Without regular improvement, sales professionals stand still while the competition moves forward. Matching and exceeding their pace demands consistent growth.
Here, we look at the five key steps, in sequential order, that form a sound sustainment strategy.
Sales professionals need to know that sustainment is a priority for leadership. These expectations should be expressed in clear, actionable language containing no ambiguity. Leaders should underscore the urgency of the expectations by expressing them in the right medium. That is, they should conduct a meeting in which all expectations are outlined in person. If the selling organization is distributed geographically and an in-person meeting is not possible, then leaders should share expectations via video.
The key is to avoid easily dismissed messaging like emails or a short memo. Just as sales professionals are expected to sustain skills, leaders should be expected to sustain communication by reinforcing expectations consistently.
Skill training often unfolds in the controlled environment of a classroom. Scenarios are clearly defined, and outcomes are hypothetical. Converting learned selling skills to the real world is more challenging. Leaders need to help sales professionals bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world by encouraging skill adoption immediately after training when it’s still fresh.
When sales professionals see the effectiveness of the skills in real selling situations, they’re more likely to continue using them. In other words, skill effectiveness gives sales professionals agency, and agency underpins sustainment. To connect skills to real selling challenges, leaders should also encourage sales professionals to “post-game” each sale, whether successful or not, and reflect on lessons learned. Consider Harvard research findings showing that “reflection has an effect on both self-efficacy and task understanding.”
Change takes time, and most of us are impatient. If people don’t feel like they are making progress with the new behaviors, they are much more likely to return to their pre-training behaviors. It is important to break up behavior change into incremental steps so that people feel that they are making progress. In addition, success, even partial success, is important so that people feel the benefits of putting in the effort to master the new knowledge and skills.
Many sales professionals have habits that are counter to the new skills. Leaders can help them overcome this problem by using the old habits as a trigger for the new ones.
Hold people accountable for their behavior change. Doing so helps people to take personal ownership of change management. Without accountability, sustainment can feel like a “top-down” approach in which sales professionals take directives from leaders. This approach puts distance between the sales professional and the outcomes of their work.
Sustainment requires sales professionals to see the connection between their efforts and results. Create this setting by communicating that each person is responsible for sustained skill adoption. At the same time, remind employees that the leaders represent a support structure and resource.
Accountability is a routine; it must be perpetual and underpinned by direct feedback. Employees need to know where they stand. Honest communication is important because it ensures that the employee’s understanding of expectations matches those of the leadership. Finally, accountability requires measurement. Both leaders and employees appreciate the clarity that comes from well-defined metrics.
Behavior changes must be “real” and not a “flavor of the month.” If people go through training but their work environment has not noticeably changed to support the new behaviors, people will think that the new behaviors are optional or, worse, that management is not serious about change.
On the other hand, if people go through training and return to a work environment that is significantly different and better aligned to support the new behaviors, people will see that management is serious about this change.
Download the Sustainment Suite brochure to learn how Richardson can equip your sales team with just-in-time assets and tools to support their continuous learning journey.