When I was in my early 20’s and newly married, I remember answering a classified ad:
Immediate openings for sales people. Earn $1,000 a week. No experience necessary, we train.
Just the kind of job I needed to take care of my wife and first child that was on the way. I got the job. It was selling security systems, and while I was green, I prided myself on being a quick learner. As promised, we had 3 days training. It was mainly on the features of the product and how to complete a credit application. The sales portion of the training walked us through the script and pitch book. On the 4th day, I hit the streets, feeling incompetent, but full of hope and enthusiasm.
I had sold before, but this was my first straight commission job – no security of a base salary was the price of increased income opportunity. After a week of floundering, I began to feel immense pressure, so I went to the sales manager for help. He was willing to assist, even eager. He sat down with me for two hours going over the product’s features and the pitch book – the same training I had just received.
I could sense his satisfaction at having spent time with me. I was too diplomatic to tell him it didn’t help. I understood the products and could read the pitch book. In the home, I was barely able to get the book open before the client weighed in with a series of objections and questions that I wasn’t prepared to handle.
I didn’t need training…I needed development.
I was determined, as this was the opportunity at hand, but becoming desperate as our money was running out. On the 5th week, I finally closed a sale. Then 3 the next week. Within 2 months, I became the top Rep.
As I received my first “Sales Rep of the month” award, the sales manager humbly (he was a good guy) took credit for training me. I never spoke to the contrary because it was true. He had trained me, but it was the 4 weeks of grueling, agonizing trial and error that developed me.
I had become a 20%er through tenacity and grit, overcoming doubt and fear. For many of you, I’m sure this story sounds familiar, right? Most of those who achieve the status of being in the 20% have one of two stories:
- I was thrown to the wolves and survived.
- Someone developed or mentored me.
We all expect training. The product. The sales process. Training has become an institution, a thriving industry. As I mentioned in last week’s post, training is necessary to build a firm foundation. I am not minimizing the need for quality training.
The challenge? When this process doesn’t produce the desired result, the responsibility usually falls on the salesperson.
The salesperson thinks, “I have been trained but I’m still not selling. Others are selling, so there must be something wrong with me.” Some give up, believing they aren’t cut out for the profession. Some become complainers at the water cooler, infecting others. Some fight through and make it…against the odds.
The sales leader thinks, “We trained them and still they don’t perform. Others are selling, so there must be something wrong with them.” Usually, a performance management process takes over. Yes, if that process is focused on development, then good can come of it. But in most cases, it is a process to move them out and move new people in.
Thus the cycle begins, again, and the Law of Pareto continues.
To be effective at generating the desired sales results, training and development must go hand in hand. We would not expect to train a child on the 26 letters of the alphabet and then expect them to win a spelling bee! Even those brilliant children, who can spell complex words phonetically, have first been trained…then developed.
Here are a few of the benefits of developing your team:
- Immediate sales bounce. I recall a round of golf a few years ago. I was on the driving range, struggling. The course Pro saw my challenges, spent 15 minutes (free!) with me and I had the best round ever. Similarly, someone on your team, who has been labeled an under-performer (even if only through the visuals of sales rankings), will “get better” quickly if provided individual instruction via the sales leader. Placebo effect or true skill development? Doesn’t matter. The recently learned skill will embed over time, but for now, the increased performance justifies the energy spent in development.
- Increased Morale. Sounds like a passive benefit until you realize that dissent is contagious. Particularly for people in fear of being fired for poor performance. The incubation period for negativity is a few hours. For example, the news of team members being fired for performance spreads like wildfire. There is good news, however. Morale is also contagious. It takes more time to create a high morale, high performance culture but it is less susceptible to the introduction of a diseased germ of discontent.
- Sales distributed along more favorable percentages. While there is no specific standard to strive for, the 80/20 mix makes your sales organization vulnerable. A market downturn, a high producer leaving, or product degradation can hurt sales results. Use a 10% move as a target, such as 70/30 or 60/40. If your 20% contingent continues to sell at their current levels, that would be a dramatic increase in overall sales performance. There will never be a 1:1 equalizing of sales, but even small shifts in this percentage generates a strong increase in sales.
- High performance sales culture. Why do people work? Yes, the obvious answer is to make money – especially sales people. We also know that sales people will work hard for recognition. They are willing to invest in self-development tools, such as seminars, books and tapes. Why? They want to get better and they believe in development. Paying for them to go see Anthony Robbins is great, but what if you could provide them a company, product and market specific development system to tap into? While sales is viewed as an individual sport, people want to have pride in their company, their team, as well as themselves. That is what creates and fosters perennial high performance and development is a vital part of that equation.
Take a look at your current organization. Is there a development program that identifies the needs of individuals and coaches them to higher excellence? If not, can you readily identify members of your team, who have the right attitude and aptitude, that you could begin coaching? Don’t wait for the implementation of a perfect development program. The first step could simply be a ride-along, a role play, or a simple word of encouragement. The great news about these activities are their compound effect.
Start small and allow it to grow. Do something the team doesn’t expect, to demonstrate a new approach to performance management. It will surprise them and the results may surprise you.
The best sales organizations raise their training and development programs to a level of religion – converting naysayers and saving those who would be lost. That is not extreme because…
To train is human, to develop divine.
Until next week, continued success.