Some Fortune 500 sales organizations are facing greater competitive and costs pressures. Organizations that used to enjoy 40 percent to 50 percent profit margins now have to cut those margins to a barely sustainable 10 percent to 15 percent. They are transferring this pressure to salespeople, asking fewer of them to sell more and produce more profits for the company. And they are relying on sales managers to drive the salespeople to make this all happen.
This situation is further complicated by the fact that many sales managers were top performers themselves who were promoted to management, most lacking the skill required to identify, build, support and sustain top performance in others.
It’s the job of sales performance consultants, human performance technologists, sales trainers and human resources professionals to help salespeople produce better results. Why aren’t more of these professionals stepping up to the challenge?
There are several reasons for this disconnect, including the fact that sales managers and sales trainers/human resource professionals use different vocabulary and processes in their work, focus on different issues and have different goals.
For example, trainers often focus on and talk about needs analysis, competency models, interactive training, goals of number of people trained, satisfaction levels with training, number of courses produced, percentage of people who met competency requirements for a particular job, pre- and post-test scores, etc.
Sales managers, however, focus on goals such as total revenue, customers retained, customers taken from competition, length and cost of sales cycle, percentage of leads ending in closed deals, profit margin on closed business, percentage of quota attained, etc.
There is a huge potential to partner with sales managers to drive consistent sales results, directly and powerfully affect the bottom line and move your training/human resource organization into the realm of a profit center rather than a cost center.
To realize this potential, though, sales trainers and human resource managers will have to better align their processes and language to their companies’ sales processes and make the sales managers’ goals their own, as well as those of the organization.
They have to focus the desired result of their work beyond development and acquisition of skills, knowledge and competencies to preparing people to produce results. After all, organizations pay people to produce results, not to be developed or to develop others.
Organizations spend billions of dollars on sales training a year that are designed to improve sales performance. How effective are these programs over the long term? Has your company failed to see a direct connection with these programs and the goals and metrics for success of your organization? Have you seen a measurable and sustainable improvement in your sales performance as a result of this investment?
One human resource department recently said its vision was to “become a culture of development.” The question that comes to mind is, “Development toward what end?”
The organization isn’t paying people to become more developed but to produce the results required to meet the organization’s goals. This issue of results produced is a question being asked by more and more senior managers when faced with growing training costs, increased competitive and pricing pressures and decreased budget.
What is the solution? Focus first on the results sales representatives and businesses require and then look at skills, knowledge, competencies and development that will enable them to produce those results
The two models that are often given to sales managers to improve sales performance include forecasting programs, as well as tools and sales competency models. All are often hard to apply to track, predict and produce the results about which sales manages care.
Traditional methods that sales managers use such as forecasting tools are notoriously inaccurate and unreliable predictors and assessors of performance. Competency models provided by trainers and human resources professionals that are based on behaviors or competencies are hard to measure, are often too broad and are not directly tied to everyday results the salespeople have to produce to be consistently successful.
A better approach is to provide sales managers with a repeatable process with clearly defined guidelines for how their top performers actually do their work and produce their masterful results, that is, a road map with specific and measurable guideposts for how to apply the skills and knowledge that individuals learn in training and bring to the job to produce the results for which companies pay them.
This map not only guides average performers to top performance, it guides managers to coach, assess and develop everyone on the same measurable milestones that lead their top performers to produce their consistent top results. This process simplifies performance improvement, reduces variability in management and actual performance and puts everyone on the same track, which can be easily coached, measured and assessed.
This map also guides trainers and HR representatives to directly connect training/tools/hiring and selection to the performance requirements of the job and the goals and metrics of the business, thereby ensuring their focus is on enabling people to produce results, not just gain knowledge or skills.
By first focusing on these critical milestones that are required to meet the larger business goals, organizations ensure work, behavior and — most important — critical outputs or milestones of that work and behavior are aligned with the larger organization, as well as that work and behavior is valuable to the organization and directly contributing to the overarching goals and measures for success, which is the most important aspect of all.
By taking the more commonly used approach and focusing first (and sometimes exclusively) on behaviors, core competencies, and/or skills and knowledge such as business acumen, tenacity, competitive positioning, leadership and/or product knowledge, sales managers and trainers will not be able to isolate the results that top performers are producing compared to lower performers.
Without that isolation, they will not be able to objectively assess the gap between lower performers and top performers, nor will they be able to efficiently and effectively replicate top performance and close that gap.
Without first isolating the outputs and milestones required of top performance, companies could be putting money into training and tools for the sake of development, which is not what companies pay people for or what stockholders are seeking.
After trainers and human resources professionals help sales managers identify the outputs and milestones of top performers and assess the gap between top performers and average performers, they can then systematically build a system to build, support, measure and maintain improved performance among the average performers that sales managers will support and use because it is easy, readily applicable to their jobs and — most importantly — produces the results they care about.
There is a huge potential for improving performance and improving the bottom line of your company. And the learning organization is in a powerful position to leverage this potential and position its organization as powerful business partner and profit center.
But this potential cannot be realized without the learning and human resource organizations refocusing their lens on producing results for the organization instead of just highly trained salespeople. Realizing those bottom-line improvements and leveraging this potential requires organizations to focus their development efforts and resources on providing people with road maps to success and guideposts for applying critical skills and knowledge to produce required results.
The sales and training organizations that take the time to define, guide, coach, develop and maintain this road map to success will be rewarded many times over by the positive impact a little investment with a focus on results can have on their bottom line.
Tina Teodorescu, Competence Systems president, has 15 years of experience working with business managers and HR/training professionals in a range of industry segments, focused on sales performance improvement. She has a master’s degree in organizational behavior management. She can be reached at email@example.com.