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Professionalise Your Sales Force: A Need for Change?

When I founded Sterling Chase 10 years ago, the typical sales training model involved one or two product training sessions and required the help of external trainers.

Over the years, however, it became clear that this approach to developing the sales force failed to deliver sustained results. This led many sales organisations to partner with external sales training providers to design and deliver sales development programmes, focusing on the measurement of ROI and similar targets.

This should have been simple enough. After all, a sales development initiative should ultimately improve sales. Nevertheless, many attempts to measure ROI failed because they weren’t seen through, while others failed because the egos of some sales people made them cautious of attributing their success directly to a training programme. This meant that the real impact and tangible ROI of many sales development initiatives proved difficult to track.

In the face of the recession, these difficulties reinforced the convictions of many business leaders that they should freeze their training budgets and return to product training and performance management processes which made their people conform to certain expectations and explicit behavioural standards.

At the same time, there was a push from HR directors for online and virtual training to save costs. However, there was still the sense among many business leaders that these mediums had little, if any, role to play in developing the skills , attitudes and behaviours of their sales teams.

“…with the economy showing signs of recovery, it’s crucial that sales organisations take a joined-up approach to developing a professional sales force.”

Today, with the economy showing positive signs of recovery, it’s crucial that sales organisations take a joined-up approach to developing a professional sales force. As a sales or HR leader, you need to ensure that there is a programme for continuous professional development in place for your sales people. After all, this is a pre-requisite for almost any other profession in the business word and, so, it must be the case for the sales force as well.

To professionalise your sales force, you should put in place a real continuous professional development programme that progresses your people towards best practice. You need to implement a real change programme that is led from the top. This means that any sales development initiative should extend to the sales management and leadership functions.

Even during the recession, high performing companies across were investing between 7% and 22% of their sales force remuneration budgets on professional learning and development (Source: ISMM). With the right approach, an applied learning and development programme that is directly aligned to a change programme can and will make a sustained business impact and will deliver huge levels of return on investment.

Online learning, blended with virtual, face-to-face and self-directed learning can be a cost-effective means of delivering rapid improvements in the effectiveness of your sales peoples’ selling. However, remember, the programme or academy must be treated as a change programme and a strategy for continuous improvement because it must make a measurable and sustainable impact on the whole organisation’s skills, behaviours, attitude and performance.

Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase