Last week, we explored the unique challenges business-to-business (B2B) sales teams currently face and the skills needed to overcome them. Now, let’s look at what sales managers and training professionals can do to help.
Identifying the Problem
First of all, says Jennifer Brandl, regional vice president of content sales at Cornerstone OnDemand, sales managers and training professionals must “acknowledge that working remotely is different, so make some suggestions or offer some training” on how to do it well.
Training managers must also be careful not to prescribe training or coaching for all problems. “Diagnose the barrier to performance and then prescribe the solution,” says Julie Thomas, president and chief executive officer of ValueSelling Associates. “Training and coaching are the appropriate solution when skill (rather than attitude or environment) are the barrier to performance.”
For example, Andrea Grodnitzky, chief marketing officer at Richardson, says that sales teams must learn “to convert what they already know about selling to a virtual environment … [to understand] the role each decision-maker inhabits … [and] to develop the skills to maintain the customer’s attention during the call, [which] means learning to ask questions directed at an individual decision-maker rather than to the group.”
Virtual Practice Makes Perfect
Sales managers should ensure that sales reps are recording their presentations, say Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and research officer at Corporate Visions, and Andre Black, vice president of products at Allego. That way, they can provide specific feedback to each of their team members and share best practice examples. “This is a perfect opportunity to capture the good stuff and circulate it for peer learning,” says Riesterer. “You don’t get that opportunity with in-person sales calls.” When combined with coaching from the manager as well as existing content, this approach helps “reinforce key learnings,” Black says.
Virtual training is becoming more common as in-person training can no longer take place in many, if not most, organizations. It’s important for training and sales managers to help remote sales teams overcome three common challenges in virtual training, says Black: fatigue, scheduling and low engagement. To do so, he recommends asynchronous communication, which “uses prerecorded content instead of in-person meetings or livestreamed video.” He says companies using asynchronous communication maintain win rates, bring new hires up to speed more quickly and improve collaboration.
Richard Barkey, founder and CEO of Imparta, believes that as organizations adjust “to the ‘new normal,’” they are starting to view sales training “as a way of mitigating the current situation, rather than a discretionary cost” — good news for training managers. Not all transitions to virtual training have gone well, he notes, and “there will be a flight to quality over the coming weeks.”
Successful Sales Management and Coaching
Finally, Brandl says, sales managers should “identify daily wins that may be very different than just a few weeks ago.” For example, maybe your team members’ goals shouldn’t be solely focused on sales but also include account planning and learning and development activities. “Much like [how] athletes work on base skills in the off season, this moment in time gives sales reps time to think about their essential selling skill,” like preparing for a call, qualifying leads and dealing with rejection.
Barkey agrees that “training is a good use of time when travel is no longer an option” but cautions that under this amount of pressure, it’s harder for sales professionals to “focus on longer-term benefits.” As a result, he recommends “focusing training and coaching on the specific, business-critical issues that will make the difference right now,” using a blend of communication, eLearning, examples of best practices and coaching.
That coaching, Barkey adds, “should not focus on outputs. Instead, [sessions] should help salespeople see how to deep-dive into what’s going on in a specific account or deal. Use GROW or another coaching framework to draw the answers from the individual, rather than falling into ‘I’ll do it for you’ mode.” Thomas says that ValueSelling’s coaching model is focused on four As: “analyze, assess, agree and apply. To be an effective coach, there has to be trust and respect. The coached person must believe that there is positive intent and constructive developmental feedback … [which] is truthful, specific and positive.”
In times like this pandemic, coaching is more important than ever, Grodnitzky notes. And while the basics of coaching are the same, “many sales managers will need to increase the frequency of their coaching … [and] become more adept at coaching to a changing market.”
Sales training experts do not believe that virtual selling is going away anytime soon, partly due to the continuing crisis and partly, some say, because leaders are starting to understand that remote selling can be more cost-effective, productive and scalable. In fact, Grodnitzky says, “leaders will also see the value virtual selling has as a tool for sales professionals to reach the status of a trusted adviser faster.” Without the logistics of travel, she believes, salespeople can have more communication and “become an influential voice earlier.” She adds that as agile selling becomes more popular, virtual selling will, too, because it enables sales professionals to maintain communication “during the critical periods that tend to unfurl … between traditional in-person meetings.”
Brandl encourages organizations to continue to offer content and tools to support their sales team’s ability to conduct those meetings, and Thomas says that “keeping people engaged, keeping the culture alive and making sure that everyone is on board is and will continue to be critical.” Barkey believes we will see “more precision training — interventions that are laser-focused on critical issues for each company” — now, through the pandemic and recession, and even afterward.
Sales training and enablement leaders will “connect more and more with the concept of putting the work habits, the constraints and the desires of their sales professionals at the center of their thinking,” says Black. As a result, he believes we’ll see continued interest in such trends as short video as a training modality, self-paced training, learning reinforcement, asynchronous team collaboration and data analytics.
As in any business function, strong leadership is essential for sales teams, now and moving forward. In an uncertain economy, businesses — and the employees whose livelihoods depend on them — need sales professionals who are at the top of their game. Fortunately, sales and training leaders alike have the tools to help. They just need to understand what they’re building and which tools they need — and then open the toolbox and get to work.