The world of B2B sales has changed; and it hasn’t.
What hasn’t changed is:
- The importance of personal communication and self-management skills for sellers.
- Clients place high value on sellers having Account Management and Solution Selling skills.
- Sellers have not been replaced by digital and social media. We now have social selling.
- Buyers want sellers to focus on their needs whenever presenting or doing technical demonstrations (“feature dumps” are never appreciated).
However, what has changed has made a huge impact:
- Buyers are accessing information from more sources before they engage with a seller.
- Complex buying decisions involve more people than before.
- The expectations of younger team members (born from 1982 to 2001, called “Millennials” or “Gen Y”, now aged from 20’s to 30+) are very different to that of their older colleagues.
Let’s focus on that last point, Expectations; and we’ll explore some ideas for how a sales leader can motivate and retain a young B2B sales team.
Firstly, various studies have identified that Millennials want:
- To be part of something bigger.
- To do meaningful work.
- To be able to access development/leadership opportunities.
- To do as much as they can ‘now’, not leaving it till later. (example)
- Workplace flexibility regarding hours, use of technology, place of work, processes.
Millennials are willing to switch jobs to get what they want
The latest Deloitte Millennial Survey finds that nearly half of all young Australian workers/Millennials plan on quitting their jobs in the next two years. And 69% of those who will quit are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed.
A cautionary note: It might be tempting for older (more established) managers or business owners to write off the demands of the younger generation for ‘leadership skills’ by thinking that Millennials just don’t understand how the world really works. Or they want more than they should at their age. Or they’re not ready for leadership skills. Or they will just need to wait their turn.
However, this lack of leadership development isn’t an imaginary predicament dreamed up by younger workers. In a GrowthHub article Brian Sommer writes about the lack of focus most companies have in developing the skills of top executives. He also says: “There’s a capability or leadership development problem for all levels within a firm not just at the top”.
He continues to list common failings of companies when attracting young employees, based on real-life feedback he has received, including:
- Employers thinking that most people just want a job, instead of helping the employee improve their personal balance sheet.
- Spans of control have widened so much managers don’t have time for mentoring or paying attention to every team member that reports to them.
- A focus on hiring people only for the skills they have right now, with management abdicating responsibility for developing staff over time.
In contrast to that too-busy-to-care approach, Google’s long-standing Human Resources boss Laszlo Bock gives his top ten management tips. Unsurprisingly, for a company ranked as the #1 Best Company to Work For , they focus on how to create a happy workplace with self-motivated employees.
My top 5 sales management tips from Google
Here are five of Laszlo Bock’s top ten tips that are particularly relevant for managing a sales team:
- Give meaning to your work: connect it to a higher purpose.
- Trust your team: don’t micromanage, and accept two-way reviews between team leaders (managers) and team members (sellers).
- Keep conversations about development separate to performance reviews: speak to your team regularly about their work, not just at biannual performance reviews.
- Pay attention to your best and worst performers: study the outliers, learn what the best do and spread that to others, and study how the low performers got there (it is a bad fit or lack of talent).
- Nudge your team in the right direction: lead by example and use subtle signals to indicate what you would like them to be doing
Do Millennials actually want a more responsive management style from their leaders?
It’s a common presumption that Millennials (or Generation Y), and their younger counterparts in the Gen Z cohort, prefer to use technology for their interpersonal communications. After all they have grown up using the internet, instant messaging and Facebook-style social media every day.
However a global study of workplace expectations has found that when it comes to how they are managed, 52% of Millennials say they prefer face-to-face communications, with email (16%) and instant messaging (11%) down the list of preferences.
And the same study found only 14% of Gen Y believes that technology actually enhances personal relationships with co-workers.
These findings are backed up by other studies such as the EY Talent Survey that looked at the perks required to retain and engage employees of various generational groups.
Bottom line… younger generations will respond positively to a leadership style that engages them, not one that simply directs them.
With all these tips and research findings, we could get the feeling that we’ve got in under control; we know what’s happening. But we need to face the facts, even though it may be uncomfortable.
- Team members will leave if they feel they don’t have opportunities for development. That is, if we don’t train them we risk losing them.
- Team members may still leave even if they are participating in development activities.
- If we do develop team members they will have more personal market value and become more attractive to other employers. That is, by training them we also risk losing them.
The reality is we still need to actively support their development. They are our team.
What is your team development plan?
Sales leaders need to have a plan for how they will develop their team. Not just a one-off training event or annual sales conference, but more so planning the journey team members will take during their time with the company (whether that’s for 2 years, 5 years or longer).
Hanadi El Sayyed is a UAE-based Human Resources thought leader and she describes the concept of the ‘employee experience’ – much like marketers would consider planning the customer experience and mapping the touch points that create the ‘experience’.
In her recent blog post Hana writes:
Improving the employee experience… the immediate call for action here is for organizations to start plotting their employee journey, right from the way they design their career page, till the time an employee exits, and everything in between. How they do recruitment, performance reviews, and manage their talent, the physical environment at work, the perks they offer employees, etc., are all examples of employee touch-points which will surface out when they start road-mapping this journey.
Sales leaders would do well to apply these ideas to their sales team, even if it’s not done throughout the wider organisation.
The Dual Track Development Journey
A practical approach to maximising the employee experience, as well as creating a high performance sales team, is to implement a Dual Track Development Journey.
Role-based development vs. Career-based development
One track is for role-based development, and would include essential and advanced skills and knowledge required to improve performance in the particular role the team member now holds.
The other track is for career-based development, which would address a selected number of development options drawn from a suite of capabilities deemed important for the particular career path of the individual.
Development options could include:
- Studying an online course (e.g. a tutorial on Lynda or free MOOC from a university).
- Attending external training courses.
- Signing up for ecourses delivered via email.
- Individual activities focusing on specific skills.
- Receiving mentoring from a suitable colleague.
- Attending specific industry events to learn from industry leaders and influencers.
- Reading relevant books or ‘thought leader’ resources.
- Receiving regular coaching from their team leader.
- Learning more about the business and your clients by shadowing colleagues in various parts of the business or spending time onsite with clients.
Within this journey it’s important to create and maintain the balance of expectations for team members. It could be easy for them to develop a sense of entitlement; that they should be able to access every development opportunity.
However some opportunities, especially career-based options, should be available to those who earn it. That is, to team members who are reaching predefined performance standards. This qualification process is not new or uncommon. In fact it has been used for years in sales teams.
An example is when a team member qualifies to attend an annual overseas conference if they achieve their sales target or quota. Those who don’t achieve their targets don’t attend the conference. Winners are grinners. Sales is a results-based activity.
Escalating leadership opportunities
In combination with the Dual Track Development Journey it could also be a good idea to establish a variety of leadership-related development opportunities. For example this path could provide opportunities with increasing levels of responsibility, such as:
Level 1: Outstanding performance in own role
Level 2: Participate in company projects
Level 3: Take the lead on certain projects
Level 4: Influence future projects
Increased expectations of sales leaders
Adopting development strategies such as a Dual Track Development Journey or offering a sequence of escalating leadership opportunities will create a stronger expectation of involvement by sales leaders. Your team will want – and expect – you to be a proactive participant.
As a modern proactive sales leader you will need to make time to manage, mentor and support each member of your team. You will need to recognise which development options will be best suited, and when, for individual team members.
The future: balancing expectation of development with expectations of performance
The world of B2B sales continues to evolve. One example of this is that more inside sales teams are taking over selling activities that used to be the domain of field based road warriors. New business models and the quest for financial savings drive this transformation, enabled by technology. This evolution has the potential to change the expectations of a sales team from a group of individual performers to a high performance team.
As this change continues, Millennials and those who follow, will need a structured support system to meld their personal expectations with their actual level of skill.
Sales leaders must aim to accelerate the development of advanced communication skills and business sense to enable younger team members to gain “wisdom beyond their years”. And team members must appreciate the requirement to earn certain opportunities rather than being automatically entitled to them.
To be successful sales leaders must meet both the development expectations of the individual, as well as ensuring each team member is focused on meeting the performance expectations of their role.