Training

Sales Training Should Focus on Both Business Objectives and Customer Problems

We would like to offer a declaration—an inflexible line in the sand, if you will. It is foundational to the value of sales training and the professionals who proudly call themselves sales trainers. It is as follows: Every sales trainer has to enable two outcomes—increase revenue year over year and protect revenue year over year.

salesNote the use of the word “enable.” It describes the efforts of supporting, assisting, and even facilitating—but never directly overseeing. This is the core tension point for all sales trainers.

On one hand, the opportunity to directly impact the organization in a measurably tangible way (increasing/protecting revenue) offers uncommon access to key stakeholders and resources that many trainers crave. On the other hand, not having direct responsibility for the salespeople who actually increase/protect revenue often puts the sales trainer at a distinct disadvantage.

Instead of diagnosing, designing, and delivering training solutions to meet the actual business need, sales trainers—regardless of job title or altitude—are typically given mandates by senior business sponsors to “roll out negotiations training” or “update our sales onboarding.” This is typical even when those solutions have nothing to do with the actual business problem.

So, what do you do about it?

Some people take the approach of being the perfect servant—answering all calls to action, regardless of validity, in the desire to deliver unwavering support while trusting that their leadership will vouch for the sincerity of the effort if the solution turns out to be horribly ineffective. Others take the approach of being the talent strategist, guiding and challenging their leadership until they can pick the most likely successes—transforming a “sure thing” into a months-long initiative.

Frankly, your leaders don’t need (or want) either of those approaches. They need a third option: they need both approaches at the same time.

The best approach is a sound integration of the reactive and the strategic. It is about creating a bridge between the strategy of the organization and the tactical needs of the frontline sales team. And that is much easier said than done, especially since the sheer number of available strategic and tactical anchor points to choose can be overwhelming.

Which strategic initiative do you select—the one with the most senior support or the one with the highest visibility? Which tactical need do you tie into—the one with the most vocal frustration or the one in which you have the greatest expertise?

If you pick the wrong anchor points for your bridge, you will either build a bridge to nowhere (too “strategic”) or create an expressway that no one uses (too “tactical”).

In the Field

In our research with thousands of sales professionals and the customers they support, we found in every instance the key revenue-generating issue that was consistently central to both strategic discussions and tactical decisions was customer problems. In other words, creating sales training and tactical sales training that helps sales people solve specific customer problems is your pathway to success—not the products you sell, tools you offer, or customer types targeted.

Think about it:  How often does the sales training you deliver actually solve a customer’s problem (move the mandatory training that isn’t actually sales-specific to the side)? With the remaining topics that you have left in your portfolio, how much of it is directly related to understanding and solving your customers’ problems? Is it 80%? 50%? Less?

Not surprisingly, we estimate less than 25% of sales training has a direct relation to understanding and/or solving a customer’s problem. Instead, as we alluded to above, it is cluttered with content about the company, the company’s products, or the company’s tools … virtually anything but the customer’s actual problems. When this percentage is integrated with all other training, the number drops even further.

No one really wants to say that solving customer problems isn’t a priority, of course. Yet, as a sales trainer, you have an uncompromising mandate to enable the increase and/or protection of revenue year over year.

This is where the beauty of anchoring to customer problems comes into play, because from a sales training perspective, it immediately elevates every single discussion:

  • From how much product training people should receive to which customer problems need to be solved most now—and how our products do that.
  • From which sales skills to reinforce this year to which sales skills solve the most important customer problems—and ultimately drive the most revenue.
  • From how to redesign sales onboarding one more time to which customer problems our newest sales people must learn about first—and how to support those efforts with tools, content, and behaviors.

We recently worked with a company that was stuck in this tension. The global leadership team wanted both elevated and coordinated sales conversations with key strategic customers. Most of those expectations were centered on driving sales in a particular product category.

The local sales team in South America was stuck in a tactical cycle with key distributors, affecting how they approached strategic accounts. Most of those expectations were centered on avoiding unnecessary disruptions. As a result, a major opportunity had been recently lost.

During a training session where we were teaching the Agility Selling methodology, this loss came up. By refocusing the discussion on the actual problem that the strategic customer was trying to solve, it became immediately apparent where this disconnect was coming from. Instead of trying to validate and push a product, the team should have been focused on solving the customer’s problem.

This realization changed how people and resources were deployed and the content of the discussions with all stakeholders. Postscript, the opportunity is now back on the table and similar efforts are taking off in Africa with the same global customer.

This is typical of what centering on customer problems and challenges will deliver. When the sales trainers we work with take this approach, the results speak for themselves. Elevated sales conversations, changed client relationships at the executive level, and more deals won based on bundled solutions are just a few of the benefits of this approach.

All of this leaves you with a bottom line question: Can you think of a better compass point for your approach than solving your customer’s problems?

Tim OhaiTim Ohai is President of Growth & Associates and recognized as a “Top 40 Sales Influencers” on Twitter; Brian Lambert, Ph.D., director of consulting for Oxygen Learning.

Brian Lambert Lambert and Ohai, who are the creators of Agility Selling, a sales methodology approach, co-wrote the book, “Sales Chaos: Using Agility Selling to Think and Sell Differently”. If you would like to learn more about turning a problem-centric approach into effective sales training, get a free download of Tim and Brian’s latest eBook The Power of Problems.