For years sales reps were assigned to sell a dedicated product to a specific target prospect, but through corporate consolidations, reps today must often sell across multiple product lines, vertical markets and buyer types.
At the same time, quotas continue to skyrocket, competition gets tougher, and prospects who do agree to meet want context, comparison and problem-solving from your reps, not rote product detail from a brochure on the Web.
Managers need to actively pivot reps toward doing the sort of contextual selling that is expected in this new selling environment. Despite your best sales enablement efforts, however, advances in brain science show how much “forgetting” we humans do, and that ongoing reinforcement and recall of information that reps need to know, is indeed capable of driving durable change in selling behaviors.
Here are five ways to make it happen:
1) Respect how the human brain actually works. Analysis of the “forgetting curve” shows that within days, up to 79% of knowledge is forgotten. In selling, this means a dramatic drop-off in new product, market and competitive positioning knowledge when it’s needed most. At least 20 randomised trials conducted at Harvard and elsewhere in the past decade prove that there’s a neurophysiological basis for this: 1) information is preferentially retained if presented and reinforced in small amounts over short intervals of time. 2) the mere act of answering a question improves knowledge retention when combined with immediate answer feedback. When harnessed together, they have delivered improved knowledge retention – up to 170% in some cases – and help sales managers ensure that key selling skills find their way to everyday use.
2) Monitor what reps really know, deeply. Often managers don’t know where to begin to guide their sales reps. Performance against quota is implicitly a retrospective measure of how well sales reps will perform in front of demanding clients. Shadowing reps at meetings is time-consuming. To effectively monitor and manage reps, sales managers need a granular understanding of exactly what reps know, and how well they apply it.
3) Personalise the coaching to build confidence as well as proficiency. More confident sales reps sell better, but sometimes the most confident reps may not be those with the greatest domain expertise. When you ask them to cross-sell, especially in highly competitive and regulated industries, that’s a potential issue. Imagine the benefits to a sales manager of being able to see at a glance the reps who are struggling to understand a specific topic or skill. Managers could proactively apply a fix for exactly what each rep needs – helping turn average sales reps into top performers.
4) Learn the benefits of sales automation, but rely on personal selling skills to get the deal. Systems don’t close deals and make quotas – sales reps do. Sales managers must choose the right mobile, social and gamification approaches to help their reps achieve the relationship-building and contextual selling skills they need.
5) Correlate insights to sales performance. Technology makes it possible to gather data and readily document what individuals know. Organisations can use this data to gauge how well individuals are applying what they know to today’s complex selling environment. Then, through use of predictive analytics, teams can correlate metrics of sales rep capabilities – including engagement, performance and proficiency – to actual business results.
Brain science now shows us that contrary to assumption, even the most seasoned sales reps can indeed learn new tricks and cross-sell with heightened effectiveness when they and their managers leverage what has been learned from this research to drive durable changes in selling behavior.
By Louella Morton, General Manager of Qstream, provider of a mobile enterprise solution for managing and measuring the capabilities of sales forces.