Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many high caliber business and sales consultants. They work with their clients in helping them determine effective sales strategies to combat the exigencies of a constrained economy. These accomplished business professionals bring a wealth of knowledge and skills, honed over years of direct experience as practitioners, and amplified by proficiencies that have been refined through many client engagements. The services these seasoned sales warriors offer are many and varied, but broadly focus on proven methods to implement an effective sales process, creative ways to manage sales pipeline velocity, establish metrics for performance, better penetrate major accounts, or develop an effective senior executive engagement process. I wanted to know what happened to their customers when they leave, after the engagement is over.
Through conversation with these mature, seasoned consultants, I couldn’t help but be impressed. With few exceptions, their passion for the success of their clients was almost palpable. As I learned more about their offerings, their client’s problems, and the sometimes complex environment in which they operated, it was clear that the client gained very significant benefit by having the consultant/trainer involved in their business. If I were to judge – and that’s not my place – it seemed that the strategies they developed were solid, the plans they created well-considered, and they really understood the key sales execution areas where their clients should focus. But this last point is where many were honest enough to admit to having problems. How can you ensure sustained execution of the strategy/plan/model/technique?
One question that I asked evoked a deeply felt pain. “What happens when you leave?” was greeted with a slumping of the shoulders, a slow but considerable intake of breath, accompanied by an honest “Yep, that’s really a hard problem to solve” response. Most expressed frustration that they had to restrain themselves from getting too involved. Their job was to teach the client to fish, not to fish for them. Others had developed methodologies for 30/60/90 day revisit programs to try to make the best practices they had taught stick. Many had invested time with the executives in their client companies to ensure that the new practices would have top-down support and reinforcement, and some had a formal approach to ‘knowledge transfer’ as the final stage of the client. None were satisfied with the results.
This is a hard problem to solve, and one that, at The TAS Group with our Dealmaker Sales Performance Automation platform, we’ve invested considerable resources in customer interactions, R&D and innovation to address.
There are a few factors to consider, and two myths to dispel if customers of sales consulting, sales training, or sales methodology are to gain the sustained benefit they deserve from their investment.
Myth 1: It’s All About Executive Sponsorship – Wrong
When I first got into this industry about five years ago, I was very surprised at the poor level of usage/adoption/compliance with sales methodologies. In my discussions with the vendors, the most common reason (excuse) given for the poor adoption was that senior executives didn’t get behind the program. In my opinion that’s a cop-out (by the vendor). Of course executive sponsorship is important for any initiative that involves behavior change, but if the end-user (the sales person) sees value in using the tools their company has invested in, then surely the role of the executive is one of nurturing and guidance rather than being the ogre on the hill waving the big stick.
One of the greatest behavior changes over the last 10 years has been how we seek out information. I remember listening to General Colin Powell speak at a conference a few years ago. He was telling a story about when, early one morning, while he was still at home, he needed to get details on a foreign government with whom he was to negotiate a matter of global economic significance. He, of course, had access to all of the American government’s information systems. His quip “I could have logged in to our secure systems, but that would have taken a while – so I asked Larry and Sergey” is a good illustration of how we all look for information. Larry and Sergey, of course, referred to the founders of Google.
As we all modified our information gathering behavior – there wasn’t a lot of executive sponsorship required. That’s because Google is really easy to use, and the return you get is greater than the effort you expend. And that brings me to my next myth.
Myth 2: You Must Force Adoption and Compliance – Wrong
When you start out any change initiative with an acceptance that you’re going to need to force compliance, you’re headed for a car crash. It’s as simple as that. When John doesn’t do something, It’s either because John doesn’t want to, or he’s not able. If he doesn’t want to it’s either because he doesn’t understand the benefit to him, or from John’s perspective, it’s too hard – the return doesn’t justify the effort.
Here’s a thought. How about trying to design a solution for the sales person that entices adoption, rather than having to force compliance. I think that’s what Google would do – and their approach is working ok so far. (By the way, the vision that guides our methodology and software development at our R&D center, at The TAS Group, is one where we envision the world’s sales organizations waking up every morning with a spring in their step and a constant thought – I want to make more commission today – best load up Dealmaker!). Sustained usage happens when you win the effort/reward battle, and when the new behavior becomes a natural part of the user’s day. When a sales person gets more back from the system (methodology, CRM etc.) than they put in; then that’s the first battle won, and the behavior is automatically reinforced.
As with most problems worth solving, this is a hard one. Most sales people intellectually understand the value of a sales methodology. The work done by the aforementioned sales consultants and trainers is appreciated, and sales people, as well as sales management, can absolutely see that adherence to best practice makes sense – and makes money.
But traditional techniques; paper/Excel/Flash models of methodologies or processes don’t work in today’s world. The most dangerous of these approaches are the Flash models that exist in the market today. These masquerade as Sales 2.0 tools, and for the most part are just a pretty software version of the traditional tools, that don’t allow allow customization for a business, provide only light CRM integration (if any), don’t add any intelligence in the context of the specific sales opportunity being worked, or provide meaningful analytics from which the system can learn. This is an opportunity missed. A fundamentally different approach is required to entice adoption, and add true value to the sales person. (I will set out my view of the optimum blueprint in a future post during September.)
I’m happy to say that the awareness of the need for a better solution to the “What happens when you leave?” question is well progressed, and that we are working with a small number of the high caliber sales consultants/trainers who want to ensure that the benefit they provide to their clients lives on after the engagement is complete. For our part we will continue to try to raise the standard, and either directly, or through our growing partner community, deliver sustained customer value and true return on investment for our customers.
For a customer’s perspective – see my previous post.