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Translate before it’s too late: Do your sales leaders speak the language of risk?


In the sales enablement world, leaders are learning a new language—the language of risk. And they have to because they’ve increasingly discovered at least eight ways their sales enablement practices expose them. What’s more, some of these traps spring from the best of intentions.

This article discusses the first four; four more will follow in part two of this series.

One: Training session attention span

Training that fails to engage is one thing; if it doesn’t come with accountability, the risk will go far beyond employee ennui. Sales leaders: Drop in unexpectedly on training sessions. Now, check out the faces. Are people bored?  Inattentive? Surfing social media? Or just going through the motions? If so, they might chalk it up to a dry or seemingly small learning. But the content might also prove critically important. Almost every industry is experiencing new regulations that govern what salespeople can and cannot say and do in customer interactions—or what they must say or do.

Trainees must know that they need to pass a test on the content when they return to the office to get certified. New compliance directives need explicit testing. And so that all learners know management takes the training seriously, managers should learn the material first—well enough to co-lead training and then coach others ongoing.

Otherwise the risks are manifest, as employees could potentially:

  • skip compliance steps
  • adopt pushy sales tactics in conflict with your brand
  • forget to collect required documents
  • bypass standards for account set-up
  • omit disclosures

Two: Sales tech for its own sake

Consider how much money, time and effort go into implementing sales technology and then compare that to the actual value salespeople get from it. That often makes for a dispiriting gap. Before you start implementation, you have to determine why. Ask yourself these six questions:

  • Do your salespeople understand the vision for the technology and how it can help them?
  • Do they use it to track tasks and deals so that nothing falls through the cracks?
  • Do they use it to record their customer notes, contact information, and social security number? (If not, they’re probably keeping that info somewhere unsecured, where it could be discovered and misused … or go out the door with departing employees.)
  • Do managers follow up with sales people after technology training to make sure it took?
  • Do they use its data to figure out who needs coaching on what, and to track the impact of subsequent coaching?
  • Do they establish coaching standards that their regional managers can use?

Three: Oppressive processes

Disney has an apt mantra: “It takes a happy crew to produce a happy show.” Do you have a happy crew? Take in how they look when you meet with them and how they sound on the phone. If they often look and sound tired, defensive and negative, make an honest assessment of your demands and processes. Do you bury them with cumbersome demands, processes, steps and standards? If there’s even a hint of yes in your answer, move on to these five questions:

  • When was the last time you introduced energy-producing, time-saving measures to enable and help your team?
  • Is there somebody in sales support whose job is to come up with such measures?
  • Do good people leave, saying they can’t make goal because the organization makes it too hard to get business done?
  • Is your sales support team truly supportive or are salespeople bombarded with requests (demands) that consume the better part of the day?
  • When you have to impose regulatory/risk compliance changes, do you first figure out how much effort and energy it will take for each person and help it go smoothly?

It’s not enough to say, “Look, we have to do it.” You have to make a good-faith effort not to turn it into an undue burden.

Years ago at another company a sales colleague of mine closed a huge deal, our first in South America. But the company’s contract people were slow to turn the deal into a contract, so my colleague wrote it himself, got the client’s signature and “mailed it in.” The CEO reprimanded my colleague but without much conviction—and you can imagine how much the rest of us secretly enjoyed the minor coup.

Take a long hard look at your sales process areas that bog down your people: exceptions, legal reviews, clarity of feedback, sales compensation, quota and goal setting among them. When these get onerous, you risk good salespeople departing for a competitor.

Four: Insecure email and information sources

If I ran risk and compliance, I’d make an immediate audit of the sales team’s inboxes. The first thing I’d look for was a raft of attachments—a clear danger signal, indicative of at least three forms of risk:

  • First: If you have to email clumps of attachments, it says you lack the organization to maintain a centralized knowledge repository. That in turn means each salesperson has to create his/her own system to track those assets or waste time searching for them.
  • Second: What if it contains scripting, a process flow or a proposal that hasn’t been through legal and compliance?
  • Third: If you lack a centralized repository, chances are you’ve shipped around customer information meant for safeguarding—and not easily forwarding to the wrong parties, or confiscation by a salesperson who moves to a competitor.

To prevent bad audits, think like an auditor. Do what auditors do in some industries: Walk unannounced into the company’s stores and offices at lunchtime and check out every unoccupied desk. See what’s left showing on the computer screen. Look at papers left in plain view, notes from customer conversations and/or account numbers, private details and passwords.

Our next article will explore four more common sales risk areas: sales ethics, complicated incentive plans, mismatched sales reporting and sales personnel turnover.

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Mark Renfro is a founder and managing partner of Waypoint Consulting Services, the Dallas-based firm active in the financial services, healthcare, and energy sectors. He can be reached at [email protected].