As 2018 brings a fresh start, many of us make resolutions to improve in one way or another. Common New Year’s resolutions reflect personal changes, such as improving physical fitness or diet, altering daily habits, learning a new skill or branching out to new opportunities. However, the motivation we feel so urgently at the beginning of a new year often tapers off in time. It’s easy to drift back into the same old habits we were hoping to change. For example, the activity you see at the gym this month will be greatly reduced by March.
Business leaders make New Year’s resolutions too, developing tactical and strategic changes to increase revenue, decrease operating expenses and achieve higher margins. Unfortunately, these plans often fade as quickly as other resolutions. Organizations look back on change initiatives year after year, wondering why they fail to gain lasting traction. Why is this so often the case?
The tendency we observe with many business leaders is that the plans they develop to grow revenue and profit margins are focused solely on quantitative goals—asking their sales teams to sell more, sell more of some products and less of others, gain more new business, expand existing accounts, etc. What they often fail to do is create plans for improving whatever skills are required to achieve those goals. Their teams keep doing what they have always done while management expects different results.
Changing results requires changing skills. And that requires a skill development plan. We recommend taking the following steps to create one:
Identify where changes are needed.
Start with a broad organizational look at skill-related issues that are impeding greater sales success.
Don’t just describe the sales habits and activities that must be changed to drive higher rates of success; describe what the new skills will look like in action.
Create a change plan.
Clearly identify skills that will have the most immediate impact and which individuals are most in need of improvement in those areas.
Break down the change plan into multiple steps to more accurately monitor progress and attain accountability.
Set specific dates for training and for follow-up activities where sellers will demonstrate proficiency/improvement in designated areas.
Identify those within or outside of the organization capable of teaching key skills.
Forecast short- and long-term results from changes, and allocate the necessary budget to make it happen.
Execute the change plan.
Ensure that the entire salesforce understands how the investment in skill development will improve their lives.
Changes that look and feel like an added burden without adequate payback will not be implemented effectively.
When possible, hold up best practices from existing team members to demonstrate the connection between the skill and success.
Commit full time to maintaining a sales culture based on continuous skill development.
Never speak of results without talking about the skills that impact those results.
Optimize performance against expected results.
Avoid falling into complacency—skill development is never over, it’s on ongoing process.
Organizations that are expert in addressing the quantitative side of business may not be as comfortable handling qualitative development. It’s often helpful to engage the assistance of outside professionals when creating incremental skill-development plans. Third-party professionals are able to help develop and execute each phase of a change plan without bias. They also reduce the burden on busy executives by monitoring performance, maintaining accountability and building commitment to skill development within the salesforce.
As we’ve seen through the years, a sales culture based on commitment to continuous development brings success that not only impacts the first year, but also grows in successive years. With motivation already high with the start of 2018, now is the perfect time to take action and drive changes that will make a lasting difference.