Bruce Wedderburn
By Bruce Wedderburn

There’s a missed opportunity that both L&D and sales leaders need to pay more attention to when it comes to putting together a sales training strategy that’s going to deliver the results organizations are looking for in today’s marketplace.

L&D and sales leaders don’t always see eye-to-eye on every aspect of sales training, but there’s one area where they are very much in agreement. It’s an aspect of salesperson development that both groups say, if given dedicated focus, would result in a significant lift in performance. That area is called “achievement drive” (i.e., attitudes, self-belief, motivation, etc.), and it is what gives top-performing salespeople their edge.

On the heels of our latest research study on what ignites sales success (conducted in partnership with the Sales Management Association), we had the opportunity to get a pulse of the L&D community on this topic when we surveyed attendees at our ATD International Conference & Expo session this year.

The majority of L&D professionals told us that the outstanding performance of their top salespeople is largely due to the individuals’ achievement drive, with half of them saying it accounts for 75% of their success. Their response echoes what we heard from sales leaders, 84% of whom said that achievement drive is of equal or greater importance to a salesperson’s success than selling skills or product knowledge.

So, naturally, you might think L&D professionals would be focusing pretty heavily on achievement drive in their sales training.

But you’d be wrong.

When we asked ATD attendees what percent of the organization’s sales training addresses this topic, none said more than 50%, and a quarter of them responded that the training doesn’t touch on achievement drive at all. This, again, is right in line with what sales leaders said: Achievement drive is a hugely important factor in sales performance, but our organization doesn’t incorporate it much, if at all, into our sales training. The kicker? The organizations in our research study that did score themselves as effective in developing achievement drive reported 20% higher sales results.

Clearly, there’s a missed opportunity here that both L&D and sales leaders need to pay more attention to when it comes to putting together a sales training strategy that’s going to deliver the results organizations are looking for in today’s marketplace.

The Sales Coaching Factor

During the session, we also discussed the three conversations that unlock sales success: the conversations salespeople have with (1) their customers, (2) themselves and (3) their coach. Of those three, the customer conversation is the one that’s often front and center in sales training. It covers things like sales/service methodology, conversation skills, asking questions, delivering insights, account strategy, and articulating a product’s benefits and outcomes. What it doesn’t cover: those factors that influence a person’s inner drive to achieve—the very ones that L&D and sales leaders both agree are the most important!

Of the three, L&D professionals told us that the most important conversation their organization needs to develop is the third, the conversation salespeople have with their coach, followed closely by #2, the conversation they have with themselves. These are the conversations where “limiting beliefs” are often revealed, those invisible barriers people set—whether for themselves or for their employees—that influence and often restrict what is ultimately achieved. Without these critical conversations, we won’t be able to uncover and break through those mental roadblocks to success.

An Action Plan for L&D and Sales Leaders

With L&D and Sales on the same page about what it takes to be a consistently top-performing salesperson, there’s no reason you can’t start shifting your sales training strategy to focus on building and support strong achievement drive—and higher quota achievement—across the sales organization.

Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Skillset – Conversations with Their Customers: This is a foundational element of most sales training, so take a closer look at how yours addresses this conversation, particularly when it comes to investigating customer problems and needs.

For example, are your salespeople learning how to ask questions that help their customers gain greater clarity around their problems? Do the questions expose the consequences of inaction and the benefits of change? Do they give customers line of sight to an optimum decision-making process? If not, consider what steps you need to take to upgrade your sales training to be more effective, especially in light of today’s complex, competitive selling environment.

  1. Mindset – Conversations with Themselves: Review this research data during your next sales or management program, and have participants discuss the implications of the data with their teams.

Introduce the concept of “limiting beliefs,” those mental barriers to success, and emphasize that the conversations salespeople have with themselves is just as important as conversations they have with customers—and often even more influential when it comes to their success. Solicit examples of these inner dialogues, exploring how they can be supportive and how they can be destructive.

Note: This discussion will be a new one for most salespeople, but rest assured, they will internally agree with—and may even articulate—how critical the conversations with themselves are.

  1. Support – Conversations with Their Coach: If “coaching” is even occurring, there’s a good chance that your managers are focusing primarily on numbers and opportunities. Help them see that, while this is important, it’s not actually coaching. Coaching goes beyond deal reviews and ride-alongs.

Managers can be equipped to coach achievement drive in their people, and this leads to those people having more productive conversations with themselves. Here’s a quick coaching exercise your managers can conduct the next time they meet with a sales rep:

  1. Ask about a professional or personal goal the rep wants to achieve.
  2. Then, ask what skills/capabilities the rep needs to enhance in order to achieve that goal.
  3. Next, ask what the rep can do to build belief that this goal can be achieved, and work together to outline a simple plan with specific actions the rep can take.
  4. Finally, set a time for reconnecting to check in on progress.

Managers must allow time for this conversation; it can’t be done in a 15-minute check-in. It’s also wise for the manager to give the rep fair warning about the purpose of this conversation and explain why it’s important.

Many sales managers won’t be prepared to have this conversation, and many will feel uncomfortable with it initially. They’ll mask this lack of confidence with deflection, saying things like, “my job is to ensure we meet our numbers, not to play psychologist,” or “our reps won’t see value in that type of meeting.” This is where they’ll need your help with training and coaching, because make no mistake: Most reps will appreciate their manager taking the time to understand what really motivates them and supporting them in establishing goals that go beyond just hitting their quota.

Achievement drive is not only critical to your salespeople’s and your organization’s success, it’s something that can be developed. For more about these critical conversations and the important role of sales coaching, listen to our podcast interview with Integrity Solutions’ CEO Mike Esterday, The Three Conversations That Unlock Sales Success.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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