The other week, a client expressed an unfortunate but too frequent complaint about certain salespeople:
"Salespeople tell you whatever they think you want to hear to close a sale. But once you've signed off and the tech people come in to fulfill it, they say you can't have the product as promised! Their justification, if you can call it that: 'Well that's salespeople. They'll tell you anything.'"
We often hear stories such as this. But there's also a universal truth for any company that operates this way: they're doomed to lose customers and fail. As a customer, why would you ever give your business to them again?
Companies like this fall into the trap of believing that the business sales process stops with the first order. In reality of course, it doesn't. Nor does it stop with the fulfillment of that order. Nor does it stop with the next order, or the fulfillment of that. The selling process, in fact, never stops. And it's businesses that understand and embrace this that are the most enduringly successful.
These businesses understand that the sales process is about building a relationship that extends far beyond the sales person. Every person in the organization is in fact part of this process; the very reason their job exists is to solve customer problems and fulfill customer needs. In essence the salesperson has point duty on behalf of every member of the company.
You may ask: How do other people in the organization, like customer service, engineering, finance or technical support, sell? In the narrowest sense of the word, maybe they don't. But they do communicate with customers in many different ways, and as we covered in How simple communication sells, at its heart effective selling is nothing more than effective communication.
So every contact with a customer has implications either on the next potential order or what they'll tell others about their experience with your organization. And it will make or break you as a business because the facts are it's far more profitable to retain customers you already have than it is to get new ones. Happy customers are one of your best assets, so you need to look after them.
Which is why every person in your business should participate in some form of a sales training program. They need to understand how to sell so they can appreciate why effective 'communication' with customers is critical to business success, and the role they play in that sales process.
But none of this absolves your salespeople of responsibility! In fact, the most responsibility still lies with them, because selling isn't only making a promise, but delivering on it. If they can't work in tandem with others in your business to ensure that this happens, then the sales process ceases to be effective and you've lost a customer.
Before working with The Fortune Group, one of our clients took an interesting approach to sales training: they gave an instructional book on sales to their staff and had each of them present a chapter back to the group.
Shortly after implementing this approach, salespeople started to miss training sessions, saying that they were busy with customer sales meetings. Fantastic, our client thought, the training is working better and faster than we'd hoped!
But then the client analysed their sales results. And despite the upsurge in the number of customer meetings, the sales numbers weren't improving.
What was happening? Our client investigated and, in retrospect, the explanation was very simple: their salespeople hated the training. Not only did it not provide any value, but it bored them to distraction… literally! So they skipped the sessions by providing what they figured was the only acceptable excuse – a customer sales meeting.
Business training is not a one-way download of content that's presented as conclusive. You cannot put adult learners in a group, force feed them and expect them to take it. Really effective training has to be a two-way street, one in which interactive dialogue is the norm and well facilitated. When it's done that way, content is no longer king; instead, it becomes the catalyst for 'focused' conversation. And that conversation continues, not just during the first training session, but for many more to come. Because unlike a book, fixed in time and space, you can't just open and close business training programs; they're an ongoing process, iterative in nature, in which you will continuously improve yourself and your team... provided you manage it that way.
So the client learnt the hard way. But once they did, they not only engaged their salespeople with compelling and ongoing learning, and had them eager to attend future sales training, but they did what they initially set out to do: they increased sales.
Every culture has social norms that its members unquestionably accept. But project those norms onto someone from another culture, and that person might well find them to be absurd. For example, look no further than the whaling controversy that has erupted recently between Australia and Japan.
This of course happens on more micro levels: someone raised in one part of a city may have a different perspective than someone raised in another part of that same city.
This oftentimes has ramifications in the workplace, as the intersection of these backgrounds can breed misunderstanding.
A few months ago, we facilitated a workshop strategy session with a client sales team. Overall they were meeting revenue targets, but that performance was mostly on the back of two star performers; the others on the team were performing average at best. To the Sales Director, they were being lazy.
After two days with the group it became clear that they weren't lazy; they were simply confused. They were confused by the 'direction' they were getting from management, confused by their responsibilities, confused by their objectives.
Because of his lack of effective communication skills, the manager had bred his own team's lacklustre performance!
Communication does not begin with being understood, it begins with understanding the other person. And the foundation for effective communication, and the key to any relationship, is empathy: the ability to project oneself into the mind of another person and understand how that person thinks (this doesn't mean agreeing with it; that would be sympathy). That is to understand how they reach decisions, how they formulate opinions. Meaning that communication is always two way (if it's not, it's not) and that you need to get to know the person you are talking with by observing and actively listening to them.
While the manager may have been empathizing with his "star performers" – perhaps they were from the same social background (or had similar behavior styles) as him – he clearly wasn't doing so with the "lazy" ones. As a result they felt disconnected and this impacted their work ethic and results.
The next time you're having trouble communicating with an employee, ask yourself: Do I understand this person? Do I know how and why they think as they do? Because until you do know, your communication may not be achieving what you intend.
But we already knew that, right?
Countless studies have proven that in order to realise the full benefit of a business training program, you must not only train, you must not only retrain, but you have to put the knowledge from the training program into practice, and then practice it. Until then, it's just education!
Add another study to years of research: Knowledge Pool's recent white paper, "They Think It's All Over: Why what happens after the training is as important as the training itself".
A few key takeaways:
- Learners must use what they've learned in order to achieve a business benefit
- There is a direct correlation between performance improvement, transfer of learning to the workplace and line manager support for transfer of learning
- Learners who receive line manager support overwhelmingly (like 94%!!) apply what they've learned
Our own experience with the continued practice of business training programs is similar and best reinforced by Terry Smith, Founder and Managing Director of Exclusive Tyre Distributors:
"We have used training programs from Fortune in the areas of Leadership and Sales. The critical difference with Fortune is its unique, inhouse approach to training. While it has been highly cost effective, our managers find it very easy to implement and support the training ourselves, and we always follow it up on the job. This helps everyone on the team better understand how their job contributes to serving customers and growing our business."
Although the premise is nothing new – we've been preaching and practicing it for years! – the facts and figures cited from this research make it a very worthwhile read. Let's hope businesses take it to heart.
The March Leadership Development Carnival was posted yesterday at Great Leadership, and suitably enough, it has an Academy Awards theme. But more importantly, there are some really fantastic articles in the area of leadership development, from some of today's best bloggers in the field, such as Art Petty, Mary Jo Asmus, Steve Roesler, Scott Eblin and Wally Bock. We'll also note that our post, Embrace failure as a part of growth, has been included as well!
Finally, you may have noticed our new blogroll on the sidebar to the right, which links to some of the blogs mentioned above, and others included in this month's Leadership Development Carnival. These guys are great thinkers in the area of management development and share some fantastic management skills, so please visit them when you have a chance.