Monday, February 7, 2011

Training Trends for 2011

So often we do not discover "trends' until they are over.  Think about it.  In July of 2008, when the market hit a "bump" did you think that foreclosure and recession would be a "trend?"  Yes, I love to draw a picture with my words and I am a bit dramatic, but I do have a point.  As Sales Managers, we spend far too much time looking out our rear view mirror at 50 MPH.   While some reflection is healthy, it can also be detrimental.  What would you have done differently in 2008 had you known the recession was here to stay? 

As a Training Leader, I can still be surprised by how few managers consider trends in customer behavior when creating a sales plan.  I'd like to hear from you, my devoted followers, if any of these trends are affecting the way you hire, train or build your 2011 Teams. 

1.      In a shrinking economy, economic justification requires accountability on the part of the buyer and the seller.
a.     Internal justification of resources.  While sales professionals are accustomed to being asked to justify their price to customers, they are now being asked to justify the use and cost of internal resources when pursuing customers.  Companies want to know the value of pursuing and acquiring a particular customer to ensure that the cost of pursuit does not exceed the value of the sale.
b.     Customer Expectations have risen dramatically.  Buyers have long required economic justification for making purchases, but today’s customers are holding the vendor accountable for cost justifications after the sale.  Many contracts are constructed where the customer’s payment schedule is based on milestones in the economic justification rather than the timeline. 
2.     Vendors and Buyers are requiring that more Sales Processes be performed virtually.  
a.     Vendors want to reduce travel expenses.  Sales professionals are using more tools like “Go to Meeting” or “WebEx” in lieu face-to-face meetings to reduce overall sales expenses.
b.     Prospects are dramatically reducing time spent with vendors.  Highly paid executives are being asked to justify how they spend their overall time and want to reduce the amount of time spent in vendor presentations and meetings.  Vendors must prove their value over the phone or via the web before an on-site meeting is granted.  Because virtual meetings allow the prospect to multi-task without being detected (email, conference calls, etc) vendors need to power pack their content to gain and maintain interest. 
3.      Selling has become a Customer-Driven Process
a.     Customers are demanding more of their Sales Professionals in today’s selling environment. Sales organizations have to focus on developing the skills that customers demand, including sales people who understand their business, who are accountable for their decisions, and who are advocates for their customers when problems develop in the relationship.  Most sales people report that they have or no understanding of how to read a balance sheet or annual report, research an industry or understand complex business processes, making training a big priority for vendors who want to become customer-focused organizations.
b.     There is a tremendous gap between the skills that vendors value versus the skills that customers want  Most vendors report that social and communication skills are the top skills they recruit for in their sales force; skills that customers rank as dead last on their wish list.  Training will have to bridge the gap between the sales force’s existing skills and the skills that customers are demanding. 
4.     Sales 2.0 is changing the ways customers and vendors find and interact with one another
a.     Customers now have the option to avoid dealing with sales people when making many of their buying decisions.  Customers can buy even the most complex products via the web with little or no personal interaction.  Sales people & companies who want to “own” their customer relationships will need to drive value into every interaction.  This means that organizations with high turnover will be unable to build customer loyalty. 
b.     Very few sales Professionals understand where they fit into the new social networking sales arena.  Organizations need to define their Sales 2.0 strategy and spend time, resources and money teaching their sales team how to effectively use and interact with social media outlets and influencers,

5.     Free Products are available for nearly every category of software sold. 
a.     Microsoft’s “bundling” model has changed the way customers buy.  Many companies have a version of Microsoft that includes a portal, a reporting tool, a content manager, financials, CRM, etc.  Savvy CIOs are requiring that their vendors & employees “prove” a valid need for substantial additional functionality before paying to license software products. Selling a potentially expensive product against a “free version” requires different selling skills than selling against a competitor in an equal playing field. 
b.     Free software does not sell itself.  Too many sales people think that they can provide a free download and wait for the customer to “see the value.”  Qualifying that the software will be installed and used by the decision makers and influencers and managing the trial period requires excellent customer service & account management skills - skills that are more often associated with a farmer than a hunter.    
6.     While most believe that training is what separates a successful sales professionals from an unsuccessful one, training budgets have been dramatically slashed in the past 24 months,
a.     The demand for electronic delivery has dramatically increased.   Web delivery is less expensive & less time consuming than classroom training.  While product knowledge is a perfect fit for this model, many complex selling skills cannot be practiced or taught in a web environment. 
b.     Accountability is the new norm. The demand for web content delivery is challenging internal and external trainers to justify and drive the value from more expensive training venues & methods. 
7.      Given the large expenditures for training it is important to accurately measure training effectiveness.
a.     Using Top Line revenue to measure training effectiveness is unreliable.  Many factors can impact top line revenue including SPIFs, marketing, economic trends, new products, etc, making top line revenue a poor means for measuring training initiatives. 
b.     The best measures of Training Effectiveness are improvements in the sales process.  Processes in the sales cycle provide the best measurement for training effectiveness.  These can include shortened sales cycles, increased deal size, higher RFP close rates, etc.  The challenge with this approach is that the organization must have an objective and an accurate mechanism for measuring the steps in sales process with at least 1 year or more of history to effectively measure improvements. 
8.     Sales Leadership will be required to help manage more than numbers.
a.     Sales Management training delivers the best return on investment.  The cost and resources required to create and train a successful sales force is on the rise and managers will be needed to protect the investment.  Sales management training consistently delivers the best returns on training and results. Managers will need training to develop better recruiting, hiring, coaching and mentoring skills.
b.     Motivation & Resilliance becomes more challenging.  Slashed budgets have reduced sales trips, motivational speakers, expensive prizes and other traditional incentives.  Sales managers will be expected to create a culture of motivation, winning, self-study and team collaboration without spending a lot of money. 
9.      “Sales” is becoming more of a Profession than ever before, increasing the demand for sales training.
a.     In the past, companies like GE and Dell considered sales an entry-level position.  Historically most sales training was focused on entry-level skills like cold calling and objection handling.  T0day’s sales teams are required to have business acumen, financial acumen, research and analytical skills, meaning that organizations will have to spend more on sales training than ever before. 
b.     College Degrees are now a requirement.  More companies are requiring a college degree as a prerequisite for employment in sales.  College graduates traditionally demand more professional training. 
10.   “Sales” will become a Company Initiative.  
a.     Everyone member in the organization will be required to understand his/ her role in the sale.  From the CEO to the receptionist, training will be required to make every member of the team understand the impact they have on customer retention, revenue generation and profitability.
b.     Every member of the organization will become fluent in dealing with customer service.  From the software development team to the manufacturing floor, more employees are hearing from customers who are dissatisfied or confused.  Tools like the Website, Social Media outlets like LinkedIn, CRM & contact databases like Spoke are making it easier for customer to reach out directly to someone other than their sales person for results and answers.  It is important to define proper processes and communication tools that every person in the organization can effectively use to deal with inquiries and complaints.   

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