In this edition: ▪ Which is more important – sales ability or sales experience?▪ Training alone won’t solve your issues with selling performance.▪

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Which is more important – sales ability or sales experience?


A recent HBR blog on the topic makes interesting reading

This topic seems hot at the moment and it has turned up in a number of Linkedin discussion threads.

The answer in most cases is probably both, but what if you have to choose? We would argue that capability over experience should drive recruitment decisions and these are the main reasons why:

Experience is only a record of the past whereas ability is a signal for what is to come.
Is 10 years’ experience really that or is it just one year 10 times over? During interview you need to look for evidence of progress and development through the period. Confirm your understanding while taking references.
Experience of what and in what market? Is their experience absolutely relevant to your proposition and market? Beware a candidate who may look ideal because they have worked for a company doing similar things to you and in a similar market but this does not allow for what can be significant differences in style, culture and principles.
Equally as important as ability are attitude and aptitude. It is common that sales people are recruited for experience and skill but when they don’t perform it is often attitude that causes them to be terminated. So, do it the other way around; recruit for ability, aptitude and attitude and you are less likely to be disappointed. Tools from Thomas International support this assessment process during recruitment.
That same suite of tools can be used to support development and to support a structured appraisal process. This drives individual training and development plans and provides an important and valuable input to on-going development programmes.
All new recruits, no matter how experienced, are raw material that you have to mould through a thorough induction and on-going development if they are to deliver at peak levels for you and themselves. If you do not mould them, they will mainly remain the same person that joined you; continuing to do what they have always done and in the same old way.
Finally, there needs to be a direct relationship between what you expect of them and how you reward them. The variable element of a rewards package is designed to drive people to perform as you require and as such has an impact on behaviour. Review reward schemes frequently to ensure they match the current business needs.

Training alone won’t solve your issues with selling performance.


The ancient wisdom of Confucius

There are two common strategies used to address selling performance issues; train the people you already have or fire and re-hire new ones. It is possible that the people you have are lacking some important skills and it is also possible that you chose badly when recruiting but how likely is it that the root cause of your performance problems is poor selection or lack of skills?

We are sometimes asked to provide training in specific selling skills with common examples being; dealing with competition, negotiating and closing. In some cases the problem has been well identified and therefore the solution works well. However, in most cases the perceived “problem” is just a symptom so, for example; training someone in negotiation techniques will not help if the problem stems from poor qualification during the initial lead generation process.

Another issue is that training is often generic so the lessons delivered are not in context for your specific business, proposition or marketplace. This is really just a “sheep-dip” approach and is unlikely to deliver a sustainable gain in performance.

The most effective training strategy is when it is part of a fully integrated process of staff development – this is true for all training not just sales. The main components include:

Recruit the right people understanding the gaps that need to be filled through training.
Give new recruits a thorough induction into your company; history, products and services, your proposition, the market, your competitors, your business model and your sales methods and processes. This is the foundation for successful employment and improved retention.
Be mindful that people learn in different ways (read, listen, observe, do) and to get the most effective result you need to “train” people for the results you want, e.g. tell => perform by rote, vs. coach => understand and adapt as necessary.
Create a learning and development plan for each individual. This is not about a mad first week; it is about a development programme spread over the whole period of employment with you. I started my selling career with British Olivetti and through my near seven years with them I was being developed and honed to ever better levels of performance.
The development programme needs to use the management, leadership and coaching regime that you have in place as its delivery mechanism.

Pipeline or a pipedream - they may be in your pipeline, but are you in theirs?


Read our case study on how a globally acquisitive business brought consistency and accuracy to their sales pipeline.

I have lost count of how many times I have heard; “we have got lots of great opportunities in the pipeline but no one is making a decision”. This leads to the obvious question; they may be in your pipeline but are you in theirs? In other words, you think they should be excited by your proposal and what it offers them but were they in a position to make a decision when you decided to send your proposal?

Too often proposals and quotations are presented because the supplier feels that their selling process has arrived at that stage. However, the proposal or quotation should only be presented to the prospect when they are the right point in their buying process not when you are at a particular point in your selling process.

Your sales process should be built around qualification and quantification profiling that tells you what buying state the prospect and the opportunity are in at any point in time. Knowing where the prospect is in their buying cycle enables you to accurately plan and execute your next action and you will be pushing against an opening door. This can then provide a reliable means to calculate probabilities which in turn provide a dependable source of forecasting information (timing, value and likelihood).

Some tips to implement this approach to pipelines;

Your actions must be based on the status which is a direct reflection of where the prospect is in their buying cycle.
The qualification and quantification rules must be consistent across all sales people, territories and regions. Most sales people will have their own approach to probabilities, e.g. “I feel this one will drop”, but you need a system that provides dependable leading indicators as to future potential business.
Apparently contradicting the previous point the evaluation approach should allow both objective and subjective inputs but the objective appraisal should dominate. If the sales person feels strongly that something will happen then they should be challenged to justify their position by providing tangible evidence.
Some may argue that sales people are individuals and depend on their gut feelings and experience. We have already discussed experience above. There is nothing in a systematic approach to selling that prevents the sales person being an individual in fact the process means they do not have to spend a lot of time on the day-to-day leaving them free to be creative and inventive with their solutions.

If you have a rigorous process you have a pipeline. If you do not it may well be only a pipedream.

Coming up in future issues

Devising sales strategy
Choosing metrics to manage performance
Looking past the symptoms to uncover the root causes

There will be a break in August, the next newsletter will come out in September.

Enjoy the "Summer".


Performative plc

Improving business performance; transforming sales performance

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