Mike Esterday

Key steps every organization ought to take to develop a winning sales team that is resilient, customer-focused and with the skills and mindset to succeed.

With sales teams hard at work closing the books on 2017, sales leaders are looking ahead at what to expect in the coming year. Priority number one: Getting their people prepared and equipped to make 2018 a winning year.

With ongoing uncertainty and change a given in today’s world, there’s not much you can do to control the external environment. But there are some key steps every organization ought to be taking internally to develop a resilient, customer-focused team with the skills and mindset needed to drive success in 2018.

Here are three of the top factors we’re looking at as critical focus areas for sales training, leadership and coaching in the new year:

  1. Conversation skills are lacking—and more important than ever: New technologies and increases in digital communication—especially through mobile device usage—have brought greater efficiencies to business. But this has also had an unintended consequence: We’re hearing from more and more clients that that their salespeople don’t have the necessary skills or confidence to manage an effective verbal conversation with customers and prospects. And these are fundamental skills they’re talking about, like questioning, listening, eye contact, reflecting back what they’ve heard and linking the solution to what the client has said they need.

Then there’s the often-misguided assumption that prospects already “know it all” from their own online research and are allegedly 75% or so through their sales process. It all adds up to a gradual erosion in and lack of focus on these critical conversation skills.

But whether you’re successful in sales or not is based almost entirely on the quality and quantity of your conversations with clients. Social selling, “big data” and sales technology will all be part of the sales toolkit in 2018, but they don’t erase the need for this essential selling competency.

As you look at this issue in the context of your sales training plans for 2018, consider the following: Do salespeople know how to have an organized sales conversation that influences the decision? Are they really learning how to actively listen? Are they able to build rapport and credibility, articulate value, and link back to what the client has revealed about their needs?

With more people relying on video (Zoom, Facebook Live, etc.), it doesn’t matter if you’re working from your home office, laptop or mobile device; you have to be able to have real, live conversations. If anything, the ability to professionally manage a sales conversation with confidence and skill will become a key differentiator.

Companies are already taking steps to reverse the worrying decline in fundamental conversation skills by making a competitive investment in the development of their front-line people. This trend will increase in the coming year.

  1. Learning is a social activity: Technology has also played an increasingly significant role in learning and training over the past several years. But for all of technology’s benefits, there is still a core, fundamental desire for the kind of social learning that can only happen with live, human-to-human interaction.

While technology is an excellent tool for maximizing time in the classroom and reinforcing what people learn there, it doesn’t replace it—and for a very simple, primal reason: Humans are social beings. We not only crave in-person interactions, we retain much more from those than we do from taking online quizzes, clicking through screens and watching on-demand video clips.

If you need to familiarize people with concepts before they dive into the learning, or if you need to remind them of key learning points and give them some examples to apply what they’ve learned, then by all means, take advantage of these emerging technology options. But for core learning and “real play” vs. role play opportunities, you need that time in the classroom.

  1. It’s time to get real about coaching: We’re predicting 2018 will be the year that many companies will finally stop paying lip service to the importance of coaching and get down to truly making it happen in a system-wide way.

Senior leaders are rejecting this notion that “we don’t have time to coach” and peeling back the layers of why it’s not happening. They’re telling us that the number one reason their managers don’t coach is that they lack the skills and capability (often disguised as “lack of time”). Other contributing factors: They don’t prioritize it, they don’t embrace it and they don’t have the confidence to do it effectively.

There’s no question, however, that effective coaching is a requirement, not just a “nice to do,” when it comes to sales success. Developing sales managers who have the motivation, confidence and skills to productively coach each person on their teams is the number one thing you can do to drive 2018 sales growth.

As you wrap up 2017, make sure your team has the clarity, skills, support and confidence to make the coming year a winner—for your organization, your salespeople and your customers. Here’s a great primer to help guide your strategy in 2018, including a 5-step action plan for turbo-charging your sales training approach.

From all of us at Integrity Solutions, thank you for the opportunity to partner with you soon. We’re wishing you and your team a happy, successful and rewarding year ahead.

About the Author
Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Mike Esterday first discovered his talent for sales when he ranked number one out of 6,000 sales professionals in his...
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