"Real People" Preferred
Despite—or perhaps because of—the development of higher-tech methods to deliver training, use of formal/in-person training
programs in the field or home office are considered the most effective technique both for new hires and tenured sales people.
A second interpersonal technique—mentor/direct one-on-one training—is a close second.
Formal coaching programs get majority support as well, ranking about equal to computer-based, video, or other long-distance
training (about 60 percent positive).
At the same time, 'virtual' collaborative programs (communities of practice, wikis, blogs) have not really caught on as of
Undoubtedly, as the commercial model changes, the value of coaching and mentoring the sales force will increase. The collaborative
customer-focused behaviors necessary for success must be encouraged and cultivated—and these and other changes are always
best supported by strong guidance from managers and leaders. Organizations that can quickly and effectively ramp up their
coaching/mentoring capabilities, and then focus them on their strategy for change, certainly will have an advantage.
Whether the preference for interpersonal methods for training and development will endure is an open question. However, because
the costs and logistics of in-person training/coaching/mentoring are high, we are seeing more and more movement away from
this approach—despite a likely shortfall in effectiveness. One need only experience the customer service phone tree to see
an extreme example of this technology-led evolution. However, the very best companies will find a way to address this dilemma.
Training: What's the Priority?
Approximately 80 percent or more of companies in our study provide training for sales managers in the areas of coaching/counseling,
planning/organizing/execution, interpersonal skills, and selling skills. Even more prevalent (90 percent-plus) is training
in the areas of leadership, compliance, communication, business acumen, and product knowledge. Interestingly, only about 60
percent provide training for managers in managing change. In the current environment, we would expect this latter percentage
to be higher.
For sales representatives, the most prevalent areas for training (90 percent-plus) are product knowledge, selling skills,
customer focus, computer skills, and business acumen. In an industry that seems to be embracing the concept of teams, just
40 percent of study participants provide their reps with training in the area of teamwork (though 70 percent train sales managers
in this area). This may be yet another sign that the reality in many organizations still trails organizational aspiration.
Culling the Leadership Pool
As in past years, the dominant criterion for selecting candidates for career development and advancement from the sales rep
talent pool is "prior sales performance"—reported by more than half of our study respondents. Management selection is a criterion
for 30 percent. Only 20 percent use the results of assessment/development centers for candidate selection.
Just 15 percent use years of experience as a criterion here—probably a good finding that shows that tenure, in and of itself,
does not always translate into the ability to do a bigger or better job. However, despite all the discussion about the need
for sales professionals to demonstrate business acumen, only 15 percent measure this when identifying candidates for advancement.
Drivers of Performance
How are companies driving the performance of their sales force? The overwhelming majority rely on product training to ensure
appropriate knowledge and on incentive compensation to motivate and focus their people's efforts. The next most popular driver
is sales/competency training. Again, we anticipate a shift here in the coming years to accommodate the move away from the
traditional "product-centric" approach.
Evaluating First-Line Managers
Virtually all respondents feel that their first-line managers are good at providing feedback to their reps about their selling
skills and providing them with clear and specific performance goals. Some 90 percent also say that these managers do a good
job assisting sales reps with business analysis.
However, participants rate their first-line managers much lower on communicating the broader organizational mission and coaching
reps for long-term career development. In the interests of reaping the performance benefits of an engaged workforce, all companies
would do well to improve in this area.