Author and sales expert Dave Kurlan doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the state of sales: “Ineffective salespeople—weak and poor performers—make up a whopping 62% of the sales population.” It’s common that many sales managers feel the daily weight of this statistic.
What contributes to it? We know there is no shortage of books and trainings trying to fix the problem, so why are so many sales professionals struggling?
To answer that question, I asked Alan Allard, founder and CEO of Genius Dynamics, Inc. He is an expert in human behavior and performance improvement for sales professionals and sales leaders and specializes in performance management in organizations.
In my interview, I wanted an answer to this overriding, troublesome dilemma in the sales community, and so posed this question: “Despite all the money invested in training salespeople to sell more, there is still a substantial deficit in the number of effective salespeople. What’s your take on that?”
Alan provided 4 key reasons, which can be used in any area of talent development:
1. Training alone won’t solve our sales challenges – follow-up coaching is essential.
Training is the main go-to resource for increasing sales, but it does not truly facilitate behavior change. Coaching is ideally suited to meet that need. Training can raise awareness, impart important information but it falls short in changing behavior. So, as an example, if a salesperson isn’t consistently asking for referrals, a workshop telling him or her effective language to use is necessary—but not sufficient.
In my experience, this is the challenge with any skill training initiative – talking about a skill, does not a skill make.
2. We’re not asking the right questions.
Alan suggests there are two primary questions sales professionals must be able to sufficiently answer if they want to increase their sales and income.
The first is: “What behaviors or action must I consistently engage in to sell more, to sell faster, or to sell bigger?” The answer would probably entail prospecting for new business, asking for referrals, following an effective sales model, selling on value and not price, providing great service, and so on.
The second question is “How can I get myself to execute the things I already know to do?” Alan went on to share a very important insight that can help sales managers utilize their training budgets much more successfully.
Sales professionals (even new ones) know “what” they need to do. It’s getting themselves to do what they know, and to do it consistently. Every salesperson knows they need to prospect for new clients. But few do it day in and day out. We can learn all the how-tos from sales managers, workshops, books, podcasts and blog posts. The challenge isn’t the knowing—it’s the doing.
3. Sales professionals aren’t adequately dealing with very common performance blockers – guilt and shame.
The ongoing “what” messages they hear without successful change generates guilt and shame. All the continuous training or input from a manager encourages and reiterates the “what”: motivate yourself, be optimistic, and bounce back from your setbacks. But if it doesn’t occur, they feel guilty about not doing what they know to do to reach the next level. That emotional weight then makes it harder for them to do what they must do to sell more effectively.
Sales professionals know guilt and shame slows them down but they don’t know how to stop it and ironically they are too embarrassed to discuss it and many sales managers don’t have the emotional intelligence and therefore insight to sufficiently addressed.
4. Generic sales training is not a one-size fit all – but is treated as such.
They are not customized for the unique needs of each salesperson and leave out “asking the how question”. It’s not that generic training can’t be helpful on some level, however, they do fall short because the how to apply the generic tactics will be very different for each salesperson. We all know motivation is as unique as each person is.
These four reasons really can be applied to any professional skill that needs to be developed from leadership to time management. They summarize the challenges organization have in approaching training, skill, and capability development from a generic, singular, one size fits all approach.
Strategies to Implement
So what’s the solution? Alan suggests and uses a high-impact solution to address the low percentage of successful sales persons. It is a two pronged use of coaching.
External Coaching: This can be done as a one-on-one format or as a facilitated peer group coaching. The first is faster but the second can be very effective. Coaching is ideal for finding specific answers that work for the person being coached. Coaching allows the coach to ask enough questions to dig deep enough to find answers to that “how” question for each sales person.
Internal Coaching: Alan teaches his clients how to utilize self-coaching to reach higher levels of sales success and has done so no matter what level of struggle. The best way to learn how to self-coach, Alan suggests, is to start with being coached by an expert coach. But even if that doesn’t happen, a salesperson can do so with a proficient self-coaching model and external support.
Alan calls his coaching model “GPS.” Here’s a simple introduction to it:
G = Goals (Identify your goals. Are they yours or your sales manager’s? Do you own them?)
P = Plan (What’s your action plan that will get and keep you going? This is where you consider what you’ve been doing so far—what’s worked well and what hasn’t worked so well? What obstacles to your plan have you run up against? What are your solutions?)
S = Support (This includes external and internal support. External support includes a number of things: Do you need more support from your company in some way? Do you need training on your CRM? What do you need from your manager or what do you need more of? Can a colleague help you in some way? Do you need to understand your sales model better—perhaps practice it with your manager or a colleague?)
Internal support means learning how to play the inner game better by self-management, including training psychological and emotional training, mental mastery, and emotional intelligence. This element is the foundation to the rest of the “GPS” model.
Alan’s suggestions teach us that taking a much more committed and strategic approach to sales training and development is absolutely necessary if we do not want our sales force to reside in the 66%. “if you want to learn more about how Alan helps increase sales, visit his website.
As a sales manager or individual sales professional, what next steps will you take to integrate the insight and advice that has been shared?
JoAnn Corley is a passionate champion of human potential with a focus on leadership and organizational success. She has the crazy belief that we can create our best leaders and businesses from the best of our human selves. Her overall mission is to help companies put the human back in human resource though holistic talent management. She leverages her knowledge of human behavior in marketing her boutique consulting firm across a variety of channels. She has been consistently recognized as one of the top 100 most social HR & management experts to follow on social media @joanncorley.