asking for the close. In essence, either they are doing something wrong or not doing something right.

The only way managers know this is to spend time coaching salespeople – joining them on sales calls or listening to their telephone calls. Sales manag- ers need to be behavior observers. Managers must measure their reps’ competence in discovering essential information about prospects, regard- less of how they do it. If discovery results are inadequate, training may be the answer. By measuring competen- cies needed to be successful, you’ll find out if the issue is one of execution. The pipeline needs filling. Look at new customer acquisitions. How many are you getting a year? Are new customers being brought in by just a few reps and not everyone? Interview sales leaders, manag- ers, and reps to find out about their customer relationships. For example, dig to determine whether your firm is a preferred supplier. You may think you’re preferred, but you may be shared or peripheral. Probing ques- tions include finding out if the firm is frequently surprised by customers. Are reps spending more time with computers than on understanding customers? Does each manager say his or her own reps are fine but other reps need help?

When a manager determines that a

rep lacks a specific skill, that can be a coaching opportunity; but, if a man- ager lacks the same skills, you have to start by training the manager. On- boarding new salespeople requires product training as well as training on systems, processes, and skills. When a new product is launched, reps must learn features and benefits and how to have productive conversations with customers about its value. When a firm goes through a stra- tegic shift, sales roles shift, which requires learning new competencies. Training may also be needed when preparing for a major deal presenta- tion or meeting, and promotions are a good opportunity for training the promoted individual in new skills.


Certain symptoms indicate when reps need training. Are there inconsistent sales approaches across the sales team? Inconsistency prevents using a common vocabulary for discussing sales opportunities, yields inconsis- tent sales results, and creates coach- ing problems for managers. Other red flags include the following: • Low profit margins occur if the team is not trained in uncovering buyer motivations and making recommendations tailored to prospect needs.

• If reps gravitate toward simple products that sell themselves – avoiding selling full solutions – training is indicated.

• If sales cycles are too long, reps stall short of the close and need training on how to finalize sales.

• If reps work with too many unqual- ified buyers, they don’t know the characteristics of qualified buyers and need training.

• If voluntary turnover on the sales team is high, reps may be dissatis- fied with training.

• If sales meetings focus entirely on products or quotas rather than skills, managers may not know how to train for sales skills.

HOW OFTEN TO TRAIN Training and coaching should be continual, based on the goals of each company. Competency models can determine which capabilities are the most important causes of specific business outcomes. The right training content can be determined for each goal. Sales playbooks and coaching can focus on areas in which the sales effort will pay off the most. Because change is constant, managers should continually monitor their sales talent, learning progress, field application, and results. Training is most useful when there is a significant group of sales reps who need a common skill. Coach- ing is most useful to either reinforce training or help individuals who lack


A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. – HENRY ADAMS

a specific skill. Training should hap- pen when a group of three to 30 reps needs to work on a particular set of skills. This training need may be most pronounced when a deficiency in skills is hurting win rates or profit margin. For example, too much discounting flags the need for training in selling value. Low win rates indicate a need for training in gaining commitment. Training usually needs to be annual or semiannual, but managers need to coach each rep much more frequently – at least once a month. Coaching can be done in the field or by debriefing reps after a call. Managers should always coach by reinforcing positive features before serving up criticism, because reps are often harsher on themselves in coaching sessions. Here are four indications that train- ing is needed. • Customers are not getting the unique insight and perspectives they expect from truly valuable providers.

• The competition is getting more wins, and your reps have to up their game to nullify that trend.

• Your firm is changing its sales strategy – looking for more pros- pects in the funnel, a different mix of prospects, or perhaps a more global relationship with major accounts.

• You have been getting limited benefits from a new technology such as a CRM system, and need to train reps on how to exploit the new tool.

Above all, high-performance sales

organizations monitor activities, not just results, and integrate training with other initiatives such as recruitment, compensation, and technology. 


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