Align content and technology with organizational initiatives
Today’s digital world has dramatically and forever changed the selling environment. Business buyers now have answers, opinions, and research at their fingertips, thanks to advances in online and mobile technologies. As a result, salespeople are invited late to the sales opportunity, after major decisions have been made. Within sales organizations, the pace of business continues to accelerate; and while technology helps improve efficiencies, gains can be offset by greater demands for productivity.
The question then – for salespeople and their leaders – is this:
How can we not only keep up but stay ahead in this digitally based, information rich, and highly competitive sales landscape?
The answer has two elements: content and technology.
The Foundations of Customer Driven Selling
The content component is rooted in foundational sales skills that are as relevant today as in decades past. To be successful, salespeople must be able to understand the customer’s needs, priorities, and perspective, moving efficiently through the sales process to close profitable business. The competencies necessary to conduct a consultative sales dialogue are what we at Richardson call the Six Critical Skills: presence, relating, questioning, listening, positioning, and checking.
The technology component continues to evolve, encompassing platforms, dashboards, systems, and devices. In the 1990s, customer relationship management (CRM) systems were touted as the way to gain clear visibility into the sales process and retrieve actionable data, but it was more promise than reality. Today, CRMs easily transform data into intelligence, allowing sales organization to quickly understand what is happening at all points along the sales process.
Bringing content and technology together in an optimal way allows Learning and Development (L&D) to align competency training and reinforcement with organizational initiatives to improve performance. Sounds simple enough, but is this happening? Are organizations truly helping their salespeople succeed? Are they aligning sales competency strategies in L&D for a 21st-century selling environment?
Aligning sales competencies in L&D
Training Industry Inc. and Richardson conducted a study in the fourth quarter of 2016, with 228 companies participating from a range of industries. Responses to the confidential survey touched on the relative importance of various sales competencies, effectiveness at developing these competencies, and commonly experienced challenges to successful alignment between L&D and the learning needs of salespeople.
One question ranked various sales skills and revealed the importance of keeping knowledge current and making informed use of metrics. The following skills received ratings of over 60 percent for being either extremely or very important:
• Integrating new or updated offerings
• Managing internal resources
• Interpreting sales metrics
• Forecasting and pipeline management
• Securing executive support on opportunities
Additionally, these technology-based skills received ratings of over 50 percent for being extremely or very important:
• General IT skills for software/CRM
• IT skills for social media
These results indicate the value placed on real-time information (content) throughout the sales process and the technology that enables salespeople to access and act on it.
Building on these results is the experience we at Richardson have in working with customers. Sales organizations that fully integrate their sales process into the CRM see gains in adoption levels and usage of both the CRM and the sales process itself. The CRM becomes a platform for coaching conversations between managers and their salespeople, because the activities for each sales process stage are defined and sequenced, allowing the outcomes to be verified and discussed. Sales managers can access high-impact coaching questions in the CRM and then use it to capture the results of coaching sessions, noting commitments made by each individual.
The CRM also informs managers where their salespeople may be falling short and in need of training. CRM reports can identify opportunities in the pipeline that are moving along and those that are stalling. A quick analysis can show the stage, and even the specific skill, where improvement is needed. Sales leaders can then communicate specific training needs to L&D, and L&D can develop strategies and content that aligns with organizational initiatives and helps salespeople move deals forward.
There is no denying the selling profession has gotten considerably more complicated than the days when deals were sealed on a handshake. The challenges are numerous, but not insurmountable. As survey responses from 228 companies make perfectly clear: for salespeople to succeed, they must possess the competencies necessary to meet customers on today’s new and constantly changing playing field. It takes both content and technology to learn new skills and engage customers throughout the sales process. And it takes an L&D organization that can align the necessary sales competencies and technologies into their training strategies.
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Download the full report, “Aligning Sales Competencies in Learning and Development,” from the Richardson website.