by Jennifer Cerda
The sales VP of a company that had just launched a successful IPO emailed Huthwaite to inquire about sales training. When we spoke by phone, one of the first questions I asked was, “Why now? What’s going on in your organization that led you to conclude it’s time for sales training?”
“Business is actually pretty good,” he said. “We’re growing. But I have a young team, and they’ve never had formal training. Some of the reps are engineers without much sales experience. I’m starting to feel like we need to put some processes in place.” He and I were certainly in agreement about the payoffs of sales training. And he had done considerable vendor evaluation online before ever getting in touch, so he was ready to take action to get his team trained within a short timeframe.
But there was a roadblock. The VP, being the executive leader of a company focused on rapid growth, saw his mission as finding a vendor, negotiating a contract, and scheduling training, all in record time. Having accomplished all that, he was now ready to sit back and wait for the transformation.
It was a surprise for him to discover that his team had a completely different view of the situation, which quickly came to light in our first steps of implementation:
This is a common challenge for organizations trying to launch a performance improvement initiative: Sales reps are often genuinely unaware that they have competency gaps. I’ve found that a useful way to discuss this with decision-makers is to refer to the Four Stages of Competence:
Salespeople who are convinced that they don’t need training—who believe that factors outside themselves explain their mediocre performance—are in Stage 1.
The most direct and cost-effective way to move them to Stage 2—awareness of their own skill gaps—is to conduct pre-work that consists of a sales-skills assessment, online activities that raise awareness of their current skill level, executive communication about expectations, or a combination of all three.
Raising awareness of specific areas that need improvement melts away resistance to training. If the training itself is designed to target the specific needs of the team, participants are well on the road to Stage 3—conscious competence.
When management mandates training and rams it through despite resistance from the team, participants will secretly root for the training to fail, because failure will prove they were right and the boss was wrong. A better course of action is to get buy-in by conducting pre-work, sharing the assessment results, and communicating what salespeople are not doing today that you want them to do going forward. People feel confident, optimistic and enthusiastic when leadership shares a plan that is clear, compelling and achievable.