Old Dogs Old Tricks

I spoke to a friend of mine from a decade ago the other day, doing pleasingly well in charge of a blue-chip global sales team selling chiefly to governmental bodies.   He fondly likened the sales office to walking into an officer’s mess, yet confided that this was perhaps not the best vibe for such an endeavour.

It appeared that one of his teams was made up exclusively of mature salespeople.  Yet the problem emerged that they’d never really had any sustained formal coaching.  His plan was to get them an on-going programme of improvement support, but was wary that two obstacles stood in his way.  Firstly, what are the chances of anyone over 40 years old genuinely taking on board new ways of behaviour, however well-intentioned, and secondly, some of the gaps he noted were so ground-level, such as objection handling and political mapping, that addressing them alone for the first time of asking could take an interminably long time.

This scenario I’m sure perturbs many a sales manager at present.  There exists two main issues.  On the one hand, you must think about how to train the potentially disinterested, and on the other, how to ensure that this becomes a process, rather than once-off event.

I didn’t ponder this situation for a few days, and then I ran an impromptu session at a client’s sales meeting with strikingly similar issues.  My advice duly formulated to take small bites at regular sittings.  It’s probably best to address certain skills in isolation and then graduate towards placing these in the context of your sales process.  An example here would be that if objection handling is the primary concern.  I began the session by asking the team to write down their most encountered objections, with a particularly vocal joker playing whiteboard monitor.  Each member then wrote on a post-it their most hated one, which were cunningly collected so as to keep a track of who disliked what.

I asked whether someone would like to role-play to set a marker.  Luckily a couple of people jumped in and we were off and running.

The idea was that by the end of the session each person had an action point (or even plan) to deal with their most feared objection.

This helped the couple of hours race by, even if the audience often needed reminding that “yeah, but…” isn’t an acceptable immediate response to an objection!  Then at the end I tried to set-up a way of ingraining this new behaviour into their pitch routines, which is a whole ‘nother story.

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