Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What is your return on the use of a common language?

Sales training companies are telling us that one major soft benefit from their training is the use of a common language by the sales team. How can we express a hard return from a soft benefit? We have to find measurable outcomes caused by the use of a common language.

A common language helps saving management time
The use of a common language first helps to save time for sales managers. As a manager, have you ever considered how much time you waste due to the fact that you have to listen to, or to read reports of your subordinates structured in their style instead of how you would like to have things presented?
In the case you haven't, here is a list of some time wasters:
  • The subordinates use jargon you are not familiar with and you will have to ask extra questions.
  • The report does not include what you are looking for and again you will have to make further inquiries to obtain the pertinent information
  • Each subordinate uses his/her own logic to structure and present information. In oral reports you might have to wait long until you hear what is of interest to you or written reports are difficult to skim.
  • Sales people want to impress managers with what they know, presenting though often irrelevant information and thus wasting the manager's time

Good managers are aware of these time wasters and therefore impose that their subordinates use specific templates for example to report on the status of an opportunity an the plan how to advance it. However in the context of a sales training initiative, the imposed use of existing templates might lead to disastrous results.

Do managers use the common language installed through sales training?
My observations is that this is rather the exception than the norm. Too many sales executives and managers look at sales training as something for their people and ignore that they might have to adjust their management .practice for the training to have a sustainable effect.

Good sales training companies offer though specific modules for managers teaching them how they can reinforce what was taught to their people .and having a positive return from the use of a common language. However when training budgets are tight, the management components of the initiative are the first to be skipped. The possibility for a positive return is thus foregone right at the start. Not having been trained in the newly installed language, manager's will simply keep their old routines.

Another evidence I frequently observe is that especially top executives tend to request briefings in a specific format if they are asked to help with a customer visit in the field. These executives are often not even aware that a sales methodology with specific templates is installed. Those installed templates are usually absolutely suitable to convey contents the executives are looking for, just the structure might differ.

The question then is if executive power or economics win. Admittedly due to the higher compensation, the working hour of an executive is much more expensive than the hour of an individual contributor. But the tipping point, where the extra cost induced by the time individual contributors use reformatting their contents is higher than the cost savings resulting form time gains for the executive, is often reached faster than one wants to believe

Yet one does not have to be so sophisticated in the analysis. Imposing another template than the one installed through sales training, makes the investment made into the training obsolete. Individual contributors will have little incentive to adhere to something that is visibly not supported and used by top level executives.

Any of the above symptoms of management behavior considerably diminishes the return from the use of a common language. But it can get even worse.

Wasting money trying to introduce an new common language
Alumni are the sales training companies' best friends; especially when they are on management or executive level. They provide them with revenue potential in at least two ways:
  1. They can make training in a specific methodology mandatory for all new hires
  2. If they change employers, there is a high likelihood that they will have their new teams trained in what they know from the previous assignment even though they might later not reinforce what their people were taught

There is a high probability that both theses initiatives will have a negative return. In both cases a high percentage of people will go through off the shelf training that is designed and taught for people being exposed for the first time to let's say a complex B2B sales type of methodology training. In reality, today most B2B sales people have been trained in at least one of the more popular methodologies. These people do not need to be taught the fundamentals again. All they need to know is how it is done with the new employer or how the new boss wants to have it done.

Money is therefore wasted because such trainings are not only much longer than they need to be. They might even not have the desired effect at all of establishing a common language. In the past, I was asked to train sales forces in a methodology as if it was the first time ever they were exposed to this type of training. It usually did not take long before people started to make comments such as “I had a similar training with my former employer where what you call 'Y' was called 'X'”. What jargon do you think such people are going continue to use? Probably the one they learned first.

How can managers improve the return from the use of a common language?
Being honest with themselves, when wondering if they might show some of the dysfunctional behaviors mentioned above, is a precondition to improve the return from the use of a common language. If they have the necessary self awareness, the following list of recommendations will bring the desired improvement:
  1. Listen how your people speak and observe how they communicate to you in writing. Chances are you might find signs of the existence of a common vocabulary and standard templates.
  2. If you find frequent use of a common vocabulary and templates, adapt yourself to it and reinforce usage.
  3. If the vocabulary and/or templates are widely known but are not sufficiently used, lead by example using them and offer specific refresher training if needed.
  4. If you find different vocabularies and templates, decide on the one you like best and install it by focusing on “how are things done here” and not by a standard off the shelf training offered by the company that owns your preferred jargon and templates.
  5. Adapt training for new hires depending on how much exposure they had to the fundamentals you want them to adhere to before joining your company.

4 comments:

  1. An old psychological tool, Transactional Analysis, is a simple way to understand the primary role from which we communicate - adult, parent or child. The words within each of those roles become common language and may also give you push back.

    One often overlooked tactic is to define any acronym instead of presuming everyone knows what ADA means. In the US, this may stand for many things including: Americans Disability Act, American Dairy Association just to name two.

    Your posting is so loaded with just plain common sense and that sometimes appears to be in short supply.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Author of Be the Red Jacket

    ReplyDelete
  2. Leanne,
    Thank you for your kind comment and your reference to the Transactional Analysis, a concept I much appreciate as well.

    When I read what you said about common sense I had to think of Tom Paine. Was his book entitled "Common Sense" not one of the triggers of the American revolution. Just to show that common sense can be in such short supply that it appears to be revolutionary.

    I think it has to do with our strive to always find the newest silver bullet hoping to bring us forward.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Such a great article. You have given me a good reading today.

    ReplyDelete

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