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Post Covid - Leading an effective salesforce/ 1. Training

In this article, we will discuss the core sales capabilities your sales team will need to acquire through training and zero in on the more concrete actions you must take to ensure your upcoming, highly-anticipated innovation launches are successful.

COVID, this once-in-a-lifetime, event has brought tectonic shifts in the way businesses will operate in the future. In a series of articles, we will analyze what that means for key drivers of sales effectiveness, such as sales training, target setting and incentivizing, channel management, trade spend and pricing.

Training has always been crucial in aligning team capabilities with organizational needs and transforming mindsets. However, the pandemic has drastically changed the operational mode for most companies. As models and markets evolve and innovations continue being introduced, training is being urgently asked to up-skill and re-skill sales teams.

When lockdowns emerged, the role of training was focused primarily on how to use the idle time of sales teams and prepare them to work remotely. Sales leaders are now working to envision the new GoToMarket and the associated operational model when business gradually returns to “normality”. Innovations and major promotional drives will again be a pillar of sales recovery and growth.

Training must contribute in both respects: a) continue the already initiated major task of transforming the sales capabilities to fit post Covid sales’ way of operating, and b) more specifically, play its adjusted role of ensuring success in introducing new products and services.

A. Core sales capabilities needed in post-Covid era

i) Mastery of new channels reaching customers. Sales teams need to be more than just present with their customers when using new channels such as email, phone, live video, social media, or webinars. It is imperative that they feel fully comfortable in establishing true virtual relationships. For some team members that is an enormous mindset shift and skills task, as they believe in and are used to face-to-face interpersonal interactions.

ii) Time planning and usage when working at home Training deliverables include - How to plan and flawlessly implement an effective day of work whilst sitting at a desk, how to schedule the next meeting exactly when customers are available, how to use customers’ shortened attention span and limited time most effectively, how to take notes of customer meetings and feed the CRM, how not to be distracted by time consuming minor tasks. However, this is often neglected or sloppily implemented.

iii) Up-selling and Cross-selling offering more Value As sales volumes drop and new customer acquisition becomes more difficult, sales teams should be well trained to sell more to existing customers. Customers, however, will not commit to more or larger orders unless sales communicate convincingly what is the true benefit for them and how this will help them recover from the pandemic recession. Understanding individual customer needs is the complementary ingredient to excellent up and cross-selling skills. Sales teams must, however, go one step further: be creative on the solutions they offer to their customer needs and offer them more value. The easy alternative solution will be to resort to more discounts which will not only erode profitability but may spark a price war.

iv) For sales leaders: excellent management of teams remotely. Team leaders have always had the task of managing teams remotely. Now this task is even more difficult. Team members do not follow their normal journey plan in the market as they now work from home. They feel frustrated and miss the usual customer interaction.

Sales team leaders must therefore become great coaches and focus even more on 1to1 feedback and support. They need to plan for team meetings where their team members have the opportunity to exchange views with peers, increasing the velocity with which new ideas are adopted by the field and capitalize on successes of talented sellers. To add team activities which generate a warm team feeling, such as power breakfasts or end of day fun activities. They should plan to send craft beer, gourmet refreshments or special coffee to accompany such a meeting.

Additionally, because in this digital era sales teams operate in a cross-functional environment with other teams of similar hierarchy and authority, leaders need to be trained on partnership leadership within teams that they don’t have an authority over.

B. Post-Covid sales training linked to innovation launches.

Innovations are key in driving sales and generate excitement inside the organization and the customer base.
Post-Covid, a lot depends on our projection of how innovation will be launched in the future.
Do you believe that things will return to their prior mode within the next 12-18 months? How differently will successful companies in your industry launch innovations in the future?
The fact is that the majority of the customer base has been forced to evolve in their interaction with sellers, in comparing prices online and in managing their everyday time. Most will adopt some of these new habits permanently.

Companies too have seen higher efficiencies with remote launching. Several studies have shown that remote learning works. 87% of participants in a McKinsey study believe that the virtual experience is equally or more effective than an in-person workshop*. Viola, a technology-focused investment group showed that funds from trade shows and conferences were best redirected to content production (32%), webinars & virtual conferences (24%) and social networks (18%). Therefore, why return to the old?
Is it not better to push further forward and optimize the model currently applied?

i) Length and art of launch sales training. Online training is a different animal altogether! Participants cannot easily spend 8-10 hours in front of a screen, as one would do in a training room where hands-on applications, team tasks and role-playing fight boredom and support learning. Online training sessions are shorter therefore overall launch training is longer.
Also, training material must be purposely designed for on-line delivery and be accessible 24/7. Less PowerPoint slides and more breakout rooms to discuss topics and “discover” key points and more pre-recorded videos. Bite-sized segments with many breaks to counter web-conferencing fatigue. Time allocated for “water cooler” chats must be planned for.

ii) Innovation training to cater for online customer meetings. Sales personnel should simulate online meetings with different customer groups and practice the suitable talk tracks with each. They should be proficient in choosing the material needed for each customer need, have it readily available to be shared during the meeting and discuss it with them. It is not easy to keep a customer truly interested remotely unless the skills and material are of the highest caliber and the seller trained to be focused and effective!
Ideally, send in advance samples to key customers and invite them to discover the product together.
Do not neglect the hardware needed for effective online meetings: provide two screens for your sales reps and a standing desk or a table riser. Standing boosts energy and is felt by the customers.

iii) Extensively train sales teams on pricing. New online channels bring higher transparency in pricing. They can also bring customer friction! In a compliant way, sales personnel should be knowledgeable on how prices vary among channels and customer groups and what to recommend to each of their customers.
iv) Include a Wow effect on launch sales training. For many companies, a launch at the end of the pandemic is also an indication of turning a page and a crucial tool for sales recovery. This importance must be clearly signaled to the sales teams.
One of the advantages of remote training has been that very senior management have also been able to attend. A keynote speaker from the very top is now a must.

As technology now allows it, add elements of augmented, virtual reality or gamification. Consider a virtual reality training platform like immerse (www.immerse.io) or engagevr (https://engagevr.io). Get the team accustomed to the future by using an augmented reality technical training such as vinsight (https://www.vsight.io). Bring your presentations to a totally new level, with tv-grade webcast production and event analytics, by using something like a nextechar technology (www.nextechar.com).

Make it personal. You will be delivering samples and material to each participant so make it memorable.

Finally, ensure that your plan is also transferable to their customers. Maybe reconsider the overall process and use vimeo livestream (https://livestream.com) to share your no-audience conferences simultaneously with your sales force, press and customers worldwide.

Where to start? Agree as a leadership team to re-assess now the future of customer interactions, when the situation has completely returned to “normal”. Decide if you will leap forward to the future or take an intermediate step. However, be clear: the world as we knew it, is over! Design an overall roadmap to your training, both on sales skills and technical ability, for sales teams and customers, for young and old, for global and local. Be assured that remote works. You just need to have a long-term approach that is systematic and clear on priorities. Maybe reach out to an expert. Start from there!
*McKinsey. Closing the capability gap in the time of COVID-19

Last modified on Sunday, 25 April 2021 09:34