I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
B2B buyer behavior has changed dramatically, yet many sales managers are struggling to make sure their reps got the memo. With basic product and services information readily available on the Web, buyers invite reps in for a sales meeting because they want more. They’re looking for a partner in solving their business need – a partner with market context on best practices, trends, competitors, compliance, risk and other information that can help them frame the best path to a solution for their own business.
Trouble is, many reps arrive simply prepared to disseminate rote information instead of ready to solve problems that win deals. A recent Forrester Research Executive Buyer Insight survey found that only 20% of customers felt that sales reps were adequately prepared for the sort of value-added conversions that not only lead to second meetings, but also drive purchasing decisions.
What’s more, offering that context often allows reps to deepen engagement with senior managers, instead of keeping the dialogue at the level of the organizational gatekeepers like purchasing managers whose primary focus is to achieve lower pricing.
Sales managers may think they have the pulse on what their reps know – after all, they arranged for training, provided coaching and may even have done a ride-along. But when the rep is out alone, how do managers really know sales reps are prepared to win in this new contextual-selling environment?
Original brain science research done at Harvard and replicated elsewhere shows that continual, small doses of reinforcement has been scientifically proven to change even ingrained behavior and substantially increase retention on even complex skills. Through the application of game, reputation and social mechanics, such as scoring and competitive leaderboards, this approach substantially increases engagement and user satisfaction.
This research is being applied to both improving sales force performance and allowing sales managers to better understand what reps know, and how managers can help. This is particularly true as mobile devices offer the opportunity to reach reps in new and measurable ways – and as data analytics deliver a more precise understanding of areas where the sales manager’s limited coaching time would have the greatest impact.
For example, at Intuitive Surgical formal sales training on a new offering could often end up taking place months before the actual product launch, due to timing of national sales meetings, engineering delays, etc. This lag time usually meant that managers had no idea if important selling skills, competitive responses or client approaches were retained during the gap – a situation that could limit the effectiveness of the launch.
Intuitive recently explored the new mobile, game-based, analytics platform called Qstream that evolved from the Harvard research. Qstream’s platform delivered brand manager-approved challenges that reps would answer in three minutes or less a day, several times a week – often while waiting in line for a cup of coffee. Typical question-based challenges are designed to go beyond rote product information, and into the broader context needed to engage with different buyer-types – or to problem solve during a sales call. Once a rep answers a challenge correctly at least twice, it is retired ensuring that the rep has mastered a particular response or skill.
Perhaps more importantly, the platform aggregates and delivers to sales executives a real-time view of reps’ performance data. This is done not in the spirit of heavy-handed monitoring – but to allow sales managers to manage the investment of their time with reps. For instance, managers can identify at a glance those sales reps who clearly get it and therefore needed less coaching. Conversely the approach flags individuals perhaps in need of extra coaching on objection-handling or other sales skills.
As for Intuitive, they even went so far as to do a three-way benchmark comparing information retention scores from those who attended the national sales meeting without ongoing reinforcement, those who attended and received 1:1 coaching with a subject matter expert, and those who experienced the Qstream mobile platform approach. The results were dramatic. Intuitive found that the mobile, game-mechanics driven approach delivered the same retention as access to a 1:1 coach, and better retention than the training program alone upon retest – with far less investment of time, money and resources.
Furthermore the Qstream platform provided managers with a plethora of data they could use to drill down into each individual’s performance. Finally, when an executive would ask, “How effective is our sales support investment?” Intuitive could provide insight using data, not hunches.
Sales managers who differentiate their sales force by making sure it focuses on buyers' needs first – and company needs second – are the ones who land atop annual rankings of best sales forces or best companies to sell for. They have adapted their selling process to the economic shifts, changing government regulations, competitive landscape, and more.
It’s time sales managers go beyond annual kickoff meeting training sessions and 1:1 chats with reps to gauge their preparedness for the new world of selling – and leverage ongoing, measurable approaches to monitoring what reps know, so they can better equip sales reps and indeed the entire organization to win.
Lisa Clark is Vice President of Marketing at Qstream, which provides mobile sales enablement and analytics for driving high-performance teams.