Transform, don’t train, your sales staff

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

But everybody has to get the message

Last month, we talked about the role of the sales manager in the new era of selling, and how that person can effectively manage a business resource, as opposed to a traditional salesperson.
But the buck – or the buy-in, in this case – doesn’t stop with the sales manager. True transformation must take place at the very upper reaches of the organization in order to succeed.
Yes, executives and business owners, that means you.
Nothing contributes more to the success or failure of the transformation of your company’s sales force than your own leadership. Nothing! You can approve the funding and say all the right words at the kickoff, then go on to other things believing that you’ve done your part.
Don’t kid yourself. You, as a senior executive, can delegate management of the project, but you can’t delegate leadership of the transformation.
You know about leadership, so lead this transformation as you would any other mission-critical initiative. Specifically, here are your marching orders, and there are only three:

1. Walk the talk – Actively participate in the process. Attend group sessions and get in the field together with the salespeople as co-implementor of the process with the salesperson, not as the heavyweight from headquarters paraded in to do his heavyweight stuff. (Nobody-the customer, the salesperson, or you-really knows what that is, anyhow.)
Take your cues from the salesperson as to what specifically she needs you to do. At the same time, hold her feet to the fire, insisting that she tell you where she is in the sales process, what the business issues and organizational dynamics are, and what result she’s looking to achieve in the call. Never let the salesperson get away with taking you in simply to introduce you.
Conduct a few Knowledge Calls with salespeople. Only then are you able to feel, up close and personal, the heartbeat of the process and, in doing so, gain untold credibility with the troops. When you attend a Business Presentation, remember that it’s the salesperson’s meeting, not yours. You may even need to remind the salesperson of that. Salespeople are often intimidated by your presence. You’re there to reinforce and support what the salesperson says. That way the customer sees the salesperson as a resource in your company-and one with clout.

2. Get unanimous commitment from the senior management team – Simply put, either get the unqualified commitment of your management team or reconsider attempting the transformation until circumstances change, or until you change those circumstances. To hope that a key member of the team will eventually "come on board" is a recipe for failure.
You and the rest of your team must create a strong sense of urgency around the transformation. Not the rah-rah kind of urgency but the house-is-on-fire kind. Salespeople must view the transformation as critical to the company’s very survival, not as an opportunity to merely acquire a few new skills. This sense of urgency also helps to ease the removal of the many cultural, procedural, and bureaucratic hurdles inevitably lining the path.

3. Transform your own thinking from "numbers" alone to "successful execution of a sound process" – I’ve seen more would-be-successful transformation projects fail in the long run because management loses its patience with process and falls back to its comfort zone-the numbers.
As an absolute prerequisite, you must have total confidence in the sales process you’re embracing to effect the transformation. Never use the project to test whether or not a chosen sales process works in your environment, i.e., "Let’s try the process on a few accounts. If we close business, then it must be a good process." If you show unwavering belief in the process and the people associated with the transformation project, you will achieve the desired end.
It’s understandable that the numbers have historically been the only measure of the performance of the sales team. There was really no other way to assess the output of their "special art." Now there is. As process replaces artistry in professional selling, metrics can be established to gauge how effectively the process is being implemented by each salesperson.
Unlike measuring by the numbers, which yields a lagging indicator of success, being able to transform your thinking will yield a predictor of success. As such, it affords you the ability to get a read on a salesperson even before he or she starts succeeding-or failing to succeed-in the production of numbers.

Want to know more?
Next month, we’ll talk about the criteria for measuring the true quality of a sales opportunity and I’ll show you how to map that opportunity’s quality against the resources needed to win it. See you then!

Jerry Stapleton is president of 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:

Oct. 25, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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