This week my sales management consulting company turned 6 years old. It was a milestone day for me and my team and it gave me pause for thought. I reflected on how many of our clients have been with us through every step of this journey and how many of our newer clients have come, not through outbound marketing activities, but through warm referrals from existing clients and the extended Trinity network.Recently, while travelling to deliver a workshop in the US for a client of mine, I was asked the standard immigration question, “What is your occupation, sir?”
“Sales management consultant,” I replied, which was met with a slightly confused look. I could and probably should have said, “Sales trainer,” which would have avoided the confusion, but that’s not how I see myself or my team - and it’s certainly not how our customers consider us, either. As I boarded my next flight, I tried to distinguish between the two professions in my own mind.
There are hundreds of sales management training programs on the market today. No, scratch that . . . there are thousands of sales management training programs on the market today. Anyone who’s spent more than a few years as a quota-carrying sales rep has probably ticked off at least a few of these training programs over their careers, and, in principle, most of these programs have at least some merit. Unfortunately, the fact that each program takes a different position on certain ‘sales 101’ basics can be confusing or downright frustrating for the average sales rep, trying to make quota each month.
That’s why the general advice, when attending these sales trainings, is to pick out just one kernel of truth that you can apply personally in your own day-to-day sales activities. If you extract a single nugget of value from any sales training program you attend and really apply these learnings in your sales activities, the consensus view is that the training was worthwhile.
I disagree. I’ve got a fundamental problem with the idea that a group of busy sales professionals should give up one or more days of their time, to sit in a room in the hopes of extracting a single piece of usual information or actionable sales strategy. The cost of these courses, the opportunity cost of the time not spent engaged in sales activities, and the mountain of work that piles up while you’re away from your desk better be far outweighed by the value you get from the course itself, to make the exercise worthwhile.
Is this an unreasonable expectation? I don’t think so.
Not all sales management consultants are created equal
Interestingly, this illustrates what I believe to be the core difference between sales training and sales management consulting.
Training is typically an in-and-out process, a brief moment in time, with a nice certification at the end of the day, usually followed by a rapid return to old habits and muscle-memory sales tactics.
Some consulting is designed in the same way, where the sales consultant gives you advice and just moves on. To me, not only does that lack professionalism, it misses the point completely. No frazzled sales director or CEO ever looked at their weak sales forecast and thought, “I know what I need: a sales training course”.
Any sales training or consultancy activity is a means to an end, not an end in itself. What the sales director is really looking for is a change to the current state, some movement of the sales needle in the right direction. Whether that is an increase in close rates, a drop in competitive losses, a clearer go/no-go decision, or a reduction in discounting, it has to have tangible, measurable impact to be worthwhile.
After almost 20 years experience in the IT sales industry, I’ve often seen sales training programs used as a band-aid to temporarily cover up an issue, but rarely as the cure to the underlying condition itself. These type of knee-jerk activities simply can’t deliver the outcomes we need in the complicated world of human relationships that the average B2B sales team operates in. B2B sales is, and continues to be a people-centric business. Failing to master these tricky human interactions (be they online or offline) is often what drags a lot of sales managers and sales reps down.
If you think about the phrase “relationships,” it epitomises our work in sales. Managers work hard everyday to establish relationships with their sales team. Sales reps strive to develop trusted adviser relationships with their clients. If they achieve it, the client will come to them repeatedly because they believe that the sales rep, deep down, understands what they need. I have even seen customers move suppliers to stay with a sales rep who they liked, respected and most importantly trusted.
But these relationships are not cultivated quickly. Often they take months or even years of careful nurturing before they will bear fruit. In a consultative sale, the process includes a give and take of information until the sales executive understands the wants, needs, and priorities of the client and the client has grown to know and trust the salesperson.
That’s where a sales management consultant comes into the mix. Sales management consultants are long-term trusted advisers whose job it is to tackle all the basics of sales, from tracking leads to closing deals. We have to stick around long enough to earn the trust and respect of your entire team – from leadership on down – to really engage your team in the process of change management.
But that’s only part of it.
A sales management consultant should also invest the time to understand your business and its unique selling proposition. They should get to the heart of what motivates your sales manager and fully understand each member of the team, including their individual work ethic, organisational skills, and sales aptitude.
A good sales management consultant will take the time to understand your business, a great one will see themselves as an extension of your business and will take your success very personally. To achieve this, most sales management consultants will have a process that is designed to assess, suggest, train, tweak, and then assess again, as they work with you to define a long-term sales plan that puts you on a growth trajectory.
Sales management consulting is not “one and done.” The psychology of selling is too complicated. And, let’s be honest, people are too complicated. Changing the behaviors of a sales team takes long-term effort, designed not only to break bad habits, but to replace old behaviours with new approaches, which deliver a better outcome to the sales rep and the customers they serve. This takes time and consistent effort to tear down dysfunctional behaviours or legacy processes and replace them with something that really bears fruit.
The truth I’m trying to share here is that companies spend a lot of money each year on a piecemeal smattering of one-day trainings, consulting, seminars, and other short-term vendors who may not know your business or market – and certainly don’t know your team. Perhaps it would make more sense to work with someone who has the capacity, experience, and most importantly the desire to guide your sales and sales leadership teams over the long-term, by providing a consistent framework of advice and support?
Like so many other aspects of business, sales management consultancy is a marathon, not a sprint. I for one am looking forward with excitement to the next 42 kms! (or 26 miles for my US clients).