I know what you’re thinking – You’ve got to be kidding me. But hear me out on this. As a sales manager your job is to provide an environment within which everyone in your team can be successful. You need to train, coach, inspire and remove roadblocks. You also need to ensure they have viable territories, accurate competitive intelligence, and the necessary resources and tools to execute. And all of this built on strong intrinsic value in what they are selling to their markets. With all of this in place, you rightly expect them to be the positive differentiation needed to win business in hotly contested opportunities.
But how can sales people most effectively be the competitive advantage your business needs? How can they best be the difference that results in earning client trust and investment? Should you send them on training courses, drive a new sales methodology, implement a new CRM, engage expensive consultants to mentor and exhort, or perhaps an off-site team-building exercise?
There is an urban legend dating back to the height of the space race. NASA allegedly spent millions of dollars inventing a pen that could write in zero gravity. It was an amazing little feat of engineering. The USSR faced the same challenge… they used pencils. My point is that solving a problem does not need to cost huge sums of money and be a major feat of change management.
People are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. This statement is true of prospects, customers, your CEO, management team… and yes, your sales people. Telling people something does not impart knowledge or create motivation for change… they need to feel it and own it. So what is the best tool for instilling transformational change in your sales people?
Here are some clues: It typically costs less than $40 per person, sometimes as little as $10 per sales person. The sales person then invests up to 12 hours of their personal time, rather than the company’s, in absorbing the information. They hear their inner-voice as they engage their imagination in applying the principles to their own challenges. Sound too good to be true. Every sales superstar I’ve worked with habitually uses this resource library and they are happy to invest their own money month after month. The answer is books.
Every sales manager must be a prolific reader to be truly effective. There is a book to help solve every sales problem and here are four examples. Yet it staggers me how few sales people are readers. The elite within sales, on the other hand, are naturally inquisitive and committed to lifelong learning, personal development and continuous improvement.
So, what is it should you spoon-feed to sales people? Certainly not criticism or unproductive pressure. You should spoon-feed them material to read that will inspire, educate and transform the way they think and operate. Training courses on their own just don't work; nor does forcing them to use some kind of methodology not aligned with their sales process.
For the next six months, put your team on a reading program. ‘Sales book club’ will make a huge difference if you make every individual in the team accountable. Insist that they read one book a month and schedule a monthly session to give them a written test concerning key principles in the book (have a serious prize for the person with the best test score – dinner for two at their favourite restaurant). Then discuss the book and what they learned. Finish the meeting with a workshop concerning how the ideas can be applied.
Importantly, don't let them get away with skimming content. Make your test a little obscure and with questions that can only be answered if they have read the entire book. You want them to go deep as they read. My own book, The Joshua Principle, was written as an emotional story to truly engage the reader and so that it cannot be skimmed. In the coming weeks I will be reviewing B2B sales books to help you decide what’s best for your team. Make 2015 the year of Sales Book Club!
In addition to book club, send your team a daily e-mail to read concerning sales leadership; a thought of the day with some commentary from you to inject your personality in creating relevance. Copy the leaders above you in your organization because you need them on the same page for supporting the difficult challenge of driving revenue growth. Find credible thought leaders to follow such as Anthony Iannarino from The Sales Blog, Jonathan Farrington from Top Sales World, Jill Konrath, Jill Rowley of #SocialSelling, Gerhard Gschwandtner from Selling Power or John Smibert from Strategic Selling who reads everything he recommends on social and it’s all relevant for B2B solution selling. My own blog corpus is here and feel free to plunder it to take your team on a daily 15 minute self-learning journey.
As a sales manager, invest 30 minutes a day reading blogs and LinkedIn posts to hand-pick the best to seed in your team. Harness the best minds in professional selling to work for you, getting inside the heads of your people to improve them… and all without paying for training or losing face-time with clients. This is how the very best sales managers operate.
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main Image Photo by Flickr: Jessica Cross