Training needs analysis
Quite often our client has decided it needs to improve the skills of its sales force and sales management as a result of a reorganisation, a new product introduction or some other strategic thrust, Meridian can assist in assessing where the biggest need is.
If, like most of our clients, you have finite resource to invest in this area, we will help to answer where you will get the biggest return for your investment.
We spend time understanding the roles and processes required to perform the task and then develop an objective approach to assess training needs. This could involve questionnaires, interviews, workshops and observation.
Additionally we also conduct Development and Assessment centres. These take the competency model already employed in the business (if one does not exist we can develop one from scratch or take a model of closest fit off he shelf). Over one or two days, we then examine delegates in a number of exercises designed to isolate development needs against a specific competency.
Whichever analytical tool is used, we then develop and run a programme of learning events and training interventions. Theses are followed up by management and their impact tracked and measured over time.
Benchmarking internal and external performance
Many clients want to conduct an external benchmarking approach to understand how they stack up against the direct competition and the wider community of World Class selling organisations.
Through our extensive network, experience and research methodologies we are able to assist clients with their bespoke benchmarking requirements. Unlike many other functional areas, sales processes, systems and structures are opaque. By its very nature, sensitive commercial data is not readily available in the public domain. Creative solutions are therefore required to answer questions such as:
How do our competitors organise themselves?What are their routes to market?How many sales people do they have?What is their pricing policy?
Internal benchmarking is a very useful tool for measuring and managing differences in KPI's across, countries, divisions, teams or individuals.
Best Practice Development
The concept of Best Practice in the customer management function works on the philosophy that sales is a process and can be articulated, trained and measured like any other function.
It allows the organisation to propagate the proven methodologies throughout the entire sales force, by understanding what has caused success in the past. The organisation then builds up a picture of what has to happen to increase its chances of success, often isolating what the top performing sales people do that the bottom performers don't. It is often the subtleties that make the difference between success and failure rather than any large process 'missings'.
Meridian has a proven methodology for developing and ingraining Best Practice into a client organisation.
Helping people through the Change Management process
As with any new ways of working, people require a number of different strategies to support them so that they can follow the desired course of action. When Meridian works with organisations, quite often the outcome is a change in working practices, implementation of a new system, or maybe encouraging the use of a system that is already in place but not universally employed. Whatever the issue, people are likely to be asked to do something differently.
Meridian recognises that for a 'change' initiative to be successful, a number of supporting 'planks' must be in place and it also needs to be driven like any other project. Our consultants are trained to develop the correct behaviours in our clients' sales people and managers. We work through a three stage process involving firstly mechanical compliance, then understanding and finally utilisation. This means that when we leave a client to manage the ways of working for themselves, they are taking over the direction of a project with the engagement of the key stakeholders which has been through the majority of its teething troubles!
Development of the first line manager as coach
Meridian firmly believes that a strong first line sales management team is a vital component in the successful execution of sales strategy. This team acts as a conduit between senior management & customers, directing and developing the strategy and the translating it into the 'daily actions' of the sales force.
Customer management is primarily an external function because debates with customers are generally held off-site. The organisation must have confidence that front line sales people are performing the correct task, with the correct customer, as effectively as possible.
The first line managers' role is to ensure that this happens. They need to motivate and develop their subordinates. To do his well means acting as a coach, to extend and develop the sales person's knowledge and skill. They must create the right environment, set objectives, agree an action plan and review progress.
Meridian helps organisations develop this attribute. So often the first line manager acts as a troubleshooting 'super sales person'. We work with clients to develop an 'on the job' coaching environment, reducing the need for large numbers of formal, classroom style training sessions and increasing the practical element. This not only improves the business results and reduces the time taken off the road, but also provides a more fulfilling role for both manager and sales person.
Sales force development & assessment centres
Developing the capability of the individuals within the sales organisation is key to improving sales force effectiveness and improving business results. Research has shown that those organisations that develop people using a competency model perform better than those that do not.
Meridian helps its clients to develop a competency model for the sales force if it does not have one already. We then take this model and design a one or two day programme of analysis tools (i.e. psychometric assessment) and exercises (i.e. role plays, inbox exercises) to measure the capability gap in each competency by individual member of the sales force. Each of these sessions is intended to be role specific.
At the end of the session a detailed report is written on each individual that can be used in a number of ways. Where necessary, managers are extensively coached both on how to facilitate and moderate such a day and on how to give the feedback back to individual.
Clients use this methodology for one of three reasons:
Firstly they may use it to inform the development needs of the team on an individual and/or generic basis. Where training resources are finite this is an effective way of prioritising.
Secondly, they may use it to recruit individuals. It is proven to be more effective than standard or generic individual interviews at recruiting more suitable candidates who produce better results and are retained for longer.
Finally, it is a very useful tool in adding real objectivity to any rationalisation programme as a result of a downsizing initiative, or a re-organisation where the allocation of resource across different channels needs to be re-calibrated.
Meridian has a large database of sales people and sales managers from many differing industry sectors. This has given us real insight into what skills and attributes make a successful sales person.
Development of key role competencies
Many of our clients recognise the benefits of development programmes linked to a competency model. Research has shown that those organisations that develop people using a competency model perform better than those that do not.
If a client does not have a competency model or wishes its model to be challenged, Meridian can help develop the model. We do this by working with the individuals currently performing the roles so that the organisation recognises the terminology and buys into the model. The outcome is to produce 12-15 Key Role Competencies per role which are recognised as those which are most important to the successful fulfilment of that role.
Once agreed, the organisation can align training, management activities and behaviours, appraisals, career development and remuneration to the competency model.
Meridian's clients are continually developing their capability in the sales function. This often requires the design of new roles or the refinement of existing ones. Meridian assists clients in designing these roles.
Using the individuals who currently perform the role, will perform the role in the future or will manage people in the role, Meridian maps the tasks that are required to be performed. Processes are understood, as too are 'hand offs' and interfaces with other roles or functions.
Key role competencies are developed to inform the skills and attributes necessary to perform the role.
Meridian works very closely with both line management and the Human Resources function to gain agreement and alignment. Our experience shows us that effective job design improves both employee satisfaction and business results.
Reducing sales force churn / attrition
Retaining employees has now become a corporate imperative; many companies have implemented creative strategies & solutions, which they believe are now required to keep valued members of staff.
The issue of employee turnover is often given no more than a cursory glance by senior management. However when the opportunity cost and associated sunk costs involved in recruitment, induction and ongoing training are accounted for, there is clearly a financially orientated business case for ensuring the retention of employees. This business case can be presented to support action for any category of employee, but as far as the Sales function is concerned the case for retaining the top performers in the sales force is even more compelling as they have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring revenue generation for the company through the maintenance and development of their customer facing relationships.
The time taken for new recruits to become fully effective is often far longer than companies realise. This has been outlined in research by Cahners in the US, which shows that trust between a Sales person and buyer takes 8 meetings to develop.
In the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) marketplace, 5 initial calls and a consistent monthly call frequency are required to build a retail relationship to the point where maximum value can be extracted.
These are clearly important issues, which impact both the costs (relatively easy to measure) and revenues (much more difficult to measure) of the company.
Meridian's experience highlights the failure of organisations to take a structured approach to sales force Attrition. Most companies do not fully understand the true cost of attrition, the inter-relationships of the causes and thus the best corrective action. When an organisation is faced with high levels of attrition, it pragmatically attempts to resolve the issue by filling the role vacated as quickly as possible, with little, if any, effort to understand the cause and effects.
Meridian approaches this issue with a three step methodology. First we help our clients understand the causes of churn (hygiene factors, motivation, etc.) Then we assess the impact of the churn on the business and finally we develop the solution to rectify the problem.