The Last Mile:

Why Bad Training Can Break a Good Organization

Centuries of sales training and billions of dollars of research have failed to answer one crucial question in sales: why do our attempts at getting our team to consistently engage prospects and customers with a great message ultimately fail? Marketing creates a great message and shares it with sales, yet, in the field, change is hard to come by. In reality, there is a fundamental missing link: the last mile—sales training.

When shifting from old copper wiring to fiber optics, the telecommunications industry ran into a massive problem. They built out these brand new fiber optic networks, spending billions on the powerful and effective update, but found that standard copper wire and dial-up modems connected houses to the network – the last mile. As a result, even with the most up-to-date technology, the last stretch of centuries-old wiring all but eliminated the advancements of the rest of the system. The concept has surfaced elsewhere, in highways and power lines, and yes, in how we approach training.


Many parts build a chain than ends at the last mile (via Blown Fibre Optic)

In an ideal world, your business is a well-oiled machine, built on strong methodologies that maximize productivity and drive sales and growth. The various teams that ultimately influence a sale, for example, are part of the same network: marketing drives leads into the funnel and influences prospects along the path, while sales converts qualified leads into delighted customers. This focus pairs with modern messaging that delivers insights to your prospects, forcing them to engage with new ideas and change their way of thinking. These links make up one part of a large network that connects every element of your business, and if any links are missing or broken—the last mile—the system fails.

Our current training and learning structure is the last mile. You can build new go-to-market strategies, but their success is directly dependent on our reps and their learning. The way we train and teach our reps is that broken last mile. We will continue to fail without a different approach to training.

Sales teams, according to the Sales Leadership Council, still spend billions on training on average each year, yet reps forget 70% of all lessons within one week.

Rather than engaging with our reps how they learn – through observation, imitation, recognition, and repetition – we still use the same old “sales kickoff” model. Half-focused reps, deservedly enjoying a well-earned break in this year’s tropical hotspot, are lectured at for three days and are expected to fly back home and hit the number. It doesn’t work, because the entire methodology relies on a corporate teaching methodology built centuries ago – sound familiar? Sales teams, according to the Sales Leadership Council, still spend billions on training on average each year, yet reps forget 70% of all lessons within one week. The reality is that most of what we teach is trapped in the bottleneck and forgotten before reps can absorb it, and nothing we change before this bottleneck will fix the issue.

CommercialTribe solves this problem by repairing and rethinking the last mile where it matters: how we train and learn. Our video-based social sales learning solution gives reps the chance to teach and learn in a way that actually reinforces knowledge retention: through practice and refinement, and with critical feedback. Reps practice and receive feedback asynchronously, using video in a safe, confident environment. And they take ownership of their own learning destiny because it happens on their terms. The results are encouraging for any sales organization: reps practice on average 6.5 times with the CommercialTribe solution, critically absorbing and refining the content until they get it right. When is the last time your reps did anything 6.5 times?


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The 3-Step Process to Managing the Q4 Calendar

From now until the end of the year, you have just over 12 weeks. Removing weekends and holidays, you actually only have 55 business days left! How long is your sales cycle? Aside from driving urgency and building skills around time management, you need to be narrowly focused coming into the end of the year.

If you direct the right organization, you can still make significant strides in using the remaining time to close. Three steps, shared between your team and management, can help get you there.

Step 1. Plan to renew all latent opportunities in your pipeline before December.

Before seeking new business, take the time to put all of your cold prospects into your October calendar, giving them your full attention. You simply have no time left to close a sale in December if you start reactivating an opportunity in late November. Remember that most winter holidays begin in the third week of December, and prospects will not return to the office until January – Q1. The end of the year in particular is vital to renewing these opportunities, because prospects are likely to have open budget and time to plan your costs into their 2015 options. Remember that you’re fighting the status quo in Q4 – urgency needs to drive your communications.

Offices empty in December – get ready now.

Step 2. Make prospect tiers your favorite tool.

Qualifying your prospects and leads is a vital part of any sales process, but when you have just 55 days left to make sales, you need to be even more discerning. Organize your prospect pool into four graded parts: A, B, C, and D – As require you to drive urgency, Bs still need to build the value proposition, Cs haven’t quite seen the business need, and Ds are complete re-engagement candidates. Create scripts for each. Try staging these tiers around the actual buying cycles of your customers: data by Revegy suggests that teams that align their sales process around customer buying cycles have an average 60% win rate.

Step 3. Have reps create their Q4 “Plan to Make the Plan.”

While a central plan helps to guide the Q4 close, each rep needs their own version. If reps fail to stay organized and methodical, each lost sale tears down the plan that you’ve formed at the top. Guide reps into creating a personal plan that builds to their goal. How many opportunities at what conversion rate and what average deal size do they need? Engineer to the goal but putting a value on every opportunity based on the “A, B, C, D” methodology or simply where it is in your sales process. Your top performers will do this naturally, but now’s the time to get everyone on the same page.

Is Your Sales Team Practicing 6.5 Times?

Build a Sales Practice Environment

Rehearsing makes sales conversations far more effective, yet few sales reps ever get the chance to do it. Here’s how to use the latest principles in social learning technology to make them want to learn.

Practice Payoff

Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about “The 10,000 Rule,” which states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at anything to achieve mastery in sports, business, or anything requiring skill-building (expertly debated by S. Anthony Iannarino here). We’ve all heard of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods’ relentless practice routines, and the reason that they practice is that it absolutely makes you better. Malcolm Gladwell famously said it best in his Outliers:“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

Does that also hold true in the world of sales? Absolutely.

Consider what happened when a medical technology company implemented a sales training program that included deliberate practice. Prior to the rehearsed presentation certification, about 1 in 4 customers were converting to the new product when it was presented. After they practiced? It jumped to a 95% conversion rate.

Sales conversion rates went from 25% before to 95% after presentation rehearsals.

How did they do it? The company executed what would be considered today to be an unconventional approach to sales practice and training:

  1. Sales reps attended a training session to introduce the new product…nothing unusual here.
  2. Reps then prepared presentations to teach back what they had learned…most wouldn’t go this far.
  3. Reps practiced those presentations repeatedly in front of video cameras and then in front of managers, getting feedback and then refining…now this is really different!
  4. Reps practiced using the new product itself…I would hope so!

The Sales Kickoff Conundrum

Now think about what that means for the traditional way we’ve taught reps.

The Sales Kickoff: the one time in the year when you can really get the sales team fired up and trained on all those new products you want them to sell. You’ve brought the entire sales organization together for three-days in a tropical hotspot and they’re excited. You’ve got great speakers and great content. You’ve even organized facilitated role-plays.

The live role-play has been the sales leader’s answer to practice for a very long time. But let’s be honest: role-play may be a rep’s least favorite part of any training event. Half of the team is disengaged, just watching the clock for the time to be over, while the other half, taking it seriously, doesn’t really get enough time in the batting cage to make a meaningful difference.

Before you can blink, the kick-off is over. Most of your reps go back to using the same old tactics. You could bring every rep in to present in front of senior leadership, but that just wastes not only more resources, but their valuable time.

There has to be a better way.

Practice Accountability

Few would argue that most sales teams do not need more practice. The question is how to do it: wishful thinking does not always translate over to time and resources. The answer is to stop asking reps to practice on your terms and start allowing them to practice on theirs.

Today’s practice environment for sales should leverage what many millennial sales reps like to do on their own time: use social technology and online video.
Here are the principles that you need to put in place to create a culture of Practice Accountability.

  1. Give reps model examples from leading peers and subject matter experts on video so they can see what good looks and sounds like. This way if they’re unsure, they have a place to start.
  2. Allow reps to practice wherever and whenever they want on video, so it’s convenient for them.
  3. Create an expectation that reps should practice as often as they need to, until they feel comfortable with the results.
  4. When ready, allow reps to share the results of their practice with managers, peers, or subject matter experts to get feedback and refine. In doing so, you’re building a library of sales tribal knowledge.

With CommercialTribe’s sales learning platform, reps are practicing an average of 6.5 times before submitting for feedback.I know, I just read your mind….that’s 6.5 times more than they ever practiced before! Reps have a safe and confident environment to work on the craft of selling, practicing, sharing, refining, and ultimately getting it right.

If you’re interested in learning more, just reach out to us via the link below:

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