Who Owns Behavior Change In The Sales Force? – A Key Question For SE Pros From ASTD’s 2011 International Conference


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This week, I presented a session on “How to Drive Sales Coaching Results” at the International Conference for the American Society for Training and Development. While ASTD doesn’t publish the actual number of attendees, my guess is there between 7,000 to 9,000 people in attendance. Session topics run the gamut with topics related to change management, performance management, instructional design, talent management, e-learning, performance improvement, and of course, sales training.

It was interesting to attend the conference this year and experience it as someone who spends a lot of time thinking through human performance, HR, training, learning, and coaching with Forrester’s definition of “sales enablement” in mind. At Forrester, we define sales enablement as “a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.” With this top-down view in mind I participated in a panel discussion on the future of sales training, delivered a session on driving sales coaching results, and also chaired the day-long ASTD Sales Training Committee meeting to help chart ASTDs course for the next few years in the sales training and development space.

I asked a series of questions to a room of 200 attendees. Here’s what I asked:

  1. If organizations are changing their go-to-market strategy, do sales managers and leaders need to help the sales team transform? The answer… a resounding “yes
  2. If sales managers and leaders need to transform, do sales reps and managers need to change their behavior? The answer… a resounding “yes
  3. If sales reps and managers need to change their behavior, “who owns the behavior change in the sales force?” The answer…Half the room believed the learning/training function should own behavior change, and the other half of the room believed sales managers and sales leaders own behavior change in the sales force.

Interesting. What would happen in your organization if one person believes they are responsible (for anything) and the other person believes they are responsible (for that thing?). I would venture to guess that results would be less than optimal.

In the ensuing discussion that followed, here were some comments:

  • Sales leaders and managers are responsible for driving sales performance and setting sales strategy. To accomplish that, they need to resource and retool the sales force to achieve those goals. That means sales managers and leaders are definitely responsible for equipping the sales team to be successful.
  • Sales training and development leaders are responsible for making sure salespeople have the right skills. Because of that, sales training and development leaders must drive business value and not drive activity. When it comes to defining and improving skills, it’s assumed by most sales leaders that the skills imparted by the training and development teams are helping drive the performance that sales leaders want.
  • Sales training and development leaders have multiple stakeholders in their success, from HR, the content providers like product teams, sales operations, and sales management. To serve their customers (the sales leadership team) successfully, they must be clear on the role that they play (as sales training and development professionals) in order to be successful.

What do you think?

  1. Who owns behavior change in the sales force? Sales leaders/managers or training/learning professionals? Someone else?
  2. More importantly, if behavior change needs to be driven from the top-down because it’s of strategic importance to CEOs who want to change how they go to market, bring new capabilities to market, drive efficiency/cut costs, or retool the sales force, how does this impact those who view behavior change as a sales enablement challenge?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Brian Lambert
Brian is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Technology Sales Enablement Professionals. He covers the strategy, processes, and execution associated with helping sales team members achieve their desired business outcomes through more effective collaboration and behavior change. Brian researches key challenges associated with sales enablement, including helping sales team member's effectively model customer needs and map solution capabilities to those needs within each sales conversation.


  1. Just checking . . . Because if we aren’t, your question is an excellent one. Organizations and managers are responsible for results and outcomes. Individual behavioral change is fully within the domain of the individual. Asking ‘who owns it’ seems a little big-brotherish to me. Hopefully, you omitted the choice, salespeople themselves, by accident.

    Companies can facilitate learning and knowledge transfer. They can inhibit it and stifle it, as well. Behavior change is ultimately up to the individual.

  2. Andrew, i can’t agree more wih you. Companies can raise awareness of the Change needed with the sales force, ultimately It is the individual sales person who needs TO make the Change happen, managers van coach, but not make the Change happen…AS À wise man once Said: we can bring sales People TO À training session or Bootcamp, but we can’t make them Change (Don, thanks for that one)

  3. The answer must be several people each with a different role. The ‘Senior’ managers must set the strategy and they may be even operationalise the strategy depending on size, as an example:

    Problem: Sales are down as the current customers are spending less due to weak consumer demand.
    Strategy: To increase revenues via signing up new customers from key segments
    Key Metrics: How many leads in funnel, How many visits to prospects v customer, and the conversion rate(Often this level is led by Sales Effectiveness where they exist)
    Operations: The next stage is at the sales manager level to drive through the change to ensure each individual seller now operates to the new process and achieves the key metrics.

    All levels need visibility to the data in near real time to ensure the strategy is delivered, and it is often at the visibility level that these behavioral changes fail as no one can see what is actually happening as opposed to the plan. It is absolutely the role of the Senior managers to ensure the tools are in place to measure the progress against the key metrics.

    In summary you can not pin this on one role or person, each needs to understand their roles and inputs and deliver against them.


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