How to build sales success and retain your sales team
The question for many businesses is ‘how can you keep your employees interested and engaged?’ applies equally across your organisation but it is the sales department that is often the Cinderella of personal development.
This blog piece asks you to consider- how do you treat your sales team or, if you are in the sales team, how are you treated? While accountants, directors and others are treated as professionals with opportunities, and even have letters after their name to prove it; the sales department are often left at home with few opportunities to go to the ball. Sales people have to handle that mucky part of business, the money. While in the UK this is regarded with certain scepticism, the rest of the world is professionalising their business schools with degrees in selling.
Researchers and business practitioners at Edinburgh Napier University (Dr Colin Mackenzie) and Wittenborg University (Dr Alexander Bauer) are familiar with the ‘black art’ business department of sales. Having life long experiences in sales and now into sales education they examined how sales professionals in small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) receive continuous professional development and unsurprisingly, many do not.
They discovered that sales people are often given only basic induction and basic sales training, which is often conflated with product training. They are then left alone with only minimal encouragement and support. Naturally sales people looked at other departments and see how they do not have the opportunities for continuous personal development (CPD). Businesses lose out in two ways; developing people is a recognised method of staff retention and sales techniques do not improve. Replacing lost sales people is a very expensive process.
Mackenzie & Bauer set out to examine effective methods to support skill development over a period of time and concluded that a mixture of formal induction, training, coaching and mentoring, personally tailored would be a framework for sales personnel CPD.
The Mackenzie/Bauer framework for sales personnel continuous professional development (fig 1) is an attempt to address this issue in a cost effective manner.
Figure 1- Mackenzie/Bauer Framework for CPD of sales personnel- Reprinted courtesy of International Journal of Sales Transformation
The cycle was designed to support the build-up of knowledge and skills of sales people on a gradual and spaced learning basis.
Mackenzie and Bauer also acknowledge that there are opportunities for misunderstanding between some of the areas and set out the following definitions.
This may involve ensuring sales professionals are familiar with the organisational systems or processes required to complete a sale.
This is about gaining the knowledge required to undertake effective sales.
This may be formal or informal training or modelling and may include product/service knowledge and learning the building blocks of effective selling. It is not simply about product training, product training is not sales training.
Coaching and mentoring are different. At this stage a formal and informal mentoring programme is established. This involves transferring knowledge gained of the sales process into skills practice, feedback and encouragement. Care has to be taken that bad sales habits are not being passed don to new staff.
During the coaching stage the sales professional is asked questions relevant to their performance to enhance their own responsibility for self-development.
Organisations may consider a mixture of individual or team sales coaching depending on context.
This may involve sales professionals supporting newcomers by explaining the importance of the sales processes. It may also include conversation around ethics. How many companies discuss ethical selling? How many companies should have discussed and addressed the nature of ethics prior to losing their reputation?
Research suggests that experienced salespeople would appreciate a ‘refresh’. Reacquaintance is about updating existing knowledge and skills, whether this is about understanding the selling techniques or sales strategies required for new products, a revision of the sales process, identification and reflection of areas that need to be re-thought or revisited. This allows for people to reflect on their initial induction, which may have been hurried or simply unclear.
Targeted Sales Mentoring
At this stage in the sales knowledge cycle the individual studies areas for improvement. The areas will have emerged from reflections during the Reacquaintance process.
Targeted Sales Coaching
Targeted coaching should be designed to change the gear of sales professionals, to embed the habit of continuous learning and reflection.
This cycle accommodates various methods of development. Learning is not simply about gaining knowledge; it is about direction, practice and reflection.
However it only works if leaders open the black box of sales and take a peek at their own sales policies.
Mackenzie says, “Implementation of the sales CPD cycle may be possible in-house and should be cost-effective. Management should include sales development as part of any organisations growth strategy and failure to do so is a missed opportunity”.
About the Author
Dr Colin Mackenzie is a business consultant and a specialist lecturer in sales, leadership and entrepreneurship at Edinburgh Napier University, an international guest lecturer and competition sales judge. C.firstname.lastname@example.org