Training JournalAs an L&D professional adding value to a sales team, it helps to know a little about sales methodologies. Selling is a little like chess: the rules are simple, but the strategy is complex and there isn’t a linear relationship between skill and performance.

There is a tipping point when salespeople start to outperform their competitors (other suppliers, or other uses of the budget). I’ve seen win rates in competitive situations increase from 30% to over 60% through the right skills and sales methodology.

The starting point for most modern sales methodologies was the team at Xerox, who pioneered the ‘needs satisfaction’ approach to selling in the 1970s. In 1988, Neil Rackham emphasized questioning skills with his SPIN® selling model, and his work on the buying cycle also drove customer centricity in sales. In the 2000s I worked with Neil on our Creating Client Value methodology, which creates progressive value by supporting customers around their Buying Cycle, and disruptive value by asking insightful questions about the barriers to achieving their objectives (and potential solutions).

The idea of disruptive value, and the insight that feeds it was picked up again with the Challenger model in 2011, and most leading sales methodologies now leverage some form of insight to reframe the customer’s thinking and create value.

So how can L&D use insights to engage the sales function in a conversation?

Insights from L&D

At this year’s TJ Awards conference, this was a big topic. Just as salespeople need to manage the decision process and bring insight to the table, L&D professionals need to do the same with their stakeholders. At the conference, we carried out a survey of the areas where L&D felt there was the most room to bring insights to their sales leaders. Some of the most significant included:

  • Sales management. Sales managers are often neglected, and L&D could help to highlight the full range of sales management skills needing development, from selecting and developing teams, to pipeline management and forecasting, vision and values, and even sales strategy;
  • Agility. Few organizations felt that their sales methodology was adaptive across different sales roles and customer types;
  • Conversion rate from inquiry to opportunity. This was seen as weaker than the win rate once an opportunity had been booked, and is often less visible to sales leaders.

These are all areas where some judicious questioning might uncover a latent need for L&D support within the sales function.

The survey also highlighted an opportunity for L&D teams to find out more about their sales functions. On average 25% of respondents had significant knowledge gaps around their own organizations, especially in account management, sales management and sales strategy. It’s easiest to bring insight to the table when you have a good understanding of the situation, and another reason why asking informed questions is a great way to start.

Author, Richard Barkey is the founder & CEO of Imparta Ltd., the global sales and service training company. Richard is an expert in sales and learning, and a pioneer in the field of business simulations. To discuss any of these issues, please contact us.