Ray Makela, Chief Customer Officer of the Sales Readiness Group, a leading B2B sales and sales management training company, joins me on this episode to discuss the failings of corporate sales training, and why they are so disconnected from today’s buyers.
Andy Paul 0:32
Okay, let’s do the show. This is Andy. Welcome to Episode 442 of the Sales Enablement Podcast where I hold in depth conversations with today’s leading experts in sales, marketing and leadership six days a week. Joining me in the show is Ray Makela. Ray is the Chief Customer Officer of the Sales Readiness Group, a leading b2b sales and sales management training company focused on improving the performance of sales teams. Now do you realize there’s over 2.2 billion dollars spent every year on sales training in the United States. And yet surveys show wide dissatisfaction with the results. Well, with Ray, we’re going to talk about the six reasons why corporate sales training fails, and we’re gonna hear his recommendations for how to fix it. But first, Ray, what do you consider the biggest challenge facing sales organizations today?
Ray Makela 2:22
Well, you know, I think they run into a lot of challenges, especially as we look at the new year, and as we’re going into planning for 2017. But I think as we’ve seen over the last few years, customers continue to get smarter and more engaged before the salesperson gets involved. And so there’s so much noise out there when the client is more informed. And there are a lot more people competing for the same dollar. So you know, I think we’re all getting inundated with the automated emails, the spam engines. So trying to differentiate yourself beyond that noise As well as engagement with the customer in a meaningful way, I think that’s probably the biggest challenge is how do we make our role meaningful? And how do we matter to our customers?
Andy Paul 3:10
I was gonna ask you that question. So what’s the answer?
Ray Makela 3:19
So I think it means that we need to be better at the way that we engage. And the way we think of that is, we need to understand our clients business before we pick up the phone and make the phone call and say, Hey, tell me what keeps you up at night? You know, as I had a client years ago, who responded to that question and said, You know, I sleep just fine at night and my sleep habits really aren’t any of your business.
Andy Paul 3:44
Yeah, that’s our wants as well.
Ray Makela 3:45
Yeah. And I think that really stuck with me is, you better know what some of their key issues are before you make the first call. You better understand a little bit about their industry, and specifically their situation. So the questions you’re asking are helping them to either solve a problem or improve their situation, not helping you just get smart about what’s going on. So I think we have to be more educated, more in tune and really be prepared to have a meaningful discussion that’s going to help our customer or prospect move forward as opposed to just educating us on what they do.
Andy Paul 4:22
Well, right. I think that’s really a great point to make for people to think about discovery calls is purely a vehicle for you as a salesperson to get smart about the customer. Their expectations are increasing and I think you hit the nail on the head that you’re smart before you talk to them. And if you’re not, then yeah, they don’t really have time to educate you.
Ray Makela 4:43
Yeah, we better bring a few insights, you know, a few nuggets with us to that call that has them stop and think wow, that was a really good question or I hadn’t really thought about them. Or it’s interesting that you did that for somebody else in my industry right now and piqued my interest and you. With great research tools and the internet and social media, we can find out some of those connection points before we make that first engagement. And I’m not talking about hours and hours, but just taking that time to be a little bit more informed. And guess what the good news is most of the competition isn’t doing that. So you can stand out.
Andy Paul 5:22
And it’s really the inverse of what the customer is doing, as you talked about before in terms of customers being smarter. They’re using the same tools to find out about you and the options that they have potential solutions to the challenges they have and the goals they want to meet. You’re just using the same tools to find out about them. I mean, it’s not a mystery.
Ray Makela 5:45
Absolutely. And you better be a few steps ahead of where they are, even though they’re engaging much further along in the sales process. Then you know, maybe they used to and they used to rely on the salespeople. Right to be the walking and talking brochure. But now they can get all of that online, they can probably figure out what you do, who you’ve done it for, and maybe even how much others paid for your services. So you better have something else that helps to break you out from the noise.
Andy Paul 6:11
Yeah, I mean, there’s a great book I’ve referenced a couple times on the show recently called absolute value, and written by two professors out of Stanford. I call them sort of the heirs to Kahneman and Tversky. Their definition of absolute value is that these days customers have the ability through the tools that are available online to them and the resources available online, to really sort of almost understand what you know, economists called the experienced value of a product or service, meaning the value they’d receive from it, get a pretty perfect understanding of that before they ever engage with the seller. So it’s not just that they are smarter about products in general that in many cases, the customers actually have a pretty good sense of what’s going on like to use your product even before you engage with them.
Ray Makela 7:05
Absolutely. And you know one other interesting aspect is, when people say, well, does that mean the salesperson is going to go away? You know, is this the role of the sales professional dead? And I think just the contrary, I think what that means is, the salesperson needs to be that much better, and needs to do a better job at solving problems and being that advisor than just being the brochure that they can go and get online, or they can find out elsewhere. So I think we need to differentiate ourselves, by the way that we engage and how we sell in addition to our products and services.
Andy Paul 7:39
Yeah. And that was my first book that was all about that concept. So I bought how you sell, not what you sell, in terms of differentiating yourself. So one of the keys to this and we wanted to have a conversation about sales training is is training and getting our people more educated are salespeople more educated more in tune with the customers and you run around recently about, you know, six reasons why corporate sales training failed. But one of the articles on the factory site there is this $2.2 billion spent in the US or North America, I guess on sales training each year. And yeah, I think it’s fair to say that the general level of satisfaction with the results is not very high. I mean, at least from the articles that I’ve read, and the research, I’ve seen that CEOs summer one research for a couple years ago, like 67 70%, of CEO said, not sure I would still do this because I don’t get any ROI on it.
Ray Makela 8:35
I think there are two things going on there. One is we haven’t asked the question in the right way to determine if we are getting ROI, you know, do we know what success looks like? And one of the points we’ll get to in the article. The other thing is, yeah, I think we often go through the motions and kind of the training becomes an into itself as opposed to a means that we’re using to solve some other problem. Or accomplish something in the organization. So I think often it’s really hard to look back and say, yes, this was effective. And here’s why.
Andy Paul 9:08
Well, yeah, I mean, I think most companies, as you said, treat it as an obligation as a box to be checked. You know, we’ve got some money in the budget for sales training this year. Let’s use it without really thinking about, okay, what’s the really the best way for us to use this money? I mean, I had a client recently that had a similar conversation. I was like, Okay, well, that, here’s what we should be doing. And they said, Yeah, great idea. But, you know, we’d already sort of said, we’re going to spend it on this and it’s like, okay, but that’s not going to give you really want. But they were just bound to determine how to spend the money.
Ray Makela 9:42
Yeah, absolutely. And, again, why was that money set aside and what did we think was going to happen? And for that $2.2 billion, you know, what should we be getting? You know, what would a reasonable return be? If we were able to really satisfy those objectives?
Andy Paul 9:58
One, I think we could argue that 2.2 billion isn’t enough if done appropriately. I think that’s number I heard from talking to a gentleman, a guest on the show Frank’s Expertise, who’s a professor at Harvard Business School, his total and expenditure us each year on sales is $90 billion on sale, so we’re saying okay, roughly 2% of that is spent on training, which in any other case would seem laughably low. So I am spending on developing your employees. That’s ridiculous.
Ray Makela 10:30
Yeah, and if what we’re really talking about is allowing us to compete and win more successfully, then that’s at the heart. I mean, it’s at the heart of their job, but it’s also at the heart of what the business is trying to accomplish. And so that is a driver of success. That’s, that’s more than just a right training obligation, as you mentioned.
Andy Paul 10:47
So how do we start changing the culture around that? Because, I mean, clearly, it’s a systemic problem that starts at the top is that as far as I’ve been in sales, which, yeah, maybe it’s a little bit longer. Thank you but it’s been a while it’s never changed you know the seriousness with which most organizations treat it relatively low. I mean, there’s exceptions obviously some organizations do a great job role commitment to a learning culture and a learning environment for sales and for all the departments, but in the main most companies don’t. And so what’s your thought about how we start making a dent in this culture and sort of turning the ship around?
Ray Makela 11:30
Right, absolutely. And I think it’s a great place to start and end to ask that question, because we need to tie it again back to the problem that we’re solving and I think we’ve often missed diagnosing the problem so we get this all the time as an example.
Andy Paul 11:46
Miss diagnoses the problem terms of what sales training is supposed to fix about.
Ray Makela 11:50
Yes, thank you for clarifying that. You know, we may get the question well, our people need to be better at negotiating and closing. And when you peel back that onion and say, Well, why is that? It may be because we haven’t engaged and learned enough about the problem that we’re trying to solve for our customer. So when they get close to the customer saying, Well, you know, you’re not really fixing the scratch that I have the edge or we may just not have engaged at a level that really makes us that advisor.
Andy Paul 12:25
Yeah, I’d see people end gaming it all the time. So when you wrote your article, what six reasons corporate white corporate sales training fails, that misdiagnosing a problem, this was actually your first one. And what you’re saying is that, you know, people just aren’t clear about what the objective is, and perhaps even don’t break it down far enough. I think as you’re saying, as they see sort of a top level, outcome related issue that they want to change, but they don’t really look at the fundamentals beneath it.
Ray Makela 12:58
Absolutely. And I think it was really tied to the second point in the article that if we don’t have the stakeholders involved, so you know, in sales training cases that the VP of sales or the chief revenue officer or chief sales officer, if they are their team, and staff doesn’t have input into defining that, then oftentimes we roll out sales training, it checks the box, and we can get huge satisfaction, you know, ratings, and the salespeople said, yeah, that was the best training I’ve ever had. But then the CIO or CSO goes, we didn’t affect our sales outcome this year. Right, or we didn’t improve, you know, we haven’t grown the number of opportunities. We haven’t improved our close rates. We haven’t gotten higher margins, you know, what are those specific outcomes that we’re looking for? So we think that those two are very tied together. We need to have those stakeholders involved and it’s like with any change initiative, if we don’t have that leadership involved as part of defining the problem, and then helping to communicate and set those expectations. We will run the risk of solving the wrong problem or not addressing the need.
Andy Paul 14:04
And, you know, for two hours, I feel like okay, we checked the box, we’ve fulfilled our obligation. You guys are now smart because you listen to somebody talk for two hours, or, you know, listen to went through a one day workshop with you guys. And that’s structurally that’s a problem, right? Because they’re not, you need to be able to reinforce it, you need to have the changes adopted at the rate that people can swallow.
Ray Makela 14:48
Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the biggest, maybe historical problems with that is that training was seen as an event. So you know, it’s a two day session. We’re going to fly everybody to San Diego and we’re going to have some corporate meetings and we’re going to do two days of training, everybody’s going to leave, and they’re going to be smarter. And the question I always like to ask is, what’s going to happen on Monday? When they get back into the field? What’s going to be different? What commitments are they making? And what’s going to go on over the next six months to ensure that they actually apply those skills and they use the tools, and that there is, as you mentioned, the reinforcement and follow up. And so I think if we look at training as a mechanism for behavior change, as opposed to, book smart or they can, they can take a knowledge test and show that we transferred some knowledge that that doesn’t make the endgame or doesn’t accomplish that objective. I think we need to make sure that we’re working on a program that changes behavior, which may look like an initial training event, but then looks like ongoing reinforcement, and specifically coaching and follow up by the manager to make sure they’re doing things differently.
Andy Paul 15:59
Yeah, I mean, the key things are behavior changes repetition. You know, increasingly you see some new mobile platforms that are coming out that people are using and some of the larger enterprises. Yeah, unless people are engaging with the content frequently and trying to put in practice on a regular basis, what they’ve learned. Yeah, it’s just I think Xerox, talked about years and years ago with that, even in their own incredible training centers that they had back in Virginia, other places that their surveys were that their students forgot 90% of what they learned within the first month. And that’s just, we’re just humans, that’s gonna happen.
Ray Makela 16:42
Absolutely. And especially if there isn’t some expectation and mechanism. You know, one of the things we’d like to do is at the conclusion of that, if it is an in person workshop, there needs to be a clear commitment. And in fact, the participants need to write down and need to script that out and say, Here’s why. I’m going to do and also they know that Oh, 30 days from now or three weeks, there’s going to be a follow up session. And I’m going to be expected to come in having applied these skills and be prepared to talk about it, bring in a case study, or bring in a call planner, or bring in a negotiation plan, whatever that skill is, and be able to talk about it. And for our managers, they need to have gone on a coaching call and come in and be prepared to talk about how that coaching call went, well, now you both have the accountability, and you have some real things to talk about, as opposed to just going back over the slides presenting material.
Andy Paul 17:35
And one of the key reasons I’ll get back to what we talked about before that that doesn’t happen is that companies are skimping on their budget for training. I think until you see the sort of fundamental mind shift from away from an event, as you said to a curriculum, an ongoing, day after day, week after week curriculum that companies embrace for educating their sales teams working is gonna be stuck in this rut of sort of stop and start?
Ray Makela 18:05
Yeah, absolutely. And I think unless we rethink that, and in some cases, it may take a larger commitment, but you think of trust of that training failing, what’s the true cost of that, right, versus the benefit? Or the impact of getting it? And the significant ROI that would be associated with that, you know, we really need to look at how to do that successfully. And if that means we need to extend it out over a period of six months, you know, let’s look at what it’s going to take. And as you mentioned, there’s now technology and tools and ways that we can do that, without flying everybody back in and getting together. You know, every three months or something we can use virtual technology, as we do the virtual classroom. We’re also partners with organizations that provide mobile and ongoing incremental learning so that we deliver Those out to the mobile device. And have that reinforced that space reinforcement where it stays top of mind. And the research suggests that, hey, even just the fact that we’re having to apply those skills every couple of days, improves our retention. And actually, that’s behavior change.
Andy Paul 19:17
Well, that’s my set of behavior changes. And I think it seems to me like tying back all the points you’d made about solutions, oftentimes being too complex that we’re trying to train is that we miss the ball by well through the complexity and focusing really on. I call it some more advanced skills as opposed to just fundamental behaviors. Yeah, I talked to hundreds of CEOs and sales leaders and so on as part of doing the show. And, and one of the most consistent themes I hear about problems that they see CEOs find in their own organizations is, yeah, the person actually gets face to face with the other person or on the phone with the other person is, is the inability to engage in a meaningful way. And they’re spending all this money to make it happen. Is that one of the biggest problems I have, and it’s like, seems like we we get into sales training or teaching at a higher level than that when we should be still just make sure everybody, no matter how senior they are, in my mind, would benefit more from reinforcing that training as opposed to going to elevated skill training.
Ray Makela 20:50
Absolutely. And, you know, we use some sports analogies, time and again, in training and I think here though, it’s very applicable about the fundamentals right? You know, when you look at the best athletes choose your sport but the best athletes in any endeavor, it’s those fundamentals that make them great. In fact, they practice those fundamentals every day, right? They go to the batting cage, the driving range, they go out to the pitch or the rink or whatever. Right? And they’re practicing. And I think with our sales professionals, we often think, okay, they’ve been through training now they’ve got it. And, you know, as I like to joke, if we’re having them practice in front of the customer, that’s a really expensive way to do training.
Andy Paul 21:32
Absolutely, yes.I tell people if you would give me a choice between hiring somebody who I thought could prove was extremely responsive, you know, responsiveness was their thing, versus someone that was really sort of highly skilled, maybe in giving a presentation. I’d go with the fundamental behavior, the responsiveness all day long, I kill them and kill the other person if I had the response. And those are the things that build rapport with the customers, those are the things that start the engagement to build trust. And I just feel like we shortcut that too often.
Ray Makela 22:12
Yeah, absolutely. I think we either gloss over it or there isn’t enough time to practice and to continue to reinforce and as you mentioned, we’re actually accused trading partners, as you mentioned, that I definitely resonated measure, being able to continue to apply and doing it a kind of a fun way where you’re maybe competing with your peers a little bit, but you’re applying it to a scenario as opposed to feeling like you’re being tested. And now, you know, even a question like, okay, what might you do in this situation, to continue to build rapport to engage? Or what kind of questions would you ask, you know, those are great ways of reinforcing those key skills.
Andy Paul 22:53
Alright, so the last last point about your six we’ve already covered which was the fact that no reinforcement programs are in place but I had some on my own list of reasons why corporate sales training fails. So I just want to run through some of those with you. So the first one is no one’s directly held responsible for the results of sales training. I mean, it has to be someone’s job to be responsible for the outcomes of sales training, and how they got fired. If those outcomes weren’t there. I think we would have seen a change a long time ago.
Ray Makela 24:22
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it relates to, you know, one of the other points, which is, do we know what this is trying to accomplish? And do we know what we’re going to measure? Six months from now? What’s going to be different? And I think when we look at the classical Kirkpatrick model of measurement, you know, did they enjoy it? Did they learn anything? Are they applying it? And is it making a business, you know, difference or providing business results? I think we’re pretty good at the first two, we can measure if they like the training and we get good satisfaction scores, and we can test them. But as we said, the knowledge itself doesn’t mean that they’re going to do anything with it.
Andy Paul 25:06
Well, yeah, that’s one of the cultural things that needs to be worked on as well, because that’s one of my last points I was going to get from us is that we, some companies, do a good job with us. But again, by and large, most companies don’t focus on creating this learning environment. And unfortunately for salespeople, a big portion of them developing professionally, is put on them personally in their personal time. I’m in training that was standing you know, if you say, I started a program with a couple clients last year, or this year, excuse me, we’re recording in 2016. This will air in 2017. But, where we created a reading curriculum with a bunch of ongoing coaching and so on, but in order to enroll in the program, the client had to agree to set aside 20 minutes a day during the work day for their sales team. To read and engage in this curriculum, and believe, how can I tell people about this? How many sales leaders say what we have never given time during the day for our guys to get smart. That’s like, seriously, right? I mean, you’ll, you’ll spend a day and you’ll bring in somebody for $30,000 to run a workshop. But, you know, we’re running this program for over $10,000. And, and people in the course of a year, they read 11 books they would never read before, to educate them about sales and decision making and the buyers and so on. And all it took was investment 20 minutes a day.
Ray Makela 26:42
Yeah, I think that’s a great example of, you know, getting those commitments, and also somebody saying, this is important, and I’m going to sponsor it. Are they visible and are they making a point and to the question of who’s really held responsible. That’s the VP of sales or chief sales officer saying we want this to be successful. They’ll make those kinds of commitments, if they’re leading, leaving it, unfortunately to a learning and development professional, or a sales enablement professional and saying, Hey, we didn’t get our ROI back. I don’t think that’s fair, right? I don’t think you’ve set them up six to be successful if you’re not going to get the kind of sponsorship that you need. And so I think we really need to look back and say, you know, again, what are we expecting to happen differently? Do we have the executives involved? And the one other point, I guess I’ll make on that is, are we engaging and holding the managers responsible for the success of their team applying these concepts? Sure, because the trainer can’t be out in the field with them. And even if you have internal coaches, there aren’t enough of them to be out there. The manager needs to be as another blog, I wrote the chief training officer, right. They need to assume that responsibility. Aside from corporate training, I’m going to do things like have them read a blog article every week, or I’m going to do a session in my team meeting where we’re going to roleplay objectives, right, or objections that come up. And we’re going to simulate that environment. You know, I think the manager then needs to be the one who ultimately sees it through. And they’re only going to do it if the executives are saying, yes, this is part of our change program. It’s part of our overall, you know, implementation. And guess what, it’s important. And if you don’t do it, there are consequences for not doing that.
Andy Paul 28:31
Yeah, I would like to see the whole area changed in terms of how we even name it, instead of saying sales, training at sales, education, because, you know, we have a commitment to continuously educating our people and training against smacks of event oriented type events to be redundant. And both education and I’ve interviewed a number of CEOs on the show that have done just as I’ve done with these clients is you know, they set aside time during the day because it’s saying, we know if we tell a salesperson, look, read this blog article tonight, and we’re going to talk about tomorrow. We’re saying we’re giving you an assignment to go read it at home. And how important is it to us if we think you’re going to go read it at home? As I was saying, we’re going to take a little bit of our day devoted to making smarter about what you do.
Ray Makela 29:29
Yeah. And I think it sets a tone as well, that it’s important that we’re investing. And I think, you know, regardless, and you could look at millennials and say, Okay, well, you know, that development and mastery is really important to them. I think it crosses generations, right? I think all of us would feel like, wow, they’re investing in me. They’re making this important and I have a chance to improve my skills, whether I stay here for 30 years, or you know, six months. This is something that’s helping me improve Absolutely. Now there’s more engagement. They get help from a cultural standpoint.
Andy Paul 30:05
I agree. Yeah, it starts at the top, and just can’t be afraid to use all the time that you have. These statistics are what sales reps on average spend roughly a third of their time actually engaging with customers. And we can also Yeah, we’d love to see that number higher, but a number of factors play into why that number isn’t larger and how hard it is to make it higher. But be that as a mate, it means there’s time during the day that’s not taking away from talking to customers that could be used for professional development, and getting these people. Let’s use it. Okay, so right, we got the last segment show, I’ve got a set standard questions I ask all my guests. And the first one is a hypothetical scenario where you have just been hired as VP of sales by a company whose sales have, sorry, hit the skids. And the reset button is we had sales turnaround put into place. So what two things would you do Your first week on the job as the new sales leader that could have the biggest impact?
Ray Makela 31:05
Wow, I love that question. It’s actually in line with a case study we use in our sales management curriculum. Uh huh. And so I think it does. I think it’s true, right? I mean, it’s true to life in terms of that’s a challenge that some of us have been thrust into, or realistic one, and when you need to get your arms around pretty quickly, and so I guess I’d suggest two things immediately. One is I would really want to engage the managers. So the sales leadership team, whether that’s the directors and frontline managers, first to find out what’s going on, you know, what, what, what is the situation with performance management with coaching, you know, what are their skill sets? Are they really engaged because, as we say, I would want to start with the frontline managers, because that’s where you’re going to get the most leverage, right if they had, you know, eight to 10 direct reports. Well, let’s affect that. Have they set expectations? Have they clarified what success looks like for their team? Have they actually put the metrics in place to track? And if there’s a gap in performance, do they know what to do about it? Right? So I’d kind of want to under understand, and that’s how we approach our performance management system. Is any of that in place? And then I’d also want to find what we kind of referred to as a top performer analysis or top producer analysis. What are the good people doing that? That’s working? Right? And, you know, why aren’t the others doing it? So they’re just that we have a couple of anomalies, we have some superstars and we need to go get more superstars, or that a few people figured it out? Well, let’s do that. Whether we engage somebody to do that analysis, or maybe just some interviews, I want to understand really, what the rock stars are doing right? And how do we replicate that which might be through training might be through better engagement with the managers, you know, what have you but I guess those would be my two initial thoughts. is one, how do we engage the managers better and have them find out what the top performers are doing.
Andy Paul 33:05
Excellent, good answer. All right. So now I’ve got a few rapid fire questions. You can give me one word answers, or you can elaborate, if you wish. So the first one is when you are out selling your services. What’s your most powerful sales attribute?
Ray Makela 33:22
I think a lot of active listening skills have got to be at the top of the list. And, and I do feel like I mean, we get some pretty, pretty good feedback on that, Hey, you guys really listened to us. We appreciate that. So I think asking great questions and then shutting up. And, and, and listening, and understanding and giving feedback, you know, paraphrasing all of those active listening techniques, both help with rapport, which you mentioned earlier, but also help us really understand what’s going on there. What’s that problem that we uniquely now can solve in a different way than our competition? Okay, so I guess that’d be at the top of the list for me.
Andy Paul 37:54
Thanks for joining us, right. Appreciate it.
Ray Makela 38:05
Yeah, absolutely. And again, I appreciate the opportunity to be on the show today.
Andy Paul 38:48
My pleasure. Thanks for coming and friends, thank you for spending time with us today. Really appreciate you spending the half hour so with us as we listen to the conversations right and remember, as always, make it a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your own success. And one way to do that is make sure you don’t miss any of my conversations with top business experts like my guest today, Ray Makela, who shared his expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. So until next time, this is Andy Paul, thanks for joining us. Good selling everyone.