Ever Wonder What The Difference Is Between Number One and Two?
There seems to be lot of talk about the value of training these days (some in the business will tell you that it’s just talk). Much of it highlighting the benefits of training on thins such as client retention, morale, revenue and profit. I have seen a number of trade journals lately espousing the importance of training, and its crucial role in making it through the recession and its further importance in fully participating in the recovery.
One such trade journal I was reading was in the lobby of a prospect. This company bills itself and is recognized as a “leading company” in their industry. During the meeting they informed me that they are most often second or third in a field of three. One of their stated objectives was to no longer settle for second or third; they have their eyes set on taking top spot of preferred vendor more often. I didn’t get a next step this time (been there before), not the best for me but based on the discussion, I don’t there was good news for either party in the meeting. They were very clear that they felt that their strategy was well defined, and that they were now in the midst of rolling out their plan (again).
The current plan was devised and approved in the spring at the height of the impact of the economy on their industry. As a result they made it clear that beyond product training they were not going to be investing in their team any time soon (contrary to the quote by their VP in the trade pub in the lobby). How did they rationalize this, you know, “our guys have 10 – 15 years experience”, (blah blah). As usual I couldn’t resist the obvious question, “is that 12 years of continuous improvement or the same year 12 times over?” The question was rhetorical, the answer was silence. My goal was not to mock or ridicule, but to understand how it is they have struggled to make their numbers for the last three years, how were they going to ensure that the newest plan was going to be better? (Sort of like when I try to understand how the new improved Tide will get my clothes whiter than white, even whiter than the last improved Tide did).
What’s more revealing to me is that I am also working with another company in the sector, the “recognized leader”, and the one that has been consistently taking top spot in the field of three mentioned above. With them the discussions are not around if and why, but around what and when. I know for a fact that they are also working with another provider of sales training, because we have talked to ensure smooth seamless delivery. This company has spent consistently in all markets, up – down – sideways, it is a core commitment, part of the culture. It does fluctuate, not as a measure of the economy, but as a measure of revenue. For years now they have tied the sales training budget to revenue, a fixed percentage. This allows for two things, first there is always some form of training, in good years more elaborate, in down years more focused more remedial in nature. Second addressing those things that everyone agrees will help them maximize opportunities.
I spoke with the VP in the latter company and asked why he takes this approach. He was honest enough to admit that he didn’t have this attitude when he joined the company eight years ago. He told me that when he first cut the training budget to cut costs, he was instructed to rethink the cut. His president pointed out that IT training, engineering training, and other areas did not cut in lean times, they sought out way to improve process and execution, so why should sales be different. He pointed out that he too has team members that have been in their jobs and territories for many years, but his team had always delivered at a better rate than the industry. His customers have told him that they enjoy dealing with his team because of the enthusiastic and evolving approach to serving their needs. In the current downturn he points to the fact that while the sector has been contracting a teetering on the brink of commoditization, his team has been able to hold the line or grow, by helping clients consolidate at the expenses and win business from the number 2 or 3 players, i.e. our friends above.
I bring all this up because many companies are currently planning for 2010, and for sales VP’s training is line item that will have to be dealt with. Many will be tempted to take the path of the first company highlighted above. 2009 was not a strong year, and depending on the sector you are in, and where in that sector you are, 2010 presents more of the same or small improvements. That being the case it will be tempting to sit out another year of training, especially if you are number two or three in a group. Add to this the risk that in most instances, the number one player usually does invest in sales training and will continue to do so in order to maintain their “leader” position, and usually in the process add distance between themselves and number two.
Your To Do List
Don’t forget to enter our Sales Contest, read the scenario and submit your best solution, as the rules state, he submissions will be share and put up for a vote, the one getting the most votes will get the glory, recognition and a prize. So enter now, get your friends to enter, hey put your VP to the test.
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