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2 April, 2012 by

Win the Behavior Change “Battle”

Perhaps this is an image familiar to you:  It’s been decided that your sales force needs new selling skills and behaviors.  A great new sales training program and new sessions have been put into place.  It’s time for that first session.  The facilitator is at the front of the room and the sales reps are all in their seats.  You’re in the back, enjoying the view.  But before anything is said, you feel it; a little anxiety.  You spot a few cold looks and evil eyes from reps aimed at the facilitator.  You feel confident, but you are increasingly unsure about how this is going to go.  And then you see it…the line has been drawn in the sand, with your sales reps on one side and sales leadership and training on the other.  Gulp.

Sound familiar?  Are you thinking, been there done that?  Now, this is most likely not happening to everyone, all the time, but it’s a common situation we hear from our members.  And in today’s constantly changing B2B sales environment, the stakes have never been higher to get sales training right.  In fact, when we asked sales leaders where they would spend the next dollar if they had one, they put sales training at the top of the list.

This puts exceedingly high expectations on the training programs we are creating for our sales reps.  Often times, after a new program, we see the scenario above play out.  Or perhaps things go well early, but we fail to see the behavior change long-term.  But why?  Aren’t these the skills needed for future success?

There are two main reasons we don’t get the behavior change we invested in:

  1. Failure to Learn: Reps resist learning new skills.  Surprised by this one? Probably not.  Either reps believe they already “do it right” or they don’t believe the new skills will help them.
  2. Failure to Apply: On-the-job barriers hinder application.  There are several reasons we see this happen.  Day-to-day job tasks just get “in the way”.  Who’s got the time, really?  Additionally, managers coach to what they did, rather than to the new skills.  Isn’t that just easier?  Finally, there are always other requests for reps’ time that often conflict with training.

Often times, doesn’t it feel like the battle is lost before we’ve even gotten started?

Well, there’s good news to share.  We can take specific action to have the upper hand in this “behavior change battle” and declare victory or, at least, avoid surrender.

In our time working with SLR members, we’ve been able to identify the critical principles world class sales development programs adhere to:

  1. Think about development as LONG-TERM, rather than as ad-hoc, single learning events
  2. Individuals attend sessions only RELEVANT to their needs.  It’s not a one-size fits all approach
  3. Reps must SELF-DISCOVER the need to change behaviors
  4. EQUIP managers with resources to coach to and reinforce behaviors
  5. RECOGNIZE reps for demonstrated behaviors(and this is not simply handing out a certificate at the end of the day)

How does your current sales development program compare to these five principles?  Where do you have room to run?

Building or evolving a training program to include these five principles is possible.  We’ve seen one organization run at these concepts very hard—gen-i (a telecommunications company) created an end-to-end learning process that links all stages of development together under a start-to-finish framework, which they call their Sales Academy.

SLR Members, view highlights from gen-i’s program or listen to a more in-depth discussion from our recent webinar on sales academies. You can also review implementation advice from the creator of gen-i’s sales academy.

As we continue to develop sales reps of the future in this ever-changing marketplace, the need for more sophisticated reps to sell to increasingly sophisticated customers keeps growing.   This means we must continuously work to build world-class development programs based on the five principles above.  If we can do this, there’s no battle to be waged in the first place. The picture painted at the beginning will cease to exist.  Now that’s change!

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