U.S. companies spend billions annually on sales training, and billions more is spent globally. The U.S. average per-year, per-head spent to train sales people is $2,326. Reacting to an increasingly complex selling environment is a growth-stalling proposition for many sales orgs. They need badly to do something different. They turn to sales training, hoping to help their sellers stand out and engage customers earlier and more effectively.
While sales training itself can be highly effective, sales training by itself may not produce the commercial results sales leaders hope for. Companies that are serious about real, sustainable growth in a complex and unpredictable environment should look beyond just training and focus instead on broad commercial transformation.
In Challenger’s history of commercial effectiveness work, with more than 600 companies, we’ve found that skill training is just one of six critical pillars of successful commercial transformation. The companies that get transformation right and see consistent, sustainable growth, plan and execute around all of these six pillars. Let’s briefly explore each of them.
The Six Pillars of Commercial Transformation
1. Leadership Alignment
- What to do: Functional leaders must get on the same page to communicate, motivate and reinforce the plan (and need) for change.
- Why it’s necessary: Make no mistake, training an entire sales force on a new process or methodology is a change management initiative. And for any change management initiative to succeed, the first critical step is to ensure all leaders are bought-in and committed to communicating a cohesive vision to teams across the broader organization.
2. Message Deployment
- What to do: Centralize the commercial messaging strategy to ensure resonance and consistency.
- Why it’s necessary: Cohesive commercial messaging disseminated through all customer-facing sales and marketing channels is critical to set sellers up for success when they are one-on-one with customers. A centralized messaging strategy helps organizations avoid the unnecessary burden placed on sellers and managers when developing insight-led content on their own. Central support ensures greater quality and frees up more time for selling.
3. Skill Development
- What to do: Focus training on skills proven to work in increasingly complex selling environments.
- Why it’s necessary: This, of course, is what most companies prioritize and plan for. But not all skill development initiatives are created equal. Sales leaders must ask themselves two critical questions: 1) Are we training on skills, behaviors and activities that are proven to affect performance? and 2) Have we done enough around the training event to make the learning stick? The best upskilling initiatives take a blended approach (mixing mediums and types of activities) and offer plenty of upfront awareness building, and back end opportunity for application to real-world scenarios.
4. Process Improvement
- What to do: Establish a customer buying journey-aligned sales process for teams to practice and apply, and managers to coach and reinforce.
- Why it’s necessary: Best practice process is for sellers to guide and react effectively to a customer buying journey. Forcing sellers to follow an arbitrary “sales” process can limit their creativity and flexibility. With that said, good process is helpful to achieve key milestones with the customer. For example, good process can improve prospecting efficiency; good process is helpful when conducting discovery meetings, or when managing mid-funnel activity or existing account opportunities. The organization must ensure that sellers have the tools and playbooks to practice applying skills, strategy and process to real-world scenarios on a daily basis.
5. People Management
- What to do: Build a competency model based on the behaviors high-performing sellers naturally exhibit, and use it to guide talent acquisition, onboarding and promotion criteria.
- Why it’s necessary: Sales teams turn over; it’s inevitable. The people management function must be capable of attracting and acquiring high potential talent and ramping that talent to productivity and ultimately high performance as efficiently as possible. Further down the road, also consider whether top sellers with management aspirations are empowered to make the difficult jump from individual contributor to front-line manager.
6. Success Measurement
- What to do: Continuously track activities, measure outcomes, and publicize success to sustain momentum and identify emerging priorities.
- Why it’s necessary: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Whether talking about behaviors or outcomes, it’s important to identify and address gaps as soon as possible. A commercial transformation requires tracking and measuring both leading indicators of success (typically behavioral) and lagging indicators of success (typically financial outcomes). Sales leaders won’t see commercial transformation outcomes immediately, but likely quarters down the road. Positive outcomes include movement in conversion rate, cycle time, and average deal size. But the degree of this movement depends on earlier movements in daily selling behavior such as pre-call planning, manager coaching, insight creation and delivery, etc. If you don’t measure and monitor the behaviors, you only hope for and don’t influence the outcomes.
Investing in sales training (whether it’s a single classroom or a million-dollar event) is a good idea, but without the accompanying focus on leadership alignment, message development, process improvement, etc., the “rah rah” motivation it inspires will quickly fizzle and your event will be remembered more for its cost than its benefit.
Ultimately, a foundation for sustainable, profitable growth is broader commercial transformation. The Six Pillars listed above are designed to support that effort. Companies that use these pillars as their guiding light are those seeing the greatest return on their commercial effectiveness efforts, including their investments in seller training.