Smart Sales: Catching Up with the Training Companies

During the past few weeks, I've had some illuminating conversations with executives from some of the leading sales training companies. Among them were Donal Daly, CEO of The TAS Group; Bill Bennett, senior vice president of FranklinCovey's Leadership Practice; Elizabeth Vanneste, Miller Heiman's CMO; Mike Rohan, president of Executive Conversation; and Steve Andersen, managing partner of Performance Methods.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> I reached out to Elizabeth Vanneste after seeing a number of press releases about Miller Heiman's expansion outside the U.S. In addition to international growth, Elizabeth reports Miller Heiman employs 91 sales consultants and is still hiring. She reported the company "finished June with one of the best months ever," and were "ahead of plan with new customers and new customer revenue." <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Although Miller Heiman has invested heavily in virtual learning, they aren't experiencing as much movement away from instructor-led, live training events as some of the other firms. In fact, Elizabeth said that delivery method "isn't going away."<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Bill Bennett had a different perspective. He told me one of FranklinCovey's largest clients has abandoned classroom training entirely. As a result, FranklinCovey has developed a new virtual delivery mechanism, which I had previously heard about from Mahan Khalsa (co-author of "Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play," a powerful treatise on selling). <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Both Mahan and Bill were very excited about this new development in technology-enabled learning. Neither Al Case (ESR's principal analyst) nor myself have seen a demonstration yet, but I'm certain we will in short order. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Performance Method is another firm that has weathered the economic storm quite well. Steve Andersen's business model is quite different from the other firms. PMI's highly customized approach attracts certain categories of companies with a degree of seriousness about and commitment to sales effectiveness that is refreshing. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We know that business knowledge&#x2014;specifically, the ability of a salesperson to articulate the business impact of their product or service&#x2014;is a critical success component in most B2B sales environments. Executive Conversation is a leader in this area, although there are other companies in the space. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Mike Rohan walked me through Executive Conversation's investments in on-demand learning. The two main reasons for that move, from his perspective, are the restrictions in travel for their existing market and their strategy of expanding to the small- and medium-size enterprise market.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Donal Daly continues to drive The TAS Group's technology (the Dealmaker platform) as their primary differentiator and the core of TTG's sales effectiveness improvement approach. Over the past year, The TAS Group has integrated all of its learning content into Dealmaker. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> This approach isn't for every company, but ESR believes more companies seeking sales effectiveness solutions should more heavily weigh technology-enabled learning and selling in their overall consideration. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> A short note: The CEO of a company that engaged with The TAS Group 18 months ago recently told me four out of their last five quarters since doing so were "record breaking." He attributed this to "better execution, strategic selling [meant generically, not the trademark owned by Miller Heiman], and discipline."<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Finally, I should mention I had a wonderful reunion with Rick Page, CEO and founder of The Complex Sale, in Boston a few months ago. Rick was an inspiration to me when I was a participant in a sales training program he ran in my company a number of years ago. He turned my head around about selling. Rick has been personally facilitating live coaching Webinars and three-day Sales Management Academies in Atlanta. These are worth considering.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> There is an important message here. All of the firms I've mentioned provide real value to their clients&#x2014;but none is right for every situation. If you're seeking assistance from a sales training company, make sure you completely understand all of your own requirements and carefully match them against the capabilities of your long list of providers. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> This all takes time and energy, true. But now, more than ever, you can't afford to make a mistake.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell" and CEO and founder of <a href="" target="blank">ES Research Group</a> in West Tisbury, MA. In addition, he delivers keynote speeches and workshops on sales performance.</i>