Transform-don’t train-your sales force – Part 4 The HOW in how-to

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

Jerry Stapleton

Last month we started our discussion of the practical-and untraditional-steps needed to make the change from traditional sales force into business resource. The first three steps were:

Step 1. Ask yourself if you need a direct sales force at all
Step 2. Start with the right raw material
Step 3. Build a concrete process around selling’s new business model

Now we’ll continue with steps four through six:

Step 4. Construct your transformation model around e-learning combined with real-time coaching.
Should you drop the classroom entirely? Yes, if you view its primary value as that of "education" or "skills transfer." It’s not that the classroom can’t accomplish these results. It’s just that it’s too easy to get caught in the belief that simply because you spent all this time and money on flying everyone in for the multi-day training event, you must have received a proportionate amount of value. The more money spent, the better the results, right?
Alternatively, if you view the primary value of the classroom session as a team-builder to help create momentum and set a clear direction for the transformation each salesperson is about to experience, then expectations are properly aligned with reality and the expense was worthwhile. Says Cisco’s Tom Kelly in the October 2000 Fast Company:
Most people are skeptical about learning that does not come in the form of classroom learning. You have to keep reminding them that the classroom retention rate is only about 25% after the first week and that, from then on, retention drops off significantly. The main benefit of the classroom environment is human interaction – make new friends, strengthen relationships, that sort of thing. That’s enormously important. But the classroom is not about acquiring knowledge. People need to accept that and stop clinging to a model that connects people but that doesn’t teach people.

E-learning: A step in the right direction.
Compared with classroom training, e-learning achieves a similar level of effectiveness but also offers some value beyond simply saving time and money. Many studies indicate that e-learning can actually increase retention beyond that which is attainable in the classroom because it allows participants to work at their own pace and, to some extent, to use their ideal learning style.

Real-time coaching: The sales manager’s most important job
If you acknowledge there is a significant difference between the traditional Vendor/Problem-Solver and the Business Resource, you recognize that neither classroom training nor e-learning is anywhere near enough to effect the transformation to Business Resource. Real-time coaching is what’s needed to complete the transformation. And real-time coaching is Job 1 of sales managers in a Business Resource sales organization.
Such coaching is truly a radical departure from traditional training notions, but it is an essential step if salespeople are to internalize both the mindset and skill set required of a Business Resource. Real-time coaching has a "learning density" infinitely greater than either classroom work or e-learning. However, before an organization can realize the power of real-time coaching, managers must be able to actually lead by showing-which is what real-time coaching is- not just lead by reinforcing.
There are two different types of real-time coaching: strategy coaching and skills coaching. Both are equally important. Strategy coaching, as its name suggests, seeks to teach the thought process a salesperson uses while implementing a sales campaign. Strategy coaching does not require a direct customer interaction for the coaching to be effective.
Skills coaching, on the other hand, needs to occur during live sales calls with real customers if the learning is to have the proper effect in transforming the salesperson.
Granted, some amount of skills coaching can be done with simulations, such as role-plays. But it’s best to use simulations to prepare for live, real-time coaching.
A manager should not conduct strategy coaching with a salesperson until the salesperson has integrated enough of the skills coaching to 1) make the manager confident of the salesperson’s assessment of a sales situation and, 2) convince the manager of the salesperson’s ability to execute the strategy that the manager and this burgeoning Business Resource have co-developed. Thus skills coaching always precedes strategy coaching.

Step 5. Take a hard look at how your own internal culture creates barriers to the transformation you want to make.
Two barriers run neck and neck for top honors. First, many companies tell their sales forces to develop long-term strategic business relationships with key customers, yet turn the screws for quarterly, monthly, or even daily numbers: paying for "x" while hoping for "y." The compensation plans in those companies usually reflect that disconnect, practically guaranteeing failure in any attempt to move to the Business Resource level.
The other leading barrier takes the form of a cultural over-dependence on the product. From software companies whose cultures are driven by developers to manufacturing firms whose cultures are driven by engineers, the world’s business landscape is filled with companies married to the notion, "If you build it, they will come." Unless that reliance on "the product" is shifted, it erects an insurmountable hurdle to the transformation from Vendor/Problem-Solver to Business Resource.
Because a company’s cultural barriers tend to be deeply personal and political, few companies are able to diagnose and remedy them on their own. This is a good area to look to the outside for help.

6. Expect that some of your people will not survive the transformation to Business Resource selling.
The kind of DNA-level change I am talking about does not agree with everyone. It can be traumatic for some. Not everyone will make it. If you are an executive or business owner, it is your responsibility to re-deploy those who aren’t cut out for it.

Jerry Stapleton is president of Mequon-based Stapleton Resources, LLC, and author of, From Vendor to Business Resource: Transforming the Sales Force for the New Era of Selling. For more than 10 years, he has been showing companies of all sizes, from start-ups to Fortune 500, how to sell to large accounts. E-mail:; web site:

Transforming the sales force
The sales training myth

So you’ve decided to transform your sales force for the new era of selling. The question is "how," of course. Classroom training? E-learning? Real-time coaching?
In this installment of his series based on his new book, From Vendor to Business Resource, Jerry Stapleton talks about what works-and what doesn’t-and why.
Participate in Stapleton Resources study and gain valuable insights into your sales organization. E-mail for more information.

Aug. 30, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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