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Marketing Personal Development Sales

Sales Culture, Elevated.

This article is part three of a three-part series on the future of sales performance.

In parts 1 and 2, I wrote that:

  • CRM alone not enough; in fact, many companies have found it’s the tail that wags the dog.
  • Process, and even more importantly, methodology are real difference-makers. Coaching process and methodology makes performance improvement sustainable.

In this article, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the coaching that drives long term sales success. Sustaining world-class performance is about sales culture; culture that ingrains process into the operating rhythm of the organization. Process and methodology do no good unless they are internalized by a sales organization, and the process of internalizing establishes a strong sales culture. When a methodology becomes the default go-to-customer approach for your organization, it enables the three goals of a sales system:

  1. Drive deal-winning behaviors, not simple activity-based measures.
  2. Re-vector at-risk deals, identifying and mitigating risks with opportunities.
  3. Replicate winning across, raising the performance of all sellers in the team.

Dynamic coaching culture

CSO Insights has conducted extensive research supporting the value of a dynamic coaching culture.  The research shows that companies whose coaching culture captures analytics from successful sales, refines sales data into define winning sales behaviors – then supports sales leaders as they coach those behaviors across the sales force outperform their peers.  Dynamic coaching culture is different than simple coaching:  there is a closed loop between results and how process and methodology is emphasized by the organization.  This loop drives self-sustainment and continuous improvement.

Dynamic coaching cultures experience far superior outcomes than average sales organizations:

  • A higher percentage of these companies meet revenue plan.
  • More reps make quota. The gains come from across the sales force, not just a few high performers
  • Win rates are higher. This means forecasts are more accurate
  • Late loss rates are lower. Fewer of those resource-sucking late losses that ruin sales productivity
  • Staff turnover is lower. Lose fewer of the people you want to keep, rehab more of the marginal performers, converting them to keepers.

A robust self-sustaining coaching culture builds the foundation for two things:

  1. Sales performance. The outcomes above are worthwhile goals in themselves, but…
  2. Self-sustaining culture (manager bench strength, coaching acumen, leadership succession/career path). Building a sales culture to last means building sales careers worth having.

The Past, Present and Future of Dynamic Coaching

Let’s look at where we’ve been, and where we’ve led our industry: coaching on CRM-resident tools.

I’ve worked with Miller Heiman Group (and its predecessor, Miller Heiman) tools for almost 30 years. Success in my business is all about delivering outcomes for clients. The reason Miller Heiman Group is the largest in the B2B space is that we’re the partner sales organizations keep engaged with longer…we have the least leaky bucket…growing our clients is how we grow.

Based upon thousands of client engagements, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the key to long-term success is in not conducting training events, but executing long term change in selling behavior organization-wide.  A successful engagement is almost universally the one with a robust component of sales manager coaching, where front line managers become the primary change agents.

The gold standard of coaching is personally diagnosed and delivered by the front-line sales manager (FSM).  This kind of coaching is high-touch, requiring not only discipline by the FSM, but a corporate capability in developing coaches and prioritizing coaching activity over the many other demands on an FSMs time.

While manager-delivered coaching is preferable, it is not always available at the right time for every deal.  We have also noticed that a large proportion of coaching is on a core set of selling behaviors.  That is, managers tend to diagnose and coach the same behaviors over and over.  With the right methodology and the right CRM system (one that helps track deal-moving behaviors, not meaningless activities), an intelligent coaching platform is possible.

Where you can go:

  • Instead of manager-initiated intervention, how about system-led?
    • Not today’s activity-based prompts. Selling behavior-based prompts…seller actions that moves deals, not activity that occupies selling time
  • A rules engine, based upon 40 years of Miller Heiman Group expertise, which can diagnose those repetitive selling
  • AI/big data capabilities which can take it even further.

Where are You?  Where Do You Want to Go?

When you’re tracking and managing to activities, today’s CRM can work just fine.  On the other hand, when you’re trying to establish a rigorous selling culture with a consistent management cadence, you can more efficiently accomplish the three goals of a world-class sales system::

  1. Drive winning selling actions. This means actions, not activities.
  2. Change deal outcomes more rapidly identify at-risk opportunities and figure out how to re-vector them toward success.
  3. Replicate success. Learn what behaviors predict success in your business, and turn them into a rules engine for your sales tool to automatically recommend.

We Can Take You There

Miller Heiman Group has leveraged over 40 years of sales performance expertise into a powerful set of tools.  They have bundled methodology with a dynamic coaching application, which can be freestanding or integrated with a CRM system. It helps front line sales leaders by lightening the routinized part of their coaching load, allowing them to concentrate their time on higher level opportunity strategy.  Sellers become more effective by building sound selling behavior habits.  Finally, senior sales leaders see improved results, and have insight-producing analytics into how to improve sales even more.

I’m excited about this new capability, and am thrilled to offer it to clients. Contact me to discuss whether we might drive winning actions, change deal outcomes, and replicate success in your organization.

Categories
Best Practices Management Personal Development Sales

You Can’t Test Your Way to (Sales) Performance

In the sales performance space, there is a growing disconnect between performance focus and learning focus.

If my email and voice mails are any indicator, there is an explosion in learning technology options crowding into the sales enablement world. An important part of my business is learning about these powerful tools for knowledge dissemination, especially as they apply to sales forces.

Learning and training tools are more accessible, more available, more efficient and more effective than ever before. There has never been a better time to be involved in the adult learning industry. However, adult learning is the least interesting part of my business. My true business is achieving lasting results for my clients.

There are two big differences between a learning focus and a results focus:

  1. Improving sales performance requires far more than knowledge acquisition.
  2. Knowledge acquisition isn’t the weak link in the chain.

My own company, The Miller Heiman Group, is innovating in many areas including improving the learning portion of the “sales performance improvement” chain. The chain metaphor fits: knowledge transfer without behavior change achieves little of lasting commercial value. If all my firm became known for was innovation in learning, we would fail our clients. “Watch this space” for exciting innovative performance management tools, though.

Sales performance improvement is far more than “training…poof!”

A great instructor can teach all of the techniques of a golf swing—grip, stance, backswing, body motion, hand action, hip turn, follow-through, etc. – in a couple of hours. That couple of hours won’t land anyone on the pro tour, though. That’s even if the student scored 100% on a post-training assessment; confirming that they acquired every atom of the instruction.

Similarly, sales performance is about adopting new selling behaviors; working to turn them into “muscle memory”. Teach those behaviors and test for comprehension all you want, but without coaching and guided practice, little or no performance change will result.

Alarmingly, many learning professionals claim that “training effectiveness” should be measured by testing for effective knowledge acquisition. The trap: testing for knowledge acquisition is easy via (electronically-administered) tests. This is a classic application of John Tukey’s quote “Far better an approximate answer to the right question than a precise answer to the wrong question…”. Testing for comprehension is so much “the wrong question” it verges on criminal: sales training comprehension alone won’t deliver the results sales leaders need. Sales training simply isn’t that kind of simple “know it = do it” material.

The pitfall to “teach-and-test only”:

Knowledge acquisition isn’t the weak link in the chain.

Training events are easy… compared to getting your sales teams to consistently adopt sales methodology behaviors. Behavior adoption requires observation and effective coaching over an extended period. Think about the time to train you to swing a golf club vs. the time it takes to achieve proficiency — then excellence. Also, think of the difference that great coaching can make in ramp-up time.

Sure, training and testing have their place. Training introduces and describes desired behaviors. Testing confirms understanding. Knowledge and understanding are important steps along the adoption path. It’s difficult to coach effectively without a clearly communicated set standards and expectations.  Thus, there is a chain of events –with training and testing for comprehension as one link.

In my experience, a training event ends where the most powerful work starts. That’s where behavior coaching begins, where new habits are formed, and where lasting results are embedded…where a performance initiative becomes consequential.

The “weak” link in the chain is building new habits with your people. I call it the weak link not because of a lack of coaching tools, or ineffective ones. Rather, weak refers to the reality that people and organizations generally struggle with change. Unsurprisingly, changing behaviors is the most common failure point in a sales performance initiative. Organizationally, behavior change requires that you plan, communicate, involve, lead, and commit. Individually, sales leaders need to develop, observe, diagnose, coach, and persist. Once behaviors are instilled, the methodology becomes sustainable. I use the chain metaphor because if a coaching/sustainment piece is missing, the whole initiative risks missing on the desired outcome – and the investment has limited return.

A stronger chain

To achieve strong results, put together all of these elements:

  1. Great sales methodologies…yes, and teach them effectively. I’m aligned with the most successful B2B methodologies in the world, and can tell you why. My company is now a leader in learning innovation, and I’m proud align myself with them.
  2. Great coaching and training tools that help front-line sales managers (one key point of differentiation between success and disappointment) become effective behavior coaches. My clients can access a full set of rich coaching and sustainment tools, plus my commitment to integrate those tools into working solutions that result in meaningful outcomes.
  3. A great execution and change plan individualized for your organization. Just buying “butts in seats” from any training company — no matter how good their material is — runs the risk of assuming away this critical component. This link in the chain doesn’t come from a training company.

Understand: testing for material mastery is not a predictor of outcomes. Not even remotely.

The overwhelming differentiator in successful sales performance initiatives is effective behavior change, not behavior description. Make sure you have a clear change management path before you decide to “train your people”. Be sure you understand how your learners will be coached into becoming performers.

I’ve seen some e-learning tools claiming to perform automated coaching – verifying behavior change. Now that’s a cool concept, and I’m eager to see those technologies mature. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss behavior change and organizational change management that works. For you, your organization, and your aspirations.

To your success!

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