Sales Essentials Blog

Learning Agility

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Salespeople traditionally find themselves in conflicting spaces. A classic situation is the challenge to bring the diverging interests of clients (e.g. lower prices, discounts) and the organisations these salespeople are representing (higher prices, better margins) together. In that capacity, they have to be skilled as mediators, translators, and problem solvers.

Currently, a very different polarity is demanding attention from sales people as well as sales managers and L&D specialists supporting them. It’s the tension between the growing complexity of our sales environment and the demand from clients to simplify things for them.

Simple solutions—the world seems to be longing for them. But what will not work in politics, social groups, communication and technology won’t help in selling or in professional development either.

Clients’ expectations

Nonetheless, many customers are in a similar situation to sales people, they too are looking for ways to reduce the complexity of their situation, whether in their business context, personally—or both. Thus, they have a clear expectation from sales people to help them gain control of the buying process. The customers’ key expectations are:

  • Information sorting and sifting
  • Consistency
  • Feeling safe

To create such an environment for their customers, sales people need to be able to deal with complex situations. Additionally, they also need to be capable of translating relevant aspects thereof for customers to make the buying process as simple as possible, omitting all unnecessary parts and structuring the remaining information in a way that is meaningful to the customer and creates value at their end.

The sales team

This situation requires a new form of learning agility at the sales teams’ end. Learning is not a task that can be boxed up into a training event maybe once or twice a year, where new products, a sales trend or some alternative sales techniques are discussed. Learning has to be a continuous part of the workflow, and it has to deal with much subtler topics, challenges, and changes.

The salesperson needs to consistently review their performance and situation to quickly identify development or improvement areas for themselves. They need to be able to find solutions and proactively initiate whatever measures come with this. They can’t rely on an L&D department or solely on their sales managers to take care of the team’s “Annual Learning & Development Plan” because even on that scale it could be too static and inflexible.

Sales teams need process and structure for that, not as scripted approaches, but to be able to create a visible, tangible framework that gives them and their buyers’ orientation and direction.

Sales managers

Sales managers have to accept their share of helping with that task. They can support their teams in a variety of ways:

  • Market research, helping to identify trends, especially slow and long term changes which might not be recognisable in the day-to-day business.
  • Information sorting and sifting or providing relevant resources.
  • Translating management expectations into executable activities.
  • Providing the salespeople with information, not making them earn it.
  • Creating and supporting processes (sales processes) to create a framework of clarity and structure to help salespeople move swiftly.
  • Helping with forecasting and filling the sales pipeline (not just providing names and data, but meaningful support to help identify clients and prospects of value and potential).
  • Timely reporting, and coaching support. Organisations need to increase their training investment into managers

Sales training

Sales trainers are often asked for “simpler ways of selling”. Their challenge would be not to try and provide those, tempting as it may seem, but to take it upon themselves to find ways to teach how to deal with growing and overwhelming complexity:

  • Use consultative skills to reduce the scope of topics and challenges presented by the customers and channel them into viable solutions.
  • Help them develop reliable self-reflection skills.
  • Show sales people how to not fear the gap between client expectations or requirements and their own (perceived) means and limitations.

Whilst organisations should create and support learning agility, the key is that the salesperson take ownership for this. In the same way, they would do their market research, find and analyse opportunities, etc. they need to be on the lookout for learning opportunities:

  • Doing their share of networking, market research and planned learning using their own initiative and not waiting for others to get them going.
  • Proactively liaising with sales managers to ensure efficient efforts are made to be up to date with any trends and learning areas relevant to the team.
  • Helping to make learning part of the joint team efforts. Creating an environment where learning becomes accepted, expected, and valued not only for the individual but as a way of supporting each other. Actively working on leveraging team experiences and synergy potential in that space.
  • Asking customers for feedback for individual performance and their observations of the market, competition, and any changes and relevant developments they perceive.
  • Making sure to feed their insights and needs to L&D to enable L&D to deliver timely support and relevant solutions.
  • Manage internal relationships to recognise new opportunities and challenges.

 

Author: Sue Barrett, www.salesessentials.com

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