Cespedes Unmuted

Do a Google search for Frank Cespedes and one result on the first page tells you that “Frank Cespedes is a professional grappler and jiu-jitsu black belt.” It’s a different Frank Cespedes than the one we spoke with for this report — the  senior lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School.

However, “our” Frank Cespedes has the moxie, purposefulness and candid demeanor that makes it feel like it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to have “grappler and jiu-jitsu black belt” on his resume.

Cespedes was generous with his time and delightfully outspoken about a range of topics (some of which pertained to sales training) during a recent one-hour phone conversation. These viewpoints didn’t make it into our main story, but it would be shame not to share them.

Puncturing the hype about self-educated buyers being 50% or more down the buying decision path – “I’m not sure I agree with the premise because I’m not sure what the hell that premise is saying. What does it mean to say that the buyer is 50% or more down the road of a yes or no decision to purchase? That’s a classic example of pseudo-specificity. Using a number — very often a made-up number, I might add — to sound rigorous when the reality is what’s behind that?”

On companies’ inclination to hire best-selling authors or motivational speakers when sales training is what’s needed – “Talking about selling is not the same thing as selling. Much of that talk is so abstract. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to speak to companies and the previous speaker is some military hero who knows less than zero about the sales tasks in that company.”

On finding a reliable source for how much is spent on sales training annually – “I think most estimates about the amount of time and money spent on sales training are underestimates. A lot of what is called leadership or executive development contains a lot of sales training, but it doesn’t get listed as sales training. Many kickoff meetings, conferences and product introduction meetings are sales training and may not get tabulated that way.”

On the challenge to overhaul a sales process even when it may be evident that is what’s necessary – “People in both sales and marketing talk a good game when it comes to innovation, but the reality is they are among the most change-resistant functions in most companies. It’s not because of the DNA of the individuals in the job, it’s because of the nature of the job in the wider organizational context. So many other organizational plans throughout the business depend on sales forecasts and the ability of the sales force to make those numbers. As a result, sales and marketing are under pressure to ‘make the number,’ and their metrics reinforce those short- term business development activities. You basically stick with the devil you know despite changes in buying criteria and processes.”

On narrowing the focus of sales training to address vital aspects of the sales role – “Identify the skills that matter most today, not yesterday, in sales. I think there has been a lot of nonsense spouted about so-called ‘new normals’ as a result of the pandemic. The large issue is making the best utilization of your people. How do we deploy them so they focus on the areas where they are most important and really make a difference as opposed to things that marketing can do more efficiently? When we do that, we can make more training more effective because we can focus on those tasks instead of asking them to do everything.”

On the importance of on-demand training and less classroom instruction – Adults pay attention to information when they need it and where they need it, not weeks or months earlier in a seminar. That’s why just-in-time learning is important. There is an overreliance on classroom type training in sales training. Ultimately, sales is about behavior — about what people do or don’t do; what they say or don’t say. Skills are learned with task-oriented applications. Learning in sales is a classic example of modeling behavior. The way most salespeople learn a lot is by watching the best of their peers perform the job.

Frank Cespedes’ latest book is “Sales Management That Works: How to Sell In a World That Never Stops Changing.” More insights and articles are available at FrankCespedes.com.


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