules for capability development and in running or participating in development activities.
Examples of marketing involvement is sales capability development:
- Prospecting: Marketing contribution with learning module on how to match content with different buyer profiles, to share right interest creating information when establishing contact
- Sales meeting management: Marketing contribution with learning module on pains of different stakeholder types, which content to use in meetings and key questions to ask to understand pain drivers better
- Solution presentation: Marketing contribution with learning module of how to communicate value and benefits of company solutions and tailor presentation material from existing sales collateral available.
- Negotiation: Marketing contribution with learning module on customer and buyer value drivers.
The same logic of course applies to marketing capability development, where colleagues from sales can play an equally important role.
1. Share defined sales force capability development requirements with marketing leadership and inquire about interest in contributing
2. Involve global and local marketeers in creation of learning modules (e-learnings, virtual learning and classroom training)
3. Give role to marketing in execution of specific learning activities along defined development paths