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The high ROI sales development programme

business handshake“We need some sort of sales development”

“Our sales team is not doing well. The markets have shrunk and we haven’t reached our targets in the last 6 months. We need to find new ways. We need new skills. We need some sort of sales development,” complains the Head of Sales

“No problem,” says HR. “We could organise some sales training.”

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it’s not so easy in real life.

The first problems arise when the Head of Sales, his HR partner, and perhaps the sales trainer jointly try to work out exactly what competences need to be developed. In many cases, no one knows exactly what is missing, especially if the sales team were relatively successful in the past, before the downturn.

So what happens next? Often boring and badly focused training sessions follow. In a typical scenario, teams of highly experienced sales people are forced to listen to presentations on “the rules of cold calling” or “secrets of a successful proposals” for the tenth time. Not surprisingly, there is no visible improvement in the sales performance following the training. The only measurement that goes up is the level of scepticism towards training in general.

If we want a sales development programme in which the return on investment (ROI) of time and money is high, general sales training sessions simply won’t do the trick. The hit-and-miss approach (“let’s develop many skills, we might do something useful”) is too expensive for many companies.

Instead, it is worth investing in a preliminary diagnosis to find out exactly what the key competences are that would make a salesperson successful in a specific market. Then the training can target those skills precisely.


Who knows the answer?

So how do our senior sales people have to change, and what new skills do they need to master in order to acquire new clients, to attract new business in the new, tougher market conditions?

Who knows the answer to this crucial question? Managers of members of the sales team? Well, if they knew the answer, we wouldn’t be struggling now.

Our competitors? Well, it seems that they are struggling too. And even if they knew the answer they might be reluctant to share it with us.

Sales trainers? They can teach general sales skills, but they are unlikely to know the unique characteristics of our market.


1st approach – Our customers know it all

The key is always with the customer. If we thoroughly understand what our customers need from our salespeople – what kind of attitude, behaviour, communication would prompt them to buy our product – we can plan our sales development programme accordingly.

So let’s start the sales development process by asking the customers what they need.

There is nothing new in this approach. Marketing specialists have long been using techniques of market research to make communication more efficient. But when it comes to sales skills development, we tend to forget about our customers’ unique needs and fall back on the general approach.

Information about your customer’s preferences may already be available in your company. Perhaps in your recent customer satisfaction survey there is relevant data on how your customers feel about their “relationship managers” and what they expect of them. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to use this data to increase the ROI of the sales skills development programme.


2nd approach: Our best salespeople know it all

Even if market conditions are tough and the sales team in general isn’t performing well, there are always a few star agents who are still getting better results. What is their secret?

We often find that top sales people don’t know their own secret, they don’t know what skills they have that make them successful. This can be very frustrating to sales managers, because a lack of understanding of the reasons for their comparative success makes sales development (and recruitment) very difficult.

Once this is understood, the second approach to designing a high ROI sales development programme is to identify those qualities that distinguish highly successful salespeople from average and low-performing ones in your specific market.

This can be done at different levels:

  • You can look at basic competences, e.g. how our sales superstars are different from others regarding assertiveness, emotional control, openness, etc.
  • You can look at specific sales-related behaviour, e.g. how much time our top sales people spend doing cold calls each week and how this compare to their colleagues.

Either way, the point is to identify the reasons why some agents are more successful than others in terms of skills, attitude and behaviour.


How about you?

How do you go about sales skills development? Do you devote time and energy in the preparation phase to make it into a high ROI programme? Or do you settle for the hit-and-miss approach?