I admit it. I’m a sales trainer. And I do a good job of keeping salespeople entertained, showing them improved methodologies and technique, and getting them to leave their comfort zone.
But, deep down I know I’m not doing the right thing. I know that no one really wants “sales training.” What they want is more sales; or, to be even more precise, they want more predictable sales and they don’t want to have to work so hard to get them.
I think that’s the siren song for sales training. It seems so simple. We’ll get the sales team together, put them in a room, put an expert at the front to share the inside secrets, and like magic performance will improve. It sounds logical. We bring an expert, “who’s done it,” and we share the map to success. It should work, but it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in training, but training should support an initiative, not the other way around.
So, why does so much training fail to produce the results we want from salespeople (and others)? It’s actually quite simple, and obvious once you realize the cause. The problem businesses face in driving predictable top sales performance is that they keep treating systems/structural problems with behavioral solutions.
Training focuses on behavior, not the system. As Chip and Dan Heath shared in their bestselling book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, a focus on behavior can only sustain change for relatively short periods of time. Our behavior will revert to the system/structure that it operates within.
Robert Fritz, the father of Structural Thinking, covers this issue and its ramification in depth with his work on The Path of Least Resistance. Simply put, all energy (and behavior) will follow its path of least resistance. If your system isn’t designed to produce predictable results (and as my previous work demonstrates – 95% or more of small and mid-market sales systems are not designed to produce predictable results), you won’t get predictable results – no matter how much training or development you do.
When the behaviors you desire are not aligned with the underlying structure guiding those behaviors, you suffer structural conflict. This leads to oscillation, the one-step forward, one-step back syndrome.
Think back to the last sales training session you conducted. What happened? You probably saw improved performance immediately following the training, followed by a slow (or fast) reversion to the norm. If you’re like most of the companies I’ve studied, as soon as you felt as though the training was sticking and you could now count on the results you wanted, your focus switched and that was the precise time results started sliding.
Make no mistake; implementing a structure to create predictable, sustainable results is not easy. The structure itself will require new behaviors and skills. This is where training comes in. Training and development are effective at addressing knowledge and skill gaps when they are clearly identified and understood.
The Key to Consistent, Predictable Top Performance
The key then is to focus your energy and efforts on the system/structure that guides your go-to-market efforts. You’re going to have to overcome three challenges to do this:
- Systems thinking is different than behavioral thinking. It’s far easier and simpler to just look at the behavior that preceded the result (or lack of result). It’s cleaner and less taxing. Systems thinking requires constant investigation, testing and refining. A great resource to get your started to understanding systems thinking is Marty Neumeier’s book The Designful Company.
- Honesty and transparency is critical to successfully implementing systems design in go-to-market efforts. You must be willing to address the underlying barriers wherever they lie.
- Resistance. Simply put, different doesn’t test well. When you begin rolling out a new system the existing team will fight it. It’s natural. Accept it and stay focused on your end game. Remember, when you’re in the middle of this type of change, everything feels like failure. It’s easy to lose focus and fall back. Staying focused on your end game, and following the first two points will get you through it.
Management & Training Still Has Value
Several weeks ago I shared the success of HubSpot’s sales approach. If you read the post, or study any of the information that’s out there about how they manage the sales process, you’ll see a company that is highly focused on training, coaching and development. The key is that they’ve built the right structure, and their coaching and training is totally aligned with that structure.
When the two are aligned you’ve got magic. When there’s conflict you’ve got trouble. It’s not sexy or particularly exciting. Top sales performance has far more to do with the system/structure than anything else. So pull back on the training and behavior modifications and focus your attention on the structure. Do this and predictable, fast growth is yours for the taking.