Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 128: Q&A with Norman Behar @NormanBehar

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For almost three years now, we’ve been producing a weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio (live every other Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific).  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests going forward.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.

This week Norman Behar, Founder & Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group joins us as we focus on content and best practices in this episode called, Training & Professional Development for your Sales Managers: New Best Practices from Norman Behar.

Sales Readiness Group has been around for a long time. They’ve been recognized as one of the top twenty sales training companies in the country by Selling Power magazine and featured as the Sales Training Company to Watch List by trainingindustry.com. Lots of accolades for the team.  They just released a new report (The Salesperson’s Perspective on the Impact of Sales Training) that I’m actually pretty excited about. It isn’t just about training and best practices but really showcases salespeople’s perspective on the impact sales training can have.

One of the questions that often comes up from sales leaders is, “Okay, so we’ve done sales training in the past, but sometimes it’s been effective.” Sometimes it has a lasting effect, but in many cases, it doesn’t necessarily have a lasting effect, and so we wanted to better understand what’s really important to salespeople and what’s the business impact associated with sales training. We know that companies are investing more than ever in sales training. There was a stat by Training Industry showing sales training now is estimated at a 2.5 billion dollar market globally, and it’s grown by one billion over the last seven years.

So, you’ve got these two–I’m going to call almost mixed signals coming out. Sales leaders who are saying, “Is there really a strong correlation between great sales training and business results?” And at the same time, you have this huge increase in spending, so obviously we think companies are pretty smart. They wouldn’t be spending more if it wasn’t impacting their business, but we wanted to really get the sales rep’s perspective and understand what is it that makes for a great training program and how does it actually impact business. And we had some pretty interesting results.

Listen in now are read the full transcript below.

Matt Heinz:  Welcome, everybody, to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Very excited to have everyone here. We are here every week at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. For those of you just joining us on the live Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you very much for joining us. I’m always impressed and humbled by how many people are joining us via live radio in the middle of the workday, so thank you for that. For those of you just joining us on the podcast, listening to this on demand, thank you very much for subscribing and for listening, and everybody can listen to every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio past, present, and future at salespipelineradio.com.

We are featuring every week on the show some of the best and brightest minds in day-to-day sales and marketing. Today is no different. Very, very excited to have a good friend. I’ve known him for a long time here in Seattle. Norman Behar is the Founder and Managing Director of Sales Readiness Group, and as we were setting up for this show today, Norman was very clear that he wanted to focus on content, focus on best practices. We’re going to do plenty of that, but for those of you who don’t know Norman in Sales Readiness Group, they’ve been around for a long time. They’ve been recognized as one of the top twenty sales training companies in the country by Selling Power magazine and featured as the Sales Training Company to Watch List by trainingindustry.com. Lots of accolades for the team. I know he’s a humble guy and doesn’t want to get into that, but Norman, thank you so much. I know you’re a busy guy. Thank you for taking time to join us on the Sales Pipeline Radio today.

Norman Behar:  Matt, always a pleasure. Really looking forward to chatting with you and sharing some new insights that we’ve gathered regarding sales and sales management training, so thank you for having me on the show today.

Matt Heinz:  Of course, and speaking of new insights, if you’re not familiar with Norman’s work and his team’s work, definitely go to salesreadinessgroup.com. Lots of great content reports, best practice guides. You guys just released a new report that I’m actually pretty excited about. It isn’t just about training and best practices but really showcases salespeople’s perspective on the impact sales training can have. Can you talk a little bit about that new report?

Norman Behar:  Yeah. It’s something we did in collaboration with trainingindustry.com. One of the questions that often comes up from sales leaders is, “Okay, so we’ve done sales training in the past, but sometimes it’s been effective.” Sometimes it has a lasting effect, but in many cases, it doesn’t necessarily have a lasting effect, and so we wanted to better understand what’s really important to salespeople and what’s the business impact associated with sales training. We know that companies are investing more than ever in sales training. There was a stat by Training Industry showing that sales training now is estimated at a 2.5 billion dollar market globally, and it’s grown by one billion over the last seven years.

So, you’ve got these two, I’m going to call almost mixed signals coming out. Sales leaders who are saying, “Is there really a strong correlation between great sales training and business results?” And at the same time, you have this huge increase in spending, so obviously we think companies are pretty smart. They wouldn’t be spending more if it wasn’t impacting their business, but we wanted to really get the sales rep’s perspective and understand what is it that makes for a great training program and how does it actually impact business.  And we had some pretty interesting results, Matt.

Matt Heinz:  So, talk a little bit about that. We’ve talked a little bit about the things you saw in terms of the skills that separate the best in class companies from those that are a bit of laggards, so the employee satisfaction with different types of research. What’s some of the highlights of what you guys found?

Norman Behar:  I think one of the things that wasn’t surprising but that stood out is, really what are the most important skills, and I think we had them as part of the survey, ranked about nine skills. We had, I think, about 250 respondents, so we think we got a really good cross-section, different industries, different company sizes, predominantly B2B sales professionals. The three key skills were building relationships, so obviously sales people need to build rapport, identifying customer needs, great questioning skills, great active listening skills to really understand what customers need, and being able to present value and really differentiate what you’re representing and aligning it with the customer’s needs.

What was interesting for that is we hear a lot about potential changes in the sales profession, and you and I are both involved with sales professionals daily. We know that many things are changing. There’s more sales enablement technology than ever before. When we ask what skills are likely to be the most important skills 10 years from now, it was exactly these three skills that still came up at the top of the listing, which was, again, building relationships, identifying the customer needs, and presenting value.

So that was interesting in terms of companies that did a better job on skills training had three areas of the business that were impacted. One was the ramp-up time for new hires, win rates, and employee satisfaction. We got some really interesting data on each of those areas.

Matt Heinz:  Now, it’s interesting that you found that some of these skills really haven’t changed a lot. I find that really interesting, because there’s been so much talk about, “Well, we’re in Sales 2.0 time now, and the buyer has changed, and that means we’ve got to change the way we sell, and then what was Sales 2.0 is now being called by some conferences a Sales 3.0,” and it just continues to accelerate, but what you’re seeing is that there are some fundamentals to sales training and sales skills that really haven’t changed. I think that’s really interesting, and I’m curious as you see more complex sales organizations, whether they’re just large or whether they’re multi-location, whether you’ve got multi-generational sales teams, does that mix of skills change at all, or does that stay fairly constant?

Norman Behar:  I think the actual skills, and we’re a little biased. We’re a skills training company, but I think what the research shows is that the skills that a sales professional needs are really not changing. That’s the same whether they’re veteran salespeople, millennials. I do think that the way that we engage with customers has changed, so even though the skill may not have changed, the nature of how we engage, in other words, if we look at just the rate of growth of inside sales teams versus direct sales teams, it’s much faster for inbound teams.

If we look at the technology industry, and we look at the degree of specialization, we’ve got business development representatives. We have account executives. We have account managers. So, there’s probably a growing trend to less full-cycle salespeople that are actually going all the way from prospecting to closing, so I do think there are true changes that probably give rise to Sales 2.0, 3.0 in terms of sales enablement technologies, specialization, tools. Also the marketing tools, which you have a lot of expertise in those related to lead generation, but the actual skillsets, I think, are pretty much the same, although as you have more specialization, some skills will apply more to some positions than others.

For example, an account manager’s managing the accounts may only need some very light prospecting skills to navigate within those accounts. Someone who’s fully charged only with new business development may need a lot of prospecting skills. So, we are seeing subtle changes based on sales roles, but the actual foundational skills, particularly around identifying needs, presenting value, and managing objections, are very much the same.

Matt Heinz:  We’re talking on Sales Pipeline Radio today with Norman Behar, the Founder and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group, and, Norman, I want to take a quick step back and just talk about the prioritization of sales training with some organizations in general, because from what I’ve seen, and you see this all the time, but even from what I see often from the marketing perspective, there’s a fairly inconsistent and uneven application of sales training. Some organizations treat it as an ongoing core competency, something they have to do on an ongoing basis. Others, it’s something they may do during SKO, they may do every once in a while and don’t really make it a regular part of their practice. What do you guys see in the field today, and what is best practice for how sales training works in the market?

Norman Behar:  Well, I think one of the things we see is that the term sales training means different things to different companies, so there is a little bit of a definition. There’s onboarding of new hires, and that could even be a sales boot camp. A lot of those are now being run virtually. You don’t necessarily have to pull everyone together. But when you think about wrapping up a new sales team, it’s not just about training on sales skills, but you also want to review what’s the sales strategy, who are the target industries, what’s our key messaging, how do we generate and distribute leads, what’s our sales process. What kinds of sales tools and enablement technologist do we use?

So, there are many things that are just foundational that need to happen when people enter a new company or a new sales organization, really around sales readiness. And then there’s what I would call industry and product training, so if you’re introducing new products or new offerings, there’s training associated with those. A lot of that is done through product marketing, but even within product marketing, we’re seeing not just one of the features and benefits, but what problems do these products or solutions sell for customers. And then there’s the skills training piece. What we’re seeing in the best practice is that that should no longer be limited to events.

We still get calls.  In fact, this time of year, our phone is really flooded or better said, our inbox is flooded. Companies that are running either year-end events or kickoff events and want to bring in a sales training company. Like any other sales training company, we’re happy to do that, but we don’t think the event itself is effective. We really want to see ongoing training and reinforcement, so because of the technologies that are out there today, there’s a lot we can do to really set up a great training program with intake interviews, customization. We could also use blended learning so the training doesn’t look like you’re drinking from a fire hose just over a couple of days but really spread out and spaced out over a much longer period of time and then phenomenal ways to reinforce and coach that training. Lots of great coaching programs, coaching tools, using on-demand video, using virtual classrooms.

So, with today’s technologies, without having to have the expense of necessarily flying everyone in for an event with airfare and accommodations, there are many ways to space out and make the program ongoing. We think that works best. Another trend that we’re seeing and we really like is what we call small-group cohorts where there may be a cohort of eight to ten salespeople that are gathering weekly or every other week and discussing best practices. Usually, it’s a facilitated session, and this form of informal learning really allows for a lot of sharing of very practical real-world insights.

Matt Heinz:  Just a couple of more minutes before we got to take a break here with Norman Behar, the Managing Director and Founder of the Sales Readiness Group. Talk a little bit real quick before we got to go around the idea of you got training, and then you got reinforcement, and I think a lot of companies will do a training, whether it’s virtual training or online training or in-person training, and even if they’re doing it on a regular basis, they’ll try it on something, and they move on. How do you guys think about the combination, or maybe the integration of the training itself as well as the reinforcement of follow-up of that training. Is it all the same thing, or how do the best companies do that today?

Norman Behar:  Actually, it should be part of the same thing, but it is compartmentalized, so, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, you really want to set up the training for success by understanding the company’s culture, the business objectives. One of the questions I often ask is, let’s say you’re making a decision on a training program, and you’re looking at different companies, one of the things I would want to ask is what will the sales team do differently or better six months from now from what they’re doing today. What we really need to focus on is behavior change. And then you actually have the training, so we think about it as learn, apply, and adopt, and then the actual training, most of the focus is on learning and applying, so basically you’re going to learn some new concepts, you’re going to discuss the concepts, you’re going through the exercises, and then maybe apply them in the form of case studies.

We think about reinforcement, the learning is really toned down. We’re just reviewing a few of the key concepts, and then we’re really focusing on real-world application, so the reinforcement and the coaching that follows training should always be around real-world application, and ideally, because it becomes part of a process that you’re going through, that application on an ongoing basis leads to ongoing adoption. So, we think about the training as learn and apply, and we think about the reinforcement as apply and adopt.

Matt Heinz:  We have to take a quick break, pay some bills here. We’ll be back with more with Norman Behar, the Founder and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group. We’re going to talk a little bit about how you measure the impact and the ROI of sales training. Who orders and manages sales training of the organization, and much more. We’ll be right back on this episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Matt Heinz:  Well, thank you very much. Welcome back to Sales Pipeline Radio. If you like what you’re hearing today with our guest Norman Behar from Sales Readiness Group, you can find this episode on demand in just a couple of days at salespipelineradio.com, and make sure you join us next week and every week at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern for future episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio. We got some great guests coming up. We’ve got Elay Cohen. He’s the co-founder of Saleshood. He’s doing some great work in the sales enablement space. He’s written a new book that I’m really excited about around sales enablement and process improvement for sales organizations. He’s got a good platform his company produces in sales, and we’re going to talk about that. Lots of other great episodes coming up. Some great guests as we head quickly into the fall season, as we round out the end of Q3.

We do have a few more minutes here with Norman Behar, and, Norman, we were talking over the break about some of the impacts we’re seeing sales training have, and in particular, I want to go back and talk a little bit more about specific things that we’re seeing. I think it ties back to my question that I was going to ask around how you measure the impact of sales training, and you say specifically things like win rates and employee satisfaction stand out as real differentiators for companies that are investing in sales training. Can you talk a little more about that?

Norman Behar:  Yes. We go back to the study we just completed, and we think about those companies that necessarily had effective training programs, at least rated by their sales professionals as being effective versus less effective. The results were pretty striking. Obviously, this was based on correlation, but here’s what we learned. That the ramp-up time for new hires, on average when there was effective training, was 26 weeks, so roughly half a year to ramp up. Then when the training wasn’t effective, it took 31 weeks, so we think about five more weeks of sales rep productivity. If a salesperson has a million dollar annual quota, let’s say they’re only 50% ramped up as opposed to fully ramped up, that could be close to 45, 46 thousand dollars a week of lost revenue over those five weeks, so pretty significant implications at the single rep level, and obviously if you have a teams of reps that you’ve hired that are all ramping up together, you really want to accelerate that ramp-up time.

Other areas besides training that impact ramp-up time obviously are hiring the right people, making sure that you’re really doing a great job of managing performance and coaching and mentoring those new hires. Another we saw was win rate, so companies are often entering opportunities into their sales pipeline, whatever type of CRM tool they’re using, and when the companies had effective training, they had a 51% win rate on those opportunities. Ineffective training, those companies had a 41% win rate, so win rates are 24% better when you have more effective training. You think about that on a million dollar a year quota. That means you need 24% more opportunities in order to achieve your sales quota.

You think about the type of things that companies can do to improve win rates, it really comes down to skills coaching, the salespeople have the right skills, and another that’s often overlooked but really important, Matt, is opportunity coaching. Is the mentor actually working with them in a pipeline review and asking the right questions can only making sure they help the salesperson advance opportunities through the pipeline. We’ve been studying a lot of time, thinking about how does a manager work with a sales professional to advance opportunities through the pipeline.

Matt Heinz:  Some of those stats you just gave in terms of the gap that you’re seeing in the win rates and employee satisfaction. That’s some pretty good stuff. I think there are a lot of companies that maybe see a deeper investment in sales training is a nice to have, not a need to have. It seems like you just laid out the justification for that. Before we get too far into this, I want to make sure we let people know. Where can people get a copy of this research you guys just did?

Norman Behar:  I think the best way to go is to go to salesreadinessgroup.com and go to our website. Go to the resources section, and you’ll see a whole section on white papers and reports. We also did one that we released last year on the five hallmarks of high impact sales organizations and what those sales managers are doing differently and better. We have a great white paper on accelerating the sales hire ramp-up time, so what actually can companies do to accelerate ramp-up time. So, a lot of resources. I’d also encourage them to sign up for our blog. We blog often about a lot of topics that are interesting to sales professionals and sales leaders.

Again salesreadinessgrop.com, resources, and then go into white papers and reports, and you can download any of this information, and also if you’d like, subscribe to our blog.

Matt Heinz:  I would double down on that. I think there’s a lot of vendors that we see that have a lot of content that ends up being thinly-veiled sale pitches, and I think you guys stand out, to me at least, as far as the comprehensiveness and generosity of the content you give that really ends up driving more business your way, because people clearly see that you know what you’re talking about. I’m curious if you’ve seen over the years a difference in who’s ordering sales training. Who are some of your customers, and how should companies that maybe have underinvested in training, how should they structure themselves internally to have resources dedicated to at least helping to manage a training program, even if they’re bringing organizations like yours in with the subject matter, expertise and the content to execute it?

Norman Behar:  I think that what we really need to look at is sales leadership, and if we look at your VP, C-level suite around sales leadership, maybe chief sales officer, really more engagement. I think a lot of companies are delegating sales training to training and development professionals, and they really understand best practices related to approach, and when we talk to them, they understand why a sales training program has to have a beginning, a middle, and ongoing reinforcement, so before, during, and after. But when we start to engage with them about actual customer interaction and what is it that the salespeople are doing well and what needs to change, that’s where we really want to get engagement from the senior sales leaders and ideally the frontline managers.

The other area I would encourage is companies do have limited budgets, and if they’re going to focus on any one area, I would focus first on the frontline managers. I think that when salespeople work with a great frontline manager who’s a coach and can also work as an on-the-job trainer and provide a lot of experience and insights, those managers who are good leaders, good coaches, and good managers could have probably more impact than actually a formal training program. It also allows this training to cascade down through the organization. They have managers who are now basically evangelists for the training and helping improve that skillset.

So, I’d say more engagement at the senior sales leader level, more engagement by the frontline managers, and then really focus on skills training. Skills are the differentiator. People move from position to position, but those people could have great customer conversations, or those people ultimately will best understand their customer’s needs and close the most business.

Matt Heinz:  You guys focus a lot of sales management training, but I’m curious to hear your perspectives. I hear the words sales manager and sales coach used synonymously, as if they’re the same thing. How do you think about the differentiation between someone that is a sales manager and a sales coach. And how do some sales leaders effectively in both

Norman Behar:  So, generally, we think of the sales manager as a frontline manager, let’s say a regional manager or district manager or even an inside sales manager that has a team of salespeople. And those managers have a number of responsibilities. It’s their job to build a team, so typically they’re, if not involved in recruiting, minimally they’re involved in interviewing. They need to be able to manage sale performance, to set sales goals, set sales activity goals, monitor performance. They need to be able to manage their team. They need to be able to lead their team, and they need to be able to coach their team, so we think about self-management, I like to think of hire, manage, coach, and lead, and I would say of those four skills, coaching is probably the most important one, so sales coaching is really one of the four primary management responsibilities, the others again being hiring, managing performance, and leading.

Matt Heinz:  I like that answer. I think for those of you who are listening live as well as those that maybe are listening to this on demand over the next couple of weeks after we record this, definitely check out, if you go to the salesreadinessgroup.com and scroll to the bottom of the page, amongst all that great content, there is a live webinar coming up on August 30th, titled Transforming Sales Managers into World-Class Coaches, so I’d encourage you to check that out. Knowing Norman and his team, I’m sure that will be available on demand on the site afterward as well, but make sure you take advantage of that.

Norman, as we wrap up here with a couple of more minutes of time, you’ve spent an awful lot of time leading sales organizations, training, I don’t know, countless sales managers, salespeople, sales professionals. Who are some of the people that have most influenced you in your career? They can be professors. They can be authors. They can be alive or dead. But are there a couple of people that stand out that have been particularly influential to you that you might recommend other people check out as well?

Norman Behar:  So, actually, I think you know this, but I’m a sports addict, and one of the people that I think is really phenomenal in terms of getting the most out of their players is a great all-time basketball coach called Phil Jackson, and what I think is interesting about Phil Jackson is I think he played, don’t hold me to a number, but I think around 13 NBA seasons. Matt, how many times do you think he made the all-star team?

Matt Heinz:  The way you said that, I’m guessing zero.

Norman Behar:  Zero. But, how about in terms of winning record, I think he might have one of the highest winning percentages of all time, and I think his teams won more championships than any other team, so I look at that, and I say, “What we really need to do, is it’s really all about empowering other people.” The other thing I look at is great leaders generally, and the great leaders are not necessarily these wonderful charismatic people who make all these great claims. It’s okay if they can back up the claims, but quite often it’s people who are leading through example, and if I ever think about sales managers, the ones that have earned my most respect are the people who are really in there with the sales team, leading by example, coaching, and asking questions and the people who are probably doing the worst job are the people who are telling people how they used to do it. It’s ineffective, and it does have a lasting impact.

Matt Heinz:  Love it. Well, again, lots of great insights today. We’ve covered a lot of ground. We want to thank our guest again, Norman Behar. He’s the Founder and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group. Definitely check out their website for not only a copy of the new research report from a salesperson’s perspective on the impact of sales training, but all the great other content, webinars, upcoming classes. They’ve got, lots of great stuff.

Again, if you’d like to get a replay of this episode, you can find it in a couple of days on salespipelineradio.com. We’ll have it up there with some of the notes from this session as well. We will have a transcripted, highlighted version of this conversation up on our blog at heinzmarketing.com, and make sure you join us next week and ever week for future episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio from my great producer, Paul. This is Matt Heinz. Thanks again for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

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