Support your sales team with sales skills training
The problem: a serious drop in sales revenue
This is a case study in how a combination of sales skills training and a shift in management attitudes can lead to a 40%+ revenue growth.
A few years ago I was asked to work with the sales team of a high profile business that was suffering from a serious drop in revenue. The company was driven by a group of extremely clever and creative men and women who were shockingly patronising towards their sales staff. I heard phrases like ‘the men in grey suits’, ‘that grubby commercial mob’, and ‘the necessary evil’. Surprising really when you consider that every Tuscan holiday and drop of Beaujolais Nouveau was funded by the efforts of the maligned sales team, (the company was completely dependent on ad revenue), but I’ve encountered this attitude quite a few times in creative lead businesses.
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Anyhow, the managing director was convinced that the root of the problem lay with the rawness of the sales team. He suggested that I work with them for a few days to get a feel for their problems, have a chat with him and then follow up with some intensive sales training to bring them up to the mark.
Findings: an isolated, unsupported sales team
This is what I unearthed.
1) The sales team was young and so fairly inexperienced but the boys and girls were a competent enough group, albeit with a way too rapid staff turnover. I felt that there was nothing that a couple of days sales skills training could not sort out, particularly as they did have a strong proposition to sell.
2) They were managed by a keen young woman who tried her hardest to lead by example and to keep her team motivated and busy. She had been promoted into management simply because she had the best sales figures but had had absolutely no sales management training. She was struggling.
3) The entire sales team felt that the company tolerated them at best, tried to ignore them whenever possible and always criticised them if they dared to intrude into their creative preserve. Most of all, they were fed up with being constantly lambasted for their failure to hit revenue targets. This was one dispirited group, grafting away in isolation, uncared for, unrecognised and most definitely unloved.
My follow up chat with the MD did not go quite as we had originally imagined. I told him that the revenue problem didn’t lie with the sales team, rather it lay with the culture of the company. In the few days I had spent with the company I had found that:
- Management denigrated its sales team, internally and
- Creatives were aloof and wholly uncooperative whenever asked to
assist commercial development.
- It was considered amusing and good form to put the company down,
internally & externally.
- The accounts department was rude to clients, even when they were
long term, reliable payers.
- Reception and telephone forwarding had no idea what the company did
or who did what; customers were often kept on hold and then put through to the wrong
- Security was plain scary, intimidating and sometimes overtly aggressive.
Solution: a culture change in attitudes to sales staff
My proposal was ridiculously simple and straight forward and I’m delighted to say that the MD bought it and it worked. My suggestion was this: don’t just train give the sales team support with sales skills training, train the whole company, and I mean everyone. No exceptions.
Here’s what we did.
- The sales team got the training it needed, primarily on fact finding, appointment fixing, objection handling and closing.
- The sales manager received management and leadership coaching.
- Tailored sales based courses were developed for all non-sales staff. These were run as a series of half-day workshops with eight people per session. Here are a some examples:
- Management and creatives were trained in fundamental sales skills so they understood the basics of salesmanship and could appreciate the challenges that the sales team constantly faced.
- Accounts were briefed on telephone manner and trained in account management plus customer service techniques.
- Reception and security got a thorough induction into what the company did and the functions of each department
We structured the courses so that they were fast moving, totally relevant to each group, very involving, solution based and great fun. Common threads ran through each course.
- You have to understand the many benefits and core values that the company possesses and it’s your job to present these as a completely positive story internally and externally. That means that all negativity is off the agenda.
- Appreciate that the sales team feeds the company and embrace sales staff as valued partners.
- Collaborate with your sales people to come up with profitable & creative solutions.
- And finally, be respectful towards all of your colleagues and customers.
Results: a 40% increase in revenue
Delegate response was terrific. Everyone got stuck in and no one tried the ‘I don’t need training in this’ angle. I found the programme to be incredibly enjoyable and instructive; I learnt so much about how companies can let politics and silo-mentalities develop and how people are actually far more receptive to change than I’d imagined. Perceptions were peeled away as people discovered that they could be friendly, polite and helpful with people outside of their immediate spheres and that these people were rather nice and useful to know.
The effect of this culture change was dramatic. Now the company had 200 people representing it, not just 20 beleaguered sales people. Morale was high, people smiled and passed the time of day with each other, so improving internal communications. The sales team, fed by a flood of fresh leads provided by their new buddies, were a zillion times more motivated and better lead than before and responded really, really well. Sales staff turnover evaporated, call rates rocketed and so did revenue. In the year following this sales programme revenue grew by 40%. Yes, that’s right, 40%. I was and still am immensely proud to be part of this turn-around.
Conclusion: make your whole company sales savvy
Don’t let a culture develop that’s going to isolate your commercial people. Instead, make everyone in your organisation sales savvy, yes give your sales team support with sales skills training but don’t forget to train the rest of your organisation to support your sales team and watch your revenue grow.
It’s just common sense.