Today’s sales professionals find themselves facing unprecedented, and often uncomfortable, change. More and more salespeople have larger territories than they used to have, and are responsible for selling a wider range of products and services than they’ve ever sold. They've got a lot to do, and they usually have less time in which to do it than they had last year.
That’s on the personal level. On the organizational level, we see more and more organizations moving toward an inside sales model, in which all the selling takes place at a distance, leveraging modern communication technology. We also see some teams moving toward a remote sales model, where salespeople do not all show up at a single location when it’s time to begin the working day. Overlaid on all of that, there’s a constantly evolving marketplace, an increasingly sophisticated customer base, a shifting base of top-performing salespeople who are harder to hang onto than they used to be, and an ongoing revolution in communications technology that shows no sign of slowing down.
It’s almost a perfect storm. For most of us, it feels like there are too many moving parts, too many uncertainties, and too many surrealistically compressed timeframes to deal with. One important question is: How do we help people keep up? How can we create and sustain a learning environment that supports sales professionals who must operate—and succeed—in such a world?
Here are four action items our clients have found helpful.
1.Spread the word that ongoing professional development is a must, no matter how busy you are. The competitive environment in which salespeople are now working is changing faster than ever before—and that means they must be constantly open to the possibility of learning new things. Their learning must focus on two areas: the inevitable transitions in their marketplace… and the best steps they can take to maximize their own performance. Let each member of the team know that management considers supporting ongoing personal and professional growth in each of these areas an important priority. Then follow through on that commitment.
2.Make sure online learning is part of the development plan. Tight schedules, expanding responsibilities, aggressive sales targets, and evolving communications technologies have combined to create a world in which digital learning is an increasingly important resource for salespeople. Make sure your team has the chance to take advantage of that resource.
3.Consider that many salespeople prefer digital learning that comes in smaller, bite-sized pieces. Many salespeople no longer want to read or listen to material while they’re in front of their computers. Instead, they want content they can play on their mobile devices as they exercise or perform other tasks. They can't possibly devote three or four hours out of every single working day learning! They’re looking for learning tools that help them take advantage of much, much smaller time windows. Most will be highly receptive to learning that takes place in brief bursts, via tightly edited, focused audio and/or video content. (We’ve built up a significant online library of such content.)
4.Make sure “pay time” comes first. Yes, salespeople should take the time to listen to and watch certain things that promote their own personal and professional development. They shouldn’t do that, however, during what we call “pay time”—those scheduled periods of the day devoted exclusively to creating and sustaining business relationships. The more flexible the learning tools are, the better those tools are at standing alone, and the easier those tools are to use… the more likely salespeople will be to fit their learning sessions into available “non-pay-time” calendar slots.
Follow these four guidelines, and you’ll have gone a long way toward helping your team to compete, thrive, and, yes, keep working for your organization—despite the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace.