The Same Old Problem with New Sales Methods

Glitz and glamour aren’t exclusive to Hollywood. In fact, there’s quite a bit of buzz going around about two exciting developments in the world of sales methodology and research.

The first is the Challenger Sale developed by the Corporate Executive Board. There are several types of sales professionals, but the Challengers reign supreme. They aren’t content to merely build relationships, but rather they are insightful – and even assertive – about how their customers can succeed on the back of the rep’s solution.

The second is the Rain Group’s research report What Sales Winners Do Differently. This research highlights behavioral differences between sales Winners and Second Place finishers. When it comes to customers, Winners connect, convince, and collaborate in ways the laggards simply don’t.

So what about these new kids on the block – are they any good? Are they meaningful advancements beyond industry classics like CustomerCentric, Miller Heiman, Solution Selling, SPIN Selling, ad nauseam?

The reality is that these new methodologies are potentially excellent – just like the classics. I say “potentially” because no methodology, no training, no research insight does much of anything until it is applied in real selling situations. Like it or not, that means changing rep behaviors and sales management practices. This is exactly where the wheels often come off. The potential benefit of “best practices” quickly dissipates into “business as usual”, constricting your business in the process.

Case in point: A large multinational manufacturing company, disappointed by sales results, decided to take on a new sales methodology. Just as they had twice before in the last three years.

Why does this happen? How have we learned so much about the art and science of selling, yet we have relatively little to show for it?

In response, I suggest that we look at the problem from inside the trenches. When considering reps and first line sales managers, I would offer that a) change is hard, and b) sales managers are ill-equipped to reinforce training through proper coaching and rep development.

We can’t do much about the first item. Change is scary, and old habits die hard. Exceptionally few reps will read a report about selling characteristics or a book about a new sales approach and make substantial changes on their own. They won’t leave the classroom and go develop a clear plan on what they can do differently in order to improve results. That’s why they have experienced managers to help them grow and succeed.

Which brings us to the second item.

The vast majority of sales managers were great reps who were subsequently given little if any training, process, or tools on how they can get the most out of their people. If you don’t believe me, take out a sheet of paper and list all of the things you provide your reps on the left, and those things you specifically provide for your managers on the right. Feel free to doodle in the copious amount of white space at the bottom right of your page.

The latest and greatest sales methods are intriguing, and I suggest that you give them a thorough review. I’d encourage you to not stop there, however. Consider how you might best prepare your first line sales managers with the tools and methods they need to take advantage of these new techniques and insights. Managers need a systematic approach to coaching their reps and reinforcing sales methods, just as reps need a systematic means of selling in the first place.

We can’t go on pretending that things are going to get better on their own or that some magic bullet will make a material change in our sales results. If you have salespeople, then sales performance is people performance.

You’re counting on your sales managers to get the most out of their people. What are they counting on you to provide them in return?

It’s time that we save the drama for the silver screen. Let’s make sure our first line managers have both the latest-and-greatest insight and the follow-on coaching systems they need to drive the sales behaviors that drive sales performance.

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