RAIN Group Sales Blog

Your source for sales advice, tips, research, and insights to unleash sales potential.

Frank Cespedes, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, discusses his latest book, Sales Management That Works: How to Sell in a World that Never Stops Changing (Harvard Business Press, 2021) in this Q&A with RAIN Group.

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Reinforcement has been a trend in the world of sales training for a while now. All the research data in sales training—and learning and development in general—supports the need for robust reinforcement. But it’s still not happening often enough. According to Aberdeen, fewer than half (44%) of companies formally follow-up initial sales training with reinforcement. At the same time, the companies that do reinforce training see 20% more sellers achieve sales quotas.

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Many sales managers and coaches are never taught how to lead effective sales coaching conversations.  So they start with, “What’s up?”  Then they listen to sellers for an hour with a bit of back and forth about this opportunity or that one. They may talk about the need to fill the pipeline or come up with an idea to move one of the opportunities forward. And then the hour is up.

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Finding and hiring new sales talent is a long and expensive process. Once the new rep is hired, it takes time to onboard them. Especially challenging during the ramp-up period is building their knowledge in: Your customers' businesses—their markets, industries, customers, regulations, etc. The needs you solve and how to identify those needs

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What challenges do sales enablement and sales leaders encounter most often? Which ones are most difficult to tackle? What are the top sales priorities for the next 12 months? How should they be addressed to ensure they're achieved? To find out the answers to these questions, we surveyed 423 sales, enablement, and company leaders. The results are fascinating. As sales researchers and analysts, it helps us to see not only what's changed, but also what's changing right now and where the industry is going.

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Delivering value, making the ROI case, retaining customers, growing accounts, recruiting top talent, forecasting, implementing a sales process, utilizing sales technologies, winning against the competition, developing sales managers, coaching sales teams, generating leads, onboarding, productivity, compensation... There's no shortage of challenges sales leaders face. Recently, we surveyed 423 sales, enablement, and company leaders to uncover their top challenges and priorities, and how they approach them.

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What are the top challenges sales enablement and sales leaders face today? What are their top priorities? Which are most difficult to tackle? How should they be tackled? To find out, we asked 423 sales, enablement, and company leaders these questions. This report contains our findings, including 3 initiatives that will help sales and enablement leaders address their challenges and achieve their priorities.

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"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." This is a popular axiom in the coaching world. You'll find it everywhere. Here it is in a CBS News story: "Myth 8: Professional coaches tell their clients what to do and give them advice. Fact: Bad or inexperienced coaches tell their clients what to do and are constantly giving advice. Good coaches do not…Instead, coaches help their clients explore and come up with the best choices for them based on where they are and the client's vision for their future. Coaches are experts at the process of changing behavior, which is much more valuable than giving instructions."

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There are common competencies every organization needs to build a truly successful sales organization. At RAIN Group, we organize these competencies around the Sales Competency WheelSM.

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The most popular and effective diets and workout routines—ones that lead to the most dramatic changes—have specific guidelines and rules for how to follow the system. No such system existed for sales—until now. And, it works.

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Most leaders agree the opportunity to improve sales performance through coaching is tremendous, including: Maximizing sales wins for their most important opportunities Filling the pipeline with new, qualified opportunities Maximizing sales to key accounts Focusing sellers’ time on the most important activities Developing skills, knowledge, and attributes to get to the next level of performance Keeping sales activities and motivation at the highest sustainable level These leaders are turning to coaching because coaching is an increasingly popular—and increasingly proven—method of improving performance.

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The state of sales management in many companies is disturbing. Consider these stats from our Top-Performing Sales Organization study: 66% of companies do not believe their sales managers have the skills needed to manage and coach sellers. Elite performers are 2.4x more likely to agree that sales managers and leaders are effective at maximizing selling energy. 71% of companies do not believe people in selling roles manage their time and day effectively. Almost 7 out of every 10 sales managers do not have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively! Astounding. It's certainly understandable, though. Sales managers are directed, by the very definition of sales management, down the wrong path.

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It may not be considered the most glamorous aspect of sales management, but as business and technology have evolved, it’s widely acknowledged that getting sales operations right is imperative for a smoothly run, effective sales organization. On his blog, Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing even hails it as “THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams.”

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In sales forces of any size, changing the sales organization structure is an uphill battle. Structure relates to the organization of selling at the company, including sales compensation, territory design, account and lead assignments, and more.

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Sales performance analysis is typically quite involved and complex. It’s no easy task to figure out how to improve, change, or build a sales strategy. But for those sales leaders who are taking a longer-term view and looking into sales performance optimization, a performance analysis is a necessary precursor.

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Most sellers and sales leaders often ask themselves: "Is my win rate any good?" Win rate is one of the most basic measures of your sales success, so it’s only natural to want to benchmark your performance against the average to see how you stack up.

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If you've spent any time in complex sales, you know there's been a significant shift in how you win sales opportunities and grow accounts. In our client work and studies through the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, we've seen that:

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"What gets measured gets managed." – Peter Drucker Only when you have a good sense of what's going on in your organization can you decide which buttons to push to make the greatest improvements. Even small efforts to track key sales metrics can quickly drive better results.

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There's one question I wish I got asked more when working with leaders looking to invest in B2B sales training. That question is, "What will it really take to get the best results?" If you're a seller, you can probably relate to the experience of a well-meaning trainer giving examples from an industry that had nothing to do with yours. Or maybe they didn't have a credible track record to back up their claims. And when the training was over, it was back to business as usual the next morning.

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Sales training is a multibillion-dollar business. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated to be more than $5 billion (according to Dave Stein in Sales Training: The 120-Day Curse from ES Research Group). Yet, also according to Stein, between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. If we do the math, that amounts to somewhere north of $4.25 billion of unproductive training.

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More than ever, sales teams are struggling with unqualified leads, missed sales goals, and lost opportunities. Increasingly, company and sales leaders are turning to coaching as a solution. And, why not? Executive and personal-effectiveness coaching have historically yielded great results. According to the International Coach Federation, the average company can expect a return of 7 times the initial investment in coaching.* Shouldn’t the same be expected from sales coaching?

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Sales coaching has become a hot topic in business as more and more companies see a significant return on investment. However, where executive coaching and personal-effectiveness coaching yield positive results, sales coaching lags behind. Whether it's a lack of time, inconsistent coaching conversations, unavailability of tools and resources to succeed, or weak coaching skills, sales managers and leaders simply aren't producing strong results.

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Sales coaching—working one-on-one or in small groups with firms and individuals in a highly focused manner to help them increase effectiveness, revenues, and sales—is a large part of what I do on a day-to-day basis. Done right, it’s one of the most powerful, impactful ways to increase revenue and boost individual or group performance.

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Salespeople know what they sell, and they sell what they know. When it comes to salesperson knowledge, people know too little about their particular industry, their customers’ needs, and their company’s products and services to be able to sell the full suite of solutions. Without this knowledge they can’t: Ask the right questions to uncover the complete set of customer needs Match the right products and services to those needs Position the value of their company as superior to other options available to the customer

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There are thousands of ways to kill a sale. Some are obvious like not showing up to a meeting prepared, not following up, not listening, not establishing trust, going to proposal too early, not speaking to decision makers... the list goes on. These are all pretty easy to see and with some work and practice can be overcome. Then there are the killers that hide beneath the surface that many sellers and sales managers do not even know exist. They are the sales weaknesses that are a part of an individual salesperson’s makeup that act like weights pulling them down.

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Do your sales managers know how to coach and motivate your sales people? Your sales staff is underperforming, but you can't figure out why. You're pretty sure that you've hired the best possible talent, but some days it seems like your sales staff is the gang that can’t shoot straight. Where did you go wrong?

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