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Hammers and Nails

As an observer at a recent sales training workshop I was horrified to witness an ugly sight, which then caused a flashback to a couple of decades in the past regarding an equally ugly experience. Way back then in a previous life at a previous company I was responsible for training North American sales professionals on selling consulting services. While participating in a global sales meeting, reviewing sales figures of consulting services, we uncovered that the East Asia sales team had 100% of their revenues coming from only a single service. This was unusual as most territories had sales distributed over a wide range of products.

So, I did a bit of investigating and discovered that this team had been trained in only one service – they were unable to sell anything else, although they had somehow managed to sell a reasonable number of engagements. Unfortunately very few of these engagements led to further sales or expansion of accounts. It turned out that it did not matter much what the customer needed at the time of the sale. They were determined to sell the service offering they had in their bag. When you are a hammer, everything looks pretty much like a nail.

Flash back to the present, a sales training workshop involving role plays with typical prospect encounters. Each of the scenarios is different and designed to get the workshop participants to match the appropriate service offering to the different situations. The problem is that more than three quarters of the trainees pushed the same service offering when they are all supposed to be unique to the role play case. Unfortunately, matching to the correct situation did not seem to be the priority. Apparently it was deju vu all over again – sell the offering you understand most .

I think there are two morals to the story. Obviously the first is to make sure your sales force is adequately trained on the different offerings in your portfolio. But there is another reason to be cautious here. When you are selecting a consulting firm to train your sales force be wary of the breadth of their offerings. I have found many sales effectiveness firms to be one trick ponies. The far majority of these firms have one approach and look for any company to sell it to. If you are looking for external help with your sales team, make sure the firm you pick has a range of capabilities, including diagnostic and assessment services. Otherwise you run the risk of getting pounded like a nail.


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