Sales leaders: Develop your technical sales team members before they’re history

by | Jun 21, 2017 | Business Ideas, Leadership, Managing Teams, Professional Development

Pen on notepad

In my work training and coaching technical sales teams and their leaders, I’m always surprised when a business or sales leader tells me they don’t believe in investing much (or sometimes anything) in developing their team’s abilities and expertise. Big mistake.

Study after study has shown that good training takes time and money but pays dividends many times over by boosting revenue, motivation, productivity, innovation and bottom-line results.

So why do so many business leaders resist this path to success?

The main reason I hear is “they’re only going to leave and take the capabilities I paid for elsewhere.”

To which I say: Ignore your sales team’s development at your peril!

Yes, I know – margins and budgets are tight. But it’s important to remember that even during challenging economic times, your best and brightest have options to work elsewhere. If you don’t help the members of your sales team to grow and develop, they’ll take their talents to a company that will. Or they’ll stay and wreak equal damage by losing interest in moving your company to higher levels of sales, profits and innovation.

As the late Zig Ziglar once said: “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is . . . not training your employees and keeping them.”

Here are some other paralyzing myths that I’ve heard from sales leaders. . . and a few suggestions:

  1. “We don’t have the time”Tom, VP of Sales for an electronics distribution company I worked with, saw the need for his over-busy direct reports to become more sophisticated and effective leaders. His managers and supervisors were working with salespeople who were transitioning from transactional sales to highly technical, complex, design-in, longer sales cycle situations, and everyone was struggling.He opened a meeting that kicked off the beginning of a one year training program by saying:“We are busy. You and your people are under a lot of stress. And we’re here for two days of this session and another six days over the coming year. You’re probably thinking: ‘I don’t have time for this. My people will mess up without me.’ “But good companies take the time to hit the ‘pause’ button and learn,” he continued. “And we don’t want to be a good company. We want to be a GREAT company. ALL great companies hit the “pause” button regularly to learn, figure out what’s working, talk about what’s not working, and get what’s not working to work. That’s where we’re going.”

    Some of Tom’s employees subsequently departed (a good thing) but those who stayed took advantage of the opportunity to learn and develop. They’re still there, and the division has brought in whale-sized deals that were unthinkable before they took the program.

  2. “Training is expensive”If you haven’t committed to developing your team, you might experience sticker-shock when you do. Good training is not cheap, nor should it be. Instead of focusing on the size of the investment, think about the returns you’ll reap. If each member of your technical sales team makes one more sale this year, or grows a small account into a medium or large one, or lands a whale-sized deal, what might that amount to? Certainly more than you spent on training.As a rule, consider investing a minimum of $2,500 annually on each employee. In my business, I invest a minimum of $5,000 each year, Some years it’s closer to $10,000. My investment includes coaching for myself and others on my team. I also invest heavily in ongoing learning (live and virtual programs, books and magazines, conferences, ToastMasters, MasterMind groups, and technical training). A company I work with invests close to $4,000 per person annually for a division of 30 people ($120,000). Using the new knowledge and techniques they’ve learned, they recently grew an opportunity by $1.5 M annually for at least the next five years ($7.5M).Lately, I’ve received a number of calls from sales leaders who want to include something new and interesting in their upcoming annual sales meeting but aren’t sure what they want (training? lecture? team-building activity? 90 minutes long? two days long?). Or they want to offer their people an ongoing learning program.

    They’re shocked when they find out that good programs cost more than 50 cents, so they back away.

    And then they wonder why good people leave and the mediocre stay.

  3. “My people resist change so development is a waste of time and money”Be careful about the messages you inadvertently send to your people. If you believe they won’t change, guess what? They won’t change.And if you’re not reinforcing learning with ongoing practice, discussion and coaching, you’re making it difficult – if not impossible – for your people to succeed in an ever-changing, highly-competitive business environment. Yes, some people resist change more than others. But ongoing learning is THE BEST competitive advantage. Raise the bar.
  4. “Development efforts are best concentrated on high potentials, who already do a good job” You can indeed see a significant return on investment in your high potentials. But they make up only about 10% of your workforce. You probably have another 10% who are marginal performers at best. But what about the 80% in between, the “Develop Me or I’m History” middle that is responsible for doing the bulk of the work? Imagine what even a small investment in their development might yield.Remember: Growing your sales team and your business means growing your people. Forget that . . . and the rest is history.