Darn cold at 29 last Saturday out by the Vermont barn. Jumped on the ATV to work through the woods and get up to the pond where I noticed that the swamp maples were already turning even though the big foliage week is still a couple of weeks from now. Always good for the Vermont economy when leaf-peeping ties into a long weekend.
Change is everywhere in Vermont right now.
Leaves are falling, the bears and other critters are moving, and I need to forecast just how much wood to cut and haul since when one heats mostly by wood, I know that by the time that that piece of cut wood goes into the stove, I've handled it seven times between the woodlot and the living room. Seems that I can never escape the need to forecast, whether it's in how much wood is enough for the winta'...or in my work as a salesguy.
The fact that I'll soon need to transition from sockless loafers to heavy duty boots which were left in the closet last March is a definite sign that unavoidable change is in the air not only in the seasonal changes we always go through at this time of year, but also everywhere in the world of Sales and Marketing.
"Change" is the operative word in Sales and Marketing right now, and given what we know, we're probably a minimum of 12 to 18 months away from defining any level of consistent normalcy in processes, tools and maybe even people. Even though change is everywhere, and rapid and measured experiments are the rule, nothing is more fundamental in achieving sales success in any company than in conducting frequent performance reviews of our salespeople which then raises the question of...
Who are your most valuable salespeople?
First, I'm not suggesting that you consider any changes now among your salespeople during the next 90ish days since in order to get to the end of the quarter, you need to ride the horses that you currently have, which, of course, are the horses that you know best. Having said that, what I am recommending is that you take a hard and very objective look at who are your most valuable (not just the best performing) salespeople you have so that you are perfectly prepared to take on the opportunities of 2021 immediately with your kickoff sales meeting in January.
The subtle difference here when considering "who are your most valuable salespeople?" is between the words "the best" and "the most valuable"
- All of us measure our salespeople on some level of quota performance, which is the standard backward-looking gauge to measure the impact of sales and marketing expense over time. Revenue, unit sales, margin and conversion rates are all common vocabulary along with the recognition awards that go with those results. Here again, I'm not suggesting any significant changes in what you're already measuring in terms of looking in that rearview mirror. Plus, it's always important to show comparative quarter-by-quarter trends over time, and, as my close friend, John Davagian, a highly experienced sales management exec, just noted in a Jeff Solomon KNS-hosted webinar he and I participated in earlier this week... "salespeople just love public recognition". A fundamental truth in Sales!
- But what about forecasting future performance? Is past performance an indicator? Absolutely! And when I look at one of my favorite sales managers, (a Tufts alum, of course), and he and his team have never missed a sales plan number for 20 quarters, is that important? Absolutely! When I take a deeper dive and understand the reasons underlying that superior performance in a company that sets aggressive year-over-year objectives, the more important indicators of future performance value immediately come out, and those are formal and required training along with displaying the public certification of that training. What's public display? Remember that certification button when you page down on your LI? That's one area. The other is on the wall of one's workplace whether that's in the office or out in garage.
- Training and certification come down to measuring both the amount of training completed and the certifications received in that training both in the areas of overall product training and specific sales training broken down into the detailed components of sales processes and tools. There's task-related training, and there's growth-related training, both of which are critical to the future value of that salesperson, and therefore, your success. Task-related training focuses on sales process, sales tools such as value propositions, product knowledge and market/competitor research, while growth-related training consists of the development of team engagement, management and leadership skills.
Bottom line in this assessment is that our most valuable salespeople are those that are not only the best historical performers, but also those that are the best trained for the future...especially in these chaotic and unprecedented times! For you own success, it just might be that a fundamental change that we make in 2021 is in both the amount and the formal certification of our sales training programs.
Training is worthless without certification!
We all believe that we adequately train our salespeople, but in fact, we don't!
The facts from Gartner state that on average salespeople spend only 3%- 4% of their available time in formal training both by themselves and in company programs.
Ok, with my own 60ish hours for the top-performing A+ salespeople, 4% comes out to around 94 hours a year spent being trained. Is that good/not good? That answer is up you and the consistency of the performance results you're getting. But when you consider in reality that the average salesperson is only working a max of 50 hours a week, the training number rounds out to 80 hours a year.
Also, when we're considering the amount of time committed...or not...to formal training, let's also keep in mind that, back in the old days of 2019, as B2B salespeople in general, the data shows that we, as salespeople, are relatively unproductive and inefficient as a professional class of workers. On average, we are productive about 40% of the time we are being paid for.
Our real management focus on embracing change in Sales needs to be on enabling our salespeople with process, tools, technology...and much better training...to improve our productivity and deliver much higher value to our customers than we are currently doing.And then there's the reality that for the majority of those companies that do provide formalized sales training (which often come down to one or two afternoons during the annual sales meeting), very few require certification of any kind, let alone recertification every year...or at a minimum every two years! Let's think again about John Davagian's fundamental truth, that all of us who manage salespeople of any type already know: "Salespeople just love public recognition". Nothing is better for a salesperson to post in their office or on their cubical walls or on the top of their Linked In, the awards and certifications that they have achieved. Professional models bring their portfolio of photo shoots to interviews; professional salespeople show their awards and certifications in their social media.
Most companies have sales contests, awards and special recognitions for their sales, customer success and service teams. All very positive, but all looking backward to what has been achieved over the past quarter or the past year. Again, I'm not suggesting any significant changes in this practice for 2020 or 2021. At Reiser, where I have the privilege of being chairman, our incredible teams have created an extraordinary sales and service-driven culture built on delivering trust and customer value and exemplified by "the ringing of the bell" such that when orders are received during contest periods, they are noted by email alters and the delivery of small physical bells to those salespeople and to those sales teams reaching their targets. "Salespeople just love public recognition".
What I am recommending here is thinking about rewarding salespeople not only for their historical performance, but also for the training that they have completed by certifying them. We know from our research and our data collection that formal training is a key forward indicator of future sales success, so why not test and certify that achievement?
- My cardiologist who cut open my chest a couple of years ago to put in some new plumbing is certified. I know because I asked him about all those diplomas on the wall. I also asked him how many heart operations he had done and how many people had died during the procedures.
- I know that the guys who repair my Subaru go through certification because I can see their certification plaques on the wall at the service desk, and since I love Subarus, I ask.
- 100% of my Tufts students need to be Hubspot certified in Inbound Marketing in order to get a grade. This year, everyone achieved that (not-so-easy) distinction over the summer before classes began. I know from years of teaching and measurements that that certification will get them $5,000 better starting salaries if they are going to go into Sales. Just this Monday, we proved that once again with the hiring of one of our graduates as a BDR in a software company.
In a sea of change, calm the water through better training.
Both improved and recognition through certification just might be one of those fundamental changes that provide structural strength to your sales organization!
What do you have to lose? Not much...other than a bit of time, but you're gaining a ton of proven potential advancement and not merely relying only on that rear-view mirror anymore.
PLANNING FOR THE FALL:
Every "normal" summer, I rewrite the content for my courses at Tufts and MIT. Typically, I edit 25% of the content of case studies, research and classroom material from the prior semester. This summer, I just scrapped everything and started over, which took me half of July and all of August. The prior HBR case studies were no longer relevant, the tactical experiments made no sense and the overall content just seemed "old and outdated".
I also spent time updating our Writing the Winning Business Plan and Writing the Winning Sales Plan ebooks even though I had gone through the process of an extensive rewrite back in January. Take a look and let me know what you think. If you have difficulty downloading anything, just ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day selling today as we move forward into embracing the changes this fall and we count down the final days of this Q!
CONFIDENTIAL SOUNDING BOARD
If at any time, you have a need for a confidential sounding board in business planning or for Sales or Marketing, just connect with me at any time. Text or email me, and I will quickly set up a call.
I'm a pretty good listener. Obviously, no cost for a call or two; just an opportunity to listen intently and make a few recommendations based on decades of experience.