Sales Talent Development: How Managers Can Make Training Stick and Create a High-Performance Sales Culture

by on December 3, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Webinars for Sales Managers

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Operator: Hello and welcome to today’s program, Sales Talent Development: How Managers Can Make Training Stick and Create a High-Performance Sales Culture.

Today’s speaker is Stephen Meyer, CEO and Director of Learning and Development at the Rapid Learning Institute. Prior to starting the Rapid Learning Institute and its parent company Business 21 in 2002, Steve was the Director of Publishing at The Hay Group, a leading HR, benefits and compensation consulting firm. Prior to that he worked in the publishing industry, where he headed up both editorial and marketing for 25 employee development publications. He was also a reporter at Advertising Age magazine. Meyer received his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and has a Masters degree from the University of California, San Diego.

Steve, the audience is yours.

Steve Meyer: Thank you very much. Welcome, everyone. Let me start with a story you might relate to. I went to a sales management conference a couple years ago in Las Vegas. Two days of great ideas to help me motivate our salespeople and get better performance from them. I came back with a binder full of ideas and the firm conviction that I was going to implement them. But once back in the office I immediately fell into my usual routine. The binder went on to a shelf. A month later I realized I hadn’t done much if anything with all I’d learned. What happened in Vegas … stayed in Vegas.

Now, this has happened to us all. And you might say it’s not such a big deal – you got SOMETHING out of the conference. You met a few people. You networked. But did you ever stop to ask why this happens? Or what the cost is when training doesn’t stick?

I’m going to make the case that it’s a really big deal. I’m going to show you two things today:

1. The science behind what happens when training doesn’t stick
2. Why it’s not just about that conference in Vegas. It’s about ALL the learning that goes on – or doesn’t go on – in your sales department. Developing your sales reps is essential to keeping them sharp and sustaining high performance, right? Well, what if what happened to me in Vegas is happening in your sales department every time your reps learn something new or revisit the fundamentals of prospecting, sales discovery, effective presentations, closing, building relationships, cold calling, upselling, territory management and so on. What if all this mission-critical learning that you’re counting on to boost sales … isn’t sticking?

It would be bad. And based on some statistics I’m going to show you in a few minutes, it’s very likely you’re not getting much ROI on the training you’re doing with your team. I’m going to give you a new approach to training and talent development today.

It’s an approach that addresses THE core problem with almost all talent development. And there really is one factor in the talent development equation that outweighs all others by a mile. That problem … is the manager. The biggest talent development challenge all companies face is that managers are accountable for it.

Now, let me say emphatically that it’s not the managers’ fault that training ROIs are so low, and I’ll explain why in a few minutes. But until we address this problem head on, we’ll never resolve the talent development dilemma. We’ll keep getting a suboptimal ROI on training. And, frankly, we won’t get anywhere near the performance levels, and the profitability levels, that our sales organizations are capable of.

Alright, let’s dig in.

I’m going to start by discussing why training isn’t working. The reason is that most managers, and that includes sales managers, don’t know how to assess needs, develop curricula, deliver curricula and follow up to make sure training sticks. Why don’t they know these things? Because they were never trained to do them.

Think about it: Why do most managers get promoted? Because they’re great leaders? No. Because they’re superb trainers? No. Sometimes it’s just due to seniority. But usually it’s because they have a technical skill. They were the best accountant, engineer, salesperson or programmer in their department, so someone singled them out and said, “You’re going to be a manager.” That is, “We’re going to place a bet that you’re going to be able to replicate in others the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that made you successful. In other words, you’ll be able to ‘get results through other people.’ ” That, by the way, is a pretty good definition of leadership – getting results through other people.

But success in a leadership role requires more than technical skill. This is particularly true in sales, where the best salesperson is very often the worst possible sales manager. Success in leadership requires a second core competency – the ability to develop talent. To build a high-performance team. Once managers settle into their leadership roles, they quickly discover two things: 1) that developing people is outside of their comfort zone – they’re not really equipped to do it; and 2) that people development is very time-consuming and that they’re too busy to really focus on it.

So, even though they know it’s REALLY important for the company, that their bosses expect them to do it, and that they’ll never “get results through other people” without developing them, training tends to fall on their priority list. Either it doesn’t get done at all, or it gets done in a half-baked way that fails to deliver results.

If you have any doubts about this, consider a study on the Kirkpatrick Model for Training Evaluation conducted by the ASTD Benchmarking Forum. ASTD is the American Society of Training and Development.

For those of you who don’t know about Donald Kirkpatrick, he’s a legendary figure in the training world. Back in the 1950s he was doing his Ph.D. on organizational development and he realized that no one had a model for training evaluation; that is, figuring out whether all the dollars spent on training actually accomplished anything. So he came up with a remarkably simple model that everyone uses today. The Kirkpatrick Model identified four levels of training evaluation. They are;

1. Reaction: What did Jane think of the program? She loved it. She’s fired up.
2. Learning: What did Jane learn? – let’s say she learned a technique for making more effective cold calls
3. Behavior: Did Jane actually implement the method? Let’s say she started using the new technique the day after the training
4. Results: Did the technique she learned make a difference? Yes, her new approach to making cold calls increased new appointments by 20%.

Now, back to the ASTD Benchmarking Forum. They did a survey to determine what percentage each of Kirkpatrick’s four levels is actually used in organizations. Here’s what they found.

1. Reaction: 96% of respondents said they got reaction – usually from evaluations handed out after the training event
2. Learning: 37% determined that trainees learned something
3. Behavior: Only 13% inspected what they expected and determined whether new learned behaviors were being deployed
4. Results: Only 3% verified whether or not the training actually made a difference

This survey tells us two very important things.

First, that we have no idea whether training is working or not. It’s no wonder C-level executives are reluctant to invest in it. Second, I think it tells us WHY training so often fails. You have to read between the lines of the study to see the “why,” but it’s embedded in these stats.

I don’t think it’s in the 3% stat for results. That’s alarming, but it’s not so surprising because it’s extremely difficult to map training to results.

Nor do I think it’s in the 13% number for behavior. Again, disappointing, but it’s pretty difficult to follow up and observe people after they’ve been trained.

But look at the stat for Learning, which is the one that I believe tells us WHY training so often fails. Only 37% of the time, less than four times in 10, do leaders ask people, “What did you learn?” You pay $5,000 to send somebody to Las Vegas for a sales training seminar, or you bring in an expensive sales consultant for instructor-led training — How hard is it to ask your reps, “So, what did you learn?” It’s not hard at all. So why isn’t it happening most of the time?

The answer is that almost everybody makes the deadly assumption that TRAINING IS AN EVENT. Managers think, “I sent Jane to training. She said she liked it (I got “reaction”), so it must have worked. Now, I’m done. I feel good. I’ve played my talent development role successfully.”

No you haven’t. Because training is NOT an event. Training is a PROCESS. The reason the numbers in the ASTD survey are so awful is that managers believe that a training event automatically results in learning, which automatically results in behavior change, which automatically yields a high ROI. But they’re wrong. Feel-good training “events” with no follow-up process always fail.

Let me give you the worst example of feel-good training I ever saw. I attended an instructor-led sales training session at a mid-size company. There were 20 reps in the room. The trainer was a hired gun from the outside. And he was dynamite. He delivered a fire hose of value. I call him Killer Sales Trainer. I was sitting in the back of the room next to the sales manager who’d hired the guy. The manager spent much of his time fiddling with his I-Phone.

After the event I said to him, “That was amazing but … how are you going to make it stick?” He assured me that he was going to follow up, but I could tell from his body language that my question made him uncomfortable. It was the first time he’d even thought about follow up.

I called Killer Sales Trainer the next day and asked him, “What’s going to happen a month from now.” He said, “They’re going to forgot most of what I taught them.”

I said, “What? Are you okay with that?”

He replied, “No, of course not! I told the manager what I just told you. I tell everybody that they need to bring me back for follow up. Or else do it themselves. But it rarely happens.”

What he’s saying, of course, is that most everyone sees training as an event, not a process.

So, this picture shows what Killer Sales Trainer thinks most managers are doing. By the way, he was paid $25,000.

Let’s look at the science behind this and show why this kind of training, which we have all done, by the way, is doomed to fail.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Learning Curve. That term was coined by a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus back in the 19th century. Turns out that professor Ebbinghaus coined another term …

The Forgetting Curve, which, ironically, few people remember.

What he did was conduct studies on learning retention. He created learning events and then observed how much learners forgot at various intervals if there was no follow up. Here’s what the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows. Retention falls off sharply in the first few hours and days. After a month learning retention is just 20%.

This study has been replicated many times and we’ve all experienced “The Forgetting Curve.” The story I told about the conference I attended in Vegas is a perfect example. Without follow up, the concepts we learn in training events just flat out don’t stick. It’s an iron law of the universe. And yet … many trainers simply don’t get it.

ASTD’s monthly magazine, Training and Development, referenced a study where they isolated three core activities in training – preparation, the event itself and follow up – then asked people how much time they allocated to each activity. Here’s what they came up with: 10% preparation; 85% training event; 5% follow up.

So clearly not much follow up is going on. This research shows that almost everybody – and by that I mean the managers who are accountable for talent development — believes that if they spend huge bucks sending their team to a conference or bringing in an outside trainer, it’s going to pay off. But it’s not.

Companies are wasting a lot of money on training events that yield very low ROIs.

Training is a process, not an event. Let me show you what a training process actually looks like. I’m going to describe some training I did at an early point in my career. I was training a newly hired sales rep how to do more effective sales discovery.

The first guy I trained was Mike. Before he made his first calls I taught him a technique called The Five Whys to probe for needs. The idea is that you can’t just ask people “what do you need.” You have to follow up with roughly five “why” questions that peel the onion and uncover needs the person was either reluctant to reveal or perhaps didn’t even know he had. Mike’s initial calls were horrible. People were hanging up on him because he was so clumsy at probing for needs. So I coached him on the Five Whys technique and he got better. By the end of the first day he was remarkably good. If you look at the slide, this is what happened.

The next day I told him to keep calling and practicing his technique. For two weeks he did the calls on his own, assuring me that he was getting better and better at digging for hidden needs. One day I said, Mike, let’s listen to a tape. He was a disaster. Here’s what happened. Exactly what Ebbinghaus described. Mike was barely getting past one “why” and his discovery was superficial and completely ineffective.

So I spent hours retraining him. And here’s what happened. I left him alone for a while and, sure enough, he fell off a bit, but less than before. So I retrained him and he got better than ever. I did this process about five times and he achieved permanent mastery of the Five Whys.

This is the model for performance coaching. I wish I could tell you there’s an easier way. But there’s not. You need to follow up follow up follow up to make training stick.

Bersin and Associates, a leading research firm in the training industry, conducted a study to determine which management processes within an organization had the highest business impact. They ranked 22 processes – things like building leadership competencies, pre-hire assessments, goal-setting, and so on – and the one that came out on top was “coaching.” Coaching is, for all practical purposes, follow up. A hitting coach doesn’t teach professional ballplayers how to swing. He observes them to make sure they’re correctly deploying swing fundamentals they learned as a child. He’s following up. It’s the same thing with sales managers in companies. They’re supposed to be following up – inspecting what they expect, observing their sales rep’s behavior to make sure they’re implementing new learning they acquired recently, or practicing selling fundamentals they learned long ago. Performance coaching is THE highest-impact management process in any organization.

The most famous study that supports this finding was done at Baruch College in NY in 1997. Researchers tracked the performance of 31 managers who were put through management training. They found that with training alone, performance went up 22%. Not bad. But when the group went through several weeks of follow-up coaching, revisiting the concepts delivered in the original training, performance went up 88%. That’s four times more.

Follow up works. A performance coaching process that revisits learning concepts after a training event is THE answer to poor training ROI. But managers aren’t doing it.

We already explained why – if a task is outside your comfort zone and you don’t know how to do it, you tend to push it down on your priority list and it doesn’t get done.

I’m going to show you now how to get it done. I’ll spill the beans right up front. The answer is “chunked” learning. In the research chunked learning is defined as “a strategy for making more efficient use of short-term memory by recoding information in small, narrow bits.”

For example, instead of teaching your sales force “how to sell,” you might teach them how to deal with a customer who’s trying to bully you on price, or how to handle the first 20 seconds of a cold call. You can’t get much more granular than that, can you?

You get the point. Break learning into small bits. You may be wondering, “Could chunked learning really make such a difference?” That’s a legitimate question. Let me show why chunking is so transformational.

There are two beneficiaries of chunked learning in organizations: employees and managers.

Let’s start with employees. A ton of research has been done in the past few decades on adult learning. Adults do not learn the same way as children for a lot of reasons. The most important, according the research I’ve read, has to do with cognitive overload. If you try to teach adults too much at one time, they shut down. Let me give you an example. I’m going to show you 20 letters for five seconds.


I do this exercise with live audiences all the time and most people can’t feed back much of anything. The reason is cognitive overload. Our minds can’t recognize a meaningless scramble of information.

But what if I recoded it, breaking it into small memorable chunks, and made it look like this:


It’s exactly the same 20 letters, but it’s memorable. I’ve done this exercise dozens of times with groups, and after looking at this data for five seconds they can always feed back to me all six acronyms flawlessly.

My point is that it’s remarkable how much we CAN remember if we break large amounts of information into small memorable bits. In a training context, you get high levels of engagement in training, and high levels of knowledge retention, if you teach short, narrow, discrete concepts. Focus on one thing at a time. Killer Sales Trainer, who we discussed earlier, did the exact opposite. It’s not that he didn’t break his training up into discrete segments – he did. But he spent two full days, 16 hours, delivering them in what I described as a fire hose of value on too many topics. It was amazing stuff, but it was cognitive overload. The reps couldn’t possibly assimilate it.

But they can assimilate “chunks.” A lot of what I’m saying here has to do with the attention span of the average employee in today’s work world.

A recent book by Nicholas Carr called “What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” argues that search engines have transformed the way our brains process information. In the past decade scientists have made huge discoveries about neuro-plasticity, and they’ve concluded that traditional beliefs that the brain is fixed and immutable are false. They’ve found that the brain is highly malleable, or “plastic,” and that it changes based on what we do. Well, a huge percentage of what we all have been doing for the past 15 years is searching the Web and multi-tasking with all sorts of electronic devices. And it’s changed our brains.

This is especially true of these guys, Millennials, who are all digital natives. They’ve never known a world without search engines. They’ve been multi-tasking since they were three. Have you noticed that besides Harry Potter, our children don’t read as many books as we did when we were kids? I know I have. And I’ve noticed that my kids watch huge quantities of video clips online – most of which are between one and five minutes. The digital natives on your sales team have very short attention spans.

But so do your Boomers and GenXers. Do you find it harder today to read an entire book than you did 10 or 15 years ago. Do you find yourself getting distracted very quickly online? According to Carr’s book, that’s because we’ve spend the last 15 years of our lives on the Internet as well. And it’s changed our brains. It doesn’t just seem like we have shorter attention spans. We really do.

Now, I think you’d agree that the Vatican is one of the most conservative, change-resistant organizations on the planet. But look at this directive they recently gave to priests. They’re saying, ‘If your sermons go on for more than 8 minutes, you’ll lose your audience.

So, the research says LEARNERS benefit from chunking. We’ll get higher levels of engagement in training, and higher levels of knowledge retention, if we break learning up into short, narrowly defined bits.

But now I want to explain why it’s a breakthrough for MANAGERS. Remember that the core problem with most training – the reason we get such a low ROI from it – is that managers are accountable for it but they lack that “second core competency” as talent developers.

Let me show you why chunking helps managers completely reframe their attitude toward talent development. This reframing leads to a dramatic behavior change and allows them to be successful in a role they failed in before.

Most managers perceive talent development through a wide lens. They think, “I’m a sales manager, so I have to teach my reps ‘to sell.’ ” When they view their role that way, it seems overwhelming. They’re thinking, “Where do I begin?”

Chunking allows managers to see training through a narrow lens. For example, a sales manager thinks, “I’m going to teach my reps how to script a cold call, or to respond appropriately when a prospect says, ‘Your competitor is offering the same deal for 10% less.’ ”

When managers reframe their role, and see themselves as teaching narrowly defined concepts, training seems doable. So managers actually start doing it, one chunk at a time. And something magical happens. Let me give you an example.

One of the most common problems in sales is handling price bullies, prospects who are constantly trying to get reps to cave in on price. There’s a very simple, very powerful concept a manager can teach reps to deal with price objections. Here it is: When a price bully says, “I don’t have the budget” or “My boss won’t sign off on that,” what he’s doing is making his problem your problem. His budget is his problem, not yours. His boss is his problem, not yours. But he’s trying to make it yours so you’ll knock off 10%.

A nice visual image to describe this is “he’s throwing you a hot potato.” The concept to counter a price bully is that when somebody throws you a hot potato, you’ve got to figure out a way to very gently, very diplomatically, throw it back. You’ve got to make their problem, their problem.

I personally visited a sales team led by a sales manager named Connie at one of our client companies. She kicked off her weekly sales meeting by teaching this concept to her team. Once they got the concept, Connie spent some time discussing it and role-playing what the reps would actually say to buyers in their particular industry, which was construction. Connie had done lots of product training in the past but almost no sales training. Her confidence when it came to training reps on selling skills was low. But it went up a bit when after the meeting several people came up to her and said “Connie, that was a really good meeting.”

Let me take you back to Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation. What Connie just got was Reaction, and it was positive. Later in the day a rep stopped by her office and said, “You know, it had never occurred to me before that a price objector was making his problem my problem. That insight is really helpful.” Connie just got Level 2 feedback. Her reps actually LEARNED something.

A couple days later another rep came in and said, “Connie, I just tried throwing the hot potato back to a prospect. I explained to the person why I believed my price was fair, and he said he’d think about it.” In the past reps always caved on price. Now this one held firm. Connie just moved to Level 3 in the Kirkpatrick model – she got confirmation of a positive BEHAVIOR change.

A few days later that same rep came back and said, “I just closed my deal. The buyer said he studied the numbers again and agreed my price was fair.” Now Connie had achieved Level 4 – she’d gotten RESULTS from her training.

Now, how do you think Connie felt about her competency as a trainer? She felt great. Had she taught her people how “to sell”? No. She’d taught them one very narrow skill – dealing with price objections. And she did it well. She achieved what we call a “small victory.”

Talent development success is not about hitting home runs, and if you approach it that way you’ll always end up feeling overwhelmed and, ultimately, inadequate. Instead, think about talent development as hitting lots of singles.

Connie spent about three weeks working with her reps on price objections, following up repeatedly, conducting more role-plays, revisiting and reinforcing the concept. Then she moved on to sales presentations, then to sales discovery, then to closing skills and so on. At the end of one year she’d completed 17 three-week cycles and achieved 17 “small victories.” In doing so Connie became a pretty darned competent trainer. Chunked learning helped her develop that “second core competency” that all great leaders have, the ability to replicate in others the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that made her successful.

So chunking is valuable for sales reps. That’s reason enough to do it. But it’s an absolute game-changer for sales managers. It allows them to reframe their talent development role. When you perceive your training role through a narrow lens – tackling very granular concepts that you master and are comfortable teaching – it makes training seem doable, whereas before it seemed overwhelming. Training gets done. Sales managers accumulate small victories and dramatically improve their core competency as trainers.

Now I want to show you a real example of chunked learning, what we call a “Quick Take” from the Selling Essentials Rapid Learning Center. This isn’t the only way to produce chunked learning. Our company has very strong competitors who produce very good short modules as well. But here’s what we do.

This 8-minute module is called, “Discovery: The Five Whys Technique to Uncover Hidden Customer Needs.” It’s the substance of what I taught Mike in the earlier example I gave. It’s not going to teach anyone how “to sell.” It’s more focused than that. It’s simply going to show you a single concept to help sales reps more effectively uncover what prospects really need.

Let’s watch the module.

Quick Take: Welcome to this Quick Take rapid learning module. Today’s topic: Discovery: The Five Whys Technique to Uncover Hidden Customer Needs.

In Sales 101 we all learned that “Discovery” – questioning prospects to learn their true needs – is a critical phase of the selling process. We learned that in complex sales it’s impossible to effectively “map” needs to solutions unless you really understand the customers “pain.” Discovery is all about “finding the pain.”

Sounds easy enough. But it’s difficult because it requires one of the hardest things a human being can be asked to do … listen.

No surprise that among salespeople, “discovery” skills reflect a standard bell curve. A handful wouldn’t spot an opportunity if it were written on a prospect’s forehead. A small percentage listen so intently and dig so deeply that they find the needle in the haystack almost every time. But most are average. They haven’t mastered the probing and listening skills that allow superstars to achieve breakthrough results.

In this Quick Take you will learn:
1. What it means to have a “threaded” conversation
2. How to uncover customer needs using The Five Whys Technique
3. How the Five Whys will make you a consultative seller and help you turn more prospects into high-value customers.

The Five Whys interviewing technique assumes that to find the truth, you need to ask a “why?” question about five times. Journalists, insurance investigators, police interrogators and job interviewers use it every day. And so do sales superstars.

Here’s a simple non-sales-related example to show how it works:
1. Why did that machine suddenly stop? Because a fuse blew.
2. Why did a fuse blow? Because the fuse wasn’t the right size.
3. Why wasn’t the fuse the right size? One of our engineers put in the wrong one.
4. Why did the engineer put in the wrong fuse? Because somebody in the supply room gave him the wrong one.
5. Why did the supply room give him the wrong fuse? Because the stock bin for fuses was mislabeled.

AHA! It took five “whys” to drill down and find the real reason the machine stopped – because somebody mislabeled a bin

Was the person trying to hide the truth? Maybe. But more likely they simply weren’t focused on WHY the machine stopped or WHY the fuse blew. When you’re questioning prospects, they’ll almost never cut right to a need that you can meet. Your questions have to help them connect the dots.

The “threaded” conversation is key. Notice that the question always picks up a “thread” from the previous answer. The first answer was “Because a fuse blew.” The second question is “Why did a fuse blow?” And so on.

Let’s look at a selling example. We’ll describe a situation, then show how two different salespeople would handle Discovery.

The prospect is Ben, the VP Operations at Alaska Transport, who oversees a fleet of 500 trucks that travel rough roads in Alaska. After receiving multiple cold calls, he finally agrees to talk to a rep from Acme Truck Supplies.

Acme knows a little about Ben’s company – things they could find online or pick up in conversations at industry conferences. But to win the account, they need to know more.

First, let’s eavesdrop on Andy, an average salesperson at Acme, and see how he handles the conversation:

ANDY: So, how tough are the roads on your tires?

BEN: Murder. But we’re pretty happy with the Goodyears we’ve been buying.

ANDY: Must be tough on the entire vehicle. What other parts do you replace the most?

BEN: Shocks and axles.

ANDY: Anything else?

BEN: (laughing) Well, drivers.

ANDY: [laughing] We sell tires, axles and shocks, but unfortunately not drivers. [serious once again] So what are your needs when it comes to shocks?

BEN: The ones we buy from your competitor are fine. Their delivery’s good. Warranties are fine. I’m really not interested in switching vendors

Andy’s been locked out. And he’s not going to get back in because he doesn’t have the discovery skills to find Ben’s true needs. The best he can do is, “What are your needs when it comes to shocks?” That’s a weak, product-focused question that got a predictable answer. Andy’s a middle-of-the-bell curve sale rep. He either lacks the killer instinct, or no one ever taught him how to really dig.

Now let’s watch a star in action. Imagine that Jennifer had started the conversation with Ben exactly as Andy had, but had responded differently to Ben’s comment about needing to replace his drivers.

JENNIFER: (intrigued) That’s interesting Ben. Why do you say you need to replace drivers?

BEN: Because of the vibration on those dirt roads, which have gotten a lot worse in the last year.

JENNIFER: Why’s that such a problem?

BEN: It gets to the drivers.

JENNIFER: Help me understand why?

BEN: Several have gone to doctors who told them the vibration is bad for their internal organs.

JENNIFER: How are you handling that?

BEN: We haven’t figured it out yet. In the past year we’ve doubled the number of trips on empty loads, which is when the vibration is worst. So we’ve had a lot of driver turnover.

JENNIFER: Help me understand why it impacts your business when you lose good drivers?

BEN: We’ve got a potentially huge contract in the works and may have to back out of the bidding for lack of trained drivers.


It took Four Whys and a How to get there, but Jennifer ferreted out a huge threat to Ben’s business. If she can map that need to a solution she’ll make a huge sale. Turns out Jennifer had worked with a truck fleet in the Rockies that had the same problem. They switched to a high-end, load-adjustable shock absorber that dramatically reduced the vibration when driving on rough roads with an empty truck. She mentioned this to Ben and suggested that it might work for him. Would he like to install the shocks on a few vehicles to test out the solution?

How could Ben say no?

The key difference between Andy and Jennifer is that for Andy discovery is a conversation where either 1) he talks about his products and hopes the customer will recognize something he needs, or 2) he simply asks prospects “What do you need?” Problem is, customers often don’t KNOW what they need. When Ben mentioned his drivers, he wasn’t making a joke. He was expressing anxiety in a very subtle way. But Andy didn’t pick up the scent of opportunity.

Jennifer did. For her discovery is about probing with all five senses to find the prospect’s pain. And she has a tool, the Five Whys, that she uses like a knife to peel away layers of the onion and find organizational needs that directly affect profitability and the long-term health of the company.

Let’s look at another example where repeatedly asking Why questions – in some cases you might use a “How?” or a “What?” – can help you find the customer’s pain.

REP: You said that your current vendor was late for a delivery. Why‘d you mention that?

PROSPECT: Because it really screwed up a production run.

REP: Why was the shipment late?

PROSPECT: There was a miscommunication with the vendor.

REP: What sort of miscommunication?

PROSPECT: Our just-in-time inventory system crashed.

REP: Help me understand how that happened.

PROSPECT: Well, it has to do with vendor’s legacy system.

REP: Why’s their legacy system a problem for you?

PROSPECT: Incompatibility issues with our state-of-the-art software. We’ve been struggling for months to work this stuff out. Come to think of it, I’m getting a little frustrated.

Call it probing. Call it pig-headed determination. By being persistent, and skillfully conducting a threaded conversation using “Whys,” “Hows” and “Whats,” the rep got the buyer in touch with a pain point that directly impacts his bottom line. Before this conversation, the incompatibility issue was low on the buyer’s priority list. Now it’s a stone in his shoe. If the rep can alleviate the pain, he might displace the prospect’s current vendor.

Let’s sum up. The Five Whys Technique is an effective “Discovery” tool that uncovers needs your prospects:

  • Might hesitate to reveal
  • Are vaguely aware of but feel no urgency to address
  • Aren’t aware of at all

The Five Whys is a potential career changer. Master it and you’ll move from middle-of-the-bell-curve results to outstanding results. You’ll send the message to prospects that you’re a consultative seller — that you ask great questions, that you LISTEN to their answers, and that you’re a credible partner who can help them meet their business challenges.

Thanks for listening.

Steve Meyer: What you just saw is an example of chunked learning. Now, this module is very short – eight minutes and 41 seconds – and it’s focused on a single concept. It’s not likely that your reps would suffer from cognitive overload while watching it. Ideally, you want to use it as a tool to kick start a discussion with your entire team about effective sales discovery. Most reps, after watching it, can’t wait to get on the phone and test out the “threaded conversation” technique, which is remarkably simple and unbelievably effective. We’ve had many reps tell us that for weeks they watched the module before every round of calls so they could revisit and reinforce the concept. Eventually, they achieved permanent mastery and the Five Whys became like breathing to them.

So, you’re not going to hit a home run by showing your reps one module. But you’ll very likely hit a single. For some reps it could be a game winner. And for you, as a manager, it’s a small victory on your road to becoming a world-class talent developer, and an effective leader who “gets results through other people.”

When you signed up for today’s Webinar, you were automatically entered into our system and given a free trial to the Selling Essentials Rapid Learning Center. For the next 7 days, you have full access to the program we watched today plus dozens of other “chunked” learning programs on the platform.

Before we close I’d like to cover a few points about the site I think you’ll find useful:

1. During this program we emailed you a web address, your user name and a password. If you didn’t get this email, please give us a call and we’ll get you started.

2. We encourage you to add other users at your company. Just click on “add users” on the top navigation bar. They too can test drive the site for 7 days.

3. Once you’re logged in, a great place to start is to do a TOPIC SEARCH and see what’s there for you.

Finally, we’re happy to give you a free tour of the Rapid Learning Center to show you how it can help you apply the concepts of chunked learning that truly make training stick.

Thanks for joining us today and I hope you enjoy your trial to the Rapid Learning Center. Have a nice day.

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