History is said to repeat itself, and sales history is no different. Whether it’s the dress code, the compensation plan, or the frequency of sales team meetings, chances are you have heard someone in the sales team say; “we’ve done that before.” Let’s take a look at the different ways organizations tried to become effective at selling over the past 100 or so years. Why? Because chance are, you’re organization has all or some of these forces at play. All of them need to be used to help your sales team succeed.
1890-1920: The Era of Sales Science
The sales frontier….In this era, pioneering companies focused on defining the expectations of sales people and their sales managers. They realized that salespeople needed to build trusting relationships and also be experts in their product. More importantly, organizations focused on defining sales systems, methods, and approaches that would work. In this era people began to understand and write about what professional selling entailed.
More importantly, individuals sought to proactively teach new salespeople about the profession. Most of the learning was informal, with a focus on teaching individuals how to sell through examples and through coaching. Pioneering sales managers found that isolating the transaction as a specific moment in time allowed them train new salespeople and fellow managers on what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid any missteps in the future.
Because sales managers were often seasoned salespeople, they were able to relay stories and effective strategies for engaging customers. Topics such as “how to approach a customer” and “how to give a handshake” became part of many sales training programs.
Some questions to consider…. Are you in a frontier sales organization?
– Does your sales organization change the sales compensation plan frequently?
– Does your sales training seem to focus solely on making salespeople product/solution experts?
– Does your formal sales training program last a few days and are sales managers expected to coach and teach in the field?
– Does the organization focus on facilitating one transaction at a time?
1920-1945: The Era of Sales Process
The roaring 20’s of selling….This era saw a shift occur within sales and sales training practices. Up until this era, the focus had been on helping salespeople identify and close one transaction at a time. Sales teams quickly realized that the approaches grounded in the previous era began to create some challenges. Teams were having trouble scaling their efforts to reach more people. Facilitating more transactions in a more methodological manner became the focus. Team members and trainers developed methods to train new sales representatives on repeatable sales processes. The sales process become the foundation for effectively facilitating more transactions.
It was during this Era that many of the terms we use today were coined such as; canvassing, territory, quota, sales team, and sales process. Up until this time, most salespeople learned on the job, through self-directed methods of trial and error or by watching others. Sales managers began using printed tools such as books to teach their sales teams. Training was designed to help salespeople understand the product features and benefits, how to make an effective presentation, and how to close strong. Entire approaches to selling began to focus on the importance of flashy sales presentations and the art of overcoming objections. The importance of a positive mental attitude became a cornerstone of many training classes.
Are you in a roaring 20’s sales organization?
– Nobody can train salespeople better than the sales manager!
– Are motivational talks given to salespeople repeatedly?
– Is 75% (or more) of sales training content really product training?
– Do sales managers believe all failures stem from a poor attitude or lack of motivation?
- Does your organization have the capacity for multiple transactions at a time?
– Is your sales team focused on being “flashy”?
1945-1985: The Era of the Sales Relationship
Is your sales team stuck in the “All about me Era”?…. In this era, immediately following World War II, individual luxuries exploded as consumers began to demand more and more comfort in their lives. The age of the advertiser and marketer had arrived with the creation of mass communications (such as television) and the explosion of print media. During this time, sales training emphasized pre-closing activity and landing new business deals. Training audio tapes began taking hold, printed newsletters were more prevalent, and more magazines supported the needs of salesperson development. The goal of sales training focused on helping salespeople gain the attention of the prospective buyer, building the prospect’s interest, and turning that interest into desire to take action through a personal relationship. Many salespeople were taught about the hierarchy of buyer motivation. As a result, training included different types of customer relationships and their unique needs (i.e., buyer types, decision makers, “gate keepers”, coaches, etc.). Sales training included closing techniques, scripted responses to buyer objections, and understanding buyer body language. Emerging technologies such as the portable phone and the fax machine were also trained, helping salespeople become more accessible to clients. As a result, clients had faster access to salespeople who were often the first person they would call with any questions or concerns.
Do you work in an “all about me” sales organization?
- Training is conducted on the types of buyer behavior sales teams encounter.
– Salespeople are expected to serve customers after the sale but very little training is provided in that area.
– Training is heavily focused on overcoming objections and “canned” responses to buyer concerns.
- The organization seems to be focused more on salesperson activity, then on sales team learning
– The sales team is isolated from marketing and the learning organization.
1985-2005: The Era of Sales Technology
Is your sales team from the “dot-com” sales era?… During this era, the internet boom was coupled with the wide-spread use of computer technology in client organizations. Because sales processes were well understood and consumer behavior become well known, organizations turned to technology to help speed up salesperson reaction times to market trends, keep them abreast of important industry news, and develop a more solid understanding of their clients. Customer Relationship Management and Sales Force Automation tools became widely. The newly available information enabled the entire transaction experience became more widely understood by marketing, selling, and servicing departments.
Within sales training, more emphasis was placed on service after the sale as well as bundled products into more encompassing solutions. Companies began teaching salespeople about consultative selling and how to valuate solutions. Salespeople were taught to become more problem solvers and required to think more like a CEO who understands the entire ramification of a purchase decision. Due to the complexity in the market, training focused on vertical expertise and project management skills. Sales managers began to hire for skills rather than training existing salespeople. Training programs began to focus on new-hire programs as sales talent become harder to find. Centralized training and annual events became more difficult due to dispersed teams.
Do you work with a dot-com sales organization?
- The paradigm seems to be “hire for the right skill and personality traits” as opposed to training existing salespeople.
– New hire training focuses on CRM training, product training, and administrative skills. Selling skills training is almost non-existent.
– Salespeople are responsible for the own professional development and skills attainment.
– Sales managers spend more time troubleshooting deals, filling out paperwork, and working company issues than coaching salespeople.