A sales organization is, outside of executives, the most expensive resource at a company. Why do organizations think that by just hiring someone with the title 'salesperson' it automatically means they will be able to sell the solution? Why wouldn’t time and resources be invested in training them on how to be effective in their role?
The interesting, and somewhat disturbing reality is even today a large percentage of organizations do not invest in serious enablement curriculum for their sales reps. Companies think enablement is learn the product by studying the available collateral and call through a database of potential leads until you reach one that is interested.
It makes about as much sense as a dog reading Atlas Shrugged. Not to say that a dog can’t read about a dystopian society that struggles with the morality of self-interest; it just doesn’t make much sense that it would. Dogs generally don’t struggle with self-interest, particularly when tennis balls are lying about. Self-interest is typically a cat’s purr-view.
The problem with sales quotas
To make matters worse, two thirds of all salespeople miss their quotas. Now, in my experience, it’s not uncommon for sales targets to be so unrealistically set that there is no chance for more than a couple of sales folks to hit them anyway. It’s a hamster wheel scenario created by today’s capitalist market: companies and their board members are constantly pushing their salesforces to sell more, sell faster and set targets higher each quarter to bring in more revenue, often unsuccessfully.
The result is that, on average, only a third of salespeople hit their number. In any other role in an organization that level of performance would be unacceptable! Can you imagine only 30% of a company’s engineers meeting specification on a project? It would result in a lot of partially built cars, collapsing bridges and software that doesn’t do anything.
The key difference is that engineers are trained in university on how to do their job effectively and safely. There aren’t any university programs out there on how to be a successful salesperson. No one graduates from university with a degree in sales(wo)manship. I certainly didn’t get my engineering degree and say, “Whoohoo, I’m going to be a salesperson now!” Like many people, I fell into sales as a result of the right combination of sparkling personality and needing a job.
Which means it’s up to organizations to train their salespeople on how to sell their solution effectively and competitively, in order to give them the best chance possible to achieve the targets set for them. And it needs to be done in a way that is easy for salespeople to absorb quickly, because, to use the adage, time is money.
Job shadowing isn't enough
Who should be responsible for training a salesforce? Human resources gets a new employee settled in their new job; but those folks aren’t salespeople. Marketing creates the brand messaging and all the pretty collateral out for people to browse and consume; but those folks aren’t salespeople. When you take a university course in calculus, you expect the professor to be a mathematician. When you take a job as a salesperson responsible for a substantial quota, you should expect to gain the knowledge you need from someone who understands what success in the role looks like.
And a lot of companies do just that: They have new salespeople shadow current salespeople to understand what makes them successful. Job shadowing can be highly effective in providing context for the new hire.
What isn’t effective is if job shadowing is the only thing a company provides new salespeople to get them up to speed. What works for one salesperson will not always work for all; and the person being shadowed may not necessarily know why something is successful. The new salesperson could pick up bad habits by strictly copying what the experienced salesperson does, which results in a salesperson clone. And if movies have taught us anything, it’s that clones are bad.
If sales employees are left to fend for themselves, how can an organization be certain they are getting the most out of them in their role? If you are in a company that sells a product to a customer, there is a lot of opportunity for acquisition, growth and expansion, but quite often organizations are not structured in ways that empower their sellers to seize these opportunities.
The screaming sales rep
From a new salesperson’s perspective, when you are put into a situation where there are no training materials, no guidelines and only a few people have the knowledge you potentially need to be successful, you have a few options:
- Run away screaming.
- Sit around twiddling your thumbs until someone explains what you are supposed to be doing so you can do it.
- Complain that this wasn’t what you were expecting and that you’re better than the situation.
- Ask around to see what you should be doing, then try and copy those around you so you blend in and no one notices that you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Say “screw it” and do what you believe is the right thing to do, while learning from those around you to validate if you’re on the right track and adjust accordingly.
Salespeople aren’t given the luxury of testing these options because they are given a very short period to get on board (typically 2-3 months) and a very large quota to hit at the end of that ramp. Your good salespeople will flutter between options 2 and 4; based on their luck, they may be marginally successful.
Your great salespeople will go all in on option 5 and will either be reasonably successful, or they’ll get frustrated and leave. The problem is most salespeople aren’t 'great'. There are a lot of 'good' salespeople out there, and if you don’t give them every opportunity to be successful, they’ll execute option 1.
This means organizations need to set an adjustable program in place that will not only train the salesperson on what they need to be successful, but when they need it and who they can look to for guidance on whether they’re on the right track. This is the essence of sales enablement.
Sales enablement is the process of arming an organization’s sales force with access to the insight, tools and information they need that will ultimately increase revenue.
Now there are a couple of assumptions I’m making in my case for sales enablement:
- You have a product/solution/service to sell.
- You have someone/a team in your organization that is responsible for selling said product/solution/service.
Even if you have an established sales training program, market conditions can change rapidly. Your program needs to adapt to those changes, or you’ll get caught with an ineffective sales force. It’s not just about training sellers… it’s about enabling them.