Unlocking a lock

Simply knowing how to sell doesn’t in and of itself create sales winners. For sales training to help all salespeople grow, we have to search for deeper reasons—the real reasons why people sell or fail to sell.

How comfortable are you taking your current salespeople—with the level of performance and skills they have right now—into an increasingly competitive marketplace?

The business environment isn’t getting any easier to navigate. If anything, the challenges are getting more complex, and new disruptors and competitors are lurking at every turn.

Now consider this hard dose of reality: If your salesforce is somewhat typical, 20% are high performers.

Is that enough to get you where you want to go?

Salespeople and Selling: A Reality Check

In most organizations, we see:

  • 20% of all salespeople reach high sales levels
  • 60% sell at different degrees of acceptable performance
  • 20% produce unacceptable sales volumes

If 80% aren’t selling at their full potential, it’s clearly costing your organization. You’re losing out on sales revenue, of course, but also think about the other costs: engagement, morale, turnover, manager productivity and focus, market position and possibly long-term organizational viability. That’s why developing, retaining and coaching highly successful salespeople is so critical to overall company strategy and productivity.

Nearly every organization offers sales training in some form. So why are only 20% of salespeople delivering top-level performance?

The Problem With Sales Training

Every organization has them. They’re loyal, honest, conscientious, good salespeople. They know your products or services as well as anyone. They’ve read all the product literature and books on selling and can answer most customer questions that come up.

They know your CRM processes, faithfully attend all of your sales meetings and diligently learn everything you attempt to teach them. They should all be successful, right? But only a fraction are… So the knee-jerk becomes bringing them together for a couple days and just teaching them more about products, basic “blocking and tackling” sales skills and activity–management processes. The problem is the ‘training event’ ends, they disperse back to their territories, default back to what they were doing before and don’t produce any better than they had been. Their days are filled with plans they don’t keep, reluctance to call or avoidance of contact.

Simply knowing how to sell doesn’t in and of itself create sales winners. Knowing doesn’t translate into doing… In fact, most sales leaders acknowledge that other factors matter much more to the long-term success of their sales teams. Yet, their training curriculum doesn’t align with those factors.

People may know what they know they need to do. But instead, (consciously or subconsciously) they usually do what they feel most comfortable doing and what they believe is possible for them to achieve. They’re human, and most humans are driven by emotions—feelings, attitudes and beliefs—rather than logic, knowledge, and discipline.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” -Henry Ford

Sales success is not a numbers game. It’s not about sending a certain number of emails, making a certain number of calls and setting a certain number of appointments. It has little to do with logic or process. And it has everything to do with who people internally believe they are, what they’re capable of, what they believe their organization and its products stand for, and even their view of selling itself. Feelings of what they unconsciously think they can achieve and what they’re selling can do for people will cause deep emotional reactions (positive or negative) to the goals a salesperson sets for themselves, and either allow the goals to happen or prevent them.

For example, someone with high values and ethics but a low view of what selling is will create a low commitment to activities due to a perception that selling is a manipulative or ‘sleazy’ profession that focuses on tricking people into buying things they don’t need.  These far more powerful internal mechanisms are always at work, steering them towards the emotional pictures they hold in their minds. A salesperson with a low opinion of their own abilities to sell will have those feelings manifest themselves in fears, such as:

I can’t sell to companies that large.

I’m afraid I can’t make that quota. (a quota that was often just handed to them, not worked on collaboratively, by the way…)

I probably can’t win in against such a well-known competitor.

I doubt I can get an appointment with someone that senior.

You can probably think of other limiting thoughts salespeople have. Ultimately, this is where the behaviors like call avoidance and lack of follow-through stem from. A salesperson who thinks they can’t get an appointment with the right person decides not to even bother. In one way or another, a rep who doesn’t believe they have what it takes to sell at a higher level or hit a quota they’ve never achieved before makes sure that they won’t.

Rethinking Sales Training

Sales training is still important. But for sales training to help all salespeople grow, to move the 80% to high performance and keep the 20% pushing to new levels of success in an environment that’s anything but stable, we have to search for deeper reasons—the real reasons why people sell or fail to sell. For your salespeople, purpose and success are directly linked. This is also where regular coaching must come into the equation. Training must be part of a broader strategy of development and a culture of learning that includes singular training ‘events’ but goes far beyond them throughout the year.

Our research with The Sales Management Association uncovered what leading companies do that drives up to 20% greater sales performance. By connecting knowledge, skills and values in your sales training and coaching efforts, you can empower all of your salespeople to unlock their own personal leverage points of success. Coaching, structured goal setting (that is a collaborative process and goes beyond numbers and money), and purpose (establishing a clear link to how your company and your solutions improve people’s lives) are among the top ways to unlock your team’s passion and beliefs and move the needle on their sales goal achievement.

We also have previously uncovered the five dimensions that influence a salesperson’s long-term success. To learn what they are and the role they play in an effective sales training approach, you can also download our eBook, You Can’t Teach People to Sell by Teaching People to Sell.

These are two great resources for sales leaders and learning & development leaders that support sales organizations. They’re filled with examples of people you’ll probably recognize right away, along with helpful models and self-assessments for both salespeople and their coaches.

And they are sure to leave you with plenty of food for thought about what you can do to give all your salespeople the tools they need to reach their full selling potential for years to come.

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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