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The world of sales is moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. And, with the average 18-month turnover of sales leaders, it is more important than ever to know what levers to pull to improve effectiveness. Should you focus on AI, technology, enablement or something else? These are issues that high-performing distribution leaders consider and act on. Here are four trends to monitor that have the potential to improve your success in 2019.
1) Smart Hiring
The typical churn year over year in a sales organization is 25%. If you had the data on what that revolving door is costing your company, you’d likely feel a bit sick. Not to mention this type of consistent churn slows the productivity of your entire organization. There are two important improvements that can improve retention.
First, consider better hiring choices. Bad hires are the No. 1 reason sales organizations fail. It’s not your bad sales process. It’s not that your training stinks. And, it’s certainly not that your pricing is too high. The problem is that you have the wrong people, or you have the right people in the wrong roles. Take your lead from high performing sales organizations:
- Have a clear role definition. Helping a seller understand his role on a team allows him to make contributions in a prioritized and focused way and have clarity about how to help your company accomplish its mission. Clarity regarding role, expectations and decision authority levels enable inside sales, outside sales, account management and enablement to work more collaboratively and communicate much more effectively.
- Use a sales-specific assessment tool to vet candidates based on role definition. Test for sales competencies and behavioral attributes, not personality. If you can identify the attributes of your high performers and can customize the assessment to look for this, even better.
- Don’t let HR take the lead on hiring for sales — engage sales leaders. Consider developing a clear process for how you interview and train managers in effective interview tactics, including role play. Sales leaders are the right person for this role, but assuming they naturally have the skills to execute an effective hiring experience without training will lead you to legal trouble, empty roles and poor hires.
Second, have a formal sales onboarding process. Seventy-eight percent of high-performing organizations spend up to six months onboarding sellers. They allow sellers to execute sales activities at defined intervals, rather than waiting until they complete onboarding. This fosters learning in a supportive coaching environment where sellers get feedback as they execute early-stage pipeline building and discovery skills. This also keeps you from putting reps with no practical application in the field with your clients. An optimized sale onboarding program can increase sales readiness and reduce ramp time by 20%-50%.
2) Embrace Sales Enablement
Sales enablement is the fastest-growing discipline in sales. When done well, it removes the roadblocks that hinder your sellers and increases your sales velocity. Today, fewer than 50% of sellers hit quota. However, on teams with good sales enablement strategies, 84% of reps hit quota, marketing and sales company Aberdeen found. Effective sales enablement includes:
- Onboarding: Delivered over six months, executing activities at defined intervals with coaching and practical application of learning
- Sales training: Content, process, cadence, technology and training events
- Content: Planning, mapping, management, analysis
- Sales Communication: Two-way communication with the field
- Customer Engagement: Tools, processes, technology and analysis
- Sales Efficiency: Process, tools, training, technology and performance analysis related to the above
If you don’t yet have this function in your organization, you can begin by:
- Building cooperation between sales, marketing and ops;
- Defining your onboarding and training processes;
- Ensuring your marketing assets support the buyer’s journey and are easily accessible;
- Ensuring your playbook and sales process are well-defined;
- Providing your sellers basic tools to aid in productivity.
3) Enable Your Sellers to Have Interactive Client Discussions
Buyers no longer rely on sellers to educate them. In fact, they are much of the way through the buying journey before the first engagement with your rep. Don’t let your sellers build ‘decks’ and put your prospects through linear presentations that are all about you.
Today’s buyer is hoping you’ll bring something to the table that they don’t already know: insight about the industry, data insights or analytics. Seventy-four percent of the time, B2B buyers purchase from the first sellers to create a clear path to value. Research from Corporate Visions and others show that the seller who can effectively articulate the messages around, Why Change? Why Us? Why Now? — and can contrast between the client’s desired future state and their current situation — realized a 15% lift in desire to purchase, a 13% lift in seeing your product as innovative and a 14% lift in a willingness to switch providers.
Forrester’s research also validates the importance of training and equipping your sellers to have interactive, client-focused conversations. Clients are more likely to purchase from you when:
- “We engage in a factual discussion of my company’s/division’s business performance and how the product/service could measurably impact that performance” – 75% more likely to purchase.
- “Sales rep can quickly pivot the meeting discussion to focus on what I want to talk about and will use relevant and engaging supporting content to support the new direction” – 74% more likely to purchase.
- The customer enjoys the sales experience – 73% more likely to purchase.
To enable your sellers to have client-focused, adaptive conversations:
- Provide sellers with the right client-focused, insight-focused content;
- Enable your sellers with tools that add value and create contrast between your solution and the status quo. Examples are calculators, assessments, ROI calculators and other comparison tools;
- Train your sellers to have interactive, collaborative discussions rather than pitches.
4) Adjust for Millennial Sellers
Millennials are the first generation of digital natives and we must consider how that changes the way we onboard, train and coach. If you are operating under a bias that the millennial generation is entitled, high-maintenance and should ‘get on the bus,’ remembering that soon most of your customers will also be millennials might get you moving in the right direction.
Thank your millennial sellers for the fact that the ways they are forcing us to change onboarding and development are improving learning for everyone. A few examples:
- Onboarding and learning in cohorts foster collaboration and learning communities where sellers can coach each other and hold each other accountable to outcomes.
- Micro-learning and gamified learning allow for more skill retention.
- Technology-enabled onboarding and learning can be adaptive and personalized to the specific development needs of the seller.
- Role play with feedback and coaching from managers is considered 33% more important to millennial sellers.
These strategies don’t just improve your millennial learning and engagement, they also are more effective for all generations compared to legacy classroom-based approaches.
Do, however, consider development gaps that may be larger for millennials than for other generations in your salesforce. Social intelligence competencies – particularly, situational awareness, emotional intelligence, empathy and conflict management — have been shown to be larger skill gaps for millennials than for previous generations.
Set clear expectations and find ways to show progress. Many leaders complain that millennials want to be promoted too far too soon, when what they really want is to see that they are making progress. Inside sales is an example. Organizations are struggling to reduce turnover in inside sales because sellers see it as a stepping stone to outside sales. Creating certificates, tiers or career pathing in inside sales that show skill development and career progression may prevent such high turnover rates.
By embracing these trends, you’re likely to see an improvement in retention, time to ramp, sales effectiveness, close ratio and millennial engagement.
Jane Gentry, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the Principal of JaneGentry & Company.