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Why Role Models Don’t Work In B2B Sales

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Feb 13, 2014 4:00:00 PM

nicklausI still remember my first, real sales job. I got to work, excited about the opportunity to make an impact.  I sat down with my boss, he gave me the paperwork I needed to fill out, and then gave me my first exposure to sales training.  To this day, his approach is probably the most common approach used by businesses in all industries and sizes.

The training can best be summed up in two words! “Watch me,” he said. Yup, that was it. Watch and learn.

Today, when you look at most small and mid-sized (SME) B2B organizations (and even much larger, billion dollar plus enterprises) the dominant form of sales training is still watch and learn. Some companies take a more formal approach and assign mentors to new salespeople, and others will augment the shadowing with some formal sales training.

While the themes vary the net result is the same: an ineffective, unpredictable and inefficient approach to building a sales team.  The truth of the matter is that role models and mentors rarely work in building a sales organization.

Now, before the trolls come out and tell me all about the value of mentors, I am not saying that mentors aren’t valuable. In an effective sales environment, mentors are great accelerators.  But the key word there is accelerator.

If you’re sales system is producing predictable, sustainable and scalable sales growth, then mentors are valuable to the process. It’s important to note that I do not mean if an individual sales rep is producing these types of results – I mean if the system is producing it (meaning the at least 2/3rds of reps are doing it).

The vast majority of sales approaches implemented by most companies can best be described as a “sell-by-feel” approach. Everybody does it differently, and therein lays the problem.

There are an infinite number of variables that contribute to the success of a sales rep.  The world is littered with sales reps who put up great numbers for a specific company, at a specific time, with a specific set of customers, that fell flat when they tried selling something else.  Even the success rate of a sales rep who is successful with one company and moves to competitor selling the same basic solution to the same client base is embarrassingly low.

There are two primary reasons why the follow/role model approach fails sales organizations:

  1. As I’ve alluded to in the post, if the selling approach is tied to a documented system, style becomes the dominant determinant of success.  What works for one person, doesn’t work for another. 
  2. With no clear system in place, the new rep (whether brand new to sales, or just new to the company) has no effective way to learn.

If you were going to take up the sport of golf, how effective would your training be if you were merely told, “Watch Jack Nicklaus and do what he does.”

If I don’t have the knowledge of swing mechanics, biomechanics and an innate sense of how to make a golf ball go precisely where I want it to, I wouldn’t really learn much.  It would be far more effective to go to a golf pro, who has a system that is taught so that I can understand what I’m supposed to do, why I’m supposed to do it and am able to assess when I’m doing something that I’m not supposed to do (or not doing something that I was supposed to).

There are three keys to shortening the ramp up time for your sales team, and maximizing the predictability of success:

When these three components are present, using your best salespeople as role models will accelerate your success.

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