Thursday, August 05, 2010

Do You Need a Sales-Consultant, -Coach or -Trainer ?

Is this differentiation necessary when you are looking for help with your initiative to increase sales productivity?

The fact that all three terms are listed on many LinkedIn profiles (mine included) can mean two things. Either, it suggests that the terms are taken as interchangeable and listing them all gives a higher chance to be found depending of the preferred term used by those seeking help. Or, these are three different roles.

I believe these are different roles needed for different phases in your initiative. I have listed them on my profile to indicate that I can assume all three roles.

Consultants
have a deep knowledge of their field. They have tools to diagnose the root causes of sales productivity problems. Based on the diagnosis, they can then design a therapy plan how to eliminate the detected inhibitors for higher sales productivity. They have a methodology how to do this. The therapy plans are based on modules that can be mixed and matched, extended or contracted depending on the diagnosis. Only few sales consultants stop their service offering at this level. Most of them will then also help with the execution of the therapy plan. They will then take on the roles of trainers and coaches.

Consultants are best engaged early in the initiative or when derailed initiatives need to be brought back on course.

Consultants can even help you deciding whether an initiative is needed or not. In this case, both parties must understand that the diagnosis is a free standing separately billable item and that the engagement might end after the diagnosis phase.

It might also be advisable to consider the development of the therapy plan as a separately payable free standing engagement. The customer then has a higher guarantee that the consultant is not just trying to peddle his/her teaching and coaching services and will recommend third parties if this improves the execution of the plan.

The term consultant is also used for people giving you advise how to implement a prepackaged, methodology , process or piece of software to improve sales productivity. Their diagnostics are geared to confirm the fit between their solution and a problem. Getting help from this type of consultants in early phases of an initiative bears the risk, that they might see every problem as a “nail”, because the only tool they have is a “hammer” (their particular offering).

Trainers
have internalized a body of knowledge (best practices) how to improve sales efficiency and/or effectiveness. They transfer their knowledge to their trainees through lecturing, case studies, tests and practical exercises. They do this in classrooms, interactive web based sessions or a blended combination which might also include self paced learning modules. They have their own intellectual property (body of knowledge) or are certified to use the material proprietary to a third party.

Organizations not wanting to use consultants to carry out a diagnosis to help shape their initiative and engaging trainers only and maybe consultants advising on the use of a particular solution, rely on a self diagnosis of the problems. They must accept that the cause for potential failure of the initiative is not always the training. It is as likely that the failure is caused by a superfluously carried out diagnosis or by jumping prematurely to conclusions.

Coaches
have an intimate knowledge what best practice behavior, leading to higher efficiency and/or effectiveness looks like. They observe those to be coached in real life situations or role plays or they review outputs (e.g. plans) and identify gaps between what they observe and best practice. They then advise the person to be coached what behavior changes are needed to get closer to best practice. Coaching is usually an iterative process. The coach will observe how well the advise is internalized and has improved behavior and will recommend further changes if gaps are still significant. This loop will be repeated until gaps have disappeared or have at least reached a tolerable level.

For a coach to be effective, there must be an agreement between the customer and the coach, what best practices had previously been taught and need reinforcement.

Using trainers who taught best practices as coaches,assures knowledge about the best practices to be reinforced. Knowing how to train best practices does though not mean automatically also knowing how to coach best practices. There is a difference in approach. Trainers used as coaches might also earlier come to the conclusion that gaps are so huge that refresher training or re-training is needed before coaching can be effective.

Conclusion
Distinguishing the three roles and understanding which role is needed when in a sales productivity improvement initiative and what the prerequisites are, gives a higher certainty for a successful outcome.

Within each role, there are though also variants to be considered. Ignoring these variants, might also cause the initiative not delivering the expected results

When you seek help to improve sales productivity, do you make the distinction of roles?
How would you describe these roles?
Do you have experience on this topic you would like to share?

2 comments:

  1. I applaud your idea that "Getting help from this type of consultants in early phases of an initiative bears the risk, that they might see every problem as a “nail”, because the only tool they have is a “hammer” (their particular offering)." To often, in my opinion, Sales Leaders work to enhance performance by implementing more process, more technology or both. Additionally, while I believe training can result in enhanced sales productivity, my experience tells me that many organizations train for training sake---never really properly evaluating the merit of the training or the root cause of the lack of productivity to begin with. Coaching is great if the training was proper to begin with. If not, you are following up the wasted spend in bad training with ineffective coaching. My point is that I would rather higher a good consultant to systematically tell me where my problems are...then go about figuring out the solution---training, coaching or otherwise. The next question though is how do you determine who is the right "guru" to help you figure out what your problem is?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You ask the million dollar question. It is probably easier to say who is not the right "guru"- I would discard all the self proclaimed ones.

    One possible way to find the suitable "guru" is following someone one LinkedIn in the group discussions and on Twitter or specialized networks like "The Customer Collective".

    Reading peoples blog is another way to find out whether there is a fit.

    ReplyDelete

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