EPISODE 57: SALES TRAINING SUCCESS
Ken Valla, President and Co-Founder, The Valla Group
I’ve been looking forward to interviewing today’s guest for a long time. That’s because, as a former software sales professional, I can tell you he’s one of the smartest sales strategists in the world.
In fact, he literally wrote the book on Conversational Selling. I’m talking about Ken Valla, President and Co-Founder of The Valla Group.
I met Ken way back in 1998, when he was the highest-producing salesperson for a global training and consulting organization that sold sales curriculums, among other things, to Fortune 250 companies.
Trust me, you need to be exceptional to sell sales training. In fact, you have to be the best. That’s because you’re scrutinized every step of the way by people who sell for a living. And if you don’t impress them, you’ll never get the sale.
Ken now designs and delivers his own innovative hybrid sales training that helps organizations of all sizes elevate their sales and business performance. So join us as we talk about how this works…
SALES TRAINING SUCCESS – KEY TAKEAWAYS
- In recent years, digital advances have dramatically changed the buying process in large and medium-sized businesses. To stay ahead of the curve, B2B sellers are reinventing their sales strategies.
- Factors that are redefining selling methodologies are also transforming the way sales training is designed and delivered. Generic classroom training is giving way to hybrid learning models that are more convenient and engaging for salespeople and can be customized for any team’s needs.
- More effective sales training starts when you clearly define the change your organization desires and define underlying metrics. Then build relevant learning experiences that fit into a salesperson’s workflow.
SALES TRAINING SUCCESS – Q&A HIGHLIGHTS
Welcome, Ken. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about The Valla Group?
Over the last 10-15 years, digital technology has changed the buying process for enterprise and commercial organizations. Research from Gartner, Forrester, and Harvard has been documenting this trend. But if the buying process has changed, what needs to change on the sales side?
I started investigating that question about 6 years ago by taking a closer look at companies that were providing training in sales process methodology. And frankly, I didn’t see fresh training content. There was clearly a gap.
That’s why we started The Valla Group. Our express purpose is to provide the most modern research-based content available to help sales organizations maximize their productivity.
How do these buying process changes translate into challenges for modern sales organizations?
Today’s buyers are trying to get further along in their buying process before they engage with a salesperson. Unfortunately, one of the reasons is that most salespeople are fishing for an opportunity, so they show up and pitch their products. But that doesn’t add value for buyers in the early stages of the buying cycle.
That’s why many buyers decide to do the research themselves. They work with internal stakeholders to define the need and determine how to solve those issues. Then they map out their selection criteria and look online to decide which potential providers they want to invite into the process.
So the problem for salespeople is they feel buyers aren’t letting them in the door early enough.
Now, here’s our premise. If the buyer has all this information available to get up to 80% through the buying process, then isn’t the inverse true? Doesn’t the seller have the same information available about the industries they’re calling on, the companies they’re calling on, all the way down to the people they’re calling on?
Sellers can use this information to build territory strategies, account strategies, opportunity strategies, and even call planning strategies before they even talk to a customer. They can get further along in their sales cycle before they even touch the customer.
This means when they do come in, they’re better educated, so they know where they can add value to the customer’s business. They can use that as a basis for their conversations and discovery.
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So, you teach them how to create the strategy? Do you show them where to look and how to mine this public information?
Absolutely. We guide them through that process. And there’s another thing. Especially since the pandemic, sales organizations are diverse, with many people working from home. They’re scattered all over the place, but they’re working in the same sales organization.
How do we enable those people to be successful? We guide them through that process with our online curriculum, coupled with leader-led training and virtual sessions. But the bulk of what we do is teach people how to build prospecting plans, account strategies, opportunity strategies, and even call planning strategies. And we do that asynchronously.
In the past, organizations needed facilitators or instructors all over. But the pandemic showed us that’s not practical. How did Covid shape your curriculum?
It caused us to pivot and accelerate our online learning product development. This was our vision all along for our business. But when the pandemic hit, we knew it had to happen.
And you just hit on a key point. Historically, sales training companies had facilitators all over the globe. They would deliver two-day workshops to all your 100, 1000, or 5000 salespeople.
We think that’s ridiculous in today’s world. Now with technology, you shouldn’t have to teach salespeople new content through a facilitated training session.
They can learn asynchronously. They can practice that content and apply it to a territory, an account, an opportunity, or an upcoming conversation. And then when we bring them together — and we do believe they should come together and collaborate with their peers and their leader — they’re focused on sharing their experience, sharing a best practice, sharing challenges they’re facing.
We’re not saying you should do 100% asynchronous learning. We actually think it needs to be coupled and driven by the sales leaders. That’s what we do. We enable sales leaders to drive these conversations with their sellers.
What is the right mix of synchronous and asynchronous for you? 80/20? Or…?
It’s probably about 80/20. Maybe 70/30. It depends. People can do most of the learning asynchronously. We can support them in doing most of the work themselves.
Most people are working remotely, so we guide them through the thinking. For instance, when they’re putting together an account strategy we help them determine where to conduct research, what to look for, and how to know when they found what they need.
Then they need to determine how to apply this to an account strategy. How can they build hypotheses and determine where to find potential opportunities?
They could do all this stuff on their own. So it’s not like they’re spending hours inside a course and learning. We move them through the process in small chunks. For example, with strategic account planning, we teach a 9-step process.
In my experience, sales professionals usually have a limited attention span. How did you develop online sales training that actually engages salespeople?
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