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Need to Improve Salespeople’s Behaviors? Don't Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts

by Michael Webb | * Comments (2)
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Need to Improve Salespeople’s Behaviors? Don’t Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts 

Have you ever wondered, what is the best way to incorporate sales training methodologies in a CRM system? Sometimes the question comes when a company wants a better return from their CRM software. Other times it comes from a sales training company hoping to capitalize on “integration” of their sales methodology with some CRM software.

Unfortunately, both are after a wild goose they’ll never catch.

Putting sales methodologies or training documentation in CRM systems is usually not too difficult. Naming process stages is pretty straightforward, so long as you catch the programmers before they start configuring. If you don’t have to collect answers to questions or do anything with the data you collect, there is really not much to it technically.

Some companies have created elaborate strategy systems, with color-coded organizational charts and more. Yet no matter how fancy, salespeople won’t use it very often.

If only the problem of getting salespeople to be more effective were a technical issue, all would be well with the world.

But it isn’t.

Wishing Won’t Make It So
Unfortunately, NOTHING you can do to add training or sales methodology to the CRM will make much of a difference in salespeople’s behaviors. That's because you are mostly adding work to salespeople’s lives rather than value.

That is just a fact. If anything, simplifying and minimizing the details entered in the CRM are better than burdening it (and the salespeople) with lots of sales methodology stuff.

This might seem like bad news for CRM software and sales training companies. It might appear to take away some of their arguments for the value they offer.

But it doesn’t. You still will need CRM and sales training. The point is that CRM and sales training can’t have the desired effect if the foundations are not there in the first place.

Changing People’s Behaviors Requires Changing Their Environment
You wouldn’t expect the output of a manufacturing process to improve by sticking some fancy labels on the manufacturing equipment, would you? If you asked machine operators fill out screens of information no one reads instead of making parts, would that enable them to produce more?

Of course not. If you need people to make fewer mistakes, you must mistake-proof the process. In a factory you make the jigs and fixtures that prevent parts from going together the wrong way. If you want more productivity you apply “5S” techniques* to clean and streamline their workspace. You minimize the motions required for them to do their jobs. You remove incentives and performance measures not aligned with the goals.

Most important, you don’t expect a different outcome unless you physically change the way the work is done. You change the things that drive people’s behaviors first. Then you look for changes in output.

When was the last time you streamlined the number of screens and clicks required for the salesperson to use the CRM system? (I once lost a battle with a CRM implementation team from SAP who argued it was too expensive to “cater to the sales force.” After their sales results didn’t improve, the company was lost in an acquisition.)

When was the last time you measurably improved the quality of your company’s leads, or made it easier to nurture relationships with prospects that were not yet ready to buy? How have you helped salespeople make more consistent decisions when prioritizing their sales opportunities? These are things that change results.

Edwards Deming said, “Your process is perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently getting.” This is exactly right. If you want different results, you probably have to change something you haven’t yet changed.

What Are the Facts?
People’s behavior depends on their perception of reality. Therefore, the place to start is with the credibility of the terms people use in the sales process itself. Words such as “qualified,” “lead,” and “opportunity” must refer to observable facts. What evidence exists that the prospect is a lead, or that the lead is qualified? It is relatively easy to train salespeople to recognize such evidence. Your most capable salespeople probably already recognize many of these facts.

The classification of an opportunity as “qualified” can be “cut-and-dried” according to observable facts (“What did the prospect do or say?”… “What business or technical problems do they have?” “How important are these to the decision maker?” … “How do you know this?”). When that knowledge is missing or the prospect has not yet taken the action desired, it is easy to see which sales tactics or behaviors are the most appropriate.

These MEAN something to your team when they can be traced to “ground,” so to speak. When words to refer to facts, it gives teeth to the list of “Qualified Opportunities” in the sales forecast.

The Role of Training and the CRM
The role of the CRM is to help salespeople and their managers account for their leads, opportunities, and deals as if they were inventory assets (which is what they are).

Salespeople embrace this when they believe their company:

  1. Understands and respects what it takes to move deals through the pipeline
  2. Will hold them accountable for what they can control
  3. Won’t hold them accountable for what they can’t control

This puts salespeople and their managers “on the same page” with regard to moving deals along successfully. It becomes apparent to everyone which skills and behaviors are needed, a condition that greatly simplifies the task of training. Most important, this vantage point enables everyone to see and measure the results of that training.

It also becomes much easier to identify time-consuming or repetitive tasks that could be automated in the CRM to make the best sales behaviors more mistake-proof, make them faster and a path of least resistance as well.

Until You Face the Facts, Training and CRM are Useless
Salespeople’s behaviors can’t change until their environment changes in the following ways:

  1. When the language of the process is clarified (traced to observable facts)
  2. When the process has been shown to work a reasonable percentage of the time
  3. When the CRM system’s pipeline reports are based on grounded criteria
  4. When salespeople use the CRM to manage their pipeline, because management has ensured the CRM makes it easier to do so
  5. AND when management INSPECTS those reports and makes decisions based on them

THEN, and ONLY THEN will sales behaviors change in the way we in management need them to.

Come to think of it, if managers aren’t doing those sorts of things right now, what are they spending their time on?

Michael J. Webb
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*“5S” stands for “Sort,” “Set in Order,” “Shine,” “Standardize,” and “Sustain” (translated from the original Japanese). “5S” is a technique used in Lean manufacturing to improve quality and productivity.

2 Responses to “Need to Improve Salespeople’s Behaviors? Don't Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts”

  1. Craig Akins says:

    Michael
    I am not a process guy. With over 30 years in selling in CPG industries (17 years at VP Sales level)I have tried numerous ways to affect the behavior of sales people. Two things work: one is to apply 80/20 rule and put your best sales people on top accounts and the second is to clearly define critical outcomes and hold people accountable.

    The 'fun' in work is to use one's own talent, drive and thinking to win. Process and training are important tools, BUT ONLY TO INTRODUCE DIFFERENT/TRIED WAYS TO SELL. Many sales managers today are under pressure to hit numbers now and have little understanding of how to coach sales people to achieve results. They rely on methods. What is needed is FOCUS. CPG sales people must understand how to discover opportunities and translate them into sales. A lost art in most organizations.

  2. Mohammed says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit,
    but instead of that, this is great blog. A great read. I will certainly be
    back.

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