For the Sales Directors in many companies that sell B2B the goal is to create a team of sellers that combine the wisdom and street smarts of the old dogs (this term is used in an affectionate way here), with the vim and vigour of the young, hungry up-and-comers.
It can be the ‘holy grail’ for sales teams. It’s a powerful combination, yet often eludes sales leaders who look for it.
In many technical fields there is a certain amount of hands-on and/or practical technical knowledge that is required to be fully productive (and respected) in a sales role. Most often this knowledge and experience comes from years spent in the field working on problems and solutions with customers.
So, in many ways the old dogs find it easier as time goes on.
They have seen many problems before and know the pitfalls and shortcuts. Maybe they have dealt with the same customers for many years. And they can bring a lot of wisdom to the situation.
The challenge for sales leaders is to ensure the old dogs don’t become complacent and stale.
The reality for many companies is that, over time, the experienced team members create a safe comfort zone around themselves where they become less and less challenged by new situations or new styles of working. This can be witnessed in their avoidance of new technologies or finding ways to avoid calling on new markets or different customers. “Why do we need to do this?” can often be heard.
Sales leaders who perpetuate those behaviours on the basis they don’t want to upset the old dogs, or don’t want to invest in developing new team members, are creating a rod for their own back.
Yes, it does take time to develop the young up-and-comers on the sales team. But the goal should be to develop a team which encompasses the experience of the old dogs with the enthusiasm and boldness of the up-and-comers.
In working with many teams that have a large proportion of old dogs (in either years or attitude) I have found they can often be more flexible than they are initially given credit for.
One of the key factors in creating the flexibility is the leadership of the sales team, and leadership of the company more broadly speaking. To encourage personal growth and professional development outside of their comfort zone the team must feel there is an overriding sense of the company evolving for the future, and that support is available for individuals on the team.
The old dogs need to know exactly what they are expected to do to operate in the “new world”.
Usually they have the product and customer knowledge but need new sales communication techniques and straightforward sales strategies where they can apply their expertise to confidently open up new opportunities with customers.
And for the younger up-and-comers they also need to be shown how to accelerate their professional expertise while taking risks to expose themselves to fresh customer situations. Many younger sellers have grown up in the millennial generation where talking on the phone is the last resort, not the first step. Even though they may be savvy with technologies to contact customers they can be shy when needing to directly communicate.
Clearly, teaming old dogs with up-and-comers can be an effective way to create osmosis between them; encouraging the blending of experience from the old dogs with the inquisitiveness of the young.
How to support sales performance improvement
Surely appropriate sales training has its part to play in showing old dogs exactly what they can be doing and where their existing skills can be sharpened. Once they are shown a new way, they have the experience to see how and where it can be implemented.
However, as many sales roles are independent (working on their own) there is additional support required to ensure that individuals push themselves to apply the new sales behaviours. This support can involve:
- Ride-alongs (where the manager accompanies the seller on sales calls, in field or on phone)
- Conducting joint sales calls (team selling) where sellers review each other afterwards to raise awareness of their actions and options
- Sales coaching that can help individuals to think differently and hold themselves accountable for making the change that is required
Old dogs can learn new tricks. But they need to clearly see why the new tricks are needed, and that the changes are part of a bigger picture of future success.
Of course, not everyone is comfortable with change. And the danger with old dogs is they may have been doing the same/similar thing for so long they have become highly risk averse and will not adapt when required.
Proactive sales leaders keep their teams developing and embed learning so that old dogs never become stale, and the up-and-comers are excited by the opportunities to learn from the experienced players on their team.
If you would like a frank and confidential discussion about options for developing your sales team you are welcome to request a complimentary consultation.