Teaching Salespeople to Learn Faster

Sales teams struggle to find sustainable competitive product advantages. The pace of change in today’s business environment has resulted in significantly shorter product cycles. Strategies built upon product differentiation are quickly becoming irrelevant.

Instead of focusing on products, sales organizations must forge new paths to winning:

  1. capture opportunities fast,

  2. treat every customer like a "market" instead of a sales transaction

  3. And build long term relationships based on problem-solving skill, not product features and functions.

Sales leaders who recognize the shortcomings in trying to only leverage product features are likely to turn to new strategies to achieve business outcomes -- they do it, or their board will make them. Potential problems can arise when senior executives create sound strategies that assume employees have the requisite competencies to execute them.

This is hard, because skill and knowledge gaps can undermine what are otherwise brilliant strategies. In other words, people don't know what they don't know. For example, recent earnings calls are loaded with references to creating more streamlined corporate systems that free up employees to become even more productive without adding anymore head count.

Clearly, executives believe their organization can out-learn their competitors so they can out-earn them (and their market share). Consider the challenges many companies have faced in trying to move from products to services. Future-oriented companies are starting to realize corporate learning that provides the knowledge and skills necessary can help their people execute tasks should be an integral part of their business plans. As as result, these companies will:

  • Be proactive in uncovering learning issues within lines of business and addressing them.

  • Align training to enable execution of business plans.

  • Tie business outcomes to learning initiatives.

  • Break down silos that cause internal friction.

The advantages of taking a proactive approach to learning initiatives include:

  • Defining business outcomes first and then designing initiatives to achieve them.

  • Scheduling rollout dates based upon the scope of effort vs. ASAP rollouts.

  • Being able to vie for funding for learning initiatives based upon projected ROI.

  • Establishing the value contribution to lines of business leaders in the organization.

  • Prioritizing initiatives based upon the potential value or impact to the business strategy.

In many organizations, the learning function is largely reactive. It’s operationally efficient and the goal is to keep costs down. In these rear view-looking companies, learning leaders are called in to put out fires. Budgets for training/learning are created without regard for the magnitude of changes in roles, responsibilities, skills, and knowledge that will be required to execute business plans. Learning is viewed as a noun rather than a verb and a cost rather than an investment.

A proactive approach would leverage learning tactics to ensure that employees being asked to change have the skill and knowledge to effect behavioral changes that will be required to perform their jobs in a different manner.

Be proactive, not only reactive

A proactive assessment of the business strategy would enable companies to:

  • Actively assess the scope and magnitude of training needed for the business plan.

  • Assess the skill sets and knowledge of employees that must change behavior.

  • Create initiatives that fill skill/knowledge/behavioral gaps.

  • Measure results to find a return on learning investment.

For example, the trend toward shorter product cycles is a reality and gaining momentum. Work has changed significantly in the last 100 years as we moved from an industrial to an information economy. Business models continually change to adapt to shifting markets and customers. In the same way our schools are challenged to graduate students with the requisite skills for our new economy, so it is that learning organizations must find ways to provide skills sets and knowledge, and develop ways to evolve workers to be productive as their roles change or as requirements for new roles emerge.

When learning leaders feel boxed in, or under perform, there are two potential underlying reasons:

  • "Won’t" is an attitude problem. Someone is unwilling to try and it is someone else’s responsibility to explain why the task must be done and provide motivation (a carrot or a stick) to do it.

  • "Can’t" is a skill set issue.If CEOs are asking people in their organization to do things they are unable to do, they shouldn’t be surprised when the results don’t meet expectations.

Nearly all new initiatives ask some or all employees to do things they’ve not done before. Sounds like a chasm that proactive learning leaders can step into – no? Preparation facilitates successful execution. Companies that out execute competitors will likely win—with the help of their proactive and adaptive learning team members.

About Growth Matters Growth Matters is a international business founded in 2011. This consulting and services organization is focused on the development and practice of sales management and sales enablement, our team of world-renowned experts spans the globe enabling businesses to improve sales conversations through services and solutions aligned to sales strategy. Our Americas operation is headquartered in Charlotte, NC (USA). With dedicated offices in South Africa (EMEA), and Sydney (APAC), we regularly facilitate senior-level workshops in 17+ cities in countries. For more information on equipping sales managers, and aligning to sales leadership, contact the Growth Matters team at http://www.growthmatters.today

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