In 1992 at the age of 22 I finished university; I am not sure which of those, or perhaps it was both, that lead me to the think I knew everything. It took me about three weeks in sales to realise that I knew nothing.
Thankfully, my managing director had the good sense to send me to a three day sales training course; this changed my life. I remember thinking at the time that I could not believe that people spent so much time at university learning (in lots of cases) useless information and something so important as practical interpersonal skills could be learned and applied with immediate effect.
The sales trainer became a lifelong mentor of mine and I recall him vividly saying that day, “there is a dearth of good sales people in Australia.” It was like he planted a seed in my brain and it became my life long journey to work out why.
It has taken a few years but I reckon I have it nailed. Mostly managers don’t do any of these as well as they could:
i. Recruit – They’ll look at someone and say “I’ve got a vacancy, he / she looks like a sales person, talks like a sales person, lets give them a job”. I appreciate it is not quite that simplistic but thorough processes including multiple face to face interviews, profiling and reference checks are available to all though are rarely used with any discipline. Additionally, I have worked in organisations where HR have got in the way and sabotaged the hire using “process” as an excuse for their ineffectiveness – please.
ii. Induct – Most induction programs go like this…. “here are your keys, here is a phone and customer list now off you go and sell.” Often this is called the sink or swim mentality but for me this is like throwing a brick to someone who is drowning. I did this many years ago and ruined some great possible careers in sales and it still sits with me poorly – at best this is incompetence and laziness and at worst it is disrespecting people’s careers and demonstrating a total lack of empathy.
iii. Training – Richard Branson said a few years back, “Train people so they can leave, lead them so they don’t want to.” Too many companies don’t train their people and the ones that do are most often ticking a box, spending what is in their budget regardless of the relevance or sending them on some generic cost-effective workshop (read ‘cheap’).
iv. Coaching – When an apprentice electrician is on site he has a foreman looking over his shoulder saying don’t touch the red & the blue wire because you will go “bang”. Likewise a graduate accountant has a finance manager overseeing them. A sales person goes out by him or herself from prospect to prospect hoping that someone will speak to them and be interested in what they have to offer. No cosy desk, no fridge to put your lunch in, no support from someone in the next cubicle when you have had a tough conversation; they just have to get on with their next call.
Many of the people I speak with these days struggle to get the balance of these activities where it needs to be. After many trials and tribulations of doing it for my employers, I now work specifically with organisations to build robust processes ensuring the performance and longevity of their sales teams.