Coaching, training and selling have many things in common. They are all about focusing on the customer (whether that customer is internal or external), understanding their specific needs, and taking them on a journey of discovery and commitment.
Even the skills involved are similar. Have you ever noticed how the best sales methodologies are like the popular GROW model of coaching?
- What are the customer’s objectives (goal)?
- What are the barriers to achieving those objectives (reality)?
- What solutions might address those barriers and root causes (options)?
- What is the case for change, and how do you build momentum (will)?
In other words, learning and development (L&D) teams can learn a lot from sales best practices when it comes to training, especially sales training in a global organization.
The buying cycle follows a number of predictable stages: Customers become aware of their needs, choose between alternative solutions, worry about what might go wrong, commit to an approach, work to adopt it, and decide whether to renew it and/or expand it across their organization.
We can use the same buying cycle to describe the journey that learners go on when developing on a new set of skills. We will focus here on global sales training, but the approach is applicable in a wide range of disciplines.
The outer ring of the diagram below shows the organizational change cycle, with the inner ring representing the actions that L&D, sales leaders, sales enablement professionals and/or a training partner need to undertake in order to guide salespeople through this journey.
In this first stage, sales leaders and salespeople, along with connected parts of the organization like the marketing and human resources (HR) teams, become aware of the need to move from existing processes and skills to new ones.
This need will vary by role, geographic region and even business unit, so L&D should help define the business objectives and the skill gaps that are preventing the organizations from meeting those objectives. A common mistake here (other than jumping straight to skills) is not to identify the level of skill that each role requires. There are diminishing returns in trying, for example, to bring inside salespeople to the same skill level as key account managers in uncovering needs.
It’s important to involve regional leaders in this discussion, and taking a modular approach will enable regions to vary the curriculum as needed without breaking the consistency of the whole approach. It’s also important to involve salespeople themselves — for example, through focus groups. Just as with customers, they will be more engaged if they are heard.
This phase involves the design or selection of a new methodology. Salespeople should be key stakeholders in this process. They help their customers choose a solution based on sensible decision criteria, and L&D needs to do the same for them.
For example, organizations should be sure to select a methodology that can flex across different sales roles within the organization (e.g., from transactional to consultative selling) with a single philosophy and language. This approach prevents each area from choosing its own methodology and ensures consistency for global accounts, economies of scale and mobility across the organization.
L&D also need to design the learner journeys (starting with managers) and ensure that training is contextualized so that it resonates with different groups and regions. The best practice here is to use trainers to create the most detailed localization in the classroom, rather than trying to micro-tailor the course materials and ending up with an unmanageable number of designers and versions.
At this stage of the cycle, salespeople start to perceive risk. It might be at a personal level (“Will this training take too much time or make my life more difficult?”) and at a business level (“Is this the right approach for the company?”).
Just as salespeople uncover and alleviate risks for their customers, so L&D and sales leaders can engage managers and teams in advance of a training intervention, giving them a voice and responding to any concerns. This engagement can happen virtually or in person; the most common failure point at this stage is to ignore it altogether.
In the buying cycle, this stage is the where the transaction takes place. For learners, it’s the training and subsequent commitment to applying their new skills.
All too often, classroom training ends up more of a lecture than genuine skill-building. E-learning, which rarely follows an experiential model, can experience this problem as well. Training should do more than impart skills. It must leverage influencing techniques and trust in order for participants to commit to applying the skills — and for managers to commit to helping them do so.
With the purchase of a new product or service, the customer needs to adopt the new approach in his or her day-to-day activities. In training, the role of L&D and sales leaders is to drive adoption, much as customer success teams do in the field.
Technology is central to this process, but so are managers. Salespeople tend to do whatever drives their commission — as well as the activities they are asked about on a daily or weekly basis. Globally, local change champions are critical in mobilizing managers. Our mantra is, “Design the change globally; implement it locally.”
Renew or Expand
During this stage, salespeople decide to refresh and renew their skills and, possibly, expand them into other areas such as negotiation or commercial and business acumen.
It’s not just learners who need to learn. It’s critical for L&D to close the loop on a regular basis, reviewing what has worked and what could be better, where skill gaps are closing, and where they persist. L&D’s role here, then, is to learn from the data at all four levels of the Kirkpatrick Model and to use that insight to refresh, reinforce and redirect efforts to achieve the original objectives, by region.
There is something very satisfying in applying best practice in sales to sales training. Doing so in a global context creates additional challenges, of course, but the principles apply even more. Enfolding a training initiative in this kind of lean change-wrapper gives it impact and sustainability — and can easily double your return on investment.