Sustaining sales skills requires structure. As leaders get a more informed sense of what works and what doesn’t, they can change their sustainment framework, as needed.
Here, we look at the five key steps, in sequential order, that we believe form a sound sustainment strategy.
Set Clear Expectations
Sales professionals need to know that sustainment is a priority for the leadership. These expectations should be expressed in clear, actionable language containing no ambiguity.
Organizational leaders should underscore the urgency of the expectations by expressing them in the right medium. They should avoid easily dismissed messaging like emails or a short memo.
Just as sales professionals are expected to sustain skills, leaders should be expected to sustain communication by reinforcing expectations consistently.
Connect Skills to Challenges
Skill training often unfolds in the controlled environment of a classroom. Scenarios are clearly defined, and outcomes are hypothetical.
Converting learned selling skills to the real world is more challenging. Leaders need to help sales professionals bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world by encouraging skill adoption when it’s still fresh.
When sales professionals see the effectiveness of the skills in real selling situations, they’re more likely to continue using them. Skill effectiveness gives sales professionals agency, and agency underpins sustainment.
To connect skills to real selling challenges, leaders should encourage sales professionals to “post-game” each sale, whether successful or not, and reflect on lessons learned.
Change takes time, and most of us are impatient. If people don’t feel like they are making progress with the new behaviors, they are much more likely to return to their pre-training behaviors.
It is important to break up behavior change into incremental steps so that people feel that they are making progress.
Many sales professionals have habits that are counter to the new skills. Leaders can help them overcome this problem by using the old habits as a trigger for the new ones.
Hold people accountable for their behavior change. Doing so helps people to take personal ownership of change management.
Without accountability, sustainment can feel like a “top-down” approach in which sales professionals take directives from leaders. This approach puts distance between the sales professional and the outcomes of their work.
Sustainment requires sales professionals to see the connection between their efforts and results.
Create this setting by communicating that each person is responsible for sustained skill adoption. At the same time, remind employees that the leaders represent a support structure and resource.
Finally, accountability requires measurement. Both leaders and employees appreciate the clarity that comes from well-defined metrics.
Create a Culture of Sustainment
Behavior changes must be “real” and not a “flavor of the month.” If people go through training but their work environment has not noticeably changed to support the new behaviors, people will think that the new behaviors are optional or, worse, that management is not serious about change.
On the other hand, if people go through training and return to a work environment that is significantly different and better aligned to support the new behaviors, people will see that management is serious about this change.
Competitive advantages are fleeting. Advancements in technology have brought affordable, effective capabilities to nearly all businesses. This phenomenon has led to a continued pursuit of the next big advantage. As a result, businesses are churning through “advantages” at an accelerating rate.
Constantly switching strategies is expensive, risky, and labor intensive. The better solution is to focus on employees and their abilities to sustain skills because a strong workforce is competitive in any economic setting. For more information on creating a sustainment strategy that will build a competitive advantage for your sales team download, Richardson Sales Training’s white paper: Redefining Skill Sustainment here.