I’ve just returned home after a week on the road, visiting with my sales team, some customers, and few of our partners. I love spending face time with each of these constituent groups. Perspectives and viewpoints vary, buy I never fail to learn something new. Distilling the inputs and insights I gathered during the week, I’m struck by the unusual alignment of thought amongst these groups, who usually have more diverse opinions. Two main conclusions emerge.
The first is that new market drivers will materialize from this economic volatility to force unusual partnerships; internal organizational partnerships, extreme partnerships between customers and suppliers, and creative partnerships between companies, who on the face of it, might first be considered to be competitors. I will come back to this notion of unusual partnerships in a separate post. In this one, I want to comment on the second conclusion.
There is a unanimity of opinion that the sales effectiveness industry (in which we, The TAS Group, operates) has fundamentally changed. As the sales leadership in companies struggled with the challenges imposed on them by the constraints of the recent economic environment, many new questions arose. Among them, the following was commonplace:
“How do I improve the productivity of my sales team, now that I’ve less money to spend, travel is greatly restricted, and I must be able to demonstrate real ROI for any [sales training] I want to have approved?
In the past, most sales training was of a single event type. Get everyone in the room for three days, teach them the sales methodology, and send them on their way. There were always some problems with this approach. Without adequate executive alignment, and post event knowledge application and reinforcement, the learning faded over time, and the anticipated benefit quickly evaporated.
As the purse strings tightened, sales leaders recognized that once the cost cutting was over, the only way to emerge intact from this economic phase, was to increase the productivity of their existing sales people. However, with travel bans, and reduced budgets constraining their options, they had to look for more cost efficient ways to up-skill their teams, and methods that could deliver the required productivity enhancements, in a measurable and predictable way. Many sales effectiveness providers responded to their customers’ needs with technology supported solutions for remote or virtual training delivery, and an increasing emphasis was placed on on-going knowledge reinforcement, and some embedded the knowledge into software applications for on-going knowledge application. Perhaps it should always have been that way, but the old model was in place for so long that few had thought to consider a new paradigm.
Now, this is the ‘new normal’. An enlightened consensus has emerged. Things will never return to the ‘old way’. Even if funds flow freely again, a new set of criteria has been established. (See previous post – The Top 10 Requirements of Sales Performance Automation.) This is, of course, a good thing. Customers can now expect to gain, indeed demand, sustained and measurable value from their sales effectiveness investment. Consider this unsolicited comment from one sales-person who is using our Dealmaker Sales Performance Automation solution. (This is the verbatim comment from the sales person to his sales manager).
“I just wanted to drop you a note to say how impressed I was with this training system. It is without a doubt the easiest to use and most informative course I have ever seen. Also, in the future, you will be able to go back and get a refresher on any part of the methodology. The best part is how Dealmaker is now integrated with the SalesForce opportunity. This brings the methodology to life – and the ‘hover tips’ keep you on the right path. Kudos to the team who implemented this.”
This is a refreshing change. It’s how it should be. Usage and methodology adoption is being driven by the sales person, rather than being forced by sales management. The key of course is that the sales person wants to use the sales effectiveness solution because the return for effort equation has been solved. He gets more out of it than it takes. This then self-perpetuates. It doesn’t require a major behavior change initiative, or depend solely on executive sponsorship. While not devaluing the worth of these practices, good design, the delivery of a product or solution that is truly ‘fit for purpose’, can on its own engage and entice usage. Consider the minimal effort required to use Google, or the exquisite design of Apple’s iPod products. In a short period of time we have changed how we search for information, or listen to music. In Apple parlance ‘It just works”.
Good things often come from stressful situations. So it is with the ‘new normal’ of sales effectiveness solutions. The adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” applies to the evolution we’ve seen. Customers and providers alike (at least those who rise to the challenge) will all benefit, and the industry may at last begin to have a set of standards against which we can all be measured. And that can only be a good thing.